Saturday, September 19, 2009
By Matt Andazola
Journal Staff Writer
Be honest: Are you really going to read those National Geographic magazines from 1994? Wear those MC Hammer parachute pants? Use that electric carrot peeler?
Probably not. But for whatever reason, you still have clutter in your home, and local experts agree that your life would be a lot less stressful without it, and your self-esteem might even be higher.
"Uncluttering your space," says Katherine D. Anderson, a certified professional organizer in Albuquerque, "will unclutter your mind."
Most of the useless stuff you have is made of paper, she says. The ancient medical bills, the "I'll-read-that-eventually" pile of magazines, the unused coupons, the kids' report cards — it's enough to bury you even if it's in a drawer somewhere.
But if your paper clutter is all over your space, it could get expensive.
"Are bills late because you can't find them in the paper clutter on your desk?" Anderson says. "That's costing you money."
Useless paper, like all clutter, can actively work against you completing your goals, she says. After all, it's a lot easier to write a screenplay or finish law school if you don't have to constantly dig through a pile of junk to find what you need.
Most piles of paper clutter grow because people can't tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, Anderson says. A sticky note on a computer monitor can get your attention, but not if it is surrounded by 381 others.
Learning the difference and putting it into practice, she says, will keep you less stressed.
Lose the ugly lamp
Some of the extra items in your home might be gifts you are reluctant to throw out, Anderson says.
"People assume an obligation to the thing because it represents a person," she says. "In point of fact, if somebody has given you something as a true gift, it is yours to do with as you choose, including discarding it."
Other clutter comes from items that are broken, Albuquerque professional organizer Elizabeth Tawney Gross says, adding that "broken things" means more than just appliances or electronics. It includes clothes that don't fit or — like the MC Hammer pants — are way out of style.
"We don't get rid of things that are broken," Gross says. "We put them in the garage or in the closet."
That kind of excess stuff piles up over decades — getting a new vacuum cleaner but keeping the old one, saving the "skinny jeans" you haven't worn in 20 years (just in case) — and it can stick around for just as long.
"Many people have clutter because they churn it," Gross says. "They clean out the garage and put the same things back in."
Tidying up your pile of junk is going to make you feel better in the short-term, but it ultimately won't fix the problem you have, which is that it's getting in your way.
And there are plenty of people who can use what you're keeping — especially your clothes — even here in New Mexico, Anderson says. Giving those items away ensures that they won't be wasted at the same time it ensures they are out of your space.
Life among the piles
It's bad enough to have things getting in your way on your desk or in your garage, but it's worse when the clutter starts creeping out onto your coffee table or into your dining room.
If you have stuff everywhere, odds are you don't want to have people over, says Hazel Thornton, another Albuquerque professional organizer. If you're spurning visits from friends or constantly treating out-of-town family to restaurants, she says you might be living in CHAOS, short for "Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome."
Getting rid of the extra things and being proud of your home carry heavy emotional benefits, she says.
"If you're proud of your space and you're not embarrassed to have people over, that increases your self-esteem," Thornton says.
And beyond just feeling better about having people over, Albuquerque interior designer Dana Stringer says you will be more apt to enjoy the high-quality items you do own if they are not being crowded by junk.
The lamp on your end table may be an elegant antique, but you won't appreciate it if you have to swipe away piles of magazines or knickknacks before you can see it.
"Less is more," she says. "When you have too many things, you can't appreciate the individual things."
You may decide you need a professional organizer to come help you sort through the massive amount of stuff you have. But if you don't, here are tips to getting rid of two of the most common kinds of clutter: clothes and school papers.
If you have many years of schoolwork or photos of your kids, organizer Elizabeth Tawney Gross says the best way to go about sorting them is to set up boxes for each child, then go through each paper, piece by piece, and sort among the children.
Then, go through each box and purge everything that isn't the best of the best. That way, Gross says, you won't feel pressured to keep identical sets of papers for each of your kids. (For example, if Timmy won high marks on English papers while Suzie aced all of her math tests, it wouldn't make sense to keep both sets for both children.)
Organizer Katherine D. Anderson says one of the best ways to deal with clothing clutter is to find a box big enough to hold all of the clothes you suspect you don't need. Put a label on the box with a date sometime six months or a year in the future.
During that time, if you need something specific from the box, feel free to take it out — but don't go through the rest of it, Anderson says. When the date comes, take the box to charity without opening it, and return home to find a lot more space in your closet than you thought you had.