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Clutter Busting 101

Much has been written about the difficulty of new college graduates finding jobs. It is a serious problem. One bright side of our consumer-driven U.S. economy is that it's created demand for a new career: the certified professional organizer.

Today's organizer isn't likely to work for a labor union or a community action group. An organizer helps people gain better control of their lives. Most often, this means helping to purge possessions: overflowing closets, shelves, cupboards, desks, file cabinets, and even recipe files.

Consulting fees range from $50 to $200 per hour. There's even a National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net).

A related booming small business niche – a self-storage facility – has mushroomed along interstates and even in small towns. Do you ever wonder what is stored there, for how long, and why?

Today, you can join a clutter support group or watch a cable TV show called Clean House! Self-help books on organization also are popular. Some writers chronicle their efforts to pare down their possessions. Ever heard of a minimalist experiment called The 100 Thing Challenge? Gail Blanke wrote a book called Throw Out 50 Things. That's 50 different categories of things, not 50 things!

Professional organizers and storage facilities may be just the ticket if you're downsizing from the family home to a smaller house, or moving a parent from assisted living into a nursing home.

How do you keep clutter at bay under normal circumstances? The root of the problem is that we accumulate too much stuff. I'm not a shopaholic, but I have trouble letting go. I should have bought stock in Rubbermaid decades ago.

Technology may rescue us from drowning in a pool of possessions. If you visit the Women in Ag site at the Successful Farming website, Agriculture.com, you'll notice that some women use a Kindle or iPad to read books and to store recipes. Apps like the Recipe Box make it easier to transfer recipes on the Web from one site to another. An app called BigOven lets you photograph a print recipe, and the app converts it to text you can edit.

How will future generations ever recognize our standby recipes without splotches and stains on a page to prove it?

Technology may make a clean sweep of our bookshelves, as books are downloaded onto Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. Downloaded movies will free up shelf space from kids' videotapes/DVDs like Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3. . . .

Pinterest, a popular site for pinning up home improvement and organizing ideas, crafts, and recipes, is a potential space-saver. My mom always kept a folder of magazine clippings about home renovations and decor; it was her wish list. I have saved dozens of articles about garden landscaping projects.

One speed bump along the superhighway, however, is computer clutter. Our digital lives also suffer from information overload; some organizers specialize in reducing computer clutter.

I know that I keep too many things because I think they might be useful to someone else: 4-H project idea files and ACT study guides, for example. I need a 12-step redistribution program. Sorting items for Goodwill, neighbors, the school, or recycling requires much more organization and time than pitching stuff. 

No doubt, clutter with emotional attachment is the most difficult problem. Recently, I discovered one desk drawer of coloring books; our youngest is in college, and we don't have grandchildren! Experts say it's important to address the underlying emotional reasons for clutter. Their advice is to approach it from the inside out.

I admire friends or neighbors who hold regular garage sales to purge their possessions or join town-wide rummage sales.

Last Christmas, my mother-in-law gave each of her children a storage tote full of items that we had given her over the years.

Still need more motivation? Here are some tips from dynamicorganizing.com:

» Start with the area that causes you the most pain.

» Include a deadline for completion.

» Tackle one small area at a time.

» Set aside time weekly to work on it.

» Finish one area before starting another.

Ask yourself these hard questions: When is the last time I used this? When (and why) would I (realistically) need it again? Is it replaceable? What's the worst thing that would happen if I got rid of it? Is it beautiful, useful, or loved?

If you start today, you'll have until spring planting to achieve a clutter-busting goal. Three key categories are trash, treasure, and transition. 

Now raise your right hand and repeat after me: One drawer at a time.

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