0035. clutter is...

'Steph's a mess'

That was an alternate title for this blog -- because even though I got rid of so many things and don't have a home to keep messy, I'm a mess and I'm aware of it. My glasses are somehow always smudged, I have 10+ started notebooks full of ideas, lists I can never seem to locate when I need them, thousands of unopened emails, a bunch of projects (and the corresponding materials) I have yet to start, too much clothes even though I already got rid of a bunch and always gravitate towards the same items...

I don't think I'm the only one? (At least within my families I know I'm not.)

Happily, things are slowly clicking and I'm making more progress than I ever have. I should since it is technically my profession right now ... I'm so, so excited to say that I'm working as an organizer! It's a field I've been trying to get into and in March I started helping an overwhelmed client make his home livable again. As tough and tiring as it is, the results (and we're not even done yet) are thrilling. While it may not be blatantly obvious, your stuff can totally be holding you back. Physical clutter leads to mental worry and takes valuable energy from pursuing your dreams and hobbies.

On my personal end - not having my own space is difficult. Things are sitting in boxes, nothing has its place, I'm surrounded by things that aren't mine, so I still struggle with the invasive proliferation that is stuff. But, I'd rather save this stuff than ruthlessly throw all my possessions away in search of the ever trendy minimalistic lifestyle.

To be clear, I wholeheartedly agree with the values of minimalism, but the simplified notion that you need to haul large trash bags out of your home or have as little stuff as possible is not for everyone. I believe I lead a minimalistic lifestyle even with all my stuff ... I have hobbies, lots of books and trinkets, materials that people saw as garbage but I thought of the perfect (re)use for.

To me those aren't clutter, they are part of my life and interests - past, present and future. Clutter though: unread mail, gifts I probably wont use, too many of a certain item, old files - that's another story and one that I am happy to industriously battle. As such, to get into the spring cleaning spirit, my big project for the month is: stuff out everyday (again). Even if it's just a couple of old notes or receipts - it counts. The purpose is to actively cull my stuff so that when we do finally move all that is left is what we truly need, use and love. More importantly with warm weather ahead I want all my affairs in order, allowing me every possible second to enjoy it - as terrible and intimidating as it may seem, decluttering will free so much of your time and mental space.

I can't remember where I read this but it was a lightbulb moment for me: "Clutter is postponed decisions." Can't think of more exact words! Most every object is something to be dealt with, a decision that requires brainpower and action - I understand how easily we end up with so much stuff and why a cluttered home leads to negative feelings - 'oh look at all these decisions I've put off!' Every little item is a decision and I cant wait until I have a home and every object has a purpose and place - no decision required. The many projects and fabric scraps will belong in my studio corner where their presence will prevent neglect. My books will be on my bookshelf rather than spread over two homes. My kitchen cupboards will house my possibly insane amount of jars that I manage to always have in use ... just dreaming and counting over here.

Our old apartment wasn't uncluttered by any means but after a year of inhabiting parents' spaces I've noticed one major factor in my own preferences and needs - it is infinitely easier to live, work and function in an uncluttered space and I don't think it's something we talk about enough as humans - the invasive nature of stuff. For me, an overstuffed house full of things that no one ever uses gives me anxiety, I literally can't think clearly.

But since none of the spaces are my own, carving out tiny alcoves and continuing to pare down and simplify my processes are all steps I can take to make it work - to clear my mind and help me focus on what I want.

With all this practice comes some tips. On rainy days, I make some tea and settle in to deal with one box or pile at a time. It's interesting what makes someone hold onto something, don't you think? Nostalgia, attachment, fear of needing it in the future, guilt at the money spent ... so many emotions. I've felt that way too but now unless it fits my criteria I take it to the re-use center where someone might see it and think as I often have 'this is perfect'! It's slow as molasses but it's going...

Baby steps:

+ Make a list of areas or rooms you'd like to tackle.
Create sublists within those spaces. It wont magically happen in one day or week but having a checklist always motivates me and helps me visualize what needs to get done. Bonus: choose a reward for when you're done. My favorite is a coffee/doughnut date. It's cheap and not more stuff.

+ Get inspired.
Before you begin, ask yourself: what is the purpose of this area? What belongs here? What doesn't? What's my vision for this space? Seek out ideas: pinterest, books, magazines. What do you wish your home to look like and how can you make it true? Keep it handy so when decisions get tough you have a reminder of what you are hoping to achieve.

+ Don't shop.
Resist the urge to run to The Container Store. Yes, organizational tools are handy but you might just end up with more clutter. If you do find yourself needing something (and only once you are done), thrift first ... you never know what unique treasure you might find. I've found wonderful storage solutions for a fraction of the price of generic plastic.

+ Create criteria for what you want to keep.
Marie Kondo suggests that you get rid of anything that doesn't spark joy. To that I think: my nail clipper doesn't spark joy but I certainly need it. Organizing is so personal ... in order for it to work you have to make your own rules. My criteria: do I truly need, use or love this?

+ Get ready/gather supplies.
Boxes, bags, sharpie. Make sure you label a box or bag for garbage/donate/elsewhere. I always clear surfaces first, this way my working space (and mind) start out calm. 

+ Go area by area but deal with visible spaces first.
Dealing with highly visible or trafficked areas ensures that you are noticing the difference every day which will motivate you to keep going and tackle harder areas.

+ Focus.
I put some music on and start a timer. I'll do 10 or 15 solid, undistracted minutes and pause to regroup. If I'm unsure of something I don't waste time thinking about it - I start a pile that I go through later to not let it eat up my time.

+ Give everything a home.
If you've decided to keep something give it an assigned place. Next time it's wandering you know exactly where it should go, no need to waste any thoughts on it and you may find yourself putting things away without even noticing.

+ For the stuff that you're unsure of ask yourself: does this fit my criteria?
 If yes - assign it a place in your home. Maybe with things that are similar or that you use together - less looking for things when you need them. If not - find a better home for it. I love finding new homes for items! My go-to options: a loved one, donation center, or storing it for my yearly yard sale. Seeing family these past few months it's nice to spot items I've forgotten happily being used by our loved ones.

+ Take a big step or challenge.
Isn't junk mail the worst? After years of meaning to do so I finally opted out of pre-screened credit offers. Hopefully this pacifies the mail tide. Other challenges I enjoy: stuff out everyday, spending/buying freezes, if something comes in something goes out.

+ Get it out.
Don't let the things you've decided to get rid of sit around. You might see it again and re-think your choice! Take it out of your home as soon as you are able.

+ Upkeep.
Schedule maintenance so things don't get out of control again. I dedicate 10 minutes a day to putting things back where they belong. Life is messy/happens but you can control your stuff.

My biggest recommendation: start small but strong. Pick an area where you will immediately see improvement. With that success under your belt you'll know what works and confidently build up to bigger goals. Success begets success and there is such a thing as decluttering momentum. Maybe create a mantra? Lately I've been repeating to myself: everything in its place.

Are you a mess? What helps you tackle clutter? 

PS. Clutter is postponed decisions.


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