by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Piles seem convenient. What you want is right there. Somewhere, there-ish.
I don’t know about you, but the stuff in my piles call out to me – “Do this!” “No, do this!” “Hey, don’t forget about me!!!”
Although leaving things in piles is my default (is it yours too?), those piles are exhausting. They usually tell me that I’m trying to do too many things while reminding that I’m getting nothing done.
Even if you think you know where stuff is in those piles, they still cause stress. For one, you probably struggle to find things. And it’s sooooo frustrating to think something should be right there, in the pile you’ve just shuffled through seven times.
And, two, piles look messy. The piles of paper that form while I’m working on a project create stress – for me. I’m not just talking paperwork; somehow my craft projects can go from organized to sprawled over the couch in a mere hour.
What Causes those Piles of Stuff?
Piles form when you set something down and then other things join this occupied space. If you put the thing down intentionally, in the place where you want it, then, no problem (maybe).
But, how often do you set things down “for the moment?” I’ve discovered that my moments can last weeks (and occasionally, months). Why do those moments last (and last)?
Usually, it’s a matter of not knowing what to do with something. Do I want to get rid of that pair of cocktail glasses? While mulling over my answer, they collect dust on a corner of my kitchen counter. I know the answer, that’s why I took them out of the cabinet, but I hesitate.
(Why? We don’t host parties where we serve alcohol; the most we’ll have in the house is beer or wine – and not regularly; and I’ve never had a guest ask for a cocktail glass.)
And, those albums that I want to scan all those print pictures? Because I didn’t decide when I would tackle this task, they sat and sat in a stack.
Piles – of paper, clothing, or any other objects – usually form when you don’t what to do with something. Maybe steps are required to complete a task. You need to think through the next step and when you’ll do it. Maybe you don’t know how to do the job, or you need to wait for someone else’s assistance.
Or perhaps piles require some decision-making. Where should I keep this? Should I toss or donate this?
You might leave something out in the open thinking it will act as a reminder; and, it probably will, but when you see this task-in-waiting it can add to your stress about a project that needs to be completed.
Identifying What You Pile and Where You Pile It
I’ll discuss resolving your piles in the next article. What I want you to do over the next couple of days is to notice what you pile and where those piles form. You don’t have to put away stuff in those piles just yet. First, ask yourself some problem-solving questions:
For each pile, ask:
Look for Patterns of Piling
Don’t go crazy analyzing each pile. Basically, you want to look for patterns. For example, you realize that you don’t have space in your closet to hang up the clothing sitting in a pile on a chair and you can’t file your papers because your file cabinet is bursting.
Not having the space to put things away means that you’ll want to focus on decluttering these areas or you’ll never resolve your problem of dropping things in piles.
If you keep telling yourself that you don’t have time to deal with things, then the solution is to designate a time to put things away. No, that isn’t an easy thing to do. You’re not asking yourself to tackle a one-time task but to form a habit.
I’ll discuss habits that can help you avoid piles in the next article. In the meantime, my new eBook, Conquer the Mess Your Way: Your Guide to Making Decluttering Work for You, shows you over twenty methods for tackling your clutter so you can use the techniques that work best for you.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A Year of Decluttering - September: Storage Spaces
Chances are that some of the boxes you’re storing in your garage, attic, basement, shed, or spare room may be connected to interests and hobbies you no longer engage in. At some point you may have been decluttering and realized that you no longer do woodworking, embroidery, scrapbooking, knitting, gardening, snowshoeing, etc.
But, instead of packing the items and passing them along to someone else with the interest, you thought, “I loved doing that; I bet I’ll get back to it someday. I should hold onto this stuff.” Maybe years have gone by and you still haven’t used these things.
“My Stuff Reminds Me of Who I Was”
When you have an interest or hobby, it becomes part of your identity. You’re a skier, quilter, painter, candlemaker, dancer, movie buff, and so on. Even if you haven’t participated in an interest in a while, you may still identify yourself that way because you own all the stuff associated with the hobby.
Sorting through these items and acknowledging your current life allows you to create physical and mental space for current and future interests.
“This Stuff Is Part of Who I Thought I’d Be”
Buying a yoga mat because you are starting a yoga class is fine. If you never return after one class but still think that someday you’ll be a yogini, then that yoga mat isn’t from a past interest but one for your fantasy-future.
We think that if we buy the supplies associated with a hobby then those items will be our incentive to develop that hobby or interest. Unfortunately, owning the items sometimes show us that we like the idea of the interest more than we care for the actions associated with that hobby.
(I’m thinking of the sewing machine, snowshoes, and sundry art supplies I never or rarely used … I thought I’d be more active in the winter – but I hate the cold; I thought I’d sew my own dance costumes – but I lacked the skill; I thought I’d learn calligraphy – but I have horrible handwriting.)
These items can be a challenge to get rid of because we spent money on items we didn’t use. Also, it can be just as difficult to give up the idea of who we could become as it is to release a past identity.
Make Space for the Present
Chances are that you have current, active interests and hobbies. And if life is busy and you don’t, that’s okay too. Clearing items from your past and fantasy-future interests and hobbies can alleviate some of the guilt you may be feeling from holding onto items you don’t use.
And if you reach out to friends, family, and coworkers, I’m guessing that you’ll find someone who is actively engaged in one of your not-a-hobby interests and would be thrilled to receive the supplies you’ve been holding onto.
Read more ...
Releasing Aspirational Clutter
Aspirational Shopping ... Do You Buy Stuff for Your Goals?
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by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Do you have one (or more) junk drawers in your home? Is it in your kitchen? (This seems to be the centralized room for junk drawers.)
I’m not opposed to junk drawers, although I think most of their issue is in the name. Are you really storing “junk” in this drawer? Chances are that you have a lot of stuff in that drawer that you could toss (while rolling your eyes in disbelief that you ever thought that you should hold onto fifteen inches of gift wrap ribbon).
I stopped calling the drawer in my kitchen a junk drawer when I realized that ninety percent of the drawer contained stationery supplies (since my desk is in the basement and neither my husband or I was going to trek down a flight of stairs for a paperclip or pen).
Others have a drawer in their kitchen with an extra hammer and screwdriver, duct tape, batteries, picture hanging supplies, and other tools they use often enough that they want them handy. While I believe in keeping similar items together, I know in a lot of cases it works out better to have a main storage space and a satellite storage area (often, but not necessarily, a drawer) in another area of the home.
So, for your junk drawer – what types of items do you want to find there? If you emptied it entirely and didn’t return anything to that space without considering if this is the best home for the item, what would end up in that drawer? Stationery supplies? Tools? Games, puzzles, or craft supplies for spur-of-the-moment kid-entertainment?
Would this drawer better serve you with a different, more specific function?
How to Declutter the Junk Drawer
Yep, start by removing everything, even any organizing tools and wipe out the dust.
Toss the weird bits that ended up in this drawer because you thought of it as your junk drawer – short pieces of string, promotional magnets and unused key rings, the pad of paper half-stained with coffee, the wrapped plastic utensils from takeout food, etc.
Group items together – business cards, pens, random screws, push pins, paperclips – and decide if this drawer is the best place for the items.
Don’t thing about storing the items; think about how you want to retrieve (find and use) them. Do you really go into this drawer to look for a screw or do you go to your toolbox? If you’re thinking, “Well, it could be handy to have a few screws in this drawer,” let me tell you, no, it isn’t. If you are looking for a screw, you’ll go where you keep screws before you waste time rooting through a tray of paper clips and dried elastic bands just in case you have the right-sized screw hidden in the mass.
No, really, is this the best place for that item?
A drawer organizer or a set of plastic or cardboard trays that fit within the depth of the drawer can help prevent items from falling over one another or mixing together. You could group a couple of pencils, pens, a highlighter, and a ruler in one box; a hammer, pliers, and a couple of screwdrivers in another tray. These trays should be open as opposed to covered so items can be accessed and easily returned.
Oddly, trays, even partly filled trays take up space giving the drawer the appearance of being full while staying organized. You know that saying about space abhorring a vacuum? The space that a tray takes up in a drawer can help at eliminating the thought, “Oh, I’ll just toss that in here,” because you’ll open the drawer and think, “Oh, there’s already stuff in here.”
Keep Your Junk Drawer Organized
Instead of thinking of this drawer as a dumping ground for things you’ll never go looking for again, give it a function – often-used tools, office supplies. Then, stop calling it the junk drawer and name its function. Sure, maybe it’s 70-percent tools and 30-percent office supplies – call it the tool drawer. This will make it easier to say, “that’s not a tool, it doesn’t belong there,” instead of, “yeah, I don’t know what to do with that, so just toss it in the junk drawer.”
So, is your junk drawer really a pile of unnecessary, unused stuff? Or, as you pulled out everything did you notice a pattern of what you keep and how you use it? Tell us about your junk drawer in the comment section below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Your goal in decluttering is not just owning less stuff. Decluttering is about finding the important stuff – what you use, need, and like – that may be hidden by the forgotten, unwanted, unnecessary, and trivial items that are the clutter in your home.
When you identify what’s important to you, thinking things like, “I should keep this just in case,” or “Someday …” are no longer valid reasons for holding onto something. Imagine that you were packing for a vacation by the beach. Chances are that you wouldn’t pack your winter coat and boots just in case it snowed. You know where you are going. You know what you need.
Instead of focusing on the object and thinking, “Should I hold onto this?” instead consider the action involved with an item – are you planning on cross-country skiing, knitting, woodworking, decorating cakes, painting, etc. sometime soon?
So, how do you know if you’ll use something again? Create a vision for your life. This doesn’t have to be a formalized process. Close your eyes and imagine, write in your journal, or talk out loud and envision what a great day, week, month, or year would look like. What are you doing and who are you doing these things with?
Now, when you pick up an item while decluttering, consider, “Is this item important for the activities I imagined engaging in?” No? Then it becomes a bit clearer what possessions are important, and which aren’t.
What if you envision yourself doing something that isn’t a part of your current life? If you have the materials, hold onto them. More important – make a point of using them. Spend some time on the activity as a reward for your decluttering efforts.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start. Two minutes organizing a bin of yarn can get you excited about getting back into your crochet hobby. If you can’t even motivate yourself to sort through the supplies associated with an activity, then maybe it’s time to consider if you are forcing yourself to make important things that, in your heart, you know aren’t.
If something is important to you then you use it (or anticipate using it at a specific time) or appreciate its presence in your home when you gaze upon it. Holding onto unnecessary items clutters the message you are sending yourself about what is important to you.
What activity have you been waiting to get back to doing, but you feel you need to declutter first? Share your intention to start now in the comments below.
I've been busy working on a one-on-one program for DIYers called a Learn How to Declutter Lesson. I meet with you (and your guest) either in your home (if you live near me) or by video chat (if you don’t) and I take you through the process of decluttering – from identifying your vision for your life and home to showing you how to create an action plan to an actual demonstration of decluttering using your stuff in your space.
I don’t look at your stuff and tell you what to do. I teach you how to declutter by considering your personality, space, interests, and life. You tell me what’s worked for you in the past – and what hasn’t. My goal is to help you find the time to spend with the people important to you, doing activities important to you; to help you save money on books, organizing gadgets, and maybe even hiring people who will organize for you; and to help you feel calmer in your own home. I’ll be releasing this program in mid-June.
Interested? Send me an email and I'll contact you when the program is available.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
While you’re decluttering, do you ever pick up an item and say, “Well, I should hold onto this just-in-case I need it someday”? You may feel somewhat virtuous that you are planning to use this item. You are keeping them out of a landfill. You will save money someday because you’ll need the item and you won’t have to go out and purchase them.
You return the item to where you found it.
There are a lot of ways to handle ‘just-in-case’ items.
Gentle Decluttering of Just-in-Case Items
I think one of the trickiest parts of holding onto just-in-case items is that with traditional decluttering questions such as, “do I need this?” or “do I want this?” you can answer, “yes.” Even if you ask, “do I use this?” you may say, “well, I could,” thereby justifying holding onto the item.
So, I’m suggesting that when you encounter an item that you feel you should hold onto ‘just-in-case,’ you ask the question, “what could I use this item for?”
Storing Just-in-Case Items
You don’t have to go out and buy storage bins or boxes; when possible, use those you already own. And, this is a case of where bigger isn’t better. You aren’t going to dump all your just-in-case items in a single bin. If you are going to keep at item, consider why you want to keep it. You are moving that item out of the amorphous ‘maybe’ category and deciding how it could be useful to you.
For storage, think cardboard file box and not 18-gallon bin. In most instances, just-in-case items are smaller items. If you filled a large bin with all these little things, it wouldn’t be easy to find anything in there.
Sort just-in-case items into categories – costumes, craft items, school project stuff. Label the box. Store these boxes together in a resource area. This could be a shelf or two in your garage or a corner of your basement.
If you can’t decide how to categorize an item, consider that even if you needed it five years from now, you wouldn’t be able to find it because you won’t know where to put it. Toss items that defy classification. Otherwise, you are holding onto the item because you don’t want to make a decision; not because you think you can use it.
If You Really Can’t Declutter Just-in-Case Items
By sorting your just-in-case items into a labeled box, you are accomplishing a few things:
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Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.