Why Clutter is Harming You
January 23, 2017
Guest blogger and professional organizer, Daria Harvey, has some valuable insights into how clutter can harm you and what to do about it. We are pleased to have her as a guest.
At the start of every new year, the buzzword is always “decluttering.” January is the natural time to put your home in order. The holiday decorations have all been tucked away and we look around at what we’re left with. New presents means now there’s even more stuff in our homes! Decluttering seems to be a popular New Year’s resolution.
If you have ever tried to declutter and failed, or are perhaps the rare type of person who does not get jittery and nervous in a cluttered space, you may ask yourself “why even bother? Why do I even need to declutter?!” Because clutter is harming you.
The Cost of Clutter
The average American home has over 300,000 items. Mind boggling. Do we really use 300,000 items? No, in fact, most people use 20% of what they own. (National Association of Professional Organizers) Yep, you are not using 80% of what you own.
That stuff sometimes makes it hard to find what you need. Ever rush around trying to find your keys when you have to leave the house? Maybe your child can’t find a glue stick the night before a big project is due. Now you have to run to the store. According to US News and World Report, we spend one year of our lives, in total, looking for stuff we need. Wow. What would you do with all that extra time? Pursue a hobby? Spend time with family and friends? Travel?
So let’s say you do run out and get that glue stick, only to find a week later that you in fact had already purchased the mega 20 pack of glue sticks from Costco last month. Money wasted. Or perhaps you decide it’s time to finally organize the pantry and discover much of the food has already expired. Sometimes having clutter is like pouring money down the drain.
Clutter costs us time and money, two very precious commodities.
Clutter is much more than taking time to find lost items or purchasing duplicate things. Clutter could be costing you productivity and happiness, trapping you in a vicious cycle of depression and anxiety.
According to a Princeton study, clutter in our environment affects our ability to focus. Ever find that you have a hard time finishing that paperwork in your office? Clutter may be to blame.
- It’s distracting.
- Clutter overstimulates the senses.
- Piles can overwhelm us so that we can’t figure out what to do.
I always remind my clients that their homes should be their havens. When they walk in the door, they should feel calm and at peace. That’s hard to do if you have to brush by ten pairs of shoes on your way in.
Some people say “oh, clutter doesn’t bother me.” I’m not convinced. Next time you enter a cluttered room, take notice of how you are feeling. Do you suddenly feel overwhelmed by all you have to do? We do live in an increasingly busy world, but that oppressive feeling may have to do a lot with your physical environment.
UCLA conducted a study of 32 families with cluttered homes. They found that the women had elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yes, your clutter is stressing you out. Men did not seem to be affected by the clutter. I’m not even going to go there.
So, you’re ready to declutter. But oh, the guilt of letting go. Often I find clients feel guilty about:
- Items they spent a lot of money on
- Items that represent who they used to be
- Items that represent who they thought they wanted to be
- Gifts from well-meaning family and friends that they don’t want
- Sentimental items they have no room for
This is the part where I gently tell you that just because you spent a lot of money on something doesn’t make it useful to you. Sell it.
Used to be a size 2 when you were in your first job and still hanging onto that suit? Why keep something that makes you feel bad whenever you look at it. Celebrate who you are now.
Thought you wanted to be a knitter and bought needles, yarn, and a cute bag to hold your supplies in only to find you absolutely hate it? Be kind to yourself. Be yourself. And donate the items to someone who thinks knitting is cool.
Gift givers want their presents to give you joy. If all you feel is guilt, it’s time to pass the gift on. It really is the thought that counts.
Sentimental items are hard to get rid of, I admit. Perhaps keep one example of your mother’s angel collection. Perhaps another member of the family would love to have some of those albums boxed up in your attic. Give yourself permission to let go. You aren’t letting go of the love.
The Gifts of Decluttering
Whether you start small or go all Marie Kondo on your house, I promise you decluttering will be worth it. You will gain more time, save money, have less stress, guilt and become more productive. Sounds pretty nice, huh?
Now grab a box and label it “Donate.”
Daria Harvey is a professional organizer and blogger, operating from Holly Springs, North Carolina. Be sure to visit her website for great tips and inspiration, and check out our earlier Interview with an Organizer feature for a more details about Daria.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION – GET ORGANIZED
January 10, 2017
New Year’s Resolution – Get Organized – Here’s How!
It’s a new year and, if you’re like most people, you’re already compiling your long lists of things to do, stuff to change, pounds to drop and things to get organized. It can be overwhelming really, but only if we let it. You can let yourself off the hook and go the traditional route by only picking one thing, or start off the year with a range of goals to improve your life, home, health and more. “Organize my house” is too general, although it’s fine to think big. You need a plan. Get granular, get focused and enjoy the benefits of your planning and labor in the days, months and years to come.
Making changes really involves three basic steps, assessing, planning, and implementing. Here are a few tips to help manage your program for change as you enter the new year:
- Let your mind roam free and jot down all the things you want to change – in no particular order. Don’t get stressed as you do it. Just consider the things in your life you feel need improvement and the things you would like to be different, more efficient, or better in some way. Keep writing, take a break, and come back to it later if you need to. You can journal, write sentences, draw pictures. Don’t judge it. Just let it flow. Later, you can refine and consolidate your ideas into words, concepts and projects and arrange them in a list format.
- Now go through your words, concepts and projects list and organize them into categories that make sense to you. You can even cut out the words and arrange them on a separate paper. Sticky notes are another way to make your ideas positionable. Save space to fill in sub-categories. Example, if one of your items was “make more space,” you could have subcategories with rooms to purge, declutter and organize. “Improve health” might include things like “exercise routine” and “prepare healthy food at home.”
- Once you have your main and subcategories written, rank them by importance. What needs to be done most? What is interfering most with your happiness? Your efficiency? This is not a high-stress task, or intended to make you worry. There’s no pressure. Remember, you have, not only the forthcoming months but your whole life to complete things. Today, you are just planning and prioritizing. Clearly mark your priorities with bold numbers. You might even use colors that you associate with your priorities.
- Set some small goals. Set some big goals too, if you feel ambitious. But don’t overwhelm yourself. You can do a little each day. Set two hours aside on Saturdays or Sundays; spend a half hour completing some task each morning before work. You get the idea! You want to plan enough to get you started in implementing meaningful changes but not set the bar too high, so you feel defeated and overwhelmed. If you have your list planned, it will always be there for you, and that is the first important step.
- If organizing is a top priority, make a plan for how you do it. Do you need to get rid of things? Then plan a couple of hours to sort, bag and toss, and have some bags handy. Organizing by room is a great idea. Why not make a list with goals for each room. If you work on a room a week, it won’t feel overwhelming. Short on time? Then do one room per month. And if you don’t complete it, don’t beat yourself up. It will still be there next month. If you’re really short on time, divide your room organizing into micro-tasks. Example: clean out the desk one drawer at a time, then move onto the filing cabinet. Breaking down projects into smaller tasks will incrementally get you organized, while giving you a forward-moving sense of satisfaction. However you choose to organize your rooms, it’s remember that having a concrete goal is better than a nebulous one and a “feeling” that you’d like things to change. Try to be as detailed as you can in your planning. Be flexible though, and allow for adjustments. Trust me, vagueness is NOT conducive to getting things done.
- If you don’t quite know where to start with organizing, we have tons of articles on our blogs including Organize-It Blog, Ask Our Organizer and the Clutter Control Freak Blog (which has over 1000 articles). Blog posts include methods, tips and even products for getting you organized. If you feel really stumped about a particular organizing challenge, feel free to Ask Our Organizer. It’s a free service and Harriet Schechter (a professional organizer and author) usually gets back to you really quickly. Professional organizer, Donna Lindley recommends sharing some of your goals with others as a way of building accountability. Read her 2012 New Year’s post here.
- Time management is usually something that springs to mind each new year as we assess our lives and strive to do better. For most of us, lack of time is the major impediment to getting organized. Planning your tasks in a day planner is a great way to keep yourself on track – yes – the old-fashioned paper kind are great, and you won’t lose them when your laptop takes a dump. It will all be there for you to pick up, cross off, add onto, or ponder while you watch TV at night.
IMPLEMENT (YES – LET’S GET TO IT)
- Get going on your tasks and be sure to reward yourself as you complete them. Of course, the improvement in your life, room, health, etc. is a reward in itself, but don’t be afraid to indulge yourself in some small way. That could be a treat, a cup of tea, a dinner, a massage, or a family activity after you’ve completed a project.
- Don’t be afraid to include family members or roommates in the work, doing tasks you have agreed on. If you have kids, you’ll be doing them a great service by teaching them organizing skills and good habits when they’re young.
- Try to be consistent about the changes you make. Forming positive habits is part of the resolution and change you bargained for early on with your pencils, pads and planners. If you need to go back to them and add “daily” or “weekly routines” to keep things in order, by all means do so.
- Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get everything done on schedule. Just keep chipping away at your list and do the best you can, keeping your eye on the future and the better life and habits you’re going to enjoy in the coming year. You’re making changes and that’s the important part, and remember, organizing is a process; it’s holistic; it’s a journey, not a station. Allow for your needs to change as your life unfolds and take periodic assessments to make certain you’re still on the right course.
You also might enjoy the Clutter Control Freak 2017 – Healthy Eating blog post on the stacksandstacks.com blog.
Interview with an Organizer – Daria Harvey
December 21, 2016
This installment of Interview with an Organizer features Daria Harvey, a North Carolina organizer with a mission – to help people face their clutter and get their lives organized. Read on for more about Daria’s path to organizing…
LH: Can you tell me a little bit about your history? What was your path into professional organizing and how long have you been doing it?
DH: I have always been an organized person. There’s a picture somewhere of 3-year-old me and my stuffed animals lined up by size and type. While I was figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I worked as a media assistant in an advertising agency in New York City and as a focus group moderator in Chicago and also here in North Carolina. Then I became a mommy. I worked for a few years as a preschool teacher. All the while, I organized for my friends and family (and obviously myself). I had friend say “oh, don’t give me a birthday present, just come organize my office.” It wasn’t until two years ago when I realized I would lose my status as a professional volunteer when my daughter left for college that I told myself “it’s time.” And so I created Your Organized Life, LLC. It has been such a blessing to help others in a way that comes naturally for me, and to see firsthand how people’s lives are transformed through organization.
LH: Do you offer one-on-one services, virtual services, or both?
DH: I currently offer one on one services. I plan to roll out my virtual organizing services in the second quarter of 2017.
LH: What challenges do I face when working with individuals?
DH: I wouldn’t say I face challenges per se. Each client has a unique situation, a unique reason for needing my services. Within the first hour of working with a client I can generally gauge if I will need to be gentle during the decluttering process or if the client would appreciate a more direct approach. I always ask questions about the client’s lifestyle so I can design a system that will work for them. Organization is not a one size fits all solution.
Clients with hoarding tendencies can be somewhat challenging. I have to point out why their current living situation needs to change.
As for common challenges, sometimes it’s as small as forgetting to eat or hydrate. I get so excited about the project I’m working on I forget that I need to take care of myself while I am doing this often physically challenging work. I’ve learned to put some high quality protein bars in my work bag.
LH: Is there hope for hoarders? Have you worked with any?
DH: Yes, I have worked with a few hoarders. I do believe there is hope. However, a professional organizer is only part of the solution. The root of the problem is in the need to acquire and there can be many underlying reasons. A hoarding situation requires a professional who has been trained in this area or one working conjointly with a therapist.
LH: What are some other ways in which people benefit from your services?
DH: I always say “it’s not really about the closet.” The reason I say this is one of my first clients was a single mom with a demanding career. I organized several areas of her home, including her closet. In the course of the project I ascertained her morning routine and the types of clothes she wears to work. After I finished she was so happy! She said “now I can get ready so much faster in the morning. I have extra time with my daughter!” So it’s not about having an organized closet, it’s what having an organized closet (or being an organized person) does for your life. I have coached clients on time management skills and one woman said “I have a few extra hours in my day now!” So ultimately I feel that people benefit from my services by finding more time for the activities and people they love.
LH: How do I feel about children and organizing?
DH: Children can be taught to be organized and to put their things away properly. I was a preschool teacher for several years and I gave the children visual cues as well as written labels for where items should be placed. However, it’s not enough to say “clean up” or “put away your things.” They need to be shown how. Even more than teaching children to tidy up, teaching them to be happy with less is a great gift. Fewer quality toys and items to stimulate their imaginations is more important than having lots of toys.
LH: A lot of people find the time constraints of modern life at odds with their ability to organize. Do you have suggestions for people who are short on time?
DH: Yes. To be completely honest, have less. Owning less means less to take care of and less to organize. Organizing things you don’t need is silly. Begin to ask yourself about every category of item in your home “how much do I really need?” I had one client with 60 coffee cups. How many coffee cups do you really need? Family of 4. Maybe 8 then? Like to entertain? Then perhaps more, but I doubt 60.
Find ways to do double duty. Each week I double at least one meal. Then I immediately freeze that doubled portion. Also, have routines. Each Sunday I plan the week’s meals, grocery shop, sync all my devices and set/review my calendar. This does take a few hours that I religiously set aside each week. But it pays off in a much more relaxed week.
Also, find ways to delegate. Even small children are more capable than we give them credit for. Finally, learn to say no. There are 24 hours in a day. 7 days in a week. You are one person. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Remember, YOU get to choose how to spend your non-working hours. What do you want your life to be like?
LH: What would I suggest to the organizationally-challenged person as a first step in getting their house/life/everything in order?
DH: Ask for help! This doesn’t have to be a professional organizer. Perhaps a family member or a friend can support you. Turn it into a party! Take a few hours one evening and go through the closet.
The famous Kondo method is to approach the whole house at one time and organize category by category. And this may work well for some people. Are you the kind of person that says “I’d like to start running. I think I’ll train for a marathon!” Then this might be the method for you. However, I tell most clients and friends to start small, and to start with the one area that causes them the most stress. Often this is their closet or kitchen.
Finally, when organizing, recognize the difference between macro and micro organizing. The organizationally challenged person should count it as a win if all their socks have a matcher and are in one drawer. They do not need to be placed in sock cubbies according to color and thickness.
I guarantee when you take the first step and feel that first bit of organization success you’ll be hooked!
LH: Do you do any local demonstrations, community work or workshops (for individuals or businesses)?
DH: I am currently developing a time management workshop and pantry demonstration for 2017. In addition, I have so many ideas for my blog and I hope to write an e-book someday.
LH: Do I have any tips or advice for people interested in doing professional organizing?
DH: I recommend organizing for family and friends first. There is so much to be learned in organizing different types of spaces for different personalities of people. Also, speak with a professional organizer. The day to day work of the job is very different than the glimpses we see on TV. I have met many wonderful professional organizers online and I can say they are a helpful bunch!
LH: Thank you much for sharing with us. Please visit Daria at http://www.yourorganizedlife.org.