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Of Clutter I Utter

I have been hearing people talk about clutter for years.  Clutter is everywhere in our lives.  

Clutter can take away valuable time.  You are constantly spending time looking for important documents, your car keys, your shoes and many more items.  All this extra time adds up. It’s exhausting.  A major time waster. 

Clutter can be costly in other ways too.

Clutter Increases Stress    

Clutter has been known to increase stress levels.  It can overload your senses.  “Stuff” everywhere can be unsettling. Clutter in her home is a constant reminder of work to be done.  

Clutter Costs Money

Late fees on bills not paid because the bill was under a pile. Purchases of items you already own but couldn’t find.  The costs may seem nominal but all these items add up… and add additional clutter.

Here are some observations about clutter from friends and colleagues:

  • A friend mentioned that his garage was so full, he had to park his car outside and it was vandalized.
  • A colleague added that they love the feeling of dropping boxes off at Goodwill - it brings a sigh of relief that they are getting organized while helping others at the same time. 
  • Another friend mentioned that when she moved two years ago, she never unpacked 10 boxes and they were still in her basement. They probably will stay there until her next move. Did she really need to keep all that junk?  
  • A close friend’s mother recently moved into an assisted living facility. The responsibility for getting mom’s home ready for sale fell to her. Her mother never threw anything away and my friend had to sort through 50 years of “collected items.” (The actual words my friend used to describe the clutter cannot be printed.) The effort took over her weekends for months, taking her away from family, and led to resentment between the two of them. My friend vowed that she would never make her children go through the same experience.


The Clutter Quiz

After talking with my friends and clients about this rather messy topic, I thought I’d create a quiz to see how clutter affects your life!   

Give yourself one point for each yes…and be honest!

  1. Have you ever bought something you already owned because you couldn’t find it?
  2. Do you spend more than 10 minutes each day looking for something? (Yes, this includes your keys and phone.)
  3. Do you have a junk drawer in your kitchen that is completely full? (One point for each full drawer.)
  4. Do you own extra towels, blankets and sheets that don’t match because “someone will want them someday”?
  5. Do you have expired medications? (Can you find your medications?)
  6. Do you own old appliances you never use, such as a bread machine or a frozen margarita maker that you were going to use over the summer?
  7. Do you have a pile of mail, magazines, catalogs or newspapers that you are “eventually going to get through…”? 
  8. Do you have trouble figuring out what to wear even though your closet is full of clothes? (Give yourself two points if you have clothes in closets that you have forgotten about!)
  9. Do you rent a storage unit? 
  10. Is your refrigerator full of cartons of the same stuff, all with different expiration dates?
  11. Do you park your car outside since you can’t fit it in the garage?
  12. Do things fall out of your cupboards when you open them?
  13. Do you have more than 100 unopened messages in your email inbox?
  14. Do you have a coffee mug for each day of the month? (Give yourself two points if they all have “witty” sayings.)
  15. Do you own unused gift cards that have expired? (Give yourself an extra point if you think you have unused cards, but can’t find them.)
  16. Have you been late in paying bills because you misplaced them?
  17. Have you ever discovered that something you loved was ruined because it wasn’t stored properly?  
  18. Does clutter because you stress?          

Sum up your score. Here are my thoughts on your total:

0 points - We will cover lying and its harmful effects on relationships in the future.

1 - 2 points - You could write this chapter! Please come to my house and help me get organized.

3 - 5 points - You are on your way, but still could use some strategies to declutter.

6 - 16 points - I’m here to help! Please keep reading.

17+ points - Reality TV is looking for you. 

No congratulations for a high score, but trust me, you are not alone. In addition to costing us time, money and productivity, clutter causes unneeded stress.  

How to start to declutter 

You can buy the Marie Kondo book or watch her show.  My approach is much simpler!

So where to begin? Your calendar.  

Schedule a time to declutter, just like other things on your to-do list. Pick a quiet Sunday afternoon and I suggest starting with some music.  Barry Manilow, Taylor Swift, Drake…

Start with one room at a time. Pretend you are moving - so everything needs to come out of the closets, drawers and shelves. Literally, everything.  Empty the room. Furniture too.  I bet you don’t put all of the furniture back – finally time to get rid of Aunt Millie’s ottoman.

Divide your stuff into four categories: 

  1. Throw out
  2. Keep 
  3. Donate
  4. Store for later

Next step:  Throw out everything you are storing for later.  Just kidding. Well not really.  

Less is more! Get rid of:

  • Your old pasta maker - you are not going to learn how to make pasta. You are not going to have a dinner party with friends gushing over your hand-made rigatoni.   
  • Clothes that you never wear but have sentimental value. Take a picture.  
  • Clothes that never fit properly. Sorry, girlfriends.
  • Stephen, if you’re reading this - throw out your ratty 1997 Cleveland Indians jersey. We all know what happened in Game 7.
  • Your kid’s third-grade art projects. Give them back to your kids with love! Ok, maybe keep one for sentimental value.  
  • Your old cross-country skis. 
  • Your gardening tools. You live in a condo.  


Find a convenient place for everything that’s left. Finish one room before moving on to the next. And keep an eye out for future clutter. Stop it before it starts! Before you buy anything, “shop your home” first. Do you really need it?  

Keep what is meaningful and what truly can’t be replaced. The decision process - what stays and what goes - can be cathartic. 

Once you have spent the time to declutter, relax and take time to enjoy your more spacious home (where did I put that wine glass?). I promise you’ll want to keep things that way.

Now that you have eliminated your physical clutter you must be feeling very good.  However, there is another type of clutter that might be causing you stress:

Digital Clutter

In our quest to be more productive, we store so much information on our computers, tablets and smartphones. This can be overwhelming.  It can make it hard to focus with numerous emails, icons to scroll thru.  Sound familiar?

Technology certainly has been helpful to our lives.  However, it’s time to take more control.  Here are some suggestions to reduce digital clutter:

Your Inbox

What if you opened your mailbox and there were letters from six months ago still in the box…you remove the physical mail from your mailbox every day.  Now think about your inbox, your electronic mailbox.  How many old items do you have?  Have you looked at the same email every day for the last two months?  Every email takes time to read and process.  Doing it over and over again can add many hours of time.  Here are some tips to clean up your inbox:

  • Delete emails you no longer need especially emails over 30 days old.
  • Find dedicated time to check your email – not every five minutes.
  • Respond to emails that take less than a few minutes to reply.  Set up a system for emails that will take some time to respond.
  • Unsubscribe from (or send to the Spam folder) junk emails that you do not wish to receive.


Desktop/Laptop

When you open your computer do you have a lot of items taking on the home page?  It is the equivalent of working on a cluttered desk.    Are you using all of these icons?  Just keep the ones you use most often.  Get rid of icons you never use. 

Smartphone

Just like your desktop.  The same goes for your cell phone.  Extra Apps, pictures, music, notes are all taking up space on your phone.  Once a month go thru all these items and delete the ones you are not using.  

Photos

You love taking pictures and have so many photos on your phone.  First of all, your precious photos should be stored on the cloud.  What would you do if you damaged or lost your phone? Make albums with your favorite photos.  Delete photos that serve no purpose (the picture of your parking space or an item you want to purchase). Do this at least once a month.  

Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / games

You have over 1000 Facebook friends.  Congratulations!  I know it is fun and you enjoy looking at all the pictures. Keeping up with everyone.   However, this is time consuming.  Pick up the phone and call a friend.  Meet her for coffee.  Share pictures in person.  You won’t regret it.  

Password/Log-Ins

All these passwords.  Trying to remember them can be frustrating.  Especially when they make you change them all the time. (What was my password…? I need to access my Cubs tickets.)    It is helpful to use a password app.

Purge all your digital devices you no longer use (cameras, thump drives, Cell phone, hard drives)

Chances are your home is filled with these devices.  If you do not need them all, try to donate them.  If you can’t find someone who would Iike these items, then recycle them properly.  There are often special recycling days for this equipment.  

No one wants to declutter, but it is a job that needs to be done.  

Takeaways

Clutter can cause stress, time and money.

There is physical and digital clutter that affects our lives.

You won’t regret decluttering.

Your Turn

What was your score on the clutter quiz?

How will you reduce your clutter?

What changes are you willing to make?