Learning Annex Presents Uncluttering Your Space

( 1 )


master the essentials of clutter-busting-in a single evening!

Clutter. The littlest things of life-scraps of paper from the mail, shirts draped over chair backs, odds and ends on the counter-have a way of piling up, getting under foot, gathering dust, and clogging up space.

Don't worry! The Learning Annex Presents Uncluttering Your Space will soon have you bidding farewell to chaos at home and enjoying the clarity of organization. The Learning ...

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master the essentials of clutter-busting-in a single evening!

Clutter. The littlest things of life-scraps of paper from the mail, shirts draped over chair backs, odds and ends on the counter-have a way of piling up, getting under foot, gathering dust, and clogging up space.

Don't worry! The Learning Annex Presents Uncluttering Your Space will soon have you bidding farewell to chaos at home and enjoying the clarity of organization. The Learning Annex employs top experts to teach more than 300,000 students across North America each year-so rest assured that their methods are proven, practical, quick, and easy to apply. In the space of these pages, you'll discover:
* How to determine your clutter patterns
* How to whip each room in your house into shape
* How to create a plan to beat clutter and redesign your environment
* The inside scoop from instructor and student experience

Full of sidebars and other special features, The Learning Annex Presents Uncluttering Your Space re-creates the authentic seminar experience to give you the tools and knowledge you need to win out over clutter and keep it from coming back-and all in a single night's reading!

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764541452
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 12/29/2003
  • Series: Learning Annex Series, #1
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 1,314,195
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

ANN T. SULLIVAN, founder of Organizing People for Life™, provides innovative organizational services to corporations, small businesses, and individuals nationwide. Her proven methods for successful organizing have been featured on television and in print, including The Montel Williams Show, Shelia Bridges: Designer Living, on the Fine Living Cable channel, Modern Bride, the Chicago Tribune, and Bottom Line Personal.

THE LEARNING ANNEX is the largest alternative adult-education organization in the United States. It offers short, inexpensive courses on personal growth, business and career opportunities, showbiz and media, health and healing, sports and fitness, spirituality, relationships, technology, and many other subjects.

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Table of Contents

Lesson 1: Why We’re Drowning in Clutter.

Lesson 2: The Benefits of Organizing Your Life.

Lesson 3: Assess Your Mess.

Lesson 4: Principles of Clutter-Free Living.

Lesson 5: Keep It, Refurbish It, or Throw It Away?

Lesson 6: Redesign Your Environment to Prevent Clutter.

Lesson 7: Bins, Drawers, Cabinets, Shelves, and Beyond.

Lesson 8: Clutter-Free Kitchens.

Lesson 9: Clutter-Free Living Areas.

Lesson 10: Clutter-Free Bedrooms.

Lesson 11: Clutter-Free Bathrooms.

Lesson 12: Clutter-Free Offices.

Lesson 13: Clutter-Free Storage Areas.

Lesson 14: Clutter-Free Families.

Lesson 15: Time Management.

Appendix A: Ten Guidelines for Reducing Clutter.

Appendix B: Sources and Suggested Reading.

Appendix C: Emergency Home Preparation Checklist.

Appendix D: Emergency Supplies to Keep on Hand.

Appendix E: Emergency Contact List.

Appendix F: If Your Purse or Wallet Is Stolen.

Appendix G: Planning for Business Interruption.


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First Chapter

The Learning Annex Presents Uncluttering Your Space

By Ann T. Sullivan

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-4145-5

Chapter One

lesson 1

why we're drowning in clutter

Clutter in Today's Society The Reasons We Hoard Things Why We Don't Want to Clean Up

The odds are stacked against us. Our modern society is the most clutter-prone society in the world for one simple reason: We've got so much stuff! We're an affluent society, so we have the means to produce and purchase a dazzling array of material goods. We've also attached a tremendous amount of cultural and personal meaning to the ownership of objects. Add to this mix an advertising industry that works overtime to condition our psyches to become mindless buying machines, and it's no wonder we're wallowing in excess stuff.

Let's look at some of the ways our culture sets us up for an overload of possessions.


Never before in human history has there been such a blinding array of material goods that can be had so cheaply and so easily. Never has there been a people so rich in cash and credit as we are-and so eager to exchange their hard-earned wages for personal items.

Even when we're not on a buying frenzy, the stuff still finds its way home with us. Have you noticed that every time you attend a conference you leave with binders, pens, papers, and all kinds of promotional products? I once went to a student's house where she showed me her collection of more than 500 pens, and shehadn't bought a single one of them! That's the insidious thing about freebies: They multiply!

If you think we're behaving poorly as grownups, look at the way we're setting up our kids for even more pointless stuff-consumption. Every time your children go to a birthday party, they come home with a bag of little cheapo toys that you'll be digging out of the sofa cushions for the next several months. Children can't even go to a fast-food restaurant without bringing home another useless plastic toy.

When we let our kids collect more junk than they can possibly deal with, we're being unfair to them. Most adults would find it a challenge to organize what the average kid owns today. How are the kids going to learn order and tidiness when they have such an overwhelming mass of possessions to deal with? When the flow of free, valueless stuff never ends, how will they learn to work for and cherish the things they own, take pride in them, take care of them? We're not teaching them the best values. In fact, we're setting them up for a life of clutter, one that is possibly even worse than the one we're struggling with!


We seem to think that buying something can cure every problem. We think more stuff equals more happiness-and when it doesn't, we assume it's because we don't yet have enough stuff-so back to the store we go.

Advertisers do a tremendous job of convincing us that happiness is just one more purchase away. They tell us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that if we don't own a particular product, we're less valuable as human beings. Of course, this plays right into our insecurity.

My students occupy a wide range of points on the wealth continuum. You may be surprised to learn that those who earn millions of dollars are no more happy or secure than the middle-class students. I've never seen a direct correlation between a person's number of possessions and their level of happiness. Yet we're "keeping up with the Joneses" like never before. Deep down, we all probably know that possessions don't make us happier or more fulfilled, but in an affluent society like ours, it's easy to forget. We spend too much energy trying to live up to an illusion created by external forces. We're allowing the world around us to take control and dictate the way we should live, rather than letting our individual principles and values guide us.

It's time to step back, define our goals and values, and create the environments that will support them.


Many of us surround ourselves with clutter for the same reason we overeat: It's a form of protection. Clutter insulates us from the world; it keeps us in a haze of oblivion and excuses that allows us to muffle our pain and anxiety. Clutter and excess body fat are both self-defeating means of protection. Often the underlying issue is loneliness, fear of intimacy, or a need for abundance.

Often people keep things because they're holding on to someone. I have a student who has kept every letter from every boyfriend, even though she says she's actively seeking a new mate. She said, "This is the only way I can remind myself I've been loved." It wasn't until I convinced her to let go of all those keepsakes from the past that she met someone and moved on with her life.

Sometimes people use disorganization to distract themselves from other problems in their lives. Their finances may be in a shambles, so they gloss over it by saying, "I'm just disorganized."

Clutter may come from some "mechanical" dysfunction, like not having enough storage space, the right storage space, or the right tools for organizing. Other underlying causes for clutter are emotional: fear of success, loneliness, loss, or a need for protection.

Is your clutter an excuse to avoid dealing with the real problem in your life? You'll need to answer this honestly before you can deal with your clutter permanently.

If we want to live clutter-free, we must first understand our reasons for clutter.


Birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversaries ... every time we turn around, another gift-giving event is coming up. Many people get tremendously stressed out trying to find the right gift. Not everybody's a talented gift-buyer, and few of us have the time to shop as thoughtfully as we'd like. As a result, we don't always do a good job of choosing gifts for others.

Odds are that the prettily wrapped gift we give someone is destined for the bottom of their closet, along with last year's useless gifts-that is, if they'll fit in the closet. One of my students once received as a gift a plastic duck the size of a refrigerator!

If people ever find out that you like (or even get the impression that you like) a particular animal or symbol, you're doomed! In high school I used to wear a sweater with a rainbow on it, which somehow gave people the impression I was crazy about rainbows. You wouldn't believe the number of rainbow-related things I received over the years. I couldn't make it stop! People would visit my room and say, "Oh, good. Now that I know you like rainbows so much I'll always know what to give you as a present."

How do you turn them down without hurting people's feelings? These gifts are almost always well intentioned, but we simply receive too much stuff to keep and appreciate it all. A friend of mine who received 100 gift baskets when he was ill came up with a wonderful solution: He donated all of them to a homeless shelter.


People often put off organizing because they're overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous task, or they're daunted by the prospect of where to start. It's not until they have to face the issue because of some external force, such as moving or expecting a baby, that they take the first step. When they do get started, they find that organizing brings a great deal of instant gratification.

I once had a friend call me in a panic after totaling his car by driving it into a telephone pole. The good news is that he walked away unscathed. Unfortunately, he had misplaced his auto insurance renewal bill, and his policy had lapsed. That was an expensive wake-up call to the importance of organizing your paperwork.

My students report to me an immediate sense of relief after they've dealt with even a small portion of their clutter. Simple things like cleaning out your wallet or the junk drawer in the kitchen can bring immediate relief.

While some people avoid organizing because it seems like a chore, it's ultimately a matter of attitude. You can make a task more enjoyable by the way you approach it. Turn it into a game, a challenge. Make a party of it: Invite a few friends, turn on great music, and set out snacks. Do whatever is necessary to get yourself onto the task because the longer you put it off, the worse it's going to get.


We've all used this excuse. We don't have time to organize our lives. We're scrambling as it is just to make time for the essentials! But we all know, whether we want to admit it or not, that streamlining, automating, and organizing our lives will give us more time because we won't waste as much of our precious time on unnecessary tasks.

I recommend that you break your decluttering sessions down into smaller tasks. Pick a room and then an area of that room: your bedroom closet, or that awful drawer in the kitchen. While I'd like to be able to tell you it takes three hours to tackle a closet, or one hour to organize a drawer, I can't. The truth is that it takes different people different amounts of time to do things. In addition to working at varying speeds, some people work straight through without distraction, and others take time out to answer the phone or deal with family issues. Finally, everyone has their personal comfort level and feels the need to organize to a greater or lesser degree.

To learn how to estimate the length of time it will take you to tackle a particular organizing project, start with some small organizing tasks you have (for instance, a kitchen drawer or single bookshelf). Keep a log to see how long each task takes. After completing a few tasks this way, you will be able to more accurately estimate the time needed to complete future tasks. Once you reach this point, always remember to give yourself a little extra time. It's frustrating to run out of time halfway through a task. If you think the closet will take four hours, then give yourself six. If you simply don't have large chunks of time, tackle small projects that you can complete in the time allotted. It's amazing what you can get done this way if you stay committed to it.


Many of us don't like the idea of scheduling our time. We believe that structure will cramp our style and limit our creativity. "It'll take away my freedom!" they lament. I always have the same response: "Your freedom to do what? Spend three hours looking for your keys?"

The truth is, it's their disorganization that's robbing them of their creative freedom. People who refuse to get organized for fear it will damage their creativity remain in a state of chaos and disorganization, and that's what ultimately restricts their creativity.

Creativity loves organization. When you implement an efficient system tailored to your individual creative needs, you'll find that all your materials are ready at hand and in good condition when inspiration strikes. You'll have the free space to spread out with a new project. Your mind will be clear of distractions, and you'll be able to focus more easily. Organization increases productivity.

One student of mine, an advertising executive who had aspirations of painting but never found the time, told me that after gathering all of her art supplies together and setting up a dedicated space for painting in her home, she began to paint, participated in a regional art show, and sold her first painting.

It's not hard to see why we're struggling to slay the clutter beast. We've got an awful lot of factors, both physical and emotional, working against us. Now that we've examined some of the causes and hazards of our clutter, let's take a look at a few of the benefits organization offers.


Lesson #1:

1. Are you an emotional buyer? Do you regularly shop to:

___ cheer yourself when you're depressed?

___ calm yourself when you're upset?

___ fill a void in your life?

___ distract yourself from a problem you should be confronting?

2. If so, describe the events, situations, or emotions that drive you to shop: __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________

3. Do you use your clutter as an excuse to avoid:

___ pursuing a relationship? ___ taking responsibility for your finances? ___ moving your career forward?

4. In the past week, how much time did you spend searching for lost items? __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________

5. Which items do you end up searching for most often? __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________

6. What projects or activities would you be more likely to do if the objects you needed to do them with were organized and ready at hand?

__________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________


Excerpted from The Learning Annex Presents Uncluttering Your Space by Ann T. Sullivan Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    Change your life

    This book was so concise and well-done. I read it in one day. It has literally changed my life. Getting organized is the first step to everything I want to accomplish. I like her approach...it's about a better life!

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