We’re not talking about having a “junk drawer,” but it’s not as serious as piles of newspapers in each room (sorry, that’s called hoarding).
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of in-between. Think overflowing bookshelves, a crammed closet, landscapes of knickknacks, even the dreaded “spare bedroom.”
So what’s the big deal about having a bunch of stuff we don’t use?
Well, whether you want to believe it or not, clutter and disorder affects our overall well-being, as well as our financial situation.
What is Clutter?
One definition of clutter is “an untidy mess;” synonyms include heap and hodgepodge.
Those words are kind of funny and don’t sound so threatening: people who like to collect things – figurines, pottery, fossils – may not have these items displayed neatly in curios or on bookshelves.
Even the website WebMD states, “other people can’t decide what clutter is for you.” So, when we talk about clutter, it’s a bit personal.
If you’re ready to have a discussion about clutter, here’s a conversation starter: if the items surrounding you bring you genuine joy and comfort – without a considerable amount of upkeep – there’s no need to worry.
However, if your living space makes you feel anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, or unproductive, it’s time you got a handle on your stuff.
How is Clutter a Drain on My Wallet?
Regardless of how large of a space we live in, we have stuff – furniture, keepsakes, clothes, appliances, and any number of items for our leisure and entertainment.
As a result, all of our possessions demand attention: we wash our clothes or take them to the cleaners; we put food on our tables; we clean and repair our homes.
When we’re not overburdened, life can flow pretty smoothly and our tasks are completed.
However, if we have unopened mail, piles of papers on our desks, bunches of laundry on the bedroom floor, we’re constantly maneuvering through chaos.
All our systems, patterns, and good habits begin to fall by the wayside and disorder quickly increases.
1. The Time Thief
When you continually search your surroundings for certain items (eye glasses, car or house keys, phone), you’re robbing yourself of time.
We can justify we’re only a few minutes late for a meeting once in awhile. However, stress quickly mounts and your occasional predicament becomes a pattern.
Left unchecked, there’s no way to assess the aggregate damage.
2. What Day Is It?
Lack of organization can be the result of many things, such as a hectic work life or family obligations.
Many people face these scenarios – and some have even more complicated lives.
If life’s accouterments are in disarray, it’s a whole other story. Namely, the deadlines we miss accumulate in many real-dollar ways:
• Late fees
• Bank charges
• Overdue bills
Also, consider the “personal overdraft” from missing social gatherings, lectures, and cultural events you wanted to attend.
Even if there’s no actual monetary loss, there’s still a loss. Not unlike someone showing up a week late for a surprise party (or so I’ve been told).
3. Buying Duplicates
Ever buy a pound of butter or box of cereal only to come home and find you already had it on hand?
I have done this with popcorn many times.
A $5 pound of butter today, something else tomorrow – let’s not kid ourselves, it adds up.
The grocery store isn’t the only place where your money can trickle away: cosmetics, pain relievers, first aid items, shampoos.
Even hats and gloves for cold weather: if you don’t take time to match up the pairs from last year and see where you’re lacking, you’re buying more than you need.
Buying replacements can be costly if you can’t find what you’re looking for (although you know you have it somewhere around the house).
A key tip is to know what you have on hand – or take the time to refresh your memory.
Taking stock saves you money and you begin to feel more organized.
4. Decreased Productivity
What does your workspace look like?
If you think clutter only pertains to personal possessions, consider how smoothly (or not) your workday flows due to the state of your desk.
Balancing multiple projects is tricky – I know this first-hand from my freelance work – but there’s a key connection to being able to move from one task to the next with mental clarity.
Here are a few common consequences for a cluttered desk:
• Late or missed assignments
• Misplaced paperwork
• Lost receipts and business expenses
If you think clutter is only physical, look no further than the desktop of your computer.
How many active files do you have? How many do you need?
Here are a few tips to give you more screen space:
• Consolidate by client or type of project
• Save by date – even monthly
• Purge unneeded files at the end of each month
You may even want to get into the habit of turning off your notifications preferences to reduce auditory clutter.
How to Break the Stuff Cycle
Renting a storage space is not the answer. Almost 10% of families rent storage units for additional belongings.
While the “$1 for the first month” teaser rate is tempting, the cost spikes and you’re looking at approximately another $100 per month.
Everyone recommends starting off slowly when de-cluttering, so you can see and feel results by taking small steps over time.
To get started on sorting through your stuff, here are a few great questions to use as a guide:
• Do I need this item?
• Do I use this on a regular basis?
• Do I love it or only like it?
• How much space does it take up?
• Can I donate/gift/sell it on craigslist?
As a writer, I’m supposed to love books. And I do!
But, I also recognize when I’ve outgrown a book or its information is outdated. I happily donate or resell these books to a used bookstore.
One recent visit to a bookseller put almost $100 in my pocket and equally satisfying, there were four fewer boxes of stuff in my life.
Here are two helpful strategies for getting rid of clutter:
Set your kitchen timer for a set period of time – I like 20 minutes. Choose a task and work on it until your time is up. This time is great for clearing out kitchen cabinets, your fridge, and your bathroom cabinets. You can also focus on filing bills and receipts.
More often than not, you’ll feel in the groove and want to keep working for another 20 minutes or so.
If you’re trying to clear out an area which takes more thought and resistance (wardrobe, bookshelves), set a goal to purge a specific number of items.
I like the number 10. I feel it gives me a somewhat challenging goal and I’ll have made at least a dent at the end of the process.
Once you have established the habit of sorting through and eliminating unneeded possessions, you can move into “maintenance mode.”
You can tackle this step by writing “clutter appointments” on a calendar or set up automatic reminders.
The insidiousness of our clutter is proof it didn’t accumulate overnight.
Most likely, as the clutter inched up, our well-being dipped; because there is proof messiness compromises our physical and mental health.
In a few weeks or months of routine sorting, you will feel better and be able to enjoy your surroundings to the fullest.