Quiz: Are you at risk for clutter mentality?

Today’s quiz: Are you at risk for clutter mentality?

Because one of my hobbies is helping my friends clear out their clutter, I’ve noticed that there are several very distinct kinds of clutter.

By identifying your particular brand of clutter, you gain insight on how to cure it. If one of these statements sounds like something you’d say, you’ve diagnosed yourself.

1. “This is perfectly useful, I can’t just throw it away.”
It’s good to have useful things around the house, but you don’t need them in massive quantities. I have a friend who has an entire kitchen drawer filled with the little ketchup packets that come with take-out food. If you can’t bear to throw useful things away, look for ways to give them to people who need them. I had a shelf packed with those glass vases that come with flower arrangements – too nice to toss but too many to use – so I gave them all to the flower shop on the corner of my street.

2. “One day, this might come in handy.”
True. But there’s a cost to having empty shoe boxes, glass jam jars, flattened packing boxes, and half-filled cans of paints piled around your house. Ask yourself: how much would it cost to buy this item, if I needed it? Do I need to keep more than one of this item? How often does something like this come into the house?

3. “I bought this doodad to help me get organized.”
Ironically, I’ve noticed,folks with the worst clutter problems often react to their clutter by buying more stuff: racks, fancy hangers, the device that sucks the air out of plastic bags that hold clothes. Beware! You should always attack a clutter problem first by GETTING RID of stuff rather than by trying to ORGANIZE stuff.

4. “This is a precious memory.”
College t-shirts. Baby outfits. Your father’s old desk. We all keep items out of pure sentiment, and that’s okay – to a point. Ask yourself whether one finger-painted blob masterpiece from your son’s nursery school years is enough, instead of two huge boxes full. If you need a memory prompt, consider taking a picture of an item. Store such items so they’re out of the way, rather than keeping them in active closets or drawers.

5. “I’m saving this for my children/grandchildren/when I get another dog/when I lose weight.”
Be wary of saving things to be used in the hazy future. Some things are absolutely worth keeping, but they’re exceptions. Do you really think your now-seven-year-old daughter will one day want to wear your pantsuit from 1990? Is that junky, dusty plastic toy going to appeal to your as-yet-unborn grandchildren? If you got a new dog, you’d probably want a fresh dog bed, and if you lost a bunch of weight, you’d probably decide to buy a new pair of jeans.

I’ve discovered that clearing clutter is one of the easiest and productive ways to give yourself a quick mood boost. If you can’t face a closet, tackle a drawer. If you can’t face a drawer, clean out the fridge. Try it.

Now for a moment of blatant self-promotion…Father’s Day and Graduation Day are coming up. Might I suggest Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill as a gift? For a description, read here. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill is in paperback now, and if that doesn’t seem substantial enough for a gift, consider pairing it with Churchill’s fantastic, funny, beautifully written (and rare for Churchill, one volume) memoir, My Early Life.

Both books are perfect either for Churchill aficionados or for people who know nothing about WSC. If you don’t know anything about Churchill, run out and read SOMETHING, because he had an unimaginably interesting, exciting life.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Martha

    Very true! But I think there’s a danger to the “perfectly useful” mentality — what I call “the myth of the perfect home.” This is that you can’t just throw “perfectly useful” things away, or even give them to Goodwill. Instead you have to find the perfect home for them — vases to the flower shop, poverty-stricken people for the ketchup packets, someone who will truly appreciate that knickknack fishing boy figurine… Then you hold on to them forever waiting for the perfect home, or waiting till you have time to take them to the flower shop, the food bank, the battered women’s shelter, etc. etc. I figure that the flower shop, the poverty-stricken, and the battered women can all go to Goodwill and get them. That’s the ONLY way I can get them out of my house — otherwise the “perfectly good” things sit around waiting for perfect homes. And life is too short to find perfect homes for umpteen dozen items.

  • Yes, yes, yes! This is a huge clutter danger — having little heaps of things around the house, “this is for my sister, when I get around to mailing it to her,” “this is for the toy drive, three months from now,” “this would be great for someone with a new apartment,” etc. Things must move FAST. great point.

  • I recently read that the things we keep for sentimental reasons are like collectables – they are more valuable if they are rare. So if I keep all of my kids’ artwork, we’ll have a pile of papers. If I keep one special picture, we’ll have a treasure.
    Now I need to get off the internet and into my closet!

  • If you don’t want those glass jam jars, I’ll take them! 😉

  • Michelle, a jam jar doesn’t last 30 seconds in my house! But I must steel myself or else I’ll start making a little pile behind my kitchen door to mail off to you in two or three years.
    A FANTASTIC insight that mementos are more precious if more rare. That is hugely helpful — and obvious, when you think about it. If you have one college t-shirt or macaroni necklace, you treasure it, and when you come across it in your house, you take a moment to revel in the memories. If such things are falling on your head every time you open a closet, you’ll treat them carelessly and ignore them.
    I’m a big fan of trying to upgrade mementos — I posted a while back about how I turned a bunch of my daughter’s drawings into a color xeroxed spiral bound book. More compact, easier to look at, more enticing. I did admit to throwing away the originals, which deeply shocked one of my readers!

  • aleppo

    Remembering to bring the stuff to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or the church clothing collection, finding the place to store it in the mean time, and actually finding the time to haul it away all add to mental clutter and stress – and this unfortunate fact has often prevented me from starting the cleaning-out process in the first place. (And of course, pitching the stuff is out of the question.) Try putting it all on the street curb, then putting a notice on your local Craig’s List, under “For Sale” and then “Free.” This has worked for me, and I’ve gotten many appreciative ‘thank yous’ in the process.

  • Dudley Bacon

    I love the clutter advice and think I will take some soon. I couldn’t help notice in my gmail account, on the right side of the screen where all the context sensitive advertisements show up, the majority were for things I could buy to help me become more organized. Go figure.

  • A post (and comments) all after my own heart!!! I’m bursting with joy reading this! It is all the stuff I proselytize about to whomever will listen!
    When my mom died, she had LOADS and loads of stuff. I chose a few special things, because indeed they are even *more* special if they are few, much like diamonds.

  • dgm

    This post speaks to me. Um, is it bad if I am guilty of embracing all five types of clutter mentality you have identified? Where does one even begin?

  • Rosa

    For me, the “perfect home” thing is sort of a step between keeping stuff and getting rid of it.
    I started weeding my books by mailing boxes of them to people I thought would like them; then I did some bookcrossing.org; then I started weeding fiercely and selling to used book stores; then I started donating. My standards for “perfect home” just got lower and lower with time.
    Same with baby clothes – at first I was saving them for a friend, now I save *some* really good stuff for hand-me-down but most just goes straight to the thrift store.
    I think the “perfect home” thing was just a rationalization to not start clearing things out. But indulging it got me started anyway.

  • I go around and around with my mother in-law on this subject, especially when we visit and partake in her favorite passion: going to home open houses. She is always looking for maximum amounts of storage space… huge closets, pantries, sheds, and the like. I feel that you expand to fill available space, so if you minimize storage then you are incented to get rid of all the crap you don’t need.
    My wife and I are pretty methodical about getting rid of anything not used for more than a year, and it has made a big difference. The only conflict we usually have is over books… I like to be surrounded by repositories of knowledge (and, ok, a few trashy novels), but she doesn’t see the point and wants them all gone. The solution? Create a library in my personal office.
    Other ways to implement lean at home:

  • Wonder Woman

    I agree with everything everyone has said…especially the part about not just deciding who you are going to give stuff to, but making time to get them done. In this way I know for sure that aquiring things and having clutter is definitely related to my procrastination problem. The thing about empty space is I love going into rooms with alot of empty space, but you won’t find any rooms like that in my house. My husband doesn’t believe me when I tell him that I hate clutter (because I do), but I just can’t help collecting alot of stuff overtime. I saw on Trading Spaces once, Doug, redid a room and there were no shelves. Someone pointed it out that the room seemed to be missing shelving and he said, “no, I purposely did not put shelving because than that just leads to clutter.” The same thing goes for closets, which someone mentioned earlier, they end up being storage space for stuff that is not ever used, but stuff I just want to keep. For example, I collected all the birthday cards I got since I was a child and I keep saying to myself that I don’t need to keep it, but I CAN’T get rid of it!!! Just the thought of it drives me nuts!!!

  • yep, i do all of those, except maybe #3. i’m just weaning from #2 and #5. i might attack the other two some day.

  • I am all of those!!! It is sad, really! I think I am in recovery, though!

  • docdocwhosthere

    I went to art school for both undergrad and grad school. One of the things that has stayed with me was that my best sculpture professor said that if you want to imbue something with EITHER preciousness OR monumentality, it must be isolated from other things… and then it’s a matter of scale relative to the other things around it. That’s made a lot of difference in my home (as well as my art). And it makes a lot of sense, it’s simple as an idea, a little harder to actually “do”… but can help give one’s home the “ahhhh factor”. No fancy feng shui principles to study; just greater simplicity. Good blog!

  • Marinela

    Very true.The clutter is not only phisical, but mental problem. We stick to the items cluttering our house, mainly because they give us sense of security.Which is false. And we don’t need that.The real sense of feeling safe and secure comes only from INSIDE – from the confidence you can trust youself, you can manage whatever situation you facing, you are in CONTROL of your own life.You don’t need things to give you that. All the stuff in the world cannot give your that feeling.Just the opposit-you feellost and helpless in the clutter.
    Any time I feel get deppressed, I start cleaning.Getting rid of the staff you don’t really need, cleaning up and organizing have such boost in the mood, because there is at least one thing you are in CONTROL.And it gives you the confidence you are able to be in control in whatever situation your facing.

  • susan

    Brilliant advice Marinela, I am trying hard at present and getting tougher on myself to be strong and just let go of things thanks