The ABCs of Clutter: Conquering the real clutter culprits!

How to overcome resistance and take charge.

sink full of dirty dishes

Clutter is not just a pile of papers, shoes or magazines. It represents delayed decisions, things that we put off to do another time.

Examples abound: "I plan to read that someday," "Those shoes might work with an outfit for that party next year," "I will file it later." This rainy day mentality causes a "decision pile" to be dealt with later.

What is really at the bottom of the pile? The dreaded "P" word as I like to call it: procrastination.

Avoid procrastination

Procrastination is the putting off of one task for another which may or may not be as important. The tendency to put off till tomorrow what needs to be done today is the biggest obstacle to getting organized. The solution -- to make your decisions right away as to whether you'll keep something and where you'll put it -- is easier than you may think. Understand that putting something off today might provide a temporary relief factor, but that in the end you are creating a much bigger job for yourself.

Recognize the role of emotions

What goes hand in hand with the "I will do it tomorrow" attitude is emotion. People love things -- old clothing that holds a memory, a file of a favorite project, even love letters from an ex! This emotional attachment makes a decision more than a decision, it becomes a feeling-based decision. Recognizing the role emotions play will help us gain control over our things, not vice versa.

Make organizing an emotion-free zone

Organizing is a task to be managed, so make it an emotion-free zone. We often think we can justify our clutter by saying, "I don't have the time," "I don't have room," or, my favorite, "I don't feel like it." These excuses can be flipped to our advantage by realizing that we are in control of our time, that creating space is a product of purging and sorting, and that dealing with the task instead of the emotion can become contagious.

How to get started

Here are some daily mantras to help keep you on track:

  • Sort
  • Making decisions begins with sorting, even if you create files that say "bills to be paid," "pending," or "to be reviewed."

  • Start
  • Starting is key; begin with a baby step like a junk drawer.

  • Take charge
  • Put yourself in charge of the clutter and your emotions, not vice versa.

  • Avoid judging.
  • Do not judge how far you have come or how far you need to go.

  • Don't procrastinate.
  • Recognize procrastination as a trained behavior.

Using the techniques above, you should be able to rid your home of clutter and discover that you are in charge of how you live and the kind of environment with which you surround yourself.

Mary Carlomagno is the owner of Order, which specializes in clutter control and shopping addictions. She has written two books on these topics, as well as several articles for Care.com. Visit her website at orderperiod.com.

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Comments (7)
Donna F.
All of your comments are relevant. I had become a hoarder, procrastination. It took a high paying very stressful job & a house fire, lost everything. I am a nurse trying to go back to school after 30+ years. Stress and confusion are not good for any one. I avoid all stress now, by daily planning and even monthly planning.

Honestly, the best thing having nothing has been a blessing. As I get along now with very little my energy is better and for the last year I have very consciously tried to be aware of not cleaning up or not picking up.
I have even taken stressful people out of my life, too. Negative things really weight you down so now I eliminate that part of life, too. I realized I was repeating and dealing with family members and friends who were negative and very critical. I always try talking positive when they have problems but get criticized when I have problems so I learned to rely on God for my solutions for most things.

Now I have learned to surround myself with loving gentle people as much as possible. So I am happier. Focusing on positive things helps keep me more positive.
It takes another learning to be conscious of BAD, BAD habits. It has taken getting a low stress job and with better benefits to see the light. I hope my comment can help someone else. Recently, I have decided on a regular clean up day once a week.
Posted: January 08, 2014 at 5:44 PM
maddy
At a time saving seminar I attended several years ago they suggested to sort mail over the trash can. Items that need immediate attention - take care of them then and there. It was even suggested to put responses back on the letter of request - make a photocopy for yourself.
Posted: September 21, 2012 at 3:53 PM
Lorry J.
Anyone have any good mail soring ideas. We have a long counter near our kitchen and thats where all the mail piles up. I like the idea in the article to separate the mail into catagories. I need some ideas for a good type of container or file that I can use.
Posted: June 25, 2012 at 3:07 PM
Angie K. B.
I have been dealing with procrastination for the past 3 weeks. Until about 3 weeks ago I was dealing with things that had to be dealt with immediately. Now that obligations have settled down, I get up in the morning and have lots of time, but my effort has accomplished very little. Finding this website today was fortunate and well timed. These are great tips and I look forward to getting an early start tomorrow and just doing something. And feeling good about it.
Posted: March 06, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Photo of Kim F.
Kim F.
Working for a hoarder makes this article a god-send. It is very challenging to clean around mountains of items and paper that can't be parted with do to emotional issues. I also believe a higher rate should be paid for working in those conditions. It takes much longer to clean in such settings.

Best to you.
Posted: October 20, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Photo of Lori S.
Lori S.
I agree. It's so much easier to organize someone else's house. No emotional baggage to the stuff.
Posted: August 22, 2011 at 7:59 PM
Photo of Christy P.
Christy P.
I hope that I can get in this mind set, and make a difference in my home!!! This is what makes cleaning someone elses hope much easier than cleaning your own!
Posted: August 08, 2011 at 11:56 AM
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