It's fair to assume that most of us look at clutter and just think of it as a pile of stuff. No more, no less and certainly not harmful to us. However, when left unchecked clutter can actually be extremely harmful to us in a variety of different ways. Let's take a look at the top 5 and then find out what can be done to keep us all healthy, happy and more productive.
1. Physical Clutter: This is the tangible clutter we can all see when we enter a home or office. In this case I'm really only speaking about the physical health effects that this type of clutter will have on us versus the mental. Over time, physical clutter attracts and collects dirt, dust, mold, mildew and bug infestations and clutter can do this all while just lying there. It doesn't even take a lot of clutter to get to this point, even a small amount of clutter lying around long enough will eventually attract dirt and dust and yes, a few bugs as well. Left unchecked for even longer or allowing the piles to grow larger, these small problems can quickly turn into very big health issues – from breathing difficulties and headaches to various diseases in the lungs. Let's not even get into the issue of how expensive it can be to remove bug infestations, mold and mildew from our homes.
What to do: Put you and your health first by removing the clutter. Pick up one item at a time and choose whether or not to keep it. If you keep it, put it where it belongs. Once the pile of clutter has been eliminated, clean the dirt, mold, etc as best you can. Do not allow food or anything wet or damp to become part of the clutter as this will attract mold, mildew and bug infestations much more quickly. If you do spot mold and mildew, clean the area as best you can and call in a professional if you're having difficulties. Designate a spot for everything you own (because it's when something doesn't have a home that clutter starts) and make sure you put everything away after use, this will reduce or eliminate those pockets of clutter.
2. Emotional Clutter: Yes, there are emotional reasons you're holding on to items you don't like, use or need anymore. There are also emotional reasons why there continues to be piles of clutter and disorganization even when you try to make changes. The entire reason we buy anything is because we are purchasing an emotion, a feeling. We buy the minivan because we feel that buying that particular brand will keep our family safe. We buy the sports car because our feeling tell us we're rich and cool by owning that car and we'll attract beautiful people in that car. We buy jeans because they make us feel rugged or sexy when wearing them. So when we hold on to something long after it's useful date has passed, it usually means we still are holding on to the original feeling that item gave us and we're not ready to part with the feeling. It can also mean that we aren't ready or possibly just not aware of how much our emotions and feelings have on our decision making abilities or we find it difficult to deal with emotions, even if they are only an emotion in relation to a pair of jeans. Keeping old items are also a great way to distract ourselves from what we aren't enjoying seeing showing up in our current lives. The old stuff keeps us stuck in the past filled with what we think are happier memories than what we feel we can create in the present moment.
What to do: Face your feelings! I love decluttering because it's the safest and easiest way I know to get in touch with my feelings and be honest with myself. I also empowers me with the ability to choose for myself what I think is best to keep in my life. The best part is that when I decide to let a sweater or book go, I don't get a phone call or run into them on the street with them wanting to know why I let them go. Once it's gone, it's usually out of your mind forever, so it's guilt free, if you allow it to be. It's also important to realize that with most of what you're keeping, you're keeping out of some form of guilt, shame or fear. Once you choose to let an item go that is associated with a negative emotion, you can free yourself from feeling as many of these negative emotions. The more you allow those negative emotions to be taken out of your life, the better your life starts looking and the better, healthier and freer you start feeling.
3. Your Wallet: Disorganization is expensive! Why, because these types of events tend to happen: 1. Money is misplaced or often lost 2. The same items are purchased more than once because it gets lost once inside the home 3. Rash purchases are made but rarely are those items returned or discarded 4. Additional storage is purchased and quickly becomes a place where items go but are never used or seen again.
No matter how you slice it, disorganization and clutter cost you money. It's not uncommon for clients to find money in unopened mail – (to the tune of several thousand dollars in a few cases) and yet piles of mail is frequently a problem for many people. Clients misplace items often and are forced to repurchase it – like my friend who now owns 7 crock pots but owns only one lid. Many people think adding additional storage to their lives will save them but it then turns into inactive storage and 12 years later all the stuff is still sitting in the space, dusty and unattended and thousands of dollars have been spent. Disorganization also creates an environment where decision making becomes harder so often rash purchases are made and then out of embarrassment, shame and/or guilt, the item is kept– sometimes as a punishment to themselves - with the person erroneously thinking that by keeping the item, it will continue to remind them of their so-called "bad deed" and will help them refrain from doing it again. Unfortunately, that tactic never works because it's built around shame so both the shame and the clutter continue to grow.
What to do: Nothing was ever solved by adding additional shame, guilt or fear to the problem. In fact Einstein said that you can't change a problem with the same energy you created the problem with - so stop judging yourself and your past decisions because there's nothing you can do to change the past. You can, however, change the future and your present by giving yourself a break, accepting that you did, in fact, make some not-so-great purchases in the past and then choosing to tackle the clutter item by item, sorting through the clutter and learning how to make better, self love based decisions for yourself. Half the time just realizing what actions you're taking and how you feel as you do them is enough to help you start making new choices, so be aware of how you're spending your money and on what – are your purchases keeping you happy, healthy and more productive or not? Don't overthink - the more simpler you keep this process, the easier it will be to do it right the first time.
4. Your Time: You spend time going back to the store to purchase an item you couldn't find anywhere in your home but know you own. You spend 20 extra minutes looking for something you “just put down right in front of you”. You end up feeling exasperated, frustrated, silly, stupid, annoyed, and angry often as a result of misplacing items. You make a decision and then spend hours wondering if you've made the right decision. People get annoyed with you for showing up later or stop spending time with you because you're always tardy. Work feels like it's never ending and you never seem to have enough time to finish anything so you're always feeling behind and stressed. Time is always feeling wasted and you wonder if the choices you make are helping or hindering your path in life.
What to do: Time isn't something you can get back, so it's important to make sure you're spending your time in a way that helps you be more productive, happy and/or gives you energy. My advice is to use these three ideas together: 1. Make good, self love based decisions to help you find more time in a busy schedule - this usually means getting rid of activities or projects that aren't enhancing your life to make room for activities and projects that do. 2. Declutter to help you gain more time by eliminating unnecessary items in your home and office. Less stuff, less decisions to make or distractions to be had 3. Organize your space to help create a system to easily find and use whatever you need. Lastly, make this process easy on yourself and your time. Take the easiest, quickest route to work, hire others to help you out, stop doing things that waste your time, money and effort and you'll see you have extra time, money and energy by cutting out the non-essential, non-energy giving clutter in your life.
5. Your Energy: Can you make clear, concise decisions that are respected by others? When your decisions aren't respected by others, do you feel drained or discouraged? Are you exhausted every day when you go to bed? How about when you wake up? What about on the weekends? Do you feel as though you have the energy to do anything fun? When is the last time you had actual fun? Have you stopped exercising because you're tired? Do you feel like you stopped really caring about anything lately and you mostly wonder what the point of all of it is?
If you answered “yes” to most of these chances are, you are exhausted. This is partly because you aren't taking in enough nutrients, love and self care to rejuvenate you but partly because you are giving so much and not receiving enough back that you are just depleted. You simply have nothing to give and therefore you cannot give when you are depleted energy-wise.
What to do: Take care of yourself. Schedule what you can around times you know you're most energetic. Eat real food. Get plenty of rest and go to bed at the same time each night. Don't engage with people who suck your energy from you. Make decisions that make you happy rather than seeming to crush the energy out of you. Give back to yourself and allow others to do the same. Lastly, share rather than give, this way both parties always walk away with something.
Making changes doesn't happen in 2 minutes and sometimes it takes a few tries before you start seeing results. By making small, self love based decisions, it helps you create a happier, healthier life for yourself by taking small steps that lead you to an even greater life. Choosing to surround yourself with positive people and things, making sure you support yourself and have others around to support you will help you stick to your goals and decreases the possibility of sabotaging your efforts. If or when you do, don't judge, don't fear and don't resist, just love yourself and keep moving forward.
Long before decluttering expert, writer & speaker Alison Kero started her first organizing business in 2004, she searched for ways to make life easier. After much research she realized it came down to 2 simple organizing techniques: first to use self-love as her decision making tool so she can easily determine what she likes, uses and needs in her life and second to set boundaries so she doesn’t sabotage her efforts. Alison also recognized the importance of figuring out her priorities so that she could determine what she considered valuable to her and what wasn’t. Alison first started with physical clutter but soon realized she could transfer those same simple techniques to every aspect of her life; whether it's who to spend time with, which activities to do or what objects to bring home, Since implementing her new decluttering system, Alison has found she now enjoys; increased energy, improved productivity and overall greater contentment thanks to her organizational system and she loves teaching this easy system to her clients. To reach Alison visit: http://www.ackorganizing.com.