Gretchen Rubin

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.

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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.

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