Cindy Glovinsky, LMSW, ACSW
Psychotherapist and Author
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Clutter and Things
Do you have a problem with Things? If so, here are twelve suggestions to get you started in creating a brand-new, clutter-free lifestyle:

1. Face up to your Things. People with clutter issues often try to deal with them by turning on the TV., surfing the Net, going for a walk, snacking, drinking, calling a friend,
or doing anything else they can think of except pick up the first Thing, decide on a home for it, and put it there, which is the only way of making the clutter go away once and for all.
 
2. Detoxify the issue. When people avoid dealing with clutter, it’s often because they feel ashamed in its presence. Standing in front of a big pile of Things, they say things to themselves like, “How could I have let it get like this? I’m such a loser/slob/pig/-----. My stuff is totally out of control. I’ll never be able to clean it up,” drowning themselves in shame and negativity. Stop that. Pick up the first Thing and put it away.

3. Analyze the problem. Imagine all of your possessions coming into your house on a big conveyer belt through the front door, moving around inside from place to place for awhile, and finally going out the back door on another big conveyer belt. Now stop the conveyer belt and look at where it breaks down – input, operations, or output.

Is the problem one of input? Are too many things coming into your space for you to manage? If so, what types of things are they and where are they coming from? Are you a compulsive buyer? Do you get too much mail? Is somebody continually dumping his or her stuff on you? 

Or is it an operations issue? In other words, do you lack definite homes for your Things, a habit of putting them away after you use them, or a regular clean-up time?

Or is it an output problem? Do you have an emotional attachment to certain Things that makes it hard for you to let them go? Do you have trouble problem-solving about where to dispose of Things? Once you’ve done some troubleshooting, you’ll be able to attack the issue head-on and make the changes you need to make.

4. Take charge. Though you might like to think that Things can sprout little legs and rearrange themselves into piles, that’s not really how it is. The truth is, people can move Things, but Things can’t move themselves. The good news is that since you have the power to pile Things up, you also have the power to unpile them, dispose of them, and arrange those that are left any way you like.

5. Make a checklist. Walk around your house, clipboard in hand, and make a list of all the actions you need to take to declutter. Put a little checkbox next to each action where
you can check it off when you’ve completed the action. Now, instead of consisting of randomly distributed enemy occupation forces, your clutter has been broken down into a list of simple tasks.  

6. Create a pocket of order. A great way to start making inroads into a clutter-bound lifestyle is to choose a small, clearly definable project and focus on that. It could be a
drawer, a shelf, a purse, a briefcase, a car. As you work on this project, try to forget about all the rest of the clutter. Once you’ve created one pocket of order and allowed yourself to enjoy it, you’ll find yourself motivated to create more pockets. Before long, all that will be left will be a few pockets of clutter!

7. Work systematically. Get yourself some boxes and label them according to destination: KEEP (in the area where you found it), ELSEWHERE (in the house), SALVATION ARMY, GIVE TO JANE, RECYCLE, TRASH. Pick up one object at a time and put it in one of these boxes. Create homes for the items in “KEEP” and put them in their homes. Take the various
boxes to their destinations, without allowing them to get stuck anywhere (next to the door, in your garage, in your trunk) along the way. Keep everything moving until it gets where it’s supposed to go!

8. Name your feelings. As you declutter, expect to experience all sorts of emotions. Try to put names on them as they come up, then get back to work. You may feel sad or even grief-stricken when you let go of objects to which you feel attached, especially if they’re associated with a person you’ve lost. You may feel anxious about your ability to problem-solve or make decisions when confronted with big piles. You may feel angry at someone else for creating clutter you have to clean up. You may feel ashamed of your own past failures. If the feelings are intense, you may need extra time to process them, but meanwhile, pick up the next Thing and put it away.

9. Own your brain strengths and glitches. Brains are like snowflakes: every one of them has its own unique characteristics. This has a big effect on what happens between different people and their Things. Person A has a great memory, so she leaves Things in piles knowing
that she’ll always remember where they are. Person B has a bad memory and forgets where Things go. Person C becomes easily distracted while attempting to declutter. Person D is a gifted musician who lives in a world of sound and pays little attention to how Things look, letting them fall where they may.

Ask yourself what’s easy and what’s difficult for your particular brain to do. Be honest. Then figure out how this affects your dealings with Things and how you can use your brain’s strengths to compensate for its weaknesses. If you're good at making maps, for example, you might want to make a map of your space that shows homes for each type of Thing.
 
10. Don’t just clean up – change your habits. The wrong habits created the clutter, and only the right habits can keep it from coming back. Often clutterers have developed the self-defeating habit of trying to save time by throwing things down as soon as they use them, saving two seconds not putting this away, four seconds not putting that away, then wasting three hours looking for something that’s buried beneath the piles. If you’re too busy to put things in their homes regularly, set up way-stations that will at least get them part-way there.  Be realistic!

11. Get the help you need. Human beings are an interdependent species, and often we need each others’ help to accomplish our goals. Decluttering is like doing math, and if you know it’s hard for you, find someone who’s good at it and ask for his or her help. This could be a family member or a friend, a therapist like Cindy who specializes in clutter and hoarding issues, or, for on-site work, it could be a professional organizer (for a referral, go to www.NAPO.net or www.NSGCD.org). Make sure that your helper is someone with whom you feel comfortable and who respects your right to make decisions about your own Things. Infantilizing or hypercritical “help” will do you more harm than good.
 
12. Savor successes. If you want to stay motivated to keep working until you’re clutter-free, it’s important to let yourself experience a sense of accomplishment as you
complete individual de-cluttering tasks along the way. When you finish cleaning out your closet, don’t just rush off to do your chest of drawers: instead, stand back and take a look at it, enjoying the neat rows of hangers, the shoes lined up on the floor, the sweaters folded on the shelf. Give yourself the credit you deserve for a job well done, then move on.

These twelve suggestions are just a summary. For a fuller understanding of what clutter, hoarding, and other Thing problems are about for you, read Making Peace with the Things in Your Life. For more concrete suggestions you can use on your way to a clutter-free lifestyle, read One Thing at a Time. If you have clutter at the office, Making Peace with Your Office Life will help you get on top of it and solve other office problems as well.
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