When Clutter Gets Out Of Control
LOOK around your home. Are you being crowded out by clutter? Would you be embarrassed if a friend got a peek inside your closet? Do you have trouble locating a specific object because it is buried under a pile of accumulated possessions? If so, you are not alone.
“I am too confirmed a ‘saver,’” confesses Ralph. Leon adds: “I was drowning in clothes, newspapers, books I had collected over 15 years.” “Just thinking about cleaning it up makes me tired before I begin,” laments another clutter victim.
Some children grow up in an environment of clutter. Says one such person: “As long as I can remember, I’ve always warned people what to expect the first time they come to our house. I told them it was OK to move something so they would have a place to sit down.” Even adults may hesitate to invite anyone outside the family to visit because the house is unpresentable.
Often people do not realize how much they have stockpiled until faced with moving. If one has not kept a regular program of clutter control, moving is much more time-consuming—and expensive.
But for many, cleaning up clutter is more than the simple matter of throwing things out. A number of obstacles must first be overcome.
Why Can’t They Just Throw It Out?
For some time, psychologist Lynda W. Warren and clinical social worker Jonnae C. Ostrom had assumed that all clutterers were older people, who had survived the Depression of the 1930’s. Hoarding was, they thought, “a rare and harmless eccentricity.” However, after studying the matter, they reported: “We were surprised to discover a younger generation of pack rats, born long after the 1930s. . . . We now believe that such behavior is common and that, particularly when it is extreme, it may create problems for the pack rats or those close to them.”*
How extreme can it get? “Ostrom has seen marriages break up over mess,” reports Health magazine. Some people turn to professional counselors for help. In fact, Health magazine calls personal organization counseling “a burgeoning field whose practitioners may charge as much as $1,000 [U.S.] a day to do what our mothers nagged us to do: clean up our rooms.”
It is unlikely that you have a clutter problem as extreme as that. Still, you may find it difficult to get past the following four barriers that stand between the items in question and the trash can:
□ Possible future need. (“Better to save it than to be sorry later.”)
□ Sentimental attachment. (“Aunt Mary gave this to me.”)
□ Potential value. (“It might be worth something someday.”)
□ Lack of wear or damage. (“This is too good to throw away.”)
The result? Psychology Today says: “The stuff keeps mounting, and so do the problems it produces.”
So how can you bring clutter under control?
Where to Begin
Asked to imagine how she would feel if a hurricane were to strike and destroy all but a few possessions, one woman said: “What I felt most at the idea of losing everything was relief—being freed of my mess without the anxiety of sorting out and letting go.” This well illustrates that sorting and discarding can be a challenge.
“Clutterers have two problems,” says consultant Daralee Schulman. “The stuff that’s already in the house and the stuff that’s coming in.” Instead of engaging in cleanups, she suggests spending as little as 15 minutes a day organizing one area at a time. This is a much more effective way to deal with the clutter inside your home. But what about “the stuff that’s coming in”?
Before purchasing any item for your home, ask yourself: ‘Do I really need it? Where am I going to put it? Will I use it?’ Daralee Schulman claims that by asking such questions, “75 percent of the stuff you were going to bring into the house, you won’t.”
At the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters and branch offices, occupants are expected to keep their rooms clutter free and to limit the number of decorative items on each piece of furniture or each shelf to two or three. This simplifies cleaning and is much more pleasing to the eye. Papers, magazines, books, book bags, musical instruments, sports equipment, clothing, dishes, and other items are not to be left lying around. In fact, nothing is to be on the floor of the room unless it is furniture. This is certainly a model for any who would like to cultivate a clutter-free environment.
Out Of Sight—And in the Closet
“On a day’s notice, I could whip my apartment into shape,” says Joan, “but the closets were always a disaster.” Some use the closet as a disposal unit, simply moving the clutter to a place where it cannot be seen. The problem only gets worse as more and more is put into a space that stays the same size.
Can your closet stand some relief from accumulated clutter? Good Housekeeping magazine suggests: “Closet-organizer systems come in a variety of materials and accessories that can be adapted to fit any space. Use one to conquer the storage crisis in your house.” So don’t make the closet your refuge for refuse. Keep it uncluttered and organized.
A Balanced View of Possessions
“My belongings are a reflection of me, they’re a part of who I am,” said one woman. “My jewelry is such a comfort to me,” adds another. “I just love my rings and chains.” Yet another woman defiantly says: “This is me—this is my individuality and you are not going to throw it out!”
In contrast, Jesus Christ stated: “A man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”—Luke 12:15, The Jerusalem Bible.
Thus the Bible encourages a balanced view of one’s possessions. It also promotes orderliness, making this a requirement for those who serve as elders in the congregation.—1 Timothy 3:2.
Why not start applying some of the above suggestions to an area in your home that is crowding you out? With daily effort and a balanced view of your possessions, clutter can be brought under control.
A “pack rat” is a person who accumulates needless items. He is named after a bushy-tailed rodent (also known as a wood rat) with well-developed cheek pouches that hoards food and miscellaneous objects. While a collector specializes in one or a few organized categories of objects, a pack rat will hoard possessions of all categories and seldom use them.
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Sorting and Disposing
Following are some helpful suggestions regarding specific items that can easily clutter your home if you are not careful.
Reading material: Do you find it hard to dispose of old magazines or newspapers? Does a title easily catch your eye, causing you to tell yourself: ‘I’ll get around to reading this one of these days’? Instead of saving the whole magazine or newspaper, clip the article that looks interesting and put it in a “To Be Read” folder. If it is not read within a reasonable time—perhaps a few weeks—throw it out.
Clothing: Does your wardrobe get bigger and bigger each year, yet you don’t wear half of the outfits you own? Some tell themselves: “This will look nice on me—after I lose ten pounds.” This becomes the license to hold on to anything and everything in the closet. To prevent such clothing clutter, if something isn’t worn in a whole year, put it in an “Indecision” box. Then, if it is still not worn after a short period of time, give it away or throw it out.
Mail: Clear out mail on a daily basis. Personal letters and other correspondence that you want to keep should be filed in a specific place. You could have a folder for each month’s filing and discard its contents after one year to make room for the new month’s mail. The principle is file, don’t pile. If you receive a lot of advertisement mail, decide right away if you will need it. If not, throw it out. If undecided, put it in an “Indecision” box for a week. If not acted upon by then, throw it out.