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Conquer Your Clutter

From the book The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutterby Linda Cobb

A place for everything and everything in its place. Who hasn't heard that phrase? And who hasn't thought of it as a fantasy? No one has clutter in their fantasy, but in reality, everyone does. Let's face it: No matter how big your home or how much storage space you have, clutter always seems to have a life of its own, abiding by that law of physics that says matter expands to fill the space available. If you have to stop to clear a work area every time you start to carry out a task like cleaning, cooking, or laundry; if you're constantly losing your keys and you have to wade through eighteen months of unread Reader's Digests to get to the TV Guide; then you have a clutter problem. But in case you think clutter is just an aggravation, consider this: Clutter is costly! Have you ever:

  * Paid late fees on a bill because you misplaced it until it was too late? Those credit card bills are high enough without tacking on late fees.

  * Bought duplicates of the same item without knowing it? Okay, it's nice to stock up on lightbulbs, but twelve boxes?

  * Forked over unnecessary fines at the library or video store? Sure, Caddyshack may have given you a lot of laughs, but forget to return the tape on time and that $8 fine will do a lot to wipe the smile off your face.

Mistakes happen, but habitual disorganization can lead to more than your fair share of unhappy consequences. Consider a good friend of mine who carefully arranged every detail of her wedding -- but forgot to bring the key to the reception hall for the caterers. While the food and supplies were being unloaded on the sidewalk, the frantic bride had to dispatch a friend to her home for the missing key. The unlucky caterers had to hastily set up the wedding feast while the ceremony was taking place. Not an auspicious beginning to a lifetime union. Then there was the mother who baked and iced two dozen cupcakes for her son's class birthday party-and left them on the kitchen counter in a last-minute dash to get out the door on time. And what about the health care executive whose closet was so hopelessly disorganized that he once attended an important meeting wearing one black and one brown shoe! Do any of these stories sound familiar? Situations like these are upsetting and stressful, but you'll be happy to know they're also unnecessary -- a little less clutter and a little more organization is all it takes.

You know, the reasons for holding on to clutter are as many and varied as clutter itself. Often we are loath to get rid of a particular item because we think it might come in handy "sometime" or "somewhere." We hold on to broken goods, thinking that the day will come when we'll have the time or the know-how to repair them or scavenge the parts to repair something else. We keep possessions because they have sentimental value, or because they hold promises that we aren't willing to part with. I have a friend whose shelves are full of good intentions: Tae Bo™ tapes that were going to transform her into a feisty size 6, a French language course for a trip that never materialized, a basket full of wool that one day hopes to become a sweater. Is that you? It doesn't have to be.

We all have our favorite things that we don't want to part with. That's fine. Nobody but the most strident organizational fiend would suggest that you get rid of all your sentimental favorites in your clutter clear out. And yet, what happens when everything is a sentimental favorite, when you're so crowded by things from the past that you don't have room for the present? Memories are great -- until you have to dust them.

I'm going to let you in on a trade secret. You can get out from all that clutter. You can live a life that's more organized and, consequently, less stressful. And you don't have to spend money to do it. The key to getting out from under all that clutter and getting organized is not a matter of adding anything: it's the thoughtful elimination of time- and space-wasting things. In most cases, you don't need to buy a single new product to get yourself organized; you can use what you've already got to control the clutter monster in your life -- and keep it tamed.

You already have what it takes to conquer clutter and get organized. It's easier than you think!

Are you a Harried Harriet? Harriet unlocks the front door with a heavy heart. It's past dinnertime already. An unexpected phone call and a long line at the supermarket have made her late -- again. Dodging a lone sock in the hallway (how did that get there?), she can hear the answering machine go off: "Mom! Pick up! I'm waiting for a ride at soccer practice!" Harriet slides her bags full of groceries onto the kitchen counter, where the movie the family watched last night still sits patiently waiting. Darn, she meant to return that to the video store. That's another $3 in fines. The dog has chewed a slipper again. His leash has been missing since yesterday, and no one has been able to take him for a much needed walk. Harriet is -- well, harried! She's tired, hungry, and frustrated. Dinner's not made, and the house is a mess. Does this sound like the end of your average workday?

Life is becoming increasingly complex. Spending time at home should be a relaxing, fun experience, not an exercise in frustration. There is an easier way to live than Harriet's daily routine. Wouldn't it be much nicer to come home like Peaceful Pauline? Pauline opens the front door, placing her keys in the basket on the hall table and her handbag on a handy wall hook nearby -- right next to the dog's leash! Tonight's dinner is already cooked and ready to be popped into the oven. Last week, Pauline cooked a double batch of spaghetti and froze the second half for another day. That leaves half an hour to change clothes and read and sort the mail before it's time to eat. After dinner, the kids can take the dog for a walk. This evening, the family will watch a video together, and Pauline might even have time to call her mother for a chat. No wonder Pauline is peaceful!

What's the difference between feeling like a Harried Harriet and a Peaceful Pauline? It comes down to this: clutter control and organization. Controlling clutter and organizing your life may seem like an impossible task, but just think of all the impossible tasks that you do every day. And think how much easier they would be if you weren't surrounded by clutter and chaos! Conquering clutter really does pay off -- in fact, conquering clutter has such terrific benefits that once you begin, you'll soon become hooked. If you've gotten used to living in clutter and chaos, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find how enjoyable conquering clutter and getting organized can be. You can relax in your own home, find things when you need them, enjoy your day-to-day activities, and feel in control of your life. And, if you're like most of us in these days of instant gratification, take heart: conquering clutter pays off immediately!

I once had a fortune cookie that read: "Every journey, no matter how long, begins with a single step." What is the first step in getting organized? Having a system, of course. A workable solution for daily life that really gets results. And that's where I come in! I've worked up a little system so that you can take me with you from room to room, so you can let me -- the QUEEN -- be your guide! It's a little reminder to help you follow through with your clutter-busting intentions, to keep you from getting distracted or feeling defeated before you begin. Give it (me!) a try.

  •   Question

  •   Unpack
  •   Evaluate
  •   Eliminate
  •   Neaten up!

Question. What is the purpose of this room, cupboard, drawer? What do I see that doesn't work here? How can I make better use of this space? Why am I keeping this article of clothing? What am I happy with? What works here and what doesn't? If the twins are teenagers, why do we still have two shelves of Dr. Seuss books on display? If the summer sun is shining, why do we have four mismatched mittens on the table in the hall?

Unpack. Get it all out in the open, one thing at a time. For example, if you're working in a closet, do only the shoes first. Sort through one shelf in the linen closet. Remove the contents of one drawer in the kitchen. Remember, only by taking things out will you really have a sense of what you have and what you need to do with it. You can't conquer clutter if you can't see it.

  "A goal is nothing more than a dream with a time limit."

  -- Joe Griffith

Evaluate. It's judgment day. Ask some questions: When was the last time I used this? Do I really need this? If so, is this where the item should be? Then prepare to stash it or trash it. Okay, I know, this is the hard part. If your heart is saying you need it and your mind says it hasn't been used since Nixon was president, sometimes it's hard to be impartial. Look at things as if you were helping a friend. If the things weren't your possessions, what would you do? Then do it.

Eliminate. One bag is for the neighbor, a charity, or the school fund-raiser. The other bag is headed straight for the trash. Every item that isn't destined to go back into that drawer, closet, or shelf belongs to one of these two bags. Get rid of the excuses for keeping things while you're at it. I've heard them all: I might need that someday. Aunt Margaret gave me that. Somebody might be able to make use of that, so I'll hang on to it. Eliminate your excuses as you eliminate your excess stuff. They're both clutter, and you'll live better without them.

Neaten Up. This is the fun part. Oh, how clever you'll feel as you admire your rows of neatly organized shoes, freshly straightened spices, or tidy stacks of towels. This is the time you get to put things where you want them and stand back and admire your work. Don't be afraid to be unconventional. If you like storing your underwear rolled in clear hanging racks on the back of the bedroom door, that's fine, as long as it works for you. Try things out, and change them if they don't work the way you hoped they would.

So, now that you have a system, what's the best way to use it? Start small. I'd like to suggest that you devote just 15 minutes at a time to this process -- that's all it takes to really get results. If you like, you can even use your kitchen timer to remind you -- or release you, if you're really resisting the idea. So often we feel discouraged because a task seems overwhelming. This simple 15-minute rule lets you off the hook. You don't have to eliminate your clutter all in one day. You can chip at it over time. Believe me, I've tried many ways to manage my day-to-day life, and this is the only one that works consistently. Don't be surprised if your 15 minutes slip away before you realize it! Then, if you like, you can reset the timer for another 15 minutes and tackle another drawer, shelf, closet, or box. It's up to you! You never realized organizing could actually be fun, did you?

From the book The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutterby Linda Cobb.
Copyright © 2002 by Linda Cobb


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