That buzz in your head… Could it be clutter chatter?
Cheap Thoughts and Stuff
Making that noise disappear probably requires a commitment to live a simpler life with fewer, although higher quality, things instead of hoarding cheap, unnecessary stuff.
Refrain from fooling yourself into thinking that you save money when you find something at a low cost and buy more than you need. Money is spent when you buy stuff, not when you get rid of it.
When you buy cheap stuff by volume and refuse to discard or donate what you don’t need, you continually waste money and reject better possibilities in your life.
We All Know This Person
Here’s an example. Consider someone who finds no money to have some home repairs done but has bought all gadgets sold by infomercials between midnight and 5 am for the past year.
This person now has every possible iteration of cat litter boxes, 18 different lines of weight loss products and programs (because nothing works), seven different mops, laptop gadgets, several high-end electronic toys, four Roomba vacuum cleaners, and three other systems of oil diffusers, to name a few.
If added on a whole year, the amount spent on all those things could be enough to tackle significant repairs or upgrades in the home and buy the top-quality item in every category they genuinely need.
Yet, they continually spend their money on useless things (on sale), continue living in a house that is falling apart due to lack of maintenance, and continue hoarding cheap, low-quality versions of items they might or might not need. Does that make sense?
And remember that the more you have, the more you need to keep up with, more to clean, more to store, more effort to find what you are looking for, and so on.
Ah, let’s remember the cost of storage. You pay for every square inch of your home, which should be living space, not storage space. And the monthly fee for a storage unit? Do not even go there! Why do this to yourself and your family?
Turn Those Feelings Around
It seems very hard for people to let go of useless things accumulated in this manner. They might need to shift their emotions around stuff and money if they wish to break this spending cycle and upgrade the quality of their life.
Shifting how they feel about money and themselves would be a fundamental change if they aspire to live a simpler, stylish life that makes them proud.
Please understand that an elevated lifestyle has less to do with your financial situation or the size of your home. Instead, it is about your mindset, priorities, how deserving you feel to receive the best of life, and where you direct your attention to and your intention from now on.
All those school projects, papers, and awards are everywhere, and you can’t find it in your heart to let them go.
Organizing kids’ memories let you declutter your life and enjoy those mementos better. I will show you how.
First, gather all your children’s projects, artwork, school papers, trophies, awards, and the like. Go through every space, drawer, closet, and room in your home. Leave no space unchecked. Take all this kid-related stuff to a single place in your home to collect them together.
However, stay hyper-focused during this gathering process. Don’t get distracted by other things you might find. Your focus is crucial! Getting distracted is what trips people on this process, and then they get confused and can’t finish half the job.
Once you have this material in one place, you will have a large group of miscellaneous items. Now subdivide this big pile by the child if you have two or more children.
After having a separate pile for each of your children, sort each one by year. When you can’t recall the year when the piece was created, and the item does not show, assign some chronological order as best as you can.
You will have several groups of items per each of your children. Now follow the steps described below for each of those years, per child. You must work on one group (year or stage) for one child at a time.
1. Discard Unimportant Papers
Unimportant papers are notifications from school, lunch menus, and the like. These are things that won’t move our hearts at the end of the day. (You know what I’m talking about). So, recycle or trash all that.
2. Photograph Non-Scannable Items
Take good pictures of everything that is not flat paper, like artwork pieces, medals, trophies, etc. As you take each photo, include a post-it note with the child’s name and the item’s date. Place this post note at the bottom of each item so that you can crop it out of the picture later on. Then, when ready to work on a project with these pictures (like a photo book or scrapbook), crop the note out, if you can tag or caption the image.
If taking pictures of these items will suffice, you can let go of the physical object. When dealing with trophies, medals, and awards, if you or your child are not ready to part with the physical thing just yet, find a suitable location in the home where you can gather and display these items in a cohesive, aesthetic way. You don’t want them to look like accidents in your home.
3. The Written Work
Group items related to written work like stories, poems, analyses, and the like. The idea for these is to make binders or books later on. But, for now, organize the material to create these books later.
4. The “Warm & Fuzzy” Box
Regardless of your most ruthless efforts to eliminate clutter, there might be a few (a few), small items that you or your child can’t simply let go of, even when these have been digitized. That’s where the “Warm & Fuzzy” box comes in.
Everyone should have a “warm & fuzzy” box, by the way. This is a nice-looking box, basket, or container with a lid that includes items we keep forever. Those are the items that take us back in time and make us laugh and cry every time. Therefore, it is crucial to be selective with the things we include here. Not everything makes it to the coveted status of “warm & fuzzy” box material. Remember that!
5. Paper and Flat Media
Loose papers, awards, recognitions, messages, etc., on paper, are scannable media. As you do this, name the electronic file with the child’s name and the year when they made it. This process is equivalent to the post-it notes you applied to items photographed.
Scan everything using your printer/scanner, your iPhone, or any equipment you might have or can purchase for this purpose. This equipment is not that expensive anymore. However, it would be an excellent investment to have a reliable scanner at home.
Stories, poems, essays, and other items you put together to make binders or books (step 3), don’t need to be scanned individually. However, it is clever to digitize these, ensuring a safe record. If you do, ensure that pages of the same item remain together in sequential order.
You will manage the scanned material the same way you dealt with the pictures. So think of each scanned paper or project a digital image comparable to the photos.
6. Rinse and Repeat
Once you finish working with all the mementos of a child’s years, repeat the process with each one of your other children, working a year or a stage at a time.
In my case, we have three children, and for each one, I divided their electronic files into four main stages: infancy, elementary school, middle school, and high school. Note that pictures or souvenirs from extra-curricular activities and summers get included in one of these four stages, depending on the year.
7. Create Digital Files
Download all the photos you took of non-scannable items into an electronic file. You could name this file “Kids’ Projects” or something like that. Then create a file folder per child, and move every picture related to a particular child into their electronic folder. After this, you may subdivide each child’s electronic folder into years or stages or any way you want to do this.
Do not forget to add all images from your scanning process. Add these to the same digital folders.
From Now On
From the moment you gather all those projects, awards, and papers from around the home, consider it is a clean slate and new beginning. Pay attention to how you manage your children’s documents, projects, and awards. The key is to stay on top of things. Here’s is how you do that.
Every day, when kids come home from school or extra-curricular activities
Note important dates and deadlines and place those dates on the family calendar.
Post any school reminders for your children on a magnetic or chalkboard where they can see them every morning.
Discard those notes or papers. Those are the miscellaneous papers you tossed on step 1 above.
When the children bring home artwork pieces, trophies, medals, and other non-flat items
Photograph these as soon as they get home (so they look their best and you don’t forget to do this).
Save these pictures in the child’s electronic file. Name the file with the child’s name and year.
Add subsequent art projects during that year to that same file.
Create a new file with the child’s name and year every year.
You or your child might want to display such an item for a while. That’s great! Just ensure you place this item in that particular location you designated for this kind of thing. But, again, you don’t want their projects to look or feel like clutter.
In any case, taking those pictures early on gives you and your kids the freedom to let go of the item after displaying it for some time.
Scan all paper items and flat media such as report cards, academic evaluations, school pictures, stories, essays, and poems as soon as they come home.
If you can’t process these items immediately, park these papers in a bin close to the scanner, and assign a day of the week or the month in your calendar (yes, do it now!) to periodically scan these things. Of course, discard originals as soon as you digitize them. But should you need to keep it, place it in a file with the child’s name in your filing cabinet.
It’s a lot of work, I know. But consider that all this work needs to be done just at the beginning of the project because you did not have a method to deal with all this stuff so far. So once you follow the initial process, you only need to stay on top of it.
But why do all of this in the first place? First, this solves the overwhelming number of papers and artifacts cluttering our home space. Second, this process allows you to have all that worth-keeping material organized and ready to create meaningful stories of each stage of your children’s lives.
Telling a story is the real purpose of keeping all these projects, pictures, and awards. Having all those papers and items with no order all over the house does not tell any story nor inspire anyone to create one. This material is simply meaningless when scattered around or carelessly stored in a bin somewhere.
On the other hand, memories in book form, like photo books, are easy to keep neatly on a shelf or library and are a joy to share. Our children will be able to see and enjoy their path through life and share this fantastic legacy with friends, family, and their children.
Also, imagine the storage space you will recover when you let go of physical items and original papers! However, you might think that throwing all that away is what you did not want to do. But how many times has anybody enjoyed those things since you put them away? Is there space in your home to display them all? Are they all worth exhibiting? Do you want your home to look like a kindergarten classroom?
Maybe when your child created a project, you displayed it for about a week or so. But eventually, that project, along with so many others, started cluttering your home and your life. So, this way of purposely and intentionally working with your children’s stuff will take you where you want to be.
Looking Beneath Your Need to Keep the Stuff
If you feel it is too hard to let go of those physical objects and original papers, even when they are safely digitized, what you are probably trying to keep is the feelings they evoke. It is not about the item itself. Images of these items can still satisfy those feelings without drowning you in “stuff.” Instead, having these memories accessibly organized enables everyone to enjoy and share them for many years to come.
Think about the last time you attended a seminar, workshop, or tradeshow. Got swag? So where is it? What do you usually do with those binders, notes, notebooks, and product samples from a continuing education event or tradeshow?
Chances are you come from the event and “put the swag bag down” for later. But if you did not have a concrete, immediate plan for it, “later” never came, and eventually, you got tired of stepping over that bag or having to move it from one place to the other. You decided to place it where it would not interfere with your daily life (i.e., where you could not see it anymore).
Swag Turns Clutter
Once you can’t see that material anymore, it is out of your mind. It does not interfere in your daily life, that’s true. But that means that you forget about it. Hence, a new bag to clutter your space!
If all that stuff is out of your mind, it is probably unimportant to you, and you do not need it. But why did you gather that material or samples in the first place? Probably is our automatic human reaction to grab anything free.
Make It Benefit You
Think of ways that material can benefit your present life, help you in your career, relationships, or whatever it might be. Then decide on concrete, appropriate steps to allow for that to happen.
This process takes intention and planning. It will not happen if you relegate that bag or binder full of notes and product samples where you won’t think about it.
What To Do with It
Here are some examples of what that process of paying attention to that material might look like:
You took notes on the various seminars during the activity — to cement the knowledge in your brain, transcribe the notes by hand. Then, scan those notes and file the document in an electronic file related to the topic. If you have Evernote or the like, that’s another very convenient way to keep your information handy and classified.
You received printed material that you already know is valuable and want to keep — scan it and follow the steps described above. If you want to keep the paper copies, make a file for this material.
You collected sample items — Are you interested in trying those items? Place them where you are most likely to use them and try them! Did you collect the items for someone else? Place the things where you won’t forget to take them the next time you will see that person.
There were recommendations about books, apps, or programs to try? — If you made notes on these, these interested you in the first place. Revisit each one of those and if it still sounds like a good idea, decide what needs to happen for you to act on it.
Got ideas to develop during the event? — Don’t let it go to waste! Instead, assign a time on your calendar to make those things happen or develop the steps needed to obtain that goal. Then calendar those steps. What gets in the calendar gets done.
Business cards — Scan them or input the information with appropriate notes into your iPhone. Then establish steps and dates to reach out to those contacts and explore possibilities together and network.
You can certainly develop more ways in which all that material gathered at that seminar, workshop, or tradeshow can continue giving and benefiting you. The important thing is to take the appropriate action about those ideas! You probably paid money to attend these events, and most definitely, you invested your time. Don’t let that go to waste. Learn how to get the most of these mysterious swag bags we love to collect, for they hold a wealth of possibilities!
Emotions might impede your efforts to live a clutter-free life. There is usually an emotion associated with people’s resistance to part with stuff that no longer has a specific role in their lives. Let’s look at some of these emotions that might be obstructing your efforts to live clutter-free.
When you must keep stuff for their sentimental value
Some items do have sentimental value. When you can keep them in a particular place of honor, that is not a problem. But having too many of these sentimental items, or that everything is so unique, the truth is that nothing is. You won’t pay enough attention to each particular item to honor that special status. Special items get lost in the crowd, and instead of evoking sentimental value, those items become annoyances.
When you can’t get rid of items you received as gifts
Have you been a hostage of unwanted gifts? You might feel guilty about getting rid of something you received as a gift, whether you want it or not, or regardless of not having a proper space to home the item. This guilt probably arises because you don’t want to hurt the gift-giver’s feelings. However, if you follow the same pattern in many instances, you end up with a home where you feel unhappy, given the clutter comprised of so many things you’d rather not have around.
Your home should be your sanctuary, not a storage place for unwanted items. It is essential to learn to separate objects from your feelings for the gift giver. You can acknowledge the gift as an expression of their love for you, but that does not mean the item must remain like a subconscious point of contention between you two. It is also beneficial to look at the matter from the perspective of the gift giver. For that, read our blog about the subject: What Do You Give When You Give A Gift
When stuff represents unfulfilled dreams
Some people don’t want to get rid of things that might symbolize the life or experiences they wished they had but never did. It is common to hold on to things representing what we wish we had done. Karen Kingston calls this “aspirational clutter”.
A clear example is crafting. The amount of new crafts supplies and unfinished projects we find in homes is enormous. However, people can’t let any of those crafts supplies go because in doing so, they would accept that they don’t have time, desire, or the talent to do those crafts. But your home should reflect who you are now, support your goals and be the launching pad to your future. When you hold on to past dreams, you have little to no room for the future. Let go and rest assured that if it is meant to be (that you live those dreams sometime in the future), it will be.
When you paid top dollar for the items
You spend money when you buy something, not when you get rid of it. Keeping something because it costs a lot will not bring back the money spent. Besides, there are many ways for something to fulfill its mission in our lives. When it is time to let that thing go, think about the value it brought to you, recognize it accomplished its mission, and let it free to enhance the lives of others.
Keeping objects that clutter our lives compounds the problem. These items take an emotional toll on you, rob you of time, and cost money. Such things require that you spend time caring for them and money paying for the space they take up in your home or even a storage unit. It all boils down to forgiving yourself for past money mistakes or accepting that not everything continues to have a high value over the years. Understanding this will allow you to get past the emotions and part with the object without guilt.
When you fear you might need the stuff in the future
The fear of needing something in the future and not having it comes from the primal fear of not having enough. It comes from not trusting yourself or others to provide for you in the future. If you could replace the item with a couple of hours of work, let it go. There’s a point and time where you’ve got to take a leap of faith and trust in yourself and your loved ones to help you with things instead of thinking you’re all on your own with no resources or skills.
When you feel the mess is never-ending
When a task is too daunting, it is hard even to start and much more challenging to see its end. This feeling is a widespread occurrence when it comes to decluttering. It also encompasses the phenomenon of “perfection paralysis.” Some people would not start a project unless they are confident the result will be perfect. Unfortunately, that is hardly ever the case; thus, they never start the project.
When a task seems impossibly hard or the desired result unachievable, it is helpful to divide the project into smaller parts and conquer it in chunks. If this still proves too hard to handle, you might want to engage a Professional Organizer to guide you through the process. Having some guidance in the form of a project manager, coach, or even body double can help you see a more straightforward path to completing your project.
If you can identify your source of discomfort with decluttering, you can make significant breakthroughs. You can deal with your emotions, move on, and get rid of the stuff cluttering your life. Understanding and addressing the source of discomfort in parting with things you no longer need can also remove a layer of guilt and emotional baggage you may not have even realized you were carrying around.
I discuss the concept of mindfulness quite often. Mindfulness is about being in the moment, each moment, noticing our actions, reactions, and feelings toward others and the environment. Mindfulness puts seemingly ordinary, routine, everyday life events under a magnifying glass for close inspection – the things few people notice. Under this mind-frame, we can’t help but see how “when” matters. The timeliness of things matters.
You have probably heard that clutter is, at its core, a bunch of postponed decisions. So let’s put the concept of timeliness under that magnifying glass to illustrate its importance and consequences.
Clutter, Mess, and Chaos Creep In
If a drop of tomato sauce falls on the floor while you cook, one of two things will likely happen: you take four seconds to wipe the area clean at that moment, or you keep cooking undisturbed because you can always clean it later (Oh, later).
You continue with your culinary endeavor. Then either you or someone else inadvertently steps on the spot one or several times. As a result, the inoffensive tomato drop that could have taken four seconds to clean is now significantly spread on the kitchen floor.
Also, mixed with shoe dirt, it has transformed that four-second job into a floor moping task that adds five minutes to your schedule. But that is just the time. Consider the effort of prepping the mop, mopping the floor, and then cleaning that mop afterward.
The Toxic Build-Up
It is your choice to postpone taking any action – of course! But understand that the timeliness of actions does matter, and when we delay decisions, consequences usually follow.
Often, those consequences come in the form of additional time and effort required to achieve the same goal. That extra effort needed to accomplish the goal grows with each passing minute, while the likelihood of taking any action decreases. However, the situation (now compounded) will still be there for you to resolve later. Ignoring the situation won’t make it go away.
The tomato drop example might seem insignificant. But unnecessarily postponed tasks and decisions bring more impactful consequences.
Life constantly provides us with opportunities to neglect or delay actions and decisions of all kinds. And the consequences related to ignoring them might not bother us, especially if we don’t immediately notice. But sooner or later, we’ll find out that the consequences accumulated due to neglected or postponed decisions and actions are such that we no longer feel capable of bringing back balance or control to the situation, home, life (whatever it is).
Neglected Actions Create Chain Reactions
Let’s suppose that because dad is an early riser, he gets assigned the chore of emptying the dishwasher and feeding the dog in the morning. There is an understanding that these activities should happen before the rest of the family gets up.
But dad starts wasting precious morning time doing anything but those two chores under his responsibility. As the rest of the family members get up and want breakfast, the equipment they need is still inside the dishwasher. Therefore, everyone tries to get what they need directly from the machine. Dad tries to complete his unfinished tasks at that (very inopportune) time.
Everyone trips over the dishwasher’s open door and steps over a wet kitchen floor. It turns out the stuff coming out of the washer is still wet because the dishwasher is a piece of junk, and no one has bothered to replace it or call for repair service. So, the floor is now a mess that will require mopping with cleaner instead of a piece of towel paper to dry some water.
Do not forget the dog that has not eaten. The poor thing is in the middle of it all and pretty hungry. Dad knows he should have fed the dog and starts mixing the stuff into her bowl. He takes up considerable counter space to complete the task while others deal with their breakfast in the reduced counter space left.
But everyone has responsibilities and places to go – delaying breakfast is not an option.
Each person usually rinses their things and puts them inside the dishwasher. It takes about one minute to do so.
On this day, however, since the dishwasher is still partially loaded with clean items, dirty stuff cannot yet go in the machine. So, the first person to finish breakfast puts dirty utensils in the sink without rinsing (because rinsing is an action associated with placing things inside the dishwasher, and this is not the case this time).
The action taken by the first person is the cue for all others to do the same, even when the dishwasher becomes available in the next three minutes. (You know, “so and so did not do it, why do I have to do it?” syndrome).
Dishes are piling up in the sink and on the counter, with food remains, making them crusty (yeah!).
The day goes by, with the pile of dirty stuff over the kitchen counter and in the sink. It will take more time and effort to rinse those dishes and to place them inside the dishwasher now.
Also, the process will require someone (as in mom) to have the extra time and willingness to do so. Unfortunately, that one-minute job has turned into a ten-minute ordeal (with resentment!).
And who will happily volunteer to take on the task at the end of the day when everyone is tired? Let’s not forget that the kitchen needs some cleaning up before dinner cooking starts. Hello, kitchen clutter!
Often, we do not take action or make decisions because we forget- not necessarily because we purposely run away from it. But that is yet another consequence of delaying or postponing.
Take that alarm on your iPhone that reminds you of your noon pills, for example. Can you count the times it has gone off, and you have ignored it, thinking you will take care of it in five minutes? Then, hours later, you realize you did not take your pills.
A Nourishing Home
When you live in a household, you are part of a system. Everyone’s actions and inactions directly impact the unit function. If you are relied upon to complete specific tasks, please understand that such chores are tethered to a time frame and not subject to when you “feel like it.” “Feeling like it” might never come, and it is not a reliable time frame.
When all household members understand and accept the home systems and perform their duties on time, no chore becomes too big to accomplish. As a result, such a home efficiently keeps the chaos at bay, improves family relationships, and enhances the positive energy flow. It is a nourishing, supportive, and efficient place.
Does this ring a bell? Observe these patterns in your life for about a week – on the big things and the seemingly insignificant ones. You will probably see the cause/effect of delayed decisions and observe their ripple effect in your life. You will make amazing discoveries!