My staff people were chatting up the TV show Hoarders, about people who obsessively hoard stuff. I think you can’t really use the word “enjoy” or even “be entertained by” reality TV. At best the German word schadenfreude might apply, which loosely translates as “secret pleasure in watching the misery of others.”
Certainly the folks up to their nostrils in their accumulated things look pretty miserable. They also didn’t look particularly delighted at the end of one episode I watched when the clutter was cleared away (oops–spoiled the ending). My guess is that once the TV crew pulled out, they were back cruising garage sales and resale shops to fill the emptiness of their lives.
That’s some serious clutter. You’re probably a rank amateur by comparison, maybe a non-cook with two food processors and a bread-maker. Possibly your clothes are spilling out of every closet, threatening to take over your living space. You might even feel like a trailblazer as you wend your way through the stacks of books and papers in your office or reach for something in your car.
If this sounds familiar, you’re obviously no stranger to The World of Clutter. But clutter doesn’t just eat up space. It takes a big bite out of efficiency, too. Physical clutter makes it harder to find things when you want them, forcing you to spend time and energy hunting and searching, hunting and searching.
It also leads to mental clutter, that endless loop running through your mind saying, “Don’t forget to locate and return the DVD, find the credit card bill and pay it.” This leaves little space for quiet thoughts or long-range plans.
If all this describes you, let’s walk together down the de-cluttering path. For many people, tackling piles of papers and mountains of old toys (not to mention one closet) can be so overwhelming they never start at all.
So gather some boxes, trash bags, and labels, and let’s do it. These ideas will ease the way:
• Space it out. If the thought of de-cluttering an entire room makes your mind reel, focus on one area at a time. Start with your child’s desk, the kitchen drawer, your files, or the medicine cabinet. Spend just an hour a day at it. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel by clearing one small part of a larger task, and you’ll feel more inclined to take on the rest of the job sooner. Remember: an hour a day.
• Don’t use it? Lose it. First, set some guidelines for yourself: Get rid of any items you haven’t used or worn in the past two years. This means the suits with the big shoulder pads, the hair crimper that made you look like a cocker spaniel, and the treadmill that has 0.6 of a mile on it. Why not have a yard sale or sell clothing through a consignment shop? For faster riddance, donate items to a charity or give them to a friend who’s admired them in the past.
• If you can’t let it go, box it up. Put papers and other items you’re not quite ready to discard in a labeled box and store it in an out-of-the-way place. Six months from now, if you still don’t need the contents, toss the box without opening.
• Rotate cherished possessions. If you’ve weeded out as much as you can and still have too many tchotchkes on your shelves, put half of them away in a box. Now you have half as much to dust, and in six months you can swap out old for new and enjoy looking at something different.
• Police your desktop. In your office, keep on your desktop only those items that you use routinely. Everything else gets filed or put in a drawer or on a shelf.
• Junk all junk mail. Don’t even bother reading it. Toss it directly into the trash or recycling bin. The same goes for catalogs you aren’t interested in and free magazines. Let’s face it, you probably don’t have the time to read the ones you requested.
• Enlist an organizing pal. If your stress level soars from just reading about de-cluttering, invite a friend over to support you in throwing things out, and then do the same for her. You might also consider hiring a professional organizer to help you. Look for listings online.
• Fight clutter creep. Once you’ve de-junked your home or office, keep it that way. You’re dreaming if you think one de-clutter session takes care of everything. Schedule (yes, on your calendar) half an hour once a week to round up stray items. Keep a re-sale shop box or bag handy so you can add to it. Then do your de-cluttering–and nothing else–during that half hour.
Finally, a word about attention deficit disorder (ADD). I hate to tack a medical diagnosis onto your messy apartment, but chronic disorganization, having “piles instead of files,” feeling overwhelmed, and starting projects (like de-cluttering) but never finishing them are all red flags for ADD.
If you think I’m addressing this health tip to you (you know who you are), you might want to click here and take the brief online ADD screening test. If you discover you have ADD, at least you’ve got a good excuse for the mess.