Clutter, Clutter Everywhere – continued

It seems that clutter is growing around the globe. People have accumulated more and more stuff – some of us over the years, others had it dumped on them and some just love to shop.

If you want to remember why we collect all that stuff, take a look at my first post on clutter!

Sure, some of it is really good stuff, the kind of stuff you probably should carry extra insurance on, but most of it won’t bring a tenth of what we spent on it, and really, do we need all that stuff sitting around? Does one person (ahem….me….) really need 3 closet fulls of clothing ( truly I will fit back into it someday!)

All that clutter isn’t necessarily good for us, though. Consider the effects on our physical and mental health!

Physical and mental effects of our stuff on our health.

In it’s extreme, the accumulation of stuff, according to the Mayo Clinic site on hoarding, can cause the following:

Unsanitary conditions that pose a risk to health.

It’s hard to clean when there are things stacked up. Who wants to move everything to make sure to get the dust bunnies under the bed or the germs on the kitchen counter?

Increased risk of falls.

Even if you aren’t a hoarder, having too many items means that your walking room is reduced. I  stubbed my toe on the exercise bike sitting in the path to the bathroom – and broke my toe.  I’m not alone in that either.  Many folks have so much stuff sitting around that they regularly run into it.

An inability to perform daily tasks, such as bathing or cooking.

In the extreme the tub and the kitchen sink are full of your junk and you can’t get to them to do anything, even to fix dinner.

Poor work performance.

If your office or cubicle has all surfaces stacked up with papers or other work related items, you are more likely to be unorganized and less productive.

Family conflicts.

Family members living with a clutterer eventually become irritated or angry that the other guy won’t clean up and remove some of his junk. Even when the other guy has his stuff organized and out of the way, it still takes up room you could be using for your stuff, thereby causing strife.

Loneliness and social isolation.

If your home is cluttered, it is somewhat embarrassing to have anyone come over. You tend to stop having company.

A fire hazard.

Let’s face it, the more things you have, the more there is to burn. If stuff gets stacked up against the furnace closet or close to the water heater or by the cooking stove, fire hazards are even more pronounced. If a fire does start, it is harder to find your way to safety.

Less exercise.

If it is hard to get to the things you need to get exercise, you are less likely to do so.

The New York Times, in A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves noted:

“Over time, being surrounded by clutter slows us down, makes us feel mentally and physically fatigued, and causes stress and anxiety. If we have a cluttered, disorganized living space, letting go of the stresses of work, finances, relationships, and other areas of our lives can be virtually impossible. Similarly, if a workplace is in disarray, it can be difficult to complete tasks well and on time. Just sitting in a cluttered room can create stress, as the clutter provides a great deal of information for the eyes to process and visual reminders of how much work is left unfinished. This constant, low-grade stress can subtly and steadily drain our energy, leaving us overwhelmed, exhausted, and ultimately, physically ill.”

Princeton researches have done a study that actually proves out the above statements. The study by the Neuroscience Institute was published in the January issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. If you can weed through it, the statement in their report “Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex”: tells why:

“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

What I got from the above is, if there is too much clutter, our brains have a harder time figuring out what is going on.

Options for dealing with clutter.

Stop buying more clutter.

Just as in controlling your credit card debt, the first step in controlling your clutter is to just stop already! Stop buying, or agreeing to take on, more stuff.

I love to garage sale and sleuth out estate sales, but with no outlet (I no longer have an antique booth), I have no where to put any cool deals on cool stuff. This year, I just stopped going to sales. Instead of spending money, accumulating stuff and using up time, I worked on this web site!

Move and leave it behind!

This one is pretty extreme, but it is what I said I would do if we ever move out of this house! We’ve been here 20 plus years now. I can’t imagine trying to move all of our stuff somewhere else! I would have a ‘living estate’ sale to move most of it out of our care.

Clean it up, area by area.

I’ve found that tackling a horrendous chore is better done in pieces and bits. When I had to re-paint the two bedrooms with cathedral ceilings, all of the walls had to be sanded. The previous owner had let her daughters ‘splatter paint’ them with multiple colors. The paint globs were nicely distributed but I wanted smooth walls. For months, I spend a mandatory half hour with my sanding mouse after supper. I got it done without too much distress.

Use the same concept to clean up clutter.  Pick an area, such as one closet or cabinet, and work through it.  Next time, move on to the next one.

Don’t rearrange it, remove it.

It’s tempting to postpone decision making by rearranging your storage, or adding shelves and bins to hold more. Don’t. You will just be dealing with it later (and there will be more of it!). Trust me on this, I speak from experience!

Don’t store it, share it.

Another great thing to avoid is renting a public storage unit. I know of someone who rented one nearly 15 years ago to ‘temporarily’ hold their stuff. They are, to this day, still waiting for their kids to decide whether or not they want the stuff and have paid at least $20 a month…let’s see 15 years is 180 months times $20 per month = $3600!

If you are wanting the kids to take heirloom pieces, give them one chance and either deliver it to them or give them a deadline to come get it before you dispose of it.

Get help.

If you really have trouble letting go of stuff, think about going to a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy to change your behavior to eliminate your need to collect clutter.

You could also hire a professional organizer (reportedly this costs around $60 up per hour.). The organizer will teach you how to group, sort, set priorities on what to keep and when to act and to discard things.

Try the book  Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoardingby David F. Tolin and Randy O. Frost.  It is a self help book for clutterers and hoarders!

After reading these two posts, you probably think I am practically a hoarder.  I’m not.  I’m just struggling with 40 years of life’s belongings, including estates from several relatives and leftover kid stuff.  We really can walk easily through our home, it’s just that all of the drawers, shelves, cabinets and under bed storage areas are full – and I like to have a bit of empty space around!

What suggestions do you have to reduce the clutter in your life?