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What is clutter?
My definition of clutter is any item that falls into one or more of three categories:
- Things you do not use or love (three extra spatulas in the kitchen utensil drawer)
- Things without a home (the new shirt you just bought that is draped over the back of a chair because your dresser is overstuffed)
- Anything unfinished or in need of repair (the sweater sitting on the washing machine that is missing a button)
Where does clutter come from?
Sometimes it seems like clutter falls from the sky; as quickly as you clear one area, it gets cluttered again. I've noticed that each person accumulates clutter in a different way. Which of the following describes you?
- Holding on to an item thinking it might come in handy one day
- Putting an item down and planning to deal with it later
- Being unwilling to let something go simply because it's still good
- Getting stuck in a perfectionist rut and waiting to do the organizing project perfectly
- Having a sentimental attachment to items because they remind you of something
- Taking items home just because they are on sale or free
One or more of these accumulation methods can create clutter. Knowing how you create clutter can help you to deal with it.
How do I know if my clutter is normal?
The general rule is that if clutter is not affecting your day-to-day living, then you're doing all right. Like most rules, however, this one has exceptions. Some people are unable or unwilling to recognize that clutter is disrupting their lives. Here are the top ten signs of an overly cluttered life:
- Unexpected guests send you into "scoop and dump" mode. That means before you can answer the door, you grab a bag or laundry basket and frantically scoop up piles of paper, toys, clothes, etc., dumping them in a closet, bedroom, or garage. Once your guests leave, you don't address the clutter you just moved.
- You misplace things on a daily basis. Everyday accessories like a cell phone, keys, pen, purse, shoes, jacketyou get the picture.
- You live out of a laundry basket. Clothes are washed and folded, yet there is no space in the closet or dresser drawers to hang them up or put them away.
- Piles of "important" papers are stacked on surfaces (and possibly the floor) throughout your home. You leave them out as a visual reminder so you won't forget to act on them.
- You stash stuff in one or more areas of your home, planning to decide what to do with it later. But later never comes. You might use the garage, basement, attic, spare/guest bedroom, or other hideaway. You quickly shove items into these spaces and shut the door behind you before they spill out.
- You accrue late fees on bills because you don't reconcile your financial statements.
- Spaces in your home can't be utilized for their intended purpose.
- Areas of your home can't be cleaned properly because they're cluttered.
- Disorganization is causing conflicts in your relationships with friends and family, or causing you to decline invitations because you feel tied to your home.
- You find yourself running out of space, even though your amount of storage space hasn't been reduced by a major event like welcoming a new baby or moving into a smaller home.
How do I know if I would be classified as a compulsive hoarder?
Compulsive hoarding is more than simply being disorganized. Most of us associate hoarding with stories we've heard about people whose homes have only narrow pathways through stacks of junk, or about people who have fifty cats. But compulsive hoarding is a medical condition in which someone is incapable of parting with items, including true junk. Here are the top four behaviors of compulsive hoarders.
- The person holds on to items, planning to use them later. However, he or she never uses them. These are items that most people would not consider to be useful or valuable and have no trouble parting with, such as:
- Junk mail
- Outdated catalogs or newspapers
- Items purchased for others as gifts but never given away
- Clothing that doesn't fit
- Out-of-control collections, like knickknacks, that overtake a space
- Broken things, including cars in the driveway
- Free items just because they are free
- The home or parts of the home are too cluttered to use for their intended purpose.
- Dining room tables that can't be used for dining
- Kitchen countertops that can't be used for cooking
- Couches that can't be used for sitting
- Beds that can't be used for sleeping
- Garages that can't be used for parking cars
- Showers that can't be used for showering
- Car seats that can't be used for passengers
- Floors that can't be walked on
- Exits that are blocked
- Utilities, like lights, are disconnected simply because the person misplaced and did not pay the bills. The person's credit scores are adversely affected by late payments. Bank accounts are overdrawn because the person is unable to reconcile and record deposits and withdrawals.
- The person suffers from a considerable amount of distress or isolation due to the clutter. For example, the person can't invite friends or family to the home because he or she is so embarrassed by the clutter. For the same reason, repairs can't be made because the person won't let repair or maintenance professionals into the home. Shades are kept drawn so that nobody can see the clutter inside. Family members argue about the clutter. The person also might suffer from depression or anxiety because of the clutter. If you exhibit signs of hoarding and want help, seek treatment from a therapist who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding issues.
Is it true that having perfectionist tendencies can actually lead to disorganization?
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it is true. Perfectionists tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude. Perfectionists are unable to do a less-than-perfect job and their goals are often unrealistic and unattainable. So, often they opt to do nothing at all. For example, to tackle a disorganized linen closet, a perfectionist won't simply refold a few towels to make some space. Instead, he or she might plan to get the perfect shelf divider, buy new shelf paper, and research whether folding or rolling towels is best. As a result, the project becomes overwhelming, the linen closet gets messier, and the perfectionist feels defeated. The solution for the perfectionist is to lower the bar and plan to do a portion of the job now and the rest later. Most likely, later will never come, but that's just fine. Since perfectionists do such a great job, the first round is bound to be enough.