05 Feb 2013
February 5, 2013

Clutter- The elephant in the room

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It’s funny how clutter sneaks up on you. You bring something into your house – be it something you bought, mail, schoolwork, dry cleaning, a coat you were wearing – and you set it down. Maybe on the kitchen counter or table … just that one thing. Then later that day, you walk back past the counter/table and lo and behold, that one item has somehow multiplied! A few other things have now joined your original item and all of a sudden you have a pile. You are kind of taken aback because for the life of you, you can’t figure out how this happened. Well, no time to deal with it right now – you need that counter/table for dinner – so you move this pile into the dining room. That would be the same dining room where you have moved yesterday’s pile, and the day before’s pile, and the day before’s pile (you get the picture) and suddenly your dining room looks like it is auditioning for an episode of Mission-Organization on HGTV. Before you know it, you have a huge amount of clutter that you would rather pretend didn’t exist … and you are now the proud owner of your very own elephant in the (dining) room.

Clutter sometimes takes on a life of its own and seems to play games with you (kind of like those crazy squirrels that dash out into the street at the last moment daring you to hit them). Here’s a favorite game of clutter: in an effort to keep your home looking neat and tidy, rather than putting an item down by itself and having random things strewn all over the house, you make a sub-conscious decision to put it with something else that is already out. Even though you are combining items, it somehow looks like less than if they were all out individually. And you’re feeling good for keeping your space neat and somewhat organized (go you!). When this pile is sizable enough to show up on your radar, you don’t have the time to put those things away and honestly, you’re not even sure where to put some of them. So it becomes the pile that gets moved to the dining room (or another space that you don’t have to look at too much). And before you know it you’re feeling totally overwhelmed with all the stuff you now have accumulated in that space. Damn you clutter and your mind games!

The word “clutter” even sounds so simple, so manageable … so harmless. HA! The word clutter originates from the middle English word “clotteren” which means “to clot” or “to coagulate”. Now if you looked at a space in your house as being in a state of coagulation – one that causes you to function slower, can make you feel like you are stuck and is just generally yucky, wouldn’t that make you take this whole clutter thing more seriously? Clutter is serious – and not just the level of clutter that you see on “Hoarders”. Clutter is mentally and emotionally draining. It causes lack of motivation, self-judgment and sometimes depression. In fact it is so serious – and so prevalent – that there is a Clutterers Anonymous (CLA) in at least 24 states that offer a 12-Step program for those trying to get a handle on this elephant in their room(s). Assuming you don’t live near one of the 70+ cities that offer this support group, what can you do to take care of your own elephant?

  • First, let’s get on the same page as to exactly what clutter is. According to CLA, clutter is:
    “Anything we don’t need, want or use that takes our time, energy or space and destroys our serenity”. Doesn’t a good definition really help you to look at your belongings with new eyes? If something you have sitting around meets any of those standards, then plain and simple – it is clutter. Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter/producer Pharrell Williams has a great motto that he lives by “I only have room for those things in my life that feel great and have purpose. No matter how cool something is, if it doesn’t pass my checklist I’m running the other way”. Run, Pharrell, Run!!
  • Once you have identified what your clutter is, beware of another mind game that it will play with you … the “I might need this someday” game. If you are struggling to get rid of an item – whether to throw it out or donate it – ask yourself “What is the worst thing that can happen if I get rid of this?” If you still can’t bring yourself to part with it, put it in a box and store the box in the garage. If you don’t find yourself going out to the box over the next 6 months to retrieve the item, you can feel fairly confident that your world will not end if you get rid of it.
  • Lastly, when dealing with your clutter, be realistic. Rather than tackling the whole herd of elephants that has taken up residence throughout your house, pick just one to start with. Decide on a space that will bring you the most peace when you see it clutter-free. For some this could be the kitchen where your family spends most of their time. For others, it could be your bedroom – your place to gear down and relax at the end of a long day. Regardless of what space it might be, just pick one space and work on keeping it clutter-free for a month before moving on to another area.

Samuel Richardson said “love will draw an elephant through a keyhole” … so love yourself, love your space and get that elephant out of your house!