True Source of Clutter at Home: 3 Ways to Tackle It Without Buying a Single Bin, Basket or Labelmaker

True Source of Clutter at Home: 3 Ways to Tackle It Without Buying a Single Bin, Basket or Labelmaker

A professional organizer will tell you to buy things to sort out your stuff. He may suggest a bin, basket or label maker. She may suggest a new piece of furniture to make use of your vertical space.

I'm not that kind of organizer.

I do not advocate for organizing baskets or trays or California Closets or any of the like. My concern right now, as yours should be, is figuring out a long term solution to the too much stuff problem. What I offer below is not an easy process. It is not quick. And it doesn't come neatly packaged in a box with a money back guarantee. 

The source of this advice is my own life. My participation in our culture and economy and my observation in my habits and the close observation of others around me. It helps a great deal that I've moved 32 times across the country in the past 46 years. (The average American moves 11 times in a life time.) I've also gleaned from books, magazines, peer reviewed journals and newspapers that the appetite for advice in "organizing" and all it's permutations has bloomed like an algae on a clear lake. I'm less interested in cataloging and sharing that data than in marveling at the appetite for advice and wondering if it's possible to get at the heart of solutions for everyone. Not just some folks who can afford to pay someone to help them but for those who cannot afford the service.

However, I can say that it only has three steps.

I'm not this kind of organizer. I'm a thinking person's organizer.

I'm not this kind of organizer. I'm a thinking person's organizer.

1. Observe - for one month or six months do nothing but watch what you bring home. Every new thing bought or was given to you. Log it into your phone's note app or make a spreadsheet or keep a notebook by your bed. This is small but very important step that cannot be skipped. Remember what can happen when you skip a step - things can fall apart on you and you realize you shouldn't have skipped a step. Remember the carpenter's creed, Measure Twice, Cut Once: this is today's exercise rule. If you skip this step, you will not be successful. You will need to measure your intake very, very carefully. 

2. Absorb in more than one way that humans are notoriously bad at making decisions. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that you are the exception to the rule. Do this exercise anyway because at the very least it will tell you about the bad decisions your kids make or your spouse or your retired mother or your best friend. Be curious. We've all wondered about the dummy choices that other people make, like lying about having an advanced degree to get a job or cheating on one's spouse. For example, even people with lung cancer will continue to smoke. People with out much money living in squalid conditions will sometimes prioritize buying designer clothes or a fancy car. (insert Linda Torado here) Read about why you make such bad decisions with your spending, or taking in things you don't need that are given to you from family or friends, or picking things up off the street, or saying yes when a neighbor asks you if you want something they are giving away even if you have no use or room for it or all the marketing giveaways you pick up at industry conferences or tchotchkes you buy on vacations. Or why people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom. 

Here's a list of great reads that may help satisfy your curiousity on some things:

Buying In: The Secret Dialog Between What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker

Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World by Noreena Hertz

We Have Met the Enemy And it Is Us by Daniel Akst

** These books are just a starting point. Once you open your eyes a little bit, you'll start seeing little culture articles in the local paper or your favorite media on the fallibility of decision making. It's like learning a new word, you never heard it anywhere until the day you learn it and suddenly you hear it 3 times in the next week. 

3. With your newly acquired in depth knowledge about how you and others behave, how you are influenced, and why you choose to do what you do with your money, your time and your home environment take a look at your 6 months of buying habits. Marinate in that a bit. Your way of thinking will be tenderized in that mix, malleable and soft to new ideas and very cognizant about how you are manipulated into buying.

Now imagine what type of person you want to be in your life (which, if you're reading this, is already significantly in process or halfway done if you're between the ages of 25 and 55, depending on when you will die which is everyone's mystery) and imagine the home that supports that person. 

Take minute here. Right now, set a timer for 5 or 15 minutes and close your eyes.

Now get a pad of paper and a pen or marker. Make a list of the current items in your home that don't fit that ideal. Conversely, make a list of the things you possess and cross out the things you don't really need.

Now you have your own customized and very effective Organizing Plan. Go to work. You know what to do next. Gather and give away. Donate. Put on the curb with a sign that says free.

Does this seem too hard? If you find it’s difficult or you’ve failed at this in the past, you’re not alone. This is where other people can help. This is where watching YouTube videos of Japanese danshari can help. Try it. There’s a weird effect, not magical, mesmerizing, looking at the before and after photos with canned classical music and occasional narration in a language you don’t speak. Watch other people do what you know you need/ have to/ are capable of doing on your own on a screen for long enough and you will start to want to do it on your own. In fact, if I start watching these danshari videos I start to not want to sit here and write - I’ll get up start clearing out some section of a closet I haven’t touched in a while. I’m highly impressionable, yes, but also a great avoider of work.

I am the main cook in our home and I do love to cook but it’s gets to be a drudge after a while. I lose my delight in the creation because of the many other things I’d rather do. So, I watch a documentary like Salt, Acid, Fat & Heat, or Cooked. Both can get me back in the kitchen, humming along with a home made bread rising on the counter, making my own South African hot sauce with 15 habaneros.

If that doesn’t work, look around you for human support. Don’t be embarrassed. It will likely strengthen your relationships to ask for help, to lean on a friend for support. I suggest this as a person who finds it very hard to ask for help.

Sometimes you need to involve other people who live with you in this plan. Share the exercise. Sometimes you need a therapist, a personal organizer, a personal assistant, your partner, sister, or mom or dad. Maybe you need to document the things you let go of because that's the only way you can help your brain around the fact that you're living with far more than you need and it's getting in the way of your good time. 

Let me know how it's going. Or how it went. I want to know what troubles you may have run into while trying this 3 step program. If I have a work around, I will help. I will cheer lead or congratulate. Either way I'll help you strategize your way into less things and more life.

That's the kind of personal organizer I am. 

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