Posts Tagged ‘clutter’

A Faster Way To Clean Out

Cleaning out is often exhausting work — especially for those who haven't done it in a while. It's easy to walk into a room filled with clutter and become completely overloaded by the task at hand. You try to empty the whole space at once, don't even come close to finishing it all, and end up feeling like a failure  — will you ever be able to see the floor again? Rather than overdoing it (and subsequently paralyzing yourself with frustration and despair), why not set yourself up for success — by tackling just one small pile at a time? If you simply make use of those odd free moments (say, two or three times a day, every day for a week) — you will make a bigger dent in the mess than if you devoted your entire Saturday to sifting and sorting and cleaning out!

  • start a box of items to donate — every time you find something you don't need, toss it in
  • check your desk for dried up pens and markers and throw them out
  • sort through your Tupperware and remove any bowl or lid that's missing it's mate
  • try on clothes you haven't worn in the past year and get rid of anything that doesn't fit
  • gather up a pile of library books / rented videos and return them from whence they came
  • look through your shelves and pull books you'll never read again to donate to the library
  • clean the trash out of your junk drawer
  • remove the extra empty hangers out of your closet and take them to your dry cleaner
  • get rid of old or yucky makeup in your cosmetic drawer
  • put all those purchases you've been meaning to return in a box and schedule an errand day
  • pull out any torn / worn underwear and socks — either turn into rags or discard
  • toss empty bottles of household cleaners, car care items, and gardening chemicals in the garage
  • go through your magazines / catalogs and toss all but the most recent issue
  • throw out expired food from your refrigerator and pantry
  • sort through your recipes and toss those you're never going to get around to making
  • when you unpack your holiday decorations, discard broken ornaments, lights, candles, etc.
  • create a pile of borrowed items to give back to your friends and family
  • clean out batteries and light bulbs that no longer work
  • toss expired items, empty bottles, and used-up grooming supplies in your medicine cabinet
  • put all your “donates” in the car and drive them to the nearest charity drop-off point — now!

See how easy that was? Wink

Starting Without A Plan

Imagine taking a trip to a new city without a map, a GPS, or even directions to your final destination. How would you ever get there? That's what organizing without a plan is like — you can make as much forward progress as you like, but you have no idea if you're even headed the right way (in fact, you might just be going in the exact opposite direction of where you would like to end up!)

Before beginning any organizing project, think about what you want to accomplish — what your life will look like when you're done. From there, you can figure out the steps you will need to take, and your timeline for each phase. But knowing where you are going prior to starting out is the only guaranteed way to reach your destination.

Not Cleaning Out Before You Organize

Organizing involves more than just moving your stuff around. Decluttering is about devoting your space to those objects that you actually use and love — and being willing to let go of the rest. If you want your organizing experience to be a successful one, expect to make some hard decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

Before you start worrying about organizing supplies and storage containers, begin with a full-scale purge. Go through your stacks and piles, and pull out anything that you don't use, need, or want anymore — functional items in the “donate” bin, the rest in the recycle or the trash. If you clear out the excess first, you'll have less to organize and the rest of the process will be a snap.

Using Opaque Storage Containers With No Labels

All the space in the world won't do you a bit of good if you can't see what you're storing. Many people waste as much time searching for items that they have “organized” (read as “hidden out-of-sight and out-of-mind”) — as they did when it was all just heaped together in a pile! You should never have to guess where you have put something away.

Your best choice is a clear container that allows you to see what's inside. You're less likely to lose things when you can tell a box's contents without ever having to remove the lid. If you must use an opaque tub, be sure to clearly label it — and be specific! That means going a step farther with your descriptions — not just “Christmas decorations,” but “Christmas lights” or “holiday candles” or “tree ornaments.”

Saying “I'll Put It Here For Now”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your storage is creating “in-between” spots for your belongings. The minute you say, “I'll deal with it away later” — you've not only created extra work for yourself later (two steps instead of one), but you have also diminished your chances of actually putting the damned thing away at all!

Rather than sitting something down in the first place you see, make sure you have a set home for each item and a logical reason for putting it there. Cleaning up is quick and easy when you know that your iron lives on the shelf above the washing machine,  and your whisk belongs in the third drawer from the stove. Not to mention the fact that you will actually be able to find that item again when you next need it.

Failing To Subdivide Big Open Spaces

A lot of storage spaces are so big that they become almost impractical. Just dumping your stuff into a huge gaping closet or cabinet doesn't make you organized — in fact, this sort of arrangement can actually encourage clutter. Sometimes it's better to break large spaces up into smaller components.

When dealing with oversized storage, try to find some way to compartmentalize collections of small items. Desk drawers just beg for dividers, your kitchen pantry becomes more manageable with a few shelves, the tools in the garage can be hung on racks, and the extra toiletries in your bathroom closet are less messy when placed in containers.

Ignoring Your Dead Space

Most people wish for expanded storage, but you actually have more room than you think — if you look in the right places. Glance around and see if you've been overlooking spots that contain unrealized organizational possibilities. Taking advantage of underutilized “dead space” can sometimes double or triple your available storage.

Don't forget about the areas under beds, on the backs of doors, near the ceiling, and on the floor.  Hang tools and sports equipment in the garage, hats and belts in the closet, and kid's school bags in your mud room or entryway. Less accessible spots in the basement, garage, and attic are particularly good for storing items you don't get at very often — like holiday decorations and memorabilia.

Failing To Make Adjustments

Remember that your storage is a dynamic system — it should continue to evolve as your interests and lifestyle change. The system you set up today may serve your every need right now, but will it still work for you in a year or two? Organization is a journey, not a destination. And while you can certainly clear up your clutter worries, it takes regular maintenance and revision of your systems to keep it that way.

The key to lasting organization is flexibility — don't be afraid to make changes to your systems when necessary. Keep an eye out for systems that need a little tweaking. If you're experiencing frustrations, can't find what you're looking for, or seem to have run out of space, it's time for an overhaul.

Filling Your Storage To Capacity

Do you ever plan to buy anything new ever again? Even those of us who are committed minimalists are going to eventually bring home a new acquisition — it's unavoidable! But if you stuff your storage spaces to overflowing, where will you put your purchases?

As you organize, think about leaving some free space — room to grow. The general rule of thumb is that you should always have about 15% of your storage unoccupied — that way, when you do go shopping, you won't have to worry about “making” a spot for the newcomers. But if you can't manage that, institute a “one-in/one-out” rule — every time you bring something into your house, something else has to go away. With a little discipline, you'll never run out of room again!

Storing Items Too Far Away

It may seem like common sense, but we don't always think to put things nearest the point where we use them. A poor choice  of storage location makes daily life vastly more complicated than it needs to be! The most direct route to “efficient” is via “convenient,” so keep your storage close to where that activity occurs.

Make an effort to look at your storage with a critical eye — asking yourself if a simple shift in geography would relieve some of your stress. Then feel free to move objects around if your current system doesn't make sense. You don't want to have to walk across your office every time you need something off of the printer — and your child is less likely to put his dirty towel in the hamper if it's in the other room.

Skipping The Yearly Purge

Don't think that once you have set up your storage spaces, you can simply sit back and rest on your laurels. You may be “done” for now, but your system is going to need a little annual TLC if you expect it to keep the clutter at bey. Sure, if you set up an organized space and then never touched it, things would remain in good order — but daily use, changing needs, and the addition of new “stuff” will kill good organization if you aren't careful!

You need to take some time at least once a year to sort through your belongings — pulling out anything that is broken, hasn't been used in the past 12 months, or has become obsolete. The best time for this is during a natural point of transition like a change in the seasons — spring cleaning, back to school, or the New Year.

A Not-So-Fine Line

This is what Nate had to say — “Here's the difference between a collector, which I consider myself, and a hoarder: A collector has no shame involved. It doesn't keep you from having people over. It doesn't impede anything in your life. In fact, it enhances it, because it's so fun to keep looking for the collection.”

My response is “maybe.” My mother considered herself a “collector,” but that didn't make my life any easier when I had to clean out her house after she died. Perhaps the difference has less to do with shame and more to do with focus.

I think true collectors focus in on one or two things they love to accumulate, while hoarders keep lots of everything — collectors seem to have more of a plan or a goal when they acquire something, while hoarders do not — collectors also care about what will happen to their collections (passing them on to someone who will value them), and hoarders definitely don't. It seems as though everyone in the organizing community has a different take on hoarding. There's even talk of making it an officially classifiable mental illness. Check out the proposed DSM-5 criteria:

  • persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions (this difficulty is due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding)
  • the symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible — if all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities)
  • the symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others)
  • the hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease)
  • the hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, delusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in dementia, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder, food storing in Prader-Willi syndrome)
  • specify if “with excessive acquisition” if symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space

That defines the behavior, but it doesn't look at the reasons behind it. So I asked my colleagues to share their thoughts about where hoarding came from — I've summarized and paraphrased their responses:

  • “hoarders tend to define themselves by the objects they own, while collectors do not”
  • “collectors tend to keep their collection in a way that keeps themselves and those items 'safe,' while hoarders do not take safety into account”
  • “hoarding is just collecting that has gotten out of control”
  • “collections are confined and contained, while hoarding occurs in random piles that eventually end up taking over”
  • “collections are organized — hoarding is when there is so much that it can not be located”
  • “collectors see the world as full of abundance and celebrate that — hoarders experienced lack in their life and feel they need to keep everything because they might need it someday”
  • “hoarders feel they are less of a person without their things — collector keep themselves separate from their things”
  • “hoarders accumulate items to boost their self-esteem, while collectors create something that can be admired and possibly have financial value”
  • “collectors have a healthy emotional attachment to their stuff (it makes them feel good), but hoarders have an unhealthy attachment (it makes them feel bad”
  • “collecting improves quality of life, but hoarding deteriorates quality of life (income, relationships, peace of mind)”
  • “collectors choose one or two categories of items to collect (carousel horses, hummels, first editions, etc.), while hoarders keep anything and everything”
  • “collectors become attached to things of value — hoarders become attached to what is essentially trash (newspapers, recyclables, string, used aluminum foil, butter tubs, spoiled food, etc.)”
  • “collectors accumulate out of love, hoarders accumulate out of fear”
  • “collectors choose to collect, while hoarders are driven by compulsion”
  • “hoarders often hide their accumulations away, while collectors display theirs with pride”
  • “collectors look for unique additions to their collection, but hoarders will accumulate numerous identical or duplicate items”
  • “collectors enjoy sharing their collections with others — hoarders find that eventually their obsession with 'stuff' alienates their friends and family”
  • “collectors get a positive sense of satisfaction when they add to their collection — hoarders are simply trying to alleviate negative feelings (anxiety, inadequacy, worry, pain, etc.)”
  • “collectors recognize when their collections have become unmanageable and do something about it — hoarders live in denial”
  • “collectors still insist on a functional living and working space, while hoarders are willing to sacrifice this for their 'stuff'”
  • “collectors only add new items when they feel it will enhance the collection — hoarders can't resist the urge to constantly acquire more”
  • “hoarders refuse to part with anything they own, while collectors are often willing to sell portions of their collection if the right price/buyer comes along”
  • “hoarders can't tell the difference between what is valuable and what is not — collectors understand very clearly the value of the items they own”
  • “collectors honor their collections, while hoarders have a less respectful relationship with their 'stuff'”
  •  “collectors will stop collecting when they feel they have enough, but hoarders never feel they have enough”
  • “collectors will get rid of a collection if they tire of it — hoarders feel compelled to continue accumulating even when doing so loses its joy”
  • “collectors can draw healthy boundaries around their collecting activities, while hoarders are obsessed”
  • “collectors create conscious themes with their collections, while hoarders experience an uncontrollable pile-up of random things”
  • “hoarders value things over relationships, while collectors keep their things in perspective as secondary to the people in their lives”
  • “collectors can trade or sell their collectibles — the things hoarders accumulate are only valuable to them”
  • “collectors pay very close attention to their collections, while hoarders often allow their 'stuff' to languish unused and serving no purpose for years”
  • “collectors take very good care of their things — hoarders let their belongings rot and decay and go bad”
  • “collectors take into account their space restraints and are constantly making room for new items, while hoarders just pile more on top of what is already there”

What do you think — where should we draw the line between collecting and hoarding?

Your Schedule

Take a look at your calendar and your “to-do” list — how much of what you have written down is critical to your survival on this planet? Very little, I'm sure. How many of your appointments involve something that you dearly love to do. A great deal, I hope — but if you're like most people, probably not. What eats up most of your time during the day?

Unfortunately, most folks' schedules are filled with external obligations — things that you have promised other people. “I have to pick up my kids from soccer practice.” “I have to attend committee meeting.” “I have to clean the house.” “I have to, I have to, I have to.” Guess what — you don't have to! If you don't want to do it, say “no.”

I'm not suggesting that you turn completely selfish — compromise is an important part of maintaining civil relations with those around you! I'm merely suggesting that you be very judicious about what you put in your schedule. Get rid of that knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” everytime someone asks you to volunteer. It's all a matter of training the people around you not to automatically expect you to participate.

Your Finances

Didn't realize you could have clutter in your finances, did you? Take a look at your spending patterns — do you see any money leaks? These are places where your hard-earned dollars simply slip away without you even realizing it. Your danger zones could be buying snacks at work — or late fees and interest charges that accumulate when you forget to pay your bills — or groceries that go bad before you get a chance to eat them. But you need to be especially aware of these types of “unconscious” spending (asking you to be aware of something unconscious — a bit of a contradiction, I know!)

Try keeping track of every penny you spend for the next month — that includes personal items, business expenses, magazines, coffee, whatever. This may sound hard, but it's not bad if you get into the habit of carrying a small notebook with you. Every time you pull out your wallet or credit card or checkbook, make a note (even if you're only paying a quarter for a stick of gum!) At the end of the month, take a look at your expenses — you'll be surprised to see where your money goes. Once you say, “My gosh, I had no idea I spent so much on ______!” you know how to curb your money leaks.

Your Relationships

People feel trapped in relationships that are “less than fulfilling” for many reasons — low self-esteem, fear of change, habit, obligation, or because it's easier than leaving. But most folks tolerate difficult people for one simple reason — because they never stopped to think that they had another choice. Of course this includes seriously dysfunctional relationships, but also that friend who does nothing but complain every time you're together, or the family member who borrows money and never pays you back. You're not getting a positive return out of the arrangement and something has to change.

Let's sort your relationships the way we would any other clutter. “Keep's” are those near and dear to you. “Get Rid Of's” might be a harder — but you need to learn when to call it quits. If you can't think of anything good about the relationship, ask yourself why you really need that person in your life. The “Not Sure's” are mixed — some things are good and some are bad. Your job is to present your concerns to the other person, set some rules (this certain thing has to happen more/less often for the relationship to work), and see if you can reach a mutually satisfying agreement. If not, toss 'em out!

Your Job

Employment has become an institutionalized form of slavery. How many folks do you know that feel trapped by their jobs? If you are  putting up with a crappy work situation because you're are afraid of losing that steady paycheck, it's time to regain control over your environment, responsibilities, and schedule! What would you like to do differently at your job? Cut down on unnecessary meetings? Go home on time each day and refuse to work evenings or weekends? Hand a few menial duties off to an administrative assistant? What would happen if you approached your employer with a list of ideas (in a pleasant and professional way, of course?) Would you get fired — or would he consider your needs? Honestly, if your boss would can you for making a suggestion, maybe you don't need that job! It's worth a try, anyway. And if you're self-employed, you have no excuse for not drawing some boundaries. Would you look at your job duties any differently if you worked for someone else? Why don't you treat yourself at least as well as you would treat an employee?

Your Own Head

We saved the most challenging area for last! How much “junk” do you have floating around in your head, littering your thoughts? People don't think about emotions as clutter, because they aren't tangible — but guilt, jealousy, anger, and unreasonable expectations of what we can accomplish in a day eat up as much of our time and energy.

Think about the last time you had something heavy on your mind — did you get much work done that day? I'll bet that every time you set out to accomplish a task, you were distracted by your thoughts. It's like a gang of incredibly annoying adolescents, making noise and causing a ruckus in your cerebellum. Too bad you can't just slap them! The only way to make these bad boys go away is to become conscious of them. Pay attention when your mind strays to some unproductive and negative emotion — and make a concerted effort to let it go. This will take some practice — awareness of your mental state doesn't happen in a day — but it will pay off in the end.

Advertising Your Sale

Many people don't realize that you can't just put a pile of junk in your yard, slap up a bunch of signs, and hold a yard sale — many areas have specific rules and regulations about the size, location, traffic flow, and advertising of sales. To be on the safe side, you should call your city or county government for a listing of local yard sale regulations BEFORE you get too deep into your preparations. In particular, be sure to find out about “signage” rules governing the size, shape, and placement of billboards or signs. Also ask whether or not you need to obtain a permit to hold a yard sale in your area. You don't want the cops shutting you down mid-sale because you didn't follow the rules!

Whether you live on a main road or in the middle of nowhere, it'simportant to put out directional signs for your sale. You never knowhow many “casual” shoppers you will attract who were simply driving byand saw your advertisement. Put posterboard signs at major intersections andalong your road — and always include an easy to read streetaddress, hours of operation, and  an arrow pointing folks in the right direction. You may alsowant to put up fliers in local stores, laundromats, and churches. These give you a bit more space to list major items ofinterest.

Most dedicated “yard-salers” check the newspaper listings to plan their route of attack — so you definitely need to be included in the lineup. Call your local paper for prices and deadlines, and don't forget to check with “free” and community papers as well. When placing your ad, include the date, time, address, and directions (if you live in a hard-to-find area). You may also want to make note of any expensive or unique or high-demand merchandise you will be offering. Plan to run your ad at least one day before and the day of your sale — much more than that really isn't necessary. And keep in mind that advertising is usually priced by the letter or the word. Don't list every type of item you plan to sell — folks know that yard sales have books and household items and clothes.

Involving Other People

The bigger the offerings, the more customers you will attract. Many times a multi-family, neighborhood, or group yard sale is larger than the sum of its parts.  Put together a fundraiser for your church, scout troop, school, or community organization. Or ask your friends, neighbors, and family to join in, suggesting that you all pool your items together into one large sale. If the profits aren't going into a common pot, have each participant mark his or her items with a different colored pen or different type of sticker or their initials by the price — so that you can distinguish whose item is whose. Keep track of each person's sales in a notebook, with a running list of items sold (or just the price) under each name.

It can be very difficult (almost impossible) to run a yard salecompletely on your own — so don't be afraid to ask for someassistance. Recruit several helpers — friends or family — and bribethem with pizza and sodas at the end of the sale. You should have atleast 2 people signed on to stay the length of the sale, or more ifthey can only help you throughout part of the day. You may needextra assistants right at the start of the first day when things arebusiest, fewer later on. Most importantly, educate your helpers about your pricing and willingness tonegotiate so they can assist customers without having to ask for yourinput. And finally, make arrangements ahead of time for a charity topick up your leftovers at the end of your sale.

Gathering Your Supplies

What will you need to run your sale? “Display” items (tables, racks, table cloths, hangers, etc.) — “checkout” items (cash box, extra bags, tissue/newspaper, etc.) — and “try-before-you-buy” items (extension cords, batteries, bulbs). Then turn your attention to the money — there is nothing more frustrating than running out of change in the first hour. Be sure to get enough to last you through the day — that means at least $20 in coins, $50 in ones, and $40 in fives. Also create a list of minimum prices you will accept for each item — so when a shopper asks your friend who is helping out if they will take $10 for your lawnmower, they can handle the situation without having to find you.

Setting Up

The best way to get ready for a yard sale is to sort your merchandiseas you clean out (rather than creating a pile of discards and having togo through it a second time later on). While you're purging your home, divide items into meaningfulcategories (such as kitchen, books, kids, clothes) and have a largebox or trash bag set aside for each category. Check each object to see whether or not it works, if it's missing any parts — then clean andrepair anything that needs a little TLC. You will also want to price items as you go and labelthem with a description (when applicable).

But you have to remember that planning a yard sale layout involves more than just laying out all of your merchandise on the lawn. The first goal is to make sure that nothing is blocking your traffic flow — you don't want a sales area so clogged with people that no one can get around or see what you have on display. Secondly, be sure to display like items and complementary items together. It will be easier for people to shop if you set up “departments,” with all the household items are on this table and all the books are together in these boxes. Put any valuable items that you don't want to “wander off” in a closed case or right at the checkout table. Finally, make sure everything is clearly visible. Some shoppers like to dig, but most people “glance” their way through a yard sale — scanning tables and floor displays for something that catches their eye.

The simplest way to avoid confusion and conflict during your sale is todecide how you plan to run it — ahead of time. Determine the length ofyour sale — the number of days and hours each day. Also decide if youwill accept personal checks or put items “on hold” for people who saythey are coming back later. And finally, make up your mind in advanceif you will allow early birds or let people in your home (to use thebathroom or phone). Most importantly, once you have put a policy inplace, stick with it!

Leading Up To The Sale

The week before the sale is the time to get ready. Put up fliers in public areas around town and place your newspaper ad. Gather your supplies, get change, and confirm times with your “helpers”. You should be done pricing and organizing your merchandise by now — but if not, finish any last-minute labeling. A day or two before the sale, put up directional signs around your neighborhood. But don't do it too soon or you risk your signs being blown down or rained on. Block off any areas you don't want shoppers to enter — especially if you plan to hold your sale in your garage, basement, or interior of your home. And finally, get a good night's sleep — you'll need it!
On the day of the sale, you will want to start setting up 1-2 hours before your sale is scheduled to start. When the shoppers arrive, put one person in charge of cash box — never let them leave it unguarded. And most of all, have fun — let your kids sell snacks and play some peppy music! Just think of what a load is being lifted — and how much extra cash you'll have at the end!