Is your house full of junk? Never enough time to clean it all up? Don’t kid yourself any longer. A tidy house is a tidy mind.
Messy people are brilliant at glossing over the untidy state in which they live. ‘It’s genetic. One day I might need that! It’s because my house is so big. It’s because my house is so small. I’m so attached to my stuff. I won’t be able to find anything if it’s moved. I feel guilty when I throw things away. I have no time to clean up.’ And somewhere along the way they manage to convince themselves that clutter is synonymous with cosy, or is the inevitable result of their creative nature.
But clutter takes time, costs money, creates stress and disrupts your social life – if you forget an appointment or lose a telephone number you wrote down on a scrap of paper. Collecting ‘stuff’ leads to discontent because you don’t get to the things you really want to do. The good news is there is something you can do about it. And there is no better time to ‘make a clean sweep of it’ than now.
Step one is to admit you have a problem. For me, that moment came when I had told my son to clean up his room for the umpteenth time. And for the umpteenth time he didn’t get it done. ‘It’s much more fun to play in a tidy room than in this mess,’ I heard myself saying. Suddenly it dawned on me that the same was true for me. I had always deluded myself into thinking that I had more important things to do than play homemaker. In fact, it’s just the other way around. If you have important things to do, make sure that you remove every obstacle (i.e., clutter) in your way.
Step two is to look for help. A good place to start is the book ‘Unclutter Your Home’ by Donna Smallin, which tackles both the psychological and practical aspects of clutter. Basically, Smallin says there are two categories of mess. One is all that stuff you don’t need, don’t use, that has passed its expiration date, clothes you no longer fit into or things you have too many of. The other category is the lack of order in the things that are meaningful to you.
Needless to say, you have to start with the first category. That sounds simpler than it is because all that superfluous stuff is there for a reason. Throwing things away will thus inevitably lead to a quest into the dark corners and dusty caverns of your own interior. Do you hope you’ll one day lose enough weight to fit into those pants? Are you afraid of not having enough? Are you indecisive? Thoroughly materialistic? Or such a perfectionist that you think you‘ll never be able to do it right and so you might as well do nothing?
Cleaning up is like anything: it starts with making a deal with yourself to change. Once you’ve cleared that hurdle you can let Donna Smallin guide you in getting things handled or finding solutions to problems you can’t solve yourself. For example, if you have trouble throwing things away, ask yourself these questions. When did I last use this? Why don’t I use it more often? Is it emotionally valuable to me? Do I like it? What disaster would strike if I were to throw it away? Is it replaceable? How many of these do I need? Where should I store it? If you still don’t know whether it should stay or go, put it in the ‘re-examination box’. Look in the box six months later and take a final decision.
An effective approach to tackling mess must be first and foremost realistic. After all, the point is to make a lasting change. Tell yourself that for every new thing that enters the house, something old must exit. That way, at least the clutter won’t increase. Even better is for every new thing that makes its way into the house (books, shoes, videotapes, duvet covers, fondue sets, ties) two (or three or five) things must be thrown away until you reach an acceptable clutter level. If it’s hard for you to throw things away, then give them away; take them to the homeless shelter or the Salvation Army.
Only then should you start to rigorously organise and order your environment. Sort through your things first. Move them to the most logical place, group them together and then decide the best way to store them. And be realistic. Take a half-hour to an hour a day and do it in stages. Turf out the mail drawer. The sock drawer. The photo box. Do one project at a time and finish it. Finally, the time comes for those handy boxes, drawers, hanging files, racks and cupboards that only become handy when used properly. Be merciless. A dirty clothesbasket in the bathroom may be a clever concept, but if the clothes stay on the bedroom floor, then put the basket there. The aim is to find a system that works, and that means something different for everyone.
When you put your things in order, the greatest gift you give yourself is time. If you can make cleaning up as much a habit as cleaning your teeth (i.e. doing it every day without fail, not making excuses, doing a major clean-up twice a year and making time to solve any acute problems that arise) you will have considerably more time than the time you ‘save’ by not cleaning up.
If the mess in your house is discouragingly huge, then start by cleaning our your car. That only takes half a day and gives you a little taste of the wonderful feeling of having a clean, tidy environment. But make sure you never make cleaning up your end goal. Something like the law of diminishing returns applies here. Reward your work with a nice bouquet of flowers or a candle. No more clutter but cosy nonetheless.
Donna Smallin: ‘Unclutter Your Home: 7 Simple Steps’; 700 Tips & Ideas (Storey Books, 1999) ISBN 1580171087