We live in a very confused culture. On the one hand our economy is driven by how much is being bought and sold, and on the other, there are TV shows about hoarders, who are literally being buried alive by their junk. Where is the happy balance? How much does one person need? Does the clutter add to our ill health?
It the past few weeks I’ve been helping a family who is assembling all the things they need for newborns and, at the same time, assisting several families that are sorting and cleaning up after the death of a family member. What an eye opener. This experience has caused me to completely re think my own living space and what I truly need versus what I have. I’m currently in day six of a “one bag a day for 40 days” de cluttering. More on that later but first:
Ask yourself- “Who is Going to Clean Up After Me?” Look around your house and ask yourself the question, “if something should happen to me today, what would I be leaving my family and friends to deal with?” This can lead to all sorts of other questions-“but I wouldn’t want my mother (brother, Aunt Jane etc.) to see this.” I had a friend that made me promise that if she should get sick or worse, I was to remove certain personal items from the bottom drawer of her dresser before her parents arrived.
Pose this question to friends, family members as well as support group participants. You’ll find the results interesting.
How Clutter Impacts Health. For starters the more clutter you have the greater the chances of falling or tripping over something. You don’t know where things are so you can easily skip medications, exercise or even eating properly. You can spend more money as it becomes easier to “just get a new one,” then looking for the five you already own. The clutter, the inability to find things etc., can quickly become a major source of frustration, which feeds into anxiety and stress. There is also the germ factor and, depending on the level of clutter, you may start to become anti social as you don’t want people to see how you are living.
Those with excessive clutter, such as “seen on TV” A.K.A. hoarding shows, often have very serious issues and many in the mental health profession view this as a diagnosis in its own right.
Where Do You Fit on the Clutter Scale?: The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization has a very intensive scale, which you can read on-line, but for a quick assessment, check out the 7 Deadly Sins that Lead to Hoarding.
One woman wrote the following about adopting a minimalist lifestyle. It feels good. It feels good to not buy, to not shop, and to not worry about what to buy and where to shop and instead, to simply go without. In fact, it feels better than what you feel an hour or a day after you buy something, you know, the low after you’ve come down from the high of shopping, the unfulfilled desire nudging you to go out and shop some more to feel better, the never-ending cycle of high-low from never quite having bought enough.... Now I understand the irony that our stuff, which was supposed to bring us happiness and joy, finds a sneaky way of trapping us. And our freedom, which we cherish and protect so much, gets silently trapped in all the mess. Unless we pay attention because true freedom, it turns out, is in the intangibles that we can’t see or touch but feel. The stuff that we can’t put on shelves, but we can put in our hearts. And there, it can stay safely for a long time without taking up much space at all. Falling into Minimalism: How I Became an AccidentalMinimalist
In their efforts for clean, many don’t realize how much bleaches, and general household cleaning products contribute to poor indoor air quality and can make you sicker. I wrote about this a year ago-Are Your Green Cleaning Products MakingYou Sicker? -so start there to determine if your current cleaning products could be a factor health problems you are experiencing. Save money and help your health by only using baking soda, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon, fragrance free liquid soap and good quality cleaning clothes. Natural oils, such as olive oil, are far better for your home, health and furniture than what you spray out of a can.
Please note that air fresheners are bad news. Want clean smelling air? Open a window, slice up some lemons and leave on the counter, open a box of baking soda, take out the garbage, and check the nooks and crannies for items that could be rotting or worse.
The Less You Own, the Less that Owns You: Just say no to bringing stuff home. Avoid impulse buying by doing the following:
• Make a list of what you want to buy from which stores and take the list with you.
• If you have to take kids shopping with you, just say “no” to their urge to impulse buy. Involve the kids in list making and tell them they are in charge of helping you stick to it.
• Don’t shop on an empty stomach as there is a greater chance of impulse buying when hungry.
• The quicker you can shop, the less chance of buying things you don't need.
• Use cash instead of a card.
• Turn off TV commercials
• Don’t go to stores to hang out
• Buy only to replace items.
How to Declutter: There are many excellent websites on how to sort, remove and reduce the quantity of stuff in your life. My current favorite is 40 bags in 40 days. Basically, write down 1-40. Each day for the next 40 days, put down what you’ve tossed, recycled or gotten rid of. In my case, I’m in day six of the “40 bag” program and found that I’ve bagged up way more than six bags. However, getting them out of the house is a bit of a challenge since the transfer station (dump), library, thrift store are only open a few days each week. The good news is that by staying on task of at least getting stuff sorted, when I can get to the recycling center, library etc. I’m actually unloading a lot more than six bags.
It’s very helpful to have a friend, or even a professional, help you de clutter. They may be able to throw out things you are holding on to. If you weren’t around, your stuff would be sorted into one of the following piles: sale/auction/; donation; recycle; goes to friend/family; and trash. The trash pile is often the largest of the group.
To help you de clutter, check out the following:
• Deciding What Stays and What Goes: This is an excellent chart to help you decide which pile to put an item in.
• Throw Out Fifty Things Workbook: Very helpful.
• 10 Creative Ways to Declutter Your Home: I really like a lot of the suggestions offered here-particularly the hanger test.