Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How To Cut Clutter


Don't ask me how it happens, everything is fine for a long time, and then suddenly, there's a mess. It might be mounds of paper growing on the side of my desk; unfinished projects longing for me to get back to them; extra platters, books, and utensils sitting on the spare bed; and a pantry that looks like wolverines have been looking for lunch.

The month of January, with its sense of bright, new beginnings, is often a good time to clear clutter that's accumulated over the past few weeks or months. Traditionally, January is the time of year when hardware stores focus on selling storage and organizing tools; shelving units, plastic tubs, totes and baskets are now front and center where singing Santa Clauses stood just days earlier. How often have I joined the masses, also filled with resolution and optimism, to go and stock up on these 'saviors', determined that this is the year we will get and stay organized!

I have learned something over the years -- we don't always need to get more shelving or organizing units. It's more about knowing what it is that is actually filling up our spaces, and then determining whether we really want or need it still. I ask myself the question: Does it enhance my lifestyle or is it getting in the way of what I aim for in my life: simplicity, peace of mind, order?

Four Main Areas of Clutter

Years ago I found an article in which the author identified four areas that created clutter in her own life. What she said resonated with me. I adopted her short list as a guide to help me to identify what's causing my own clutter.

1. Unfinished projects. These not only clutter our desk tops, drawers, and closets, but our minds and emotions for they seem to cling to those thoughts just on the edge of our consciousness. We feel something bugging us and we know something is undone. It saps valuable energy.
TIP: Make a list of every project, large or small, and think about what you can do to complete it. Until you do finish it, find a suitable 'home' in your house where it can be stored -- maybe a drawer or a file box. Somewhere out of sight, but not out of mind. Somewhere away from your current project, so your mind can relax that you will take care of it.
2. Stuff out of place. Example in hand. My husband and I recently came home from a family birthday weekend celebration and a holiday trek away in the mountains. Our clothes and foodstuffs got unpacked right away, but a few other items were piled into the spare room to be dealt with later. My guest room looked like warehouse. And then we had some minor repairs done to the ceiling of our family room, so ornaments, paintings, tables were added to that room. It was quite a pile in there.
TIP: Take time to put it all back where it belongs. Put the ribbons and scissors back in the drawer. Take that turkey platter and put in where it goes till the next time you need it. It's amazing how little time is sometimes takes to just put it back. And, of course the trick is to aim for putting it all away as soon as you finished with it.
3. Too much stuff in too small a space. Oh boy, oh boy... there you are on your hands and knees trying to dig out that large lasagna pan from the back of the cupboard, but there's so much sitting in front of it that you have to take everything out to retrieve it. Then you're in a hurry to get back to your cooking, and now everything's in a mess.
TIP:Keep what you use every day close at hand and put occasional-use things elsewhere so it doesn't cause a 'traffic jam'. If you don't make lasagna often, then put that pan in a seldom use cupboard and remember that's where it lives. Also, learn to recognize just how many of one thing you actually use, eg. do you truly need a dozen pie plates? And, a key thing for me has been to recognize is that I don't need -- and I'll never use -- all the cool gadgets out there, no matter which well-known kitchen diva says they can't live without it.
4. Stuff that you've out-lived, out-grown and out-loved. This is the hard part of things in my estimation. Just because I've out-lived something doesn't mean I've out-loved it too. Sometimes I'm emotionally attached to things that I no longer use, but I hate to give it away or throw it out. My sister calls that the weight of sentimentality.
TIP: Think of it as making room for the new. If you keep holding on to things that are no longer beautiful or useful, it will lock you in the past. Any items you do want to keep for posterity or for sentimental reasons, then make a home for them in a proper box somewhere where they can live peacefully until you want to look at them again. They don't need to live in your every day space.
I bless my old things that are going out the door. I say thank you and 'goodbye' from my heart as it goes out the door. I have done that with previous cars, my frig, stove, with books, clothes or ornaments I'm passing along. It sets me free in my mind and heart. I think that's what Joshua Becker Clutterfree with Kids means when he says, "Don't just declutter, de-own."

I hope these tips will help to bring about a sense of peace, order out of chaos, and turn your cluttered corners into something more beautiful!



  1. Rats! Another reminder that I need to rid my closets of clothes I'll never wear. I love them... but, we're not going to go on a Carribean Cruise and if we decide last minute to go on one... I'll never squish my body into the size six outfits. I can toss the itty bitty beaded blouses and velvet pants. I may have a couple that might fit...but then again, I've held onto them for a decade and they've never touched skin.

    I have three or four dozen ceramic mixing bowls. I have some wierd attatchment to them. I could easily give away a dozen of them and still have cupboards stuffed with bowls that will never hold cookie dough or be used to beat scrambled eggs. I don't know why I hoard them like I do... it's not like I gave them birth.

    In answer to your question about Wayne being more help and "partnering" with me now that he's retired. ha ha ha ha ha ahhhh
    ha ha ha. He's an organization NUT! He hates any kind of clutter. He's also a minimalist. Two pair of pants is plenty..one to wear, one to wash. If I leave the house for more than two days, he cleans out and organizes my underwear drawer. It's true. Que es verdad!

    I do like to have an organized, ordered home. I do. I can't stand things out of place. I need all the bath towels hanging neatly and the wood grain on the stools facing the same direction. It's a visual thing with me. Things need to be aesthetically correct.

    It's another snowy day. I think I'll follow your good example and wise counsel and go through the bathroom drawers and throw out some old make-up. Maybe chuck a couple pair of shoes, a hat or two. It's going to be hard for me to decide when something has been outloved. I can hang on a looooong time to old cherished items.

    I have a girlfriend who told me to take pictures of some of the items that I treasure and don't have room for any longer. Keep them in an album with a short note about where I got it, who gave it to me, why it meant something to me and pull it out now and then to reminisce. Not a shabby idea.

    I may decide to hang on to one of my fanciest beaded blouses to wear when we bike downtown or deliver excess eggs to the neighbors. I think it might accesorize my clown nose nicely.

    Sorry this is so long. It appears I need to unclutter and dejunk my mind as well.

    I love the "wolverines looking for lunch". Great line!!

  2. it must be catching, i'm cleaning off my computer desk but don't throw out unfinished projects...I've been working for 15 years on my husband's life story and I'm not tossing it. In fact I'm still working on it occasionally. I guess to have a place not too out of sight to store unfinished projects. good ideas for a new year for indoor activities.

  3. Caryn, You make me LOL. I love the images your words bring forth. I can just see how perfectly the clown nose would go with a beautifully beaded blouse as you bike about town!

    I've heard of the idea of taking pictures of objects too dear to just throw or give away. I think it's a fab idea too.

    I have memoribilia binders (if you recall I tend to file most things in binders rather than folders).... anything like notes or cards, grade school report cards, cute cat pictures I cut out of magazines, my grandmother's old doily pattern book with her name inscribed in her spidery hand, that sort of thing. Even my first clumsy attempt at embroidery as a young girl is tucked into a sleeve. I'm always amazed at how much pleasure I get from flipping through a binder once in a while.

    Are your ceramic mixing bowls displayed aristically? Why can't you have your 3-4 dozen if they create an ambiance, if they provide a certain pleasure.... but then don't hide them in places you never see them.

    Fortunately Rick and I are similar in our housekeeping traits -- neat, enjoying things in order, but not overly fussy about underwear drawers, although they are fairly organized until said wolverines go hunting in there too!

    I agree about the towels and things lining up aesthetically.

    If you are a better speaker than a writer, I'd looooove to sit in on one of your presentations. Cause I love your writings!

    Best be off here...

  4. Lin, Now I agree 100% some unfinished projects are meant to be included in the journey of one's life. Like your husband's life story.

    Guess I think more of those projects that were started enthusiastically and then all interest and reason for them has sputtered out. And those projects about the house where you started something, but it never got completed (like hanging curtain rods, so they reproachfully sit in a corner with the tiny screws dangling from their little plastic bag)..... I have a set in the garage waiting for me to put up!

    Oh well.... one day at a time.

  5. GREAT list!!! I hate clutter! I have such a difficulty getting motivated or moving if all I see is mess! GREAT post!! I do love the list your provided..thank you!

  6. Hi Melanie -- I hate clutter too. I keep hoping that someday I'll win the battle, but maybe it's a pipe dream. Life happens, clutter happens. I'll work to the list and hope for the best!


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