Clean up the clutter

We all rationalize away the mess in our purse or sock drawer, but clutter only adds stress to our lives

Special to The TribuneApril 2, 2013 

MCT ILLUSTRATION

Want to understand how people really think? Peek into the inner sanctums of their lives. A woman whose purse looks like a trash bag ready for the dumpster is most likely feeling scattered and overwhelmed. A man whose underwear drawer is a jumble of mismatched socks and holey BVDs probably takes little interest in his personal health or well-being.

These emotional nooks and crannies are where our behaviors intersect with our thoughts. They’re where the mental rubber meets the real life of the road.

Personal clutter is, well, personal. Each of us has facets that are neat and tidy and others that are unkempt. The areas we think are important are where we devote our energies and our time.

We’re likely to defend the way we do things.

Clutter is also relative. There’s a wide range between passing white glove inspections and living in a landfill.

Still, we secretly know the areas that create inner turmoil. They’re the source of endless stress. They cause us to lose things, to forget appointments. They interfere with how we perform.

Most of us employ an arsenal of skills to help us manage our personal clutter. As actions move up the behavioral food chain, they’re generally overlaid with strategies that keep us in check. For instance, a busy mom may be able to meet all her children’s appointments and needs. Yet her jewelry box is a rat’s nest of mismatched earrings and knotted necklaces she can’t wear.

We frequently make excuses for our clutter. We apologize for the mess in the kitchen. We’re embarrassed when friends see how we live. Yet somehow we’re unable to make the changes that would fix things once and for all.

Even when the solution is relatively simple (how hard is emptying out a purse?) or takes mere minutes to enact, we cling like limpets to old, unproductive ways. We rationalize that we’re too busy or that the problem’s not that bad. Then we continue to feel powerless and defeated by our failure.

The good news is that clutter is reversible with direction and perseverance. Even better is the improvement in mental clarity.

TRY THESE SURE-FIRE TIPS FOR MANAGING PERSONAL CLUTTER

• Identify the problem areas. Note the specific tasks you need to resolve. Then write them on a list. The mere act of committing to the process means you’re on the way to a tidier life.

• Get the proper equipment. Need a tool box for your garage? More hangers for the closet? Storage bins for the laundry room? Racks to hold earrings? Make the assessment and have supplies on hand.

• Set aside a specific time. Make a date to clean off your desk or that junk drawer in the kitchen. This step helps you manage your schedule and means there’s less chance you’ll forget.

• Set a timer. Allot an exact amount of time to complete your chore. Perhaps you give yourself 10 minutes to clean out your purse or 45 minutes to sort through old photos. You want enough time to get the job done but not enough to get sidetracked.

• Address the problem. Now’s the time to get organized and de-clutter. Build shelves in the attic. Group similar items in labeled plastic bins. Shred old receipts. Make piles for the trash, recycling and donations. Do what it takes to get clutter under control.

• Stop when the buzzer rings. Perhaps you’ll need to reschedule another session. Avoid the temptation to do it now.

• Lay out a new plan. You want to prevent personal clutter from building up again, so decide how things will be different. You may opt to keep only one credit card in your wallet. You may establish a buy-one-toss-one rule for your closet. You might cancel magazine subscriptions. Whatever you need, now’s the time to make the change. There’s much at stake.

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