One question that my clients like to ask is: “Is YOUR home organized?” I truthfully answer that for the most part it is however organizing and decluttering is an ongoing, constant process. When I see blog posts or magazine articles boasting strategies on how to get organized once and for all, I know that there is some false advertising in that premise. For most of us, stuff is constantly coming into our homes and unless we keep up on it by sending other stuff out, it’s easy to understand how our spaces become overwhelmed.
The well organized and probably minimalist leaning person can’t seem to wrap their head around someone who lives in a cluttered space or someone who frequently runs late, losing their car keys and cell phone on an almost daily basis. A person who takes great pleasure in their possessions and feels comfortable surrounded by stuff might have a hard time figuring out how someone else can exist in less than 200 square feet, with the barest of essentials. There is no right or wrong here but there is a whole bunch of different which we know is one of the things that makes the world go around. The other thing that is interesting is that someone who once was a clutter bug can make some life changes and become the minimalist. A person who once embraced simplicity and order can easily end up in an environment that is more than full and chaotic.
Unfortunately there are some folks who suffer from chronic disorganization which can be a life long struggle with their belongings. It’s not uncommon for that person to have a case of ADD/ADHD, depression, traumatic brain injury or endure chronic pain. They have difficulty letting go of things, are easily distracted and are very visually orientated, ie: if things aren’t in sight, it’s perceived they will be completely forgotten about and that causes anxiety. There is an inability to find things, the continual need for more space for more belongings and an interest in multiple projects which are usually in progression but rarely are ever finished. The chronically disorganized may have a shopping compulsion and jokingly refer to themselves as pack rats or shopaholics. They have tried many times over the years to get organized but have trouble breaking the cycle. It can be a slippery slope between chronic disorganization and hoarding.
Situational disorganization is basically what it sounds like however you might think it’s something very temporary when it can actually carry on for months or years. I’ve heard many a mother bemoan that the fact that their homes were once neat and tidy, they kept up on photo albums, and they never ran late until they had kids. A hurried and uncoordinated move can make it much harder to get settled into a new home, a renovation project can really cause a discombobulating environment and I recently wrote about inheritance absorption which is difficult due to the emotions often involved. I have a number of clients who are facing or have just been through a renovation and its kitchen renovations that create the most chaos. The loss of control over one’s surroundings is usually the most frustrating part but trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel creates hope. As is the case with most organizing projects, it will definitely look worse before it looks better. Situational disorganization really feels like limbo and it may take help from a friend or a professional to get back to the state of order that once was.
Whatever the cause, one thing about clutter and disorganization holds true, less is more. When it comes to 3 dimensional items, volume and cubic square footage, the less you own, the more control you have over what you own. A client of mine is preparing for a huge renovation and will be moving out of the home for six months. Since a number of rooms are going to be affected, the contents of the rooms will have to be packed up and stored elsewhere in the house or in a pod on site. Now is the best time for her to really take stock in her family’s possessions because boxing stuff up and storing it takes a lot of energy. As we sort and pack, it’s been easier and easier for her to realize which belongings are true keepers and which belongings should be recycled, donated, put on Freecycle or tossed. I’m always inspired by my client’s decisions to keep only what they need, what they truly want and what they love.
One of the most important aspects of disorganization, no matter what the type, is identifying priority and thoughtfully picking battles. A great example is the typical junk drawer that exists in most kitchens. It usually contains a few small tools like pliers, a couple of screwdrivers, string, glue, tape, pushpins, keys no longer being used, birthday candles, furniture felt pads, markers, take-out chopsticks, a magnifying glass and batteries. If opening or closing the drawer is a problem because it’s overstuffed then it should be addressed. When you go to pull out the pliers a bunch of loose pieces of string, used twist ties and rubber bands fall on the floor, then it might be a good idea to organize and tidy up the drawer. Compared to piles of paper that take up prime real estate or the inability to use the kitchen table because of clutter, that drawer is small peanuts. The best way to determine where to start is decide what causes you the most grief, pure and simple.
So if you’re struggling with your stuff, if it’s been for a short time or for bigger portions of life, know that you’re not alone. In the past 5 years, I’ve absorbed portions of my father’s estate a few times over. It cluttered my office floor, overwhelmed some of my small spaces and certainly overwhelmed me. Start small, one drawer, one shelf, one 2’x2’ area and work top to bottom, left to right. It’s easier to conquer molehills than it is to conquer mountains!