Walk into a typical American home today, and what do you see? A family room entertainment center overflowing with DVDs, videogames, toys, books, magazines, catalogs and recreational equipment; a kitchen teaming with such paraphernalia as a cappuccino maker, margarita blender, cookbooks, grill. Check out the bedrooms, basement and garage, and you’re also likely to be confronted by clutter: clothing, jewelry, trinkets, you name it; either in your face or bulging out from inside drawers, closets and storage compartments. In America today, we live with an unprecedented number of possessions so many things that they’re migrating from our ever-larger homes into storage units. And still we don’t have enough room for them all.
To be sure, keeping up with clutter is an overwhelming, never-ending undertaking, but what about the toll all that stuff is taking on our psyches? “There’s a strong connection between physical clutter and mental clutter,” says Cindy Glovinsky, a certified psychotherapist and author of “Making Peace with the Things in Your Life” (2002: St. Martin’s). “For most people, the more clutter you have, the more depressed you’re likely to feel; the less energy you have, the less focus you have. The clutter on the outside makes you feel more mentally disorganized.”
Though some of us can dig out from the clutter on our own volition through disciplined effort and others can decrease clutter by working with non-professional “clutter buddies” who trade off time to get each other organized, others will need professional help. A national non-profit, the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), trains its members to use emotionally sensitive, “non-traditional” approaches to help people come to terms with their clutter. “Instead of saying ‘keep or toss’, it’s honoring all your stuff by looking at it in terms of what (pieces) are your friends, acquaintances and strangers,” says Prince. “You keep your friends but part with your strangers.”
Menomonie, Wisconsin-based Feng Shui and de-cluttering consultant Andrea Gerasimo leads the way to organization by asking clients to assess the “cost” of their clutter; namely, the degree to which it is bogging them down mentally, spiritually and emotionally. “If they don’t know what it’s costing them, they won’t have motivation to do the work,” she says. The second concept she asks them to identify is the “higher purpose” which de-cluttering can help them reach. What do clients want to see in their lives: Creativity? Spontaneity? Joy? “Once that question is answered, we ask, ‘How can I create that in my physical space?'”
Gerasimo recommends starting the de-cluttering process not in the obvious public spaces like the living room, kitchen or foyer, but in a space that will ignite the process from the inside out: the bedroom. “Studies show that what you’re thinking when you go to sleep affects the quality of your sleep and your mood when you wake up. If your last thoughts are feelings of self-derision and being overwhelmed, this is not good.”
Once major de-cluttering has been completed, the challenge for most of us is keeping it at bay. Experts agree that anytime you’re tackling clutterâ€”either getting started or doing the regular work of clutter-preventionâ€”the best approach is to start small and take baby steps.
Indeed, a key to de-cluttering is slowing down. One of the things people do when they get rushed is stop putting stuff away because they’re trying to save little bits of time. You may save ten seconds not hanging your coat up, but then spend hours looking for it.
Achieving a clutter-free home is not only aesthetically pleasing, but clearing your clutter lifts your mood, clears your mind, and gives you the clarity to focus on what matters most: your life’s dreams and goals.
Wanda Urbanska is host and co-producer of the Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska television series, appearing nationally on PBS stations around the country as seen on Simple Living TV. (She is co-author with Cecile Andrews of Less is More, an anthology about simple living, just out from New Society Publishers. Learn more about Wanda’s sabbatical in Poland by reading her blog.)
Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews & Wanda Urbanska. New Society, 2009.