I love this quote. It reminds me that actions lead to habits, and that I can control what habits I develop by making mindful decisions about how to act and spend my time day in and day out.
In many ways, organization and clutter are habits. Dozens of small decisions throughout the day have a big cumulative impact on the amount of clutter that surrounds us.
In the Western world, everyone deals with clutter all the time. Even for the organized and tidy, the threat of impending clutter is ever present. It's a sort of by-product of our lifestyle and culture. The good news is, we can choose whether to fight off the threat or succumb to it. In other words, our actions can either add to or limit the amount of clutter in our lives.
So the question each of us must ask ourself is "Am I a clutter creator, or a clutter reducer?"
People who live relatively clutter-free lives are able to do so because they have developed habits that prevent things from piling up unnecessarily. Consequently, they practice reducing their clutter on a nearly continual basis.
Let's examine the differences in every day behaviors of clutter creators versus clutter reducers.
Where Does It Go?
It will come as no surprise that clutter reducers follow the famous advice of Benjamin Franklin, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
A major contributor to the creation of clutter is the lack of an assigned space for things. When it is unclear where a thing belongs, that thing typically gets left lying around. Therefore, if you're serious about reducing clutter, you must determine a location for everything in your home. This may require some serious consideration up front, but it pays long term dividends towards living a clutter-reduced lifestyle.
If you don't know where a thing belongs, ask yourself why. Is it because there isn't room for the item in the place where you think it should belong? Or is it because the thing has no real meaning or value to you? Or is it something else? The answer to this question is the first step in resolving the overall issue.
Clutter reducers don't just manage the clutter in their homes; they also tend to make mindful decisions about what gets through the door. Instead of bringing home fliers and other bits of paper they take photos with their phones, thus allowing them to have the information without the clutter. They avoid free samples, SWAG, and other "free" gifts they know they won't use. They think before they buy and ask themselves questions like "Where will I put this if I bring it home with me?"
Clutter creators like stuff. It gives them a little thrill to get something "free", even if they don't actually want or need the item. They operate under the false assumption that you can't organize information that isn't printed out on a piece of paper. They accept every scrap of paper with potentially useful information on it to serve as a visual, physical reminder of something they want to do or to research or to purchase. They are much less likely to consider whether they have the space for an item before they make a purchase, only whether or not they like or want the item in question.
Clutter reducers are in the habit of putting things away. When they walk in the door, they hang up their coat, they tuck their shoes neatly away where they belong, they hang up their bag or place it in its permanent home. If they have made purchases, they put them away - right away. If they are carrying the mail with them, they sort through it and put it in its proper place (trash, recycling, action pile, etc.). When they are finished using a thing, they put the item where it belongs. When they are done eating, they clean up after themselves.
Clutter creators tend to function under the false assumption that things take longer to complete than is actually true. Hanging up their coat seems like more effort than tossing it over the nearest piece of furniture. Kicking their shoes aside haphazardly seems quicker than neatly setting them on a shoe rack. Taking the time to rinse and load a small handful of dishes into the dishwasher isn't worth the effort when there are just going to be more dishes later. When they are tired at the end of the day, it seems more prudent to pile packages, bags, and mail on the nearest surface than to "deal with" everything.
In reality, most of these tasks take mere seconds to complete, and all of them can be accomplished within a few minutes at most. What clutter creators don't realize is that taking those few seconds or minutes will actually leave them feeling better about their space, better about themselves, and better about life in general, thus making it easier to relax and unwind.
Ease of Use
Clutter reducers naturally understand and practice the concept of 'ease of use' and organize their homes accordingly. Simply stated, it's the practice of making the things you use easy to access (and easy to put away). It's a way of setting yourself up for success when it comes to maintaining clutter. It is not hard to implement ease of use strategies in your home; it just takes a little forethought and preparation to set things in motion. Examples of ease of use practices include:
Clutter creators sometimes make things harder than they need to be. They place things in illogical locations where they are difficult to access or even find. They buy elaborate storage systems that look nice but function poorly. In short, they have not learned how to create storage that is easy to use. The good news is, this is a skill, and it can be learned! To start with, read about basic concepts of decluttering here.
Systems for Success
One of the ways that clutter reducers set themselves and their families up for success in the battle against clutter is by creating systems. They may not even realize that this is what they are doing, but these systems are an integral part of their personal clutter control strategy.
A system is simply a way of doing things. Clutter control systems are specific methods designed to solve potential clutter issues. An example is the entry way. These often passed through and typically small spaces are at the front line in the battle against clutter. Those who have systems in place for storing incoming and outgoing gear, are much less likely to have a cluttered entry, and much more likely to have what they need when they walk out the door each day.
Clutter creators usually recognize problem areas, but they don't know how to deal with them. They wonder why the entry is always a mess, but they fail to create a system for avoiding this situation. They puzzle over the lack of space on their kitchen counters but continue to use them as a dumping ground for all sorts of non-kitchen items. If you're struggling to resolve specific clutter issues in your home, read about developing systems for decluttering here.
A Declutter Mindset
Decluttering is part of the clutter reducers mindset. They regularly evaluate the condition of their space and the value of the items that occupy it. They keep a box or bin in the garage (or other convenient but out-of-the-way location) where they place items they intend to donate, and when it's full, they take it to the thrift store.
Clutter reducers have learned that it is more comfortable and enjoyable not to live with things they no longer want, need, or use. Perhaps most important, they have learned to let go of guilt and fear - the two big factors that prevent people from getting rid of items that no longer serve a purpose or add value to their lives.
On the other hand, clutter creators are often driven by guilt or fear to hold onto things they really don't want or need. They worry that they might need an item at some future point or that someone will be offended if they give something away. It's also true that some clutter creators don't really think at all when it comes to stuff. They make no evaluation whatsoever, content (or not) to live with the growing collection of stuff that surrounds them, never giving thought to whether or not individual items have merit and meaning.
Which One Are You?
As you can see, there are clear distinctions in the way that clutter reducers and clutter creators think and act. If you are a clutter creator at heart, and you'd rather be a clutter reducer, simply begin now to implement some of the practices and thought patterns that help clutter reducers manage and contain the potential clutter in their lives. You can do as Aristotle indicated and make excellence (via organization) a habit.
My husband and I have recently undergone a major decluttering effort. We have thrown out, given away, or sold a ton of stuff, and it has been amazingly satisfying. As an organizer, I am well-versed in the typical benefits of decluttering such as increased space and decreased stress, but on a personal level, decluttering has blessed my life in a number of unanticipated ways. These unexpected benefits of decluttering have been my favorite part of the process.
If decluttering is on your to do list, and you're looking for a little extra motivation to get the ball rolling, consider these added perks that come from decluttering.
NOTE: Our decluttering was associated with a move, but you don't have to be moving to enjoy the benefits identified here that can result from a concerted decluttering effort.
Open Up New Possibilities for Your Space
By freeing up space within your home, you open up new opportunities for utilizing your space. Have you always wanted a craft room? Getting rid of unnecessary clutter could free up the space you need to make your dream a reality. Do you need a home office or a space for your kids to do Zoom schooling? Downsizing items that no longer fit your lifestyle and interests can free up the space you need to realize your current needs.
These are biggish examples here, but new possibilities for your space can be realized on a smaller scale as well. For instance, by downsizing books we opened up space on our bookshelves for our scrapbooks. We have lovely scrapbooks that have been sitting on the top shelf of a closet for more than a decade neglected and unappreciated. I'm excited to have them readily available to flip through and share.
Become Reacquainted with Your Stuff
Something I didn't anticipate when I started decluttering was the increased access it would give me to things I either forgot I had or never used because they were shoved so far back in the cupboard it was difficult to get to them. This was especially true in the kitchen. Since getting rid of unused, unneeded items, I have lots more room in my cupboards, and I have enjoyed rediscovering some of my old favorite things.
Discover New Ways to Reuse Old Items
Sometimes you have things you really love, but they no longer work in the way you originally intended. If you really love an item, think about ways to repurpose it - I'm not talking about turning old colanders into planters (although that sort of thing can be fun as well). I'm talking more about finding a new home or a new purpose for an existing item. I've had a blast finding new uses for furniture items, baskets and bins, and even knickknacks.
I'll share an example. Many years ago we had a custom china cabinet built to house our collection of Palestinian pottery and dishware (along with a lot of other stuff). It is massive and very 1990's in it's design. I loved it when it was new and for many years after, but it no longer coordinates with any of our furniture and we have fallen out of love with it., so we decided to sell it.
Selling the china cabinet was a no-brainer, but it left us with a problem - what to do with our beloved collection of pottery and dishware. At first we thought we would buy a replacement piece, but we couldn't find one we liked. Then we discovered that our new bigger bedroom closet allowed us to downsize by one dresser. The dresser we opted not to use in our bedroom is a beautiful piece of furniture that I absolutely love. No way did I want to get rid of it, but it seemed as though it no longer served a purpose - until I decided to use it as a replacement for the china cabinet. It's both unique and functional. It blends well in the space (despite the fact that it's a dresser) and my china, table lines, and other odds and ends fit inside it beautifully.
Rethink Your Priorities, Interests, and Goals
Downsizing affords you the opportunity to reassess what matters to you here and now and let go of things that no longer have value in your life. For example...
As we were leaving the old house, I packed up all my craft supplies. As I was unpacking at the new house, I quickly realized that I was not going to have space for everything without purchasing some furniture pieces and storage solutions to contain it all. After a little thought, I decided that I wasn't willing to pay the price in money or space to store stuff I hadn't used in years. Instead, I opted to think through what I would actually use and get rid of the rest. I ended up getting rid of several boxes of things I had either bought and never used (and couldn't recall my original intent for them) or that were left over from long completed projects. What remains are items that appeal to my current interests and goals.
Develop a Healthier Relationship with Stuff
I'm always telling people that decluttering is liberating and rejuvenating, and I have been reminded on a personal level recently just how much truth there is in that claim. It's exhilarating and satisfying and uplifting to walk into a clutter free space knowing that you are surrounded only by things that have meaning and value in your life today. Some of those things may be mementos, others may be tools, and still others will be toys (or things that entertain you). Whatever their purpose in your life, the joy comes in the fact that they serve a meaningful purpose - even the boring but highly practical items.
Things take up space not only in the physical world, but also in our minds. Unwanted, unnecessary, and unused items weigh us down by taking up space in our homes and weighing on our consciences. Letting go of such things, allows you to enjoy your possessions rather than be burdened by them.
Give It a Try!
Decluttering is worth the effort. The benefits are legion. In addition to the unexpected benefits identified here, decluttering saves you time, money, and space. It reduces stress, increases productivity, improves peace of mind and nurtures a sense of empowerment. I encourage you to give it a try. Then please share how this process has blessed your life. I'm always looking to expand my list of the benefits of decluttering!
Letting Go Is Liberating
I consider myself a purger. As an organizer, it's in my blood. Every couple of months I make a run to the thrift store to drop off donations. As such, I did not expect to have much to do in the way of downsizing when we decided to move homes recently. To my surprise, the opposite has been true. To my delight, I have greatly enjoyed the process.
I know that for some people (indeed many people) downsizing is intimidating and even painful, but I want you to know that is doesn't have to be. Sure, it takes effort, but it's an effort that pays dividends in emotional and psychological benefits.
Why Downsizing Can and Should Be a Delight
I have found that every item that passes through my door bound for some location other than my new home leaves me feeling a little lighter. Not only is it one less thing I have to move (and at this point in the process that prospect has real value to me), it's something I no longer have responsibility for.
Have you thought about your stuff in those terms before? Every item we own is an item we are responsible for. It's an item we have to clean and maintain and house. It's also an item we are one day going to leave to others to deal with. Knowing that I have fewer things for which I am accountable leaves me with a sense of relief.
Another thing I love about downsizing is the opportunities it opens up for creating the home I want. The less junk I have, the more space there is for the things I truly love and value. The easier it is to find things. The confining, crowding effects of clutter are replaced with a sense of tranquility and calm.
Does It Belong
Moving provides an ideal opportunity to downsize. One way or another, whether you're moving yourself or paying someone to do it for you, there will come a point in the process where you will handle every item you own. It could be going into a box or onto a truck, or it might be coming out of the box or off of the truck. If you're doing it all yourself, then you get the bonus of two opportunities to consider each item's fate. Such is the case with our move.
I highly recommend mindful packing/unpacking. Before putting forth the effort to pack an item and transport it to a new location, ask yourself where it fits in your new home and the lifestyle you hope to enjoy there. If an item passes this test only to cause you stress on the other end as to where it belongs, ask yourself if it does belong. Too often we get caught up in the value of an item, either emotionally, financially, or practically. Instead, try thinking about how an item fits into your space and your lifestyle. Things can have intrinsic value without having value to you personally. It's okay to let go of such things. In fact, it's advisable.
The Downsizing Process
Our downsizing process has been multifaceted. When I first started setting things aside to get rid of, I pictured myself having a sale. The time of year and the effort involved (not to mention the time) have caused me to rethink that plan. With one exception, we have given away (or thrown away) every item we have parted with. Here's how the process has unfolded:
Downsizing Is For Everyone
You don't have to be moving to enjoy the benefits of downsizing. You just need a little motivation, a little energy, and a little time. If you've been meaning to downsize, let this be the impetus to get you moving in that direction. I promise you'll be glad you made the effort. Letting go feels good! It's liberating to release things that no longer serve a purpose in your life, and it's rewarding to find them a good home.
One of the things that has surprised me the most about this process is how many items we have held onto that were in some way damaged or unserviceable. Such things are easy to get rid of and are rarely, if ever, missed. Try starting with this items to build your motivation and go from there. You can do it!
We're moving, or at least we think we are. We are certainly considering it seriously. At any rate, we're in a moving mindset.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband said to me, "When we move, we're not taking that with us." It happened to be a piece of furniture, and I happened to agree whole-heartedly with him. In fact, my response was, "I was thinking the same thing." And I was. In fact, I have been thinking that about a lot of things, and this has got me pondering: If I wouldn't take it with me when I move, why am I holding onto it?
Sometimes the answer to this question is a perfectly reasonable one. Perhaps the item is useful in the current location, but it won't be needed in the new one. Such would be the case if, for instance, you lived in an area where is snows regularly and you were moving to a southern state. You might opt not to bring the snow blower to your new location.
Often, however, our reasons for holding onto things we wouldn't take with us if we were moving are not so easy to define and may require a little soul searching. I have decided to begin a pre-move purge. Even if we decide not to move, I know I will be glad that I embarked on this endeavor. No matter what one's current life circumstance, a little purging is always good for the soul, not to mention one's space.
Below is my ever-growing list of items I will not be taking with me if and when I move. I've got specific examples, but I've decided to generalize in order to provide information that will be more widely applicable.
STUFF WE'VE OUTGROWN: Clothing is, of course, the first thing that comes to mind, but it is by no means the only category of items that fit this criteria. It is possible to outgrow items not only physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, or simply in terms of preference. As an example, a client of mine recently told me that the music in her CD collection "no longer falls on my ears like it used to." In other words, her tastes have changed. She has outgrown her old music. What have you outgrown? You don't have to wait for a move to get rid of things you no longer love.
PILLOWS: The National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing pillows every one to two years. This is because pillows absorb dust, dead skin cells, body oils, and other icky stuff that attracts dust mites and other microorganisms. While it is possible to extend the life of some pillows by washing them every three to six months, they will not last indefinitely. The following are indications that your pillow needs replacing:
MATTRESSES: Like pillows, mattresses serve as collection sites for all sorts of yucky stuff. There are some things you can do to care for your mattress and extend it's life, but generally speaking mattresses should be replaced every eight to ten years. Moving is a great time to assess the condition of the mattresses in your home and leave behind those that have lived a full life.
DAMAGED STUFF: I have a tendency to use things until they are unusable. My cell phone is a great example. My children regularly chide me about the fact that it is so outdated (I still have an iPhone 7 and my iPad is 8 years old). But it still works, albeit not as well as I would like. Another example is my blender. The lid to the pitcher does not seat properly unless you physically hold it down. It makes using the blender a bit frustrating. To replace the pitcher and lid costs almost as much as a new blender, so I am not taking the old one with me when I move. It isn't worth salvaging.
Most of us have stuff that is broken, stained, frayed, threadbare, or otherwise damaged. We hold onto such things because we once loved them, and we would like for them to be whole again or because we do not want to spend the money to replace them. Whatever our reasoning, holding onto such items only adds clutter to our lives.
OUTDATED ELECTRONICS: We have a bin in our attic full of old electrical chargers and cords. I cannot identify the purpose of 99% of these accessories. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of these cables and cords do not work with any device currently residing in my home. We've lived here for seven years and never needed them, so they will not be coming with us when we move. Do you have any outdated electronics in your home? My page Where to Donate or Recycle Electronics offers a variety of resources for disposing of electronics safely and responsibly.
UNUSED APPLIANCES: I knew it was time to get rid of the quesadilla maker when I went to make quesadillas and intentionally opted to use another method for preparing them. The same was true for my fondue pot. Unused appliances take up a lot of space, so parting with them is a great way to clear the clutter from your kitchen.
UNUSED SURPLUS: I'm a firm believer in being prepared and keeping things on hand that you use regularly. It's wonderful to be able to pull a staple item off the shelf when you run low rather than having to run to the store. That said, most of us hold onto an excess of things we don't use or only use periodically. In the case of food items, this can be doubly wasteful. The space needed to store the items is wasted, and often the items themselves go to waste because they expire and have to be discarded.
I happen to have a weakness for school supplies. Despite the fact that I have resisted the urge to 'stock up' on such items during the late summer sales for the past two years since my youngest child graduated high school, I still have drawers and bins teaming with empty notebooks, unopened bags of pens, and other school essentials. It's time to make a realistic assessment of what we will actually use in a timely manner and edit my cache.
DUPLICATES: We recently bought a brand new squeegee to push the rain off our deck. A few weeks later we discovered that we already owned a squeegee - the exact same squeegee, in fact. One of them is going to find a new home before we move. A couple of years ago, we received a waffle iron as a gift. We already had a waffle iron. Since getting the new one, I have not used the old one. I'm keeping the new one and bidding the old one farewell. As the wife of an army officer, I also have an impressive collection of serving trays which have seen a lot of use over the years. In addition to my own collection, I inherited several from my step mom. These days they don't get nearly as much use as they once did. Time to pare down the collection and pass some on to another user.
Chances are you can think of similar examples among your possessions. If you have two, and one will do, I encourage you to choose your favorite and give the extra one away.
STUFF THAT"S MOSTLY USED: The list of examples that fit into this category is potentially unending. I'll just give you a few to get your mind going: lipstick and other cosmetics, nail polish, partially burned candles, gift wrap scraps, craft supplies, medicines you no longer take, paint or glue that's drying up, lotions and other toiletries you tried but didn't love. You get the idea. Look for stuff that's been opened and partially used that's been sitting around for some time. Ask yourself if you're ever going to use it and get rid of it if the answer is no.
STUFF I"VE BEEN KEEPING FOR THE WRONG REASON: As an organizer I am not completely immune to the subtle, yet alluring, array of excuses that cause us to keep things we don't want or need. My moving game plan is thus: make an honest assessment as to why I am keeping things and part with those things that have been burdening me in one way or another. Examples include things I've kept out of guilt, things I've kept out of laziness, things I've kept out of a sense of sentimentality, and things I've kept just in case. Whether you are moving or not, it is always freeing to let go of things that have been burdening you, so I'm looking forward to this part of the purging process in particular.
Be Motivated By Moving
Finding an Organizer
See Things Through
Set Up Systems
Label, label, label
Practice "Resetting the Room"
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
Thanks, But No Thanks
A Better Way
When No One You Know Wants Your Stuff
Tips for Sharing Your Stuff