Toss It or Not? 5 Organizational Tips from a Chronic Clutter Bug
Some might say that I have no business giving out organizational tips. My desk is always a mess, I usually look for things for a very long time before finding them, and my neat-and-tidy husband often wonders where he went wrong. I’m a work-in-progress, however, and because the learning is so fresh in my mind, I think other messies might benefit from how I’m managing the struggle to keep my stuff in order. Here are 5 tips that I know work (not because I read them in some book).
Create your own categories, but limit them to a handful or less. The one thing I hate most about traditional organizing systems is that they limit you to assigning your stuff into one of three categories: Keep, toss, or give away. This frustrates me to no end. Having to give my possessions a life sentence right there on the spot stresses me out. What if I throw something away, only to need it later? What if I don’t know where that odd brackety-looking-thing goes to at the moment? The hurry-up-and-judge aspect of organizing doesn’t have to tie you up. Go ahead and pick a few more categories until you’re certain. For me, I use the following: Keep (and put away right now), keep (and design a place for it to reside permanently), throw away in the trash, toss into recycling or repurpose for kids crafts, give away to friends or family, donate to charity, store for a bit until I decide what to do with it. The last category has a box that I mark with a permanent marker indicating the shelf life. I keep it no longer than three months – tops, and it all has to fit into the designated box.
Declutter a little every day. I’ll never have 3 straight days to go through my house and get through all the clutter. That’s why I love the FlyLady approach towards decluttering. She advises that you do it in 15 minute increments, focusing on those areas that tend to attract stuff. For me, it would be the top of the dryer, the mud room floor, and my desk. By focusing on just one each day, it can really be a manageable thing.
Assign responsibility. With the exception of Don Aslett and his absolutely fabulous cleaning books, I almost never hear anyone admit that clutter isn’t always my fault. I’m fairly certain that the Allen wrench set, Mr. Potato Head ear, and infant toothbrush didn’t get on top of the dryer on their own, but I also know that I didn’t put them there. Unless you live alone, take a look at the kinds of clutter that accumulate, and then head to the source. If your 6-year-old thinks that the back of the toilet is a perfect place for his X-Men cards to reside, retrain him right away. (And if it is your spouse with the cluttering tendencies, be sure to communicate directly and respectfully. No one is perfect, and I’m guessing that they are overlooking their fair share of issues with you, too.)
Don’t give up. It is so easy to look around at the clutter and say, “What’s the point?" I have felt this way when suffering from the flu, after giving birth to a child, or coming back from a business trip and not being able to find a clear spot on the couch. It will only hurt for a little while, and if you truly believe that it needs to be taken care of, the clutter will go (or at least diminish significantly.)
Admit when you need help. I’ve watched far too many reality “clean your house” shows to know that sometimes the issue is not a household management problem. Sometimes, clutter (especially the extreme or bizarre kind) is a sign of something more significant. Ask yourself why the stuff is piling up. Are you unable to part with anything at all? Do you bring things into the house, but aren’t sure why? If your behavior doesn’t make any sense, and it isn’t just a matter of being overworked or a little bit unmotivated, see about getting some help. It can be a doctor, close friend, or a trusted member of the faith community. When the clutter issue isn’t about stuff, it’s time to find out what it is really about and get it taken care of. (Note: Some "organizational experts" may also be a good source. Before you shell out any money for this service, however, see if they have the background to help with emotional or psychological issues, as well. No sense investing in plastic bins and tubs if it really is something deeper at work.)
Getting rid of clutter is really about prioritization. Some of us do this very well, and others seem to have a harder time with it. The good news is that being decisive about how you value your things will only get easier each time you do it. The skill of prioritization can also positively influence other areas of your life, giving you the confidence to do some of the more difficult tasks you may encounter: setting boundaries within relationships, balancing work and family, and managing your finances.
Are you organized? How do you handle clutter? Did you learn it from someone, or is it a skill that you’ve painstakingly adapted to? Feel free to share your stories and tips with our Wise Bread community!