Unclutter your House, Unclutter your Mind



Ron Roel

THERE ARE ALWAYS LOTS OF EXCUSES for not clamping down on clutter.

Mostly, we’re “too busy” doing other things to find the time to reorganize or jettison stuff we’ll probably never use again. Oh sure, we occasionally commit to a fitful day of spring cleaning. But within a few months we’re back to our accumulating habits.

I’m not talking about compulsive hoarding—the  kind of mental disorder we voyeuristically witness on reality TV shows. Rather, I mean clutter that reflects the emotional struggle many of us face when trying to let go of all the sentimental stuff we’ve saved for years. “People have a hard time parting with things, especially the treasures they kept from their children growing up,” professional organizer Debbie Ginsberg, the co-owner of Uncluttered Domain, recently told me.

Naturally, we all have our own ideas of what differentiates “treasures” from junk. For me, treasures include gifts and cards people have given me; sentimental artwork and projects collected from my sons’ early years; and closets of clothes that are completely out of style. And then, there are my boxes—papers, articles and reports related to my writing career—many of which, my wife  rightly points out, can probably be retrieved over the Internet.

Since the fall, I have been slowly sorting through this stuff. I’ve come to realize two things. First, if  there’s little chance that I’m ever going to look at something again, there’s virtually no chance that anyone else will be interested. So why am I keeping stuff that will only end up as annoying junk bequeathed to the rest of my family?

Second, not clearing out the clutter can have real consequences for me right now. As stress management experts and psychologists note, dealing with disarray drains us of mental energy, as well as time spent looking for misplaced items. On the other hand,  clearing out clutter can help us feel better. Our mind is able to release itself of old feelings, leaving us free to move on with renewed energy. It puts us back in control of our house—and our life.

Think of uncluttering as part of a broader practice, perhaps adapting principles from meditation or yoga, focusing your mind and body in harmony with your physical environment….Clean home, clean mind.

Of course, breaking the clutter barrier is not always easy; I should know. So here are some tips I’ve culled along the way from several experts:

1. When devising a decluttering strategy, think small, one room at a time, even one corner at a time. Don’t go on to another room until you’ve finished—and watch out for “churning,” or shuffling the same clutter from one place to another.

2. Divide your things into four basic categories: things to sell or donate; things to throw away or recycle; things to keep; and things to store. If you don’t need it or love it, consider getting rid of it. When you sort through things to keep, make sure you find a place for each item where it will actually be used.

3. If you’re feeling anxious about getting rid of things  (you may associate clutter with a sense of personal security and abundance), consider this suggestion by Randy Frost, a widely known psychologist at Smith College: Choose something you’re attached to and hypothesize how you would feel if you got rid of it. Then get rid of  it and see how you feel. Typically, your reaction is much less severe than you predicted, and once you experience that, it may be easier to let go of the next “treasured” object.

4. Professional organizer Jeanne Smith suggest that you create a record—a photo or video—of an object before throwing or giving it away, thus creating an archive. Ultimately, it’s the memories that are important, she says, not the objects themselves.

5. For some people, donating items to charity (and getting a tax deduction) may help ease the resistance to uncluttering. But don’t simply try to donate to charity what you can’t sell, like spoiled or ripped items. Remember, it’s the Salvation Army, not the Sanitation Army.

For more information on this and related topics, visit the links on our Resources page.

Forty Forward!

Your comments on this article?
Leave a reply below…