Preventing Clutter

It is easier to prevent clutter than to clear it out once it has taken over. But everything in our society encourages accumulation, so how do we swim against the tide and live in simplicity rather than chaos?
I think the first step is to recognize that we are not solely responsible for the choking volume of 'things' in our lives. Our consumerist society is based on the assumption that everyone constantly wants more, more, more, and discourages old-fashioned virtues like frugality and thrift. From hearing about our duty to spend the so-called 'economic stimulus', despite what might be in our better interest, to being made to feel that the health of our economy depends upon our continually buying, we are bombarded with messages that try to persuade us that we have endless unmet needs that can only be satisfied by buying whatever latest and greatest is being touted. Indeed, our acculturation to these messages has become so deep that it is hard to step back and realize, no, we really don't need anything else, that we need to simplify more than we need to acquire, and we need open space more than we need stuff to fill it. Shopping is a national obsession, pastime, and panacea for a host of social needs.
So the second step is to realize when we actually need something other than food. Do we really have to have another book, or gadget, or trinket? Can we do without bringing home another garment to cram our closets? More often than we might have believed before we began this self-examination, the answer is No, we don't need anything else. Once we get to this realization we are free to declare a moratorium on shopping, at least until we have achieved a level of control over our acquisitive behavior and the clutter we live with. Some of us will find this step of not bringing more things back more difficult than others. But it is a key to having control over our lives, and worth working for.
Besides the things that we get hooked into buying, what are other preventable sources of clutter? Some people have compulsions to pick things up from the street, a hazardous activity, though hard to resist for many. It's the lure of the f*r*e*e* (asterisks needed to prevent deletion by spam filters). Found objects aren't really f*r*e*e - they just seem that way. They cost us in terms of the space in our homes and offices, mental energy, and time spent trying to dig out things we need and keeping track of it all (or not). (It may be instructive to calculate the square foot cost of your home or office space, including utilities and other essential expenses, then determine how much of that is spent hosting clutter.)
Some clutter comes from friends, relatives or roommates. This can be the hardest to deal with. I think the best thing is to graciously accept the gift at the time it is given, then go back later and say "You know, I really appreciate your thoughfulness in giving me this, but I must clear out my space. Would you prefer that I return it to you or pass it along to someone else who could use it?" This way you don't have to engage in endless deceptions, pretending that you still have the item, or keep something you don't want. Clearly, it is better to get ahead of the curve, and tell everyone you know not to give you things anymore, that you have embarked on a campaign of clearing out your space and your life. If people still give you things after that, it's sabotage, and you may need to consider more assertive strategies.
Other sources of clutter can be reduced by cancelling magazine subscriptions that you don't really read or need. I cancelled my newspaper subscription in favor of getting my news online. It's f*r*e*e*, less mess, and doesn't kill any trees. Book club memberships are an automatic source of clutter. Better to buy your books individually than to get caught up in a club which will happily send you more books than you can read. One good strategy is to establish a moratorium on new books (except for those you need for work - or clearing clutter!  :-) ) until you have read everything you already have. As a rule, after I have read a novel, I give it away so that someone else can have the pleasure and I have the space.
A similar approach works for clothing: no new clothes until you have gone thru everything you have, cleared out what is no longer needed, doesn't fit, or isn't in wearable condition, and organized the remaining items. It helps to have an analysis of your wardrobe (ex., if you have three skirts wearable for work, so you may conclude you need two more to have something different for each day, and to alternate with slacks and dresses). Another approach is to organize your clothes into outfits - this will quickly reveal gaps, altho all gaps may not need to be closed; if you have enough outfits for work, there is no need to buying more just to make complete outfits. It may be easiest to keep your wardrobe to essentials if you require that everything you have essentially coordinate with everything else; aside from opening up endless possibilities for outfits, this will probably mean that many items will go out.
Some items may need to be acquired just so you can be organized: filing cabinet(s), bookcase(s), and smaller containers to organize items by function or type. Unlike other acquisitions, these will help you organize and manage those belongings that you want to keep. If you can't afford or don't have room for a file cabinet, how about plastic file boxes for storing your essential papers? Some method will certainly be needed.
There is another type of clutter prevention that we all must continually engage in, even after intensive clearing out efforts - the essential picking up and putting away of things immediately after use. If your pattern has been to ignore minor items that are out of place, it may take a while to adopt a new way of looking at things. I find it useful to consider how my home or office would look to a visiting stranger. What would someone else notice that I may not normally? Other approaches are to do a 15-minute concentrated clearing out burst on each room - it's amazing how much can be done in that amount of time, especially if you crank yourself up into a high energy state beforehand; rock music (Rolling Stones anyone?) may help for this energized effort. Another technique is to neaten or organize something in an area or room every time you go in it; of course, this only works if you actually do go in and not just blank it out like a storage room or a garage. These walk-thru cleanups work best if you have planned what you will do for your next trip, say by telling yourself, "Ok, the next trip in here I will go thru that stack of papers and put away all those that I am keeping.
Another approach to clutter prevention is to make use of tiny bits of time to clean and/or organize. This is more possible that it might seem at first glance, and is such a big topic that the entire next issue of the newsletter will be devoted to this topic. 

Previous | Next

Articles Index

Home | Newsletters and Articles | Services | Workshops | Resources | Contact

Office Organization | Time Management | File Systems | Hoarding


©2008 Gloria Valoris