Friday, November 12, 2010

Conquering Clutter

I think it is time to start working on conquering my clutter again.  Working with clients who hoard has been a blessing for me - I think that if I had not learned to address my clutter, I might have turned into one of those 90 year old people who they have to dig out of their house.  Isn't is amazing how by helping others we can learn to help ourselves?  Along the way, I have learned a few things that I will try to share with you.

Handling all our "stuff" seems to be an issue that our society is having to face now more than ever.  We have so many things that come into our house, whether we want them to or not.  It used to make sense to hold onto things because they could be needed in the future - it was considered thrifty.  However, we now have such easy access to the things we might need, times have changed.  Having houses jammed with stuff has become the norm.

Keeping things costs money.  Here's how it costs us:
  • We need more square footage to keep the stuff.  Even if we are able to keep it perfectly organized, it takes up space.  This means we either have less living area, have to pay for a larger place to live, or have to pay for storage.
  • We can't find the things we need, and often end up purchasing duplicates.
  • We forget about the things we have and purchase duplicates.  How many times have you gone to the cupboard to put something away, and seen the same thing sitting there?
  • We hang onto things we could sell.
  • Food expires (or becomes freezer-burned) before we have a chance to use it.
There are many people who will give you advice on decluttering.  Professional organizers love to give you advice, but you should keep in mind that people don't become a professional organizer unless they love to organize and personally have very little difficulty in this area.  Here's the usual advice:
  • Visualize what you would like your space to look like, and what you would like to use your space for (e.g. having friends over).
  • Create three bins, labelled "put away", "throw away", and "give away".
  • Choose a specific area of a specific room to start with.  Either choose the area that bothers you the most, or choose the area that you think will be the easiest, so you will feel like you are making progress.
  • Sort the items into the bins.  When you are done, put the items away right away, and make sure you immediately remove from the home the throw away and give away items.
It sounds relatively easy, doesn't it?  Then why are more people not doing it?  We have so many reasons to hang onto things:
  • It's valuable.
  • It was a gift.
  • I will fix it.
  • I might need it someday.
  • It represents a time or a person in my life I want to remember.
  • I will get around to using it.
  • It was hard to get.
Here are some quesions I have found helpful for letting go of items:
  • Is it adding value to my life?  If it is in a box somewhere, the answer is automatically no.
  • Have I used it in the past 2 years?
  • Would someone else be able to make better use of it?
  • Is it realistic that I will get around to using it?
  • If I needed to, could I replace it?  Is it available at a dollar store?
  • Do I have other ones of the same thing?  Duplicates are not necessary.
  • Do I have space for it?  It might be a great object, but if it takes up too much of my living space, it cannot stay.
  • Is it helping me work toward my goals?  Is it getting in the way of working toward my goals?
  • If I am keeping it for sentimental reasons, where will I display it?  If it is that important to me, it should not stay in a box.  When will I work on displaying it?  What date and time?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of it?
  • Does it work?  How will I fix it?  What date and time will I fix it?  Am I prepared to schedule it in on my calendar? 
Here are a few tricks that I have found helpful:
  • Play a favourite song, and declutter for the time the song is playing.
  • Set a timer (15 minutes is a good amount of time to start with), and declutter until the timer goes off. 
  • Try a 10 thing fling.  Go around your house and find 10 items to part with.  Flylady recommends a 27 fling boogie, but I have found 27 items to be too many.  10 is much more achievable.
  • Invite someone over.  This will give you a deadline.
  • If your freezer and/or cupboards are crammed full of food, see how long you can go with only buying milk and fresh fruit.  You will be surprised at how much money you can save.
  • Remember that it has taken you many years to accumulate the things you have, so you can expect it to take a long time to sort through them.
  • Enlist the support of a friend.  If you feel OK about it, your friend can come over and help.  If not, just having someone supportive to talk to can help.  There are numerous online support communities as well (e.g. yahoo groups). 
The other piece of the puzzle is to watch what we bring into our houses.  It seems like wherever we go, there is more "stuff" to bring home.  After sorting through my things, I have become much more conscious about what I bring home, because I don't want to sort through it all again in the future.  I have learned that I need to simply avoid garage sales.  I also have to be extremely careful in dollar stores.  What triggers you to bring home more than you need to?

So, after learning all that I have about clutter management, do I live in a spotless, clutter-free house?  Not quite.  However, they won't have to dig me out of my home either.

Here's a book that I have found incredibly helpful when working with clients and for myself:


  1. And for some, there's the spousal clutter to consider...;) Excellent post!

  2. Hi Linda,
    I just came across your blog after Susan Burwash linked to it on facebook, and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it... so far only the first half dozen articles, but I look forward to doing some more exploring. Your article on empowering vs caring for in particular had me applauding. You hit the nail on the head exactly, I think - it's people's ability to think through the consequences of their decisions that needs evaluating, not their safety. (I've just posted the link to it on my facebook page, and already had 2 likes!)

    I'm an OT, no longer in clinical practice, although I do a lot of teaching to OTs about research and my research work. I've bookmarked the blog and will certainly visit regularly. By the way, there is another excellent OT blog written by Bronnie Thompson in New Zealand - - I wonder whether you have come across it?

    Gail Eva
    London, UK

    PS I think your email link from the blog might be broken - I sent you a mail which bounced.

  3. Great blog and excellent feedback Gail - yes i'd encourage Linda to visit Bronnies' blog - you did a great review of an article, but where was he reference - it's the little things that help keep people coming back to your blog! Bronnie's is a great model :-)

  4. Thank you so much for your feedback Gail, Barbara and Merrolee, and it is wonderful to connect with you. I find it amazing that I can just put my thoughts out there, and they end up reaching across the globe. As I am new to blogging, the more feedback I get, the better! I sure didn't learn about this in OT school. I agree that Bronnie's blog is amazing. I think I have fixed the email problem, and will make sure I include the article reference. Barbara - I thought about commenting on my husband's contributions to the state of our house, but I thought I might be in trouble if I vented to the world about it :)



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