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How Does Clutter Affect You?

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It is stressful, exhausting, and overwhelming. In extreme cases, it destroys marriages and has even caused death. It is called clutter. Clutter results from unfinished business, priorities that are mismanaged and decisions not made. There are varying degrees of clutter and one must work at it to keep it from controlling and consuming ones life. 

We are a “super sized” nation, consumed by material things. Why settle for just one, when we can buy one and get one free or buy one and get one 50 percent off? Sure, at times it makes sense to take advantage of the sales–as long the items being purchased will serve a purpose and be used. 

Clutter has become such a problem–that we now have an entire week dedicated to “Clutter Awareness.” This year it took place from March 18 – 24.

The clutter that surrounds us could be the result of:

1.    A death in the family and sudden inheritance of lot of stuff

2.    The inability to let something go…because “I might need it someday”

3.    A chronic illness or injury that consumes months or years or ones life, making it difficult to keep up

4.    The inability to part with “stuff” because “I paid good money for that!”

5.    A family difference of opinion of what clutter really is and how it affects the family

6.    Moving to a new home and not dealing with the stuff upon move-in

7.    The fear of letting go of memorabilia because you don’t want to lose the memory attached to the item

8.    Children who have difficulty parting with toys, books or clothing they’ve outgrown and no longer have a use for

9.    Depression and excessive shopping to help cope with another issue

Can you think of other reasons that clutter accumulates? I know there are many, many more. There are certainly rooms and areas in the home that are more prone to clutter; such as the garage, home office, closets and children’s play areas, just to name a few. In some homes where there is an extreme case of clutter, the clutter spills from one room to the next and eventually it takes over, leaving behind a narrow path to navigate through.

In our experience with clients, sadly clutter can and has destroyed marriages. At times, I am asked if I am a “marriage counselor” or “therapist” (I am neither). In extreme clutter situations, my recommendation is that there is a therapist that works with the client on the “underlying” reasons for the clutter, while we work with the client on the physical clutter.  The results are far more effective this way; otherwise the clutter usually comes back.

Some of the stories I’ve been told or seen are

“If I don’t get my master closet cleaned up and organized, my husband is going to divorce me.  He’s tired of not being able to find his things in the closet.”

“My mom is a collector and owns several homes–all of which are filled. For several years, she has not let anyone into her home, including her children and rarely leaves the house – she needs help, but I don’t even know where to start.”

“My house was once very organized, but after several deaths in the family, I’ve inherited so many things (some of which are very valuable) and now my house is so full, I can no longer function in my own home.”

“My wife and I have been together for over 20 years. Our home is full and every surface is covered. In the past, we’ve cleaned it out, but it just reappears. I don’t know what to do anymore and I’m afraid I can no longer live my life this way.”

“My dad cannot get rid of anything. His home is full of everything you can imagine including old newspapers and junk mail. I am afraid for his safety. I also worry about the day that it is going to become my problem and I’m going to have to deal with everything in his house.”

“My daughter is a keeper of everything. She’s 10 now, but has a hard time parting with things like books from when she was 2 and keeps all of her school and artwork. It’s becoming too much for her to keep in her room. Help! I want to her understand how to make decisions about what is important.”

From these stories, you can conclude that there are varying degrees of clutter and just as many reasons for the clutter.

There are many more reasons for clutter and I’ve found that there are certain areas of the home that are more prone to clutter than others. Two of these rooms are the garage and the home office. I believe that these two rooms have a very different impact on the daily life of individuals. The garage, although part of the house, is not a space that is “lived-in” and for some, clutter is more tolerable in this area. A home office, whether a dedicated room in the home, a corner in the kitchen, or an office that is part of another room in the home, is often times the one room in the house that causes the most headaches.

Ideas to help you eliminate the clutter

1.    Dedicate time to this project–just as you make time to work out to stay in shape, you have to make time to keep your home in shape.  This is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself.

2.    Start small–it’s important to complete one small project so you have a feeling of accomplishment. You can tackle the bigger projects later as this gets easier.

3.    Begin in an area of the home where the decisions will not be difficult. 

4.    Stay focused. It’s easy to get sidetracked, especially with memorabilia. Set a timer if you have to for 20 minutes at a time to help keep the focus.

5.    Enlist in a pair of “outside eyes.” Someone that has no “attachment” to your stuff.  Typically a friend or a trained professional is best. 

6.    Decide what purpose the room you are organizing will serve. The clearer you are on the purpose, the easier it will be to reach your desired outcome.

7.    Remove anything from the area you are organizing that no longer serves the intended purpose. Don’t worry now what you will do with the stuff that will no longer live in this area-you can deal with this stuff later.

8.    Make a commitment to yourself to remove those items from your home shortly after you’ve made the decision to let them go–otherwise it becomes all too easy to let them creep back into the home at a later date.

9.    Shop with a purpose. If you don’t have the space for things, it can turn into clutter quickly!

10.    In extreme clutter situations, seek help from a trained therapist that can help with the underlying issues that the “stuff” is compensating for.


© 2007 Eliminate Chaos, LLC

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