Clutter? Don’t Shudder!

Posted on 03 December 2009

Clutter in Home Office

Most people pursue some type of normal, enjoyable hobby, such as collecting coins, stamps, knick-knacks, stuffed animals, books, or music.  Others take hobbies to a new level, literally.  We are all acquainted with someone into whose home angels fear to tread.  In these domiciles, one cannot see the carpet or the coffee table for the piles of magazines, junk mail, and bric-a-brac; in these homes, one could break a leg trying to crawl over the piles of rubbish in order to enter the next room.  When individuals hoard items of little or no value, we commonly refer to them as “packrats.”  In actuality, these people suffer from serious OC (Obsessive-Compulsive) problems.


Their issues, unfortunately, are not limited to the stockpiling of journals or what my Jewish friends call chatchkes.  The general media and the newsletters of animal protection organizations carry tales of people who, having far too many cats and dogs, are hard-pressed to care for them.  The poor, defenseless animals live under the worst possible conditions, including starvation or near-starvation, unless they are lucky enough to be rescued and adopted out to proper homes.   While animal hoarding is an extreme, there are less dramatic facets of this OC disorder that, if left unchecked, wreck havoc with packrats’ daily lives.


Stashing huge amounts of food may seem, at first glance, like a good idea.  But unless you have a walk-in freezer or a family that eats like army ants, it’s not.  Buy too much food and you won’t have the time to prepare it before it spoils.  If food just gets tossed into the trash, it is not cost-effective, no matter how good the sales may have appeared in the supermarket.  Cabinets that overflow with everything from cans of soup to powered milk can be health hazards if something falls out and conks you on the head as you’re searching for another item lost among the rows and rows of product.


Many a psychological study has revealed that those who live amidst disorder have higher levels of stress than those whose homes are neat   If your junk is beginning to take over your life, is your only choice to live like a monk with few personal effects?  Not necessarily. I would like to offer a few sane suggestions for maintaining a more orderly existence.  Yes, I took my own advice and applied these steps to achieve a neater home and a calmer outlook, so I know that they work.


Ever since I bought my first book from my school’s book club, I’ve been addicted to new books.  It’s always been a little thrill to smell the ink in a fresh-off-the-presses tome and crack its spine to dive into a new adventure. Not feeling rushed to return the book back to the library, being able to savor the story at my own pace was what I enjoyed most about having my own reading material.  Now, I have changed my tune somewhat.  When first launched, books from best selling authors cost an average of $20.  Some of my favorite authors churn out novels so quickly, that I just can’t keep up at those prices.   Switching from the bookstore with its trendy coffee shop to my quiet neighborhood library now enables me to save money and reduce the clutter associated with so many books. I check out just enough books at a time to enable me to read them before their due dates.  An added bonus is that the anticipation of waiting for a book to appear on my library shelves makes me appreciate it all the more.


If your problem is not books but UFOs, I have a solution for you.  There’s no need to call NASA, as I’m not referring to extraterrestrials.  My UFO stands for Unfinished Fantasy Object: those craft projects that you may have started with the best of intentions and then left uncompleted the minute another project claimed your attention, and so on.   Fabric, styrofoam forms, and all manner of trim just keep piling up with no place to go.   Make a pact with yourself to finish one UFO before tackling something new.  On your days off from work, try to devote at least an hour to finish your project.  This may seem like a slow process, but Rome was not built in a day and your home will be much more livable without all that clutter.


Many of us are guilty of hanging on to magazines for the soul purpose of trying out a single recipe or reading one article.   Clip that recipe, glue it to an index card, and then slide your index cards into a photo album with transparent sleeves.  This approach reduces entire stacks of magazines to a single album.  Now take an objective look at those recipes that you have collected and be honest with yourself about your time and ability to duplicate them.  Toss out the index cards that give you second thoughts.  Keep a folder in which to put the articles that capture your interest.  Recycle the magazines to be kind to the environment, or donate them to hospitals, rehab centers, or nursing homes that may be in need of reading material.


Photographs are another item that most of us never properly organize.  Digital cameras have made managing photos much better; they allow viewing of the pictures before printing them, so that duplicates are not saved (we all take multiples of the same thing, hoping that one will turn out to be the perfect shot).  Loading the photos onto the computer and copying them to disks or a pen drive is another option. 


Mail is a notorious breeding ground for messiness, so don’t let those flyers, envelopes, and catalogs pile up.  Cull out the junk mail first.   Open your bills and jot down the dates that payments must be made on a wall calendar — ten days before their actual due dates, to avoid late fees.  Invest in a small paper shredder to destroy material with your personal information and thus protect yourself from identity theft.  Newspapers also tend to linger around the house.  If you have not read Sunday’s paper by the following Saturday, recycle it.


Overindulgence with cosmetics can be controlled.  Instead of having a medicine cabinet or cosmetics carrier overrun with lipstick, nail polish, and eye shadow, consider these clutter-busting tactics.  Take advantage of smaller sizes until you are sure that a product is really right for you.   Try the testers in the store to be certain that you like a fragrance before buying it.  Don’t just spritz the scent onto your wrist and make the decision a moment later.  Most fragrances contain a good amount of alcohol.  It takes ten minutes for the alcohol to dissipate, leaving the actual fragrance behind.  But don’t make up your mind then and there; wear the scent for a few hours to see if it’s what you want.


Some of the better department stores offer free samples when available.  Or, if you can avoid bowing to the pressure of a sales pitch, make an appointment with a make-up artist at one of the store’s cosmetic counters so that you can walk around with new products and colors on your face before making the decision to purchase them.  Also, use up the small amounts of hair products and perfume that have been lingering in the bathroom too long.   Check your medicine cabinets periodically for expired products.


Keep a box in an empty corner of your closet, where you can drop clothing and accessories to donate to the Goodwill or a church organization.  Go through your clothes twice a year to give away what doesn’t fit or you no longer like.  Peruse your mementos occasionally to see if there anything that can be tossed.  Recently, I went through a scrapbook that must have been almost 30 years old; it was chock full of all my Hollywood heartthrobs.  Since they are now a lot less like sexy hotties and more like wrinkled prunes, I pitched the scrapbook.


If the thought of “getting clean” leaves you feeling overwhelmed, jot down a list of things to do.  Focus on the easiest things to finish.   As your to-do list dwindles, your confidence blossoms so the leap to tackle the larger jobs does not feel quite as terrifying. 


After getting a handle on your clutter, you must continue to prioritize and discard things on a daily basis.  Once a mess is created, it takes time to get things back in order.  If you just let stuff pile up again, all your hard work will be for nothing because the same chaos is waiting around the corner.

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