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Winning the war on clutter

I write this from the UK where I face the daunting task of emptying a storage unit full of possessions leftover from my former life here before I moved back to Bermuda. “Just get rid of the lot”, was the advice from friends, which makes sense as I already have everything I need at home. But it does not feel that simple. The truth is, I’m a bit of a hoarder. Not enough to make a TV show about, but I tend to cling to things. So in preparation for this task, I’m looking at our relationship with “stuff”, and the best ways of clearing out the clutter.

Clutter creeps into many of our lives, slowly and insidiously. At its simplest, it is the result of acquiring more and getting rid of less. The average home size is increasing, and so are storage options so it seems we are just filling the available space. We have excuses: I might need it, I spent good money on it, it was my father’s/grandmother’s/anybody’s… it was a gift, it’s such a big job now that I don’t know where to start and I haven’t got the time. Unless we keep on top of it, our accumulating stuff can get out of control.

And all this clutter can cost us time, energy, money and a sense of well-being. Ranka Burzan, professional organiser and author writes, "People who constantly live in a state of chaos are prone to procrastination and an inability to commit to work or relationships. They get anxious and overwhelmed with change and usually give up before they even start the project. Their finances and time are wasted; they feel stuck and bad about themselves." She goes on to say that we can lose 20 percent of our annual budget due to disorganisation, and waste an hour a day just looking for things.

Feng Shui enthusiasts would agree, purporting that our external environment mirrors our internal state. Cluttered desks and countertops reflect, or perhaps induce, jumbled, confused thoughts and ideas. Are we hanging on to old beliefs, thoughts and behaviour patterns that no longer serve us, along with our old junk?

Imagine for a moment your space, home or office, completely free from clutter. How does that make you feel? What is stopping us having that?

There are practical and psychological causes for clutter. The mail keeps arriving, things accumulate, we get gifts. And we are consumers. We might buy things to ease our sense of insecurity. Or we may be buying to keep up with the trends, the neighbours or the advertising that suggests that we will be smarter, better parents, more beautiful etc if we buy their product at least until the next version comes out. And we need to buy that too. We can use clutter as a distraction from other more important issues that might need addressing. Being consumed by ‘stuff’ is a good excuse not to look at that business idea, those goals still on the backburner, that relationship that needs work…

My guess is that our hoarding tendencies are a throwback of our primitive brain from a time when more really meant more and one couldn’t have too many skins or food for survival. I doubt they ever needed to hire a storage cave!

Holding onto things is about fear. What might happen if we let go? It perpetuates a scarcity mentality, the opposite of the supportive attitude of abundance I recently wrote about.

Steps to clutter-clearing success:

l Break down your clutter zone into areas and factor in more time than you estimate to complete each. A whole house at once is overwhelming. Choose one shelf/one box/one corner and work your way around.

l Sort items into like categories: get rid of any multiples or duplicates and anything broken, that you don’t like, don’t use or not of value in your life right now.

l Decide before you begin where your stuff is going to go and set up your staging area with the appropriate receptacles ready:

1. Toss it: trash bags

2. Donate: cardboard boxes/bags there are several charitable organisations accepting donations depending on the type of item

3. Consign or sell. Is it destined for eMoo, Orange Bay (or similar), auction or a yard/car boot sale?

4. Repair. Ask yourself how long has it been broken? Have I really missed it? Is it worth the cost of repair?

5. Recycle and give away. Who/what else could this be useful for? Mark up items to be delivered.

l Get the items to their destination fast, otherwise they can linger. The benefits of less clutter only arrive when it’s actually gone!

l Organise what is left and make it beautiful. Create a home for everything and put it back there.

l Most importantly, look at how the clutter came into the house in the first place and create measures to ensure that it does not build up again.

Some top tips:

l Keep only the things which truly delight you… and get rid of the rest.

l Be aware of uncomfortable feelings arising during this process and let them pass. Despite what our brains might be telling us, we are not our stuff and it does not define us. Trust the empty space and don’t be tempted to fill it up again.

l Mastering your closet: Keep only the things which make you feel and look your best right now (not 10lbs from now that is not motivating, it is depressing!)

l Photos. Keep only the ones you really love and make you feel good and smile. Chuck the rest. It’s a hard one for many, but photos are not sacred.

l Unwanted gifts (tricky and guilt-inducing). Ideas include: re-gifting (preferably to someone the original giver doesn’t know!) and re-purposing or making any changes for it to be useful to you. Thank the giver but explain what might be a more appropriate gift in the future. Once the gift is out of the house, so is the guilt.

l Beware of attaching unproportional sentimental value to others’ possessions. Choose one thing you love which best represents the person and move the rest along. Their memory is not embedded in the object.

Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner.

For further information telephone 705-7488 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com

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Published April 02, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 01, 2013 at 8:22 pm)

Winning the war on clutter

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