A Great TED Talk On Clutter

“Clutter is postponed decisions.” – Barbara Hemphill

I absolutely love this brilliant quote by Barbara Hemphill which Kerry Thomas mentions in this TED Talk video, because it is completely true. No matter what type of clutter plagues you, it may be impeding you in a profound way from living a free and peaceful life.

I hate physical clutter and fight it all the time by conducting purges throughout the year. But physical clutter is only one type of clutter, and Ms. Thomas breaks down the different types into the following:

Physical
Mental
Emotional
Digital
Spiritual

Although I feel that I have a good handle on physical clutter in my environment, the other categories are more challenging. I control digital clutter by going through my email inboxes on a daily basis, consolidating images and deleting old text messages on my phone. I also think I have a decent handle on spiritual clutter because I meditate daily, take meditation and yoga courses, and also practice breathwork. I try to forgive those who upset me, and I also make sure to avoid toxic people.

The areas where I get hung up (and I suspect many others do) is with mental and emotional clutter. Ms. Thomas states that mental clutter consists of fears one might have, and it also could stem from the judgmental words of others, while emotional clutter consists of negative thoughts and behaviors. The thing is, I have fears which keep my mind racing, and I also fall into the trap of negative thinking from time to time, especially when I am in the middle of a crisis. So by no means am I completely free of clutter. However, I constantly strive to clear up anything which is depressing me or slowing me down.

It’s incredibly liberating to get rid of items which are damaged, unused, or worn, and it’s also wonderful to let go of all the mental blockades to happiness and freedom. One thing I always try to remind myself is that worrying about things will never bring about a solution. The only thing worry ends up doing is eroding one’s demeanor and sparking anxiety.

I suggest that you think about the different areas in which clutter might be adversely affecting your life, and adopt behaviors which counteract such clutter.

Clean House, Clean Mind!

No one should have to live like this!

The phrase which I have used for the title of this post is one which always intrigued me, perhaps mostly due to the fact that I grew up in a household in which various areas were “clutter zones”. This is not to say that I grew up in a messy home. My mom was actually quite tidy, and a neat freak. But I never saw more than half the surface of the dining room table, since the other half was covered with one foot high stacks of bank statements, other financial documents, greeting cards and letters from family. In like fashion, about a third of our coffee table was piled with astrology guides, tv guides, and other books which my mom was reading. Stacks of papers and magazines sat next to our living room sofa. My mom’s bedroom had banker’s boxes instead of furniture at the foot of the bed.

I also was witness to my mom’s extensive collection of jewelry and clothing. Though we had six closets, only one was filled with my clothing, while all the rest were jam-packed with my mother’s clothing. Some of the clothing had never been worn and had the price tags still attached. I admit that I knew this behavior was unusual, but I did not know how pervasive such behavior was in my mom’s family until I went to Hawaii and saw that my aunts and uncles also practiced the same behavior. Some of my relatives were so extreme in their tendency to hold onto things that they earned the label of pack rats. In fact, when one of my uncles had a severe stroke and had to be placed in a convalescent home, my cousins discovered five-foot high stacks of newspapers throughout the house in a serpentine pattern (leaving just enough room for a person to wiggle through the house), moldy food in the refrigerator, Japanese antiques which were stuffed in a room collecting dust, and a plethora of other collectibles and junk which made it next to impossible for him to use the kitchen, toilet or sleep in his bed.

When my mom became ill in 2006 and had to be placed in a convalescent home, the task of cleaning her apartment fell upon me. The enormity of sorting through all the things my mother had collected was overwhelming, and I shut down emotionally numerous times. I was shocked to find collectibles that had never been displayed, bank statements going as far back as the 1950’s, hundreds of pairs of earrings and shoes, about 150 handbags, etc. Suddenly it was left up to me to determine what items of my mom’s were worthy of being kept. Since these items could not be stored at the nursing home, they were stored in my garage and my closet. My mom still asks about her things and becomes angry if I tell her that we had to sell or give away many of the items she had collected over the decades. I did my best to keep what she deemed most valuable, either monetarily speaking or in terms of sentimental value. It always breaks my heart when I see her upset over losing her things.

My favorite aunt, two years older than my mother, was probably the worst-stricken in the family when it came to hoarding. She never had children and was a widow for 34 years when she finally passed away in 2017 at the age of 86 from ALS. Before she became ill, I remember hyperventilating upon entering her house, because the clutter was so extreme. I used to marvel at her insistence on keeping 60 plastic Smurf miniatures in her tiny bathroom, and used to wonder why she had a collection of about 200 plastic food storage containers when she lived alone. My aunt’s collections were numerous and extensive.

If you have ever tuned into the show “Hoarders” you would get a sense of what my aunt’s environment was like. My aunt’s belongings swallowed up her living space so severely that she was unable to stretch out on her bed, and could barely get to her toilet because there was so much junk in the bathroom. My aunt didn’t have access to her front door for over ten years because she had so much junk stacked up in front of it. Instead, she used the side door leading out from the kitchen to access her residence.

In January of this year I had to move from a place I had been in for close to six years. Though I have gone through my entire adult life very successfully squashing any hoarding tendencies that may be hidden in my genetic makeup, I had still acquired many things over the years. Once I was in the new place and had to sort through everything, I was ready to enter full purge mode, and got rid of a lot of things I no longer needed, and it felt FANTASTIC. That is saying a lot since I go through the bulk of my belongings three to four times a year and perform regular purges.

When it comes to your belongings, don’t allow yourself to become encumbered by them. Don’t hold onto feelings of guilt. If you haven’t used something in a while and it is collecting dust, get rid of it. There is probably someone out there who will use it and will appreciate it. If there is something you haven’t used or worn because you are waiting for the right occasion, either USE IT or let it go! I used to frequently argue with my mom about our differing philosophies about objects. She always told me I was hard on things. Scratches on my watches and my shoes were deemed by my mom to be marks of carelessness, when in contrast, my mom sequestered similar items in boxes and tissue paper for decades, never to be worn or used, in a static, pristine state and hidden under a bed or a drawer. I will continue to use the things I possess and will not worry about wear and tear. I will also make sure that tables and all the living areas of my house serve only their intended purposes, and that my storage areas never get to the point where they are overflowing.

If you know a hoarder, please GET HELP. http://hoardershelp.org/

How Hoarders Process Information

I found the following article to be incredibly fascinating, and concur with study author Jennifer M. Sumner’s statement that hoarders have difficulties with establishing bulk categories for their possessions. This results in a complete inability to organize items, so they accumulate. I have included a link to the original post for reference.

mind of a hoarder

https://www.braindecoder.com/inside-the-mind-of-a-hoarder-1378787672.html

Inside the Mind of a Hoarder
A new study hints at the real reason behind the mess.
By Agata Blaszczak Boxe

When Paul Hammond, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, started collecting used cars and appliances to sell for scrap metal, he probably did not suspect that his habit would one day turn into a serious hoarding issue and land him in jail.

But, over the years, random items kept piling up in his yard, and Hammond just was not getting rid of them. After numerous complaints from the neighbors, who accused him of turning his property into a junkyard, county authorities got involved and cited him for criminal littering. They also threatened to put him in jail if he did not clean up.

When Hammond’s brother came to visit him for the Fourth of July several years ago, he saw about 90 cars, about 50 refrigerators and 100 lawn mowers in the yard. The brother quit his job for four months to help Hammond get rid of the stuff. But the county officials were not happy with the job the men did and they put Hammond in jail for five days.

“I thought I was a law-abiding citizen,” Hammond told A&E’s show Hoarders. Although he was released after the five days, he was still facing up to 90 more days in jail if he did not clean up around the time the TV crew came to film an episode about him.

Hammond is one of the many people with hoarding disorder who end up being overwhelmed with possessions they can’t organize or get rid of. Hoarding is a disorder that may be present on its own or as a symptom of another disorder, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. To try to understand what mechanisms in the brain may be responsible for hoarding behavior, researchers have recently begun to look at the neurocognitive aspects of the disorder, but studies have yielded mixed results.

For example, one study looked at people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and found that those who had high levels of hoarding behavior performed significantly worse on tests of decision making, planning and properly shifting attention, compared with people with OCD with lower levels of hoarding. However, it’s difficult to conclude that these cognitive traits are responsible for hoarding because another study found people with hoarding disorder actually performed better on the same type of test than participants with non-hoarding OCD.

In a new study, published in Neuropsychology, researchers looked at neurocognitive functioning in 26 people with hoarding disorder and 23 people without the disorder. The researchers thought the discrepancies between the results of previous studies could have been caused by the effects of medications used by some of the participants, so in the new study, they decided to only include people who were not taking any medication that could affect their brain functioning in any way.

The new study found no significant differences in how people in both groups performed on tests examining their verbal memory, attention, or executive functions such as planning, organization and decision-making.

But the researchers did find a difference between the groups: when they asked the participants to categorize different stimuli in a separate test, the people with the hoarding disorder appeared to use different learning strategies during the categorizing task, compared with the controls. Namely, they tended to use explicit learning, which is about developing and verbalizing rules to remember something, explained study author Jennifer M. Sumner, of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. In contrast, most people without the disorder used implicit learning, which is an unconscious, non-linear and non-verbal way to learn new information.

The researchers don’t know for sure how these results should be interpreted. But the findings do make them wonder whether, in people with hoarding disorder, the inability to organize and sort through their possessions might have something to do with how they process information, Sumner said.

It could be, for example, that people with the disorder try to come up with rules as to where different objects should go, but because they may end up creating too many rules, “it ends up being chaotic and cluttered,” Sumner said. Conversely, people without the disorder “might look at objects in their home and have this implicit, intrinsic subconscious ability to know where objects go, to know what is not important and what they can get rid of,” she told Braindecoder. “So they don’t have that clutter.”

In fact, previous research has suggested that people with the disorder tend to be under-inclusive in how they categorize the things they have, Sumner said.

“If you give them 10 objects to sort, they may put them in 10 different categories because they are all unique and complex in their own way,” Sumner said. But if a person without the disorder is given the same 10 objects, they may be able to put them in just two different groups, so they are easily organized and there is no clutter, she said.

“So we have this ability implicitly to decide where things should go,” which many people with hoarding disorder may not have, Sumner said.

Closet Organization 101

Are you the type of person who can’t keep your closet organized? Do you have stuff crammed into the corners and clothing strewn on the floor? Are you unable to find anything in your closet? If so, it might be time to clean it up and establish some order in your home.

Here are some before pictures of a friend’s closet:

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I completely understand why my friend has had difficulty finding things. I mean, who could find anything in such a disorganized space? Within the span of about 3-1/2 hours, I had organized the closet and convinced my friend to get rid of items which were in need of repair or hadn’t been used in a long time. Ideally, I would have added some decorative elements and completely transformed the space, but financial and time constraints stood in the way, so I just worked with what was already there.

Here is what I was able to accomplish in terms of organization:

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How did I accomplish this? I began by removing every single item from the closet so that I would have a clean slate. I then slowly returned items back into the closet, first by bringing the hangers back and organizing them by type. Next I organized the clothing by type, so that all coats were together, dresses were together, etc. I further organized clothing by sleeve length and by color so that an organized and eye-pleasing palette was created. I also moved and reassigned a soft hanging shelf storage system for my friend’s handbags.

This is phase one, in which I have established some organization in my friend’s place and cleaned up years’ worth of junk. Stay tuned for phase two of this reorganizing project, in which I will transform all the spaces in this person’s apartment.

An Organized Person’s Approach To Decluttering

Before After Closet 2

The images above are NOT from my house, but are great examples of a before and after organization transformation.

I often take my intense need for organization for granted and assume that other people are just like me. However, I know that this isn’t the case, and that many individuals tend to get literally and figuratively buried in their own stacks of paperwork, unfinished projects, and unused items which have sat in storage for far too long. One of the reasons why I am able to remain relatively organized on a consistent basis is because I go through every item I own several times a year and assess its value and function in my life. If it no longer serves a need, it goes to Goodwill, the trash, or a pile of items which will be part of a garage sale. I fail to see the point of hanging onto things I don’t need, because those items only collect dust and take up space. In addition, items of value which sit in storage are better utilized by being sold, because then the money can go towards paying bills or fattening up a vacation fund.

When I conduct my regular organizational purges, I move in a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion, starting in one corner of the room. I make sure to COMPLETELY sort everything in that area before I move onto the next portion of the room. I have discovered that this method is very effective for decluttering, especially for individuals who become easily overwhelmed with the task of cleaning and organizing a space. As an example, I may start at a storage cabinet. The exterior of the cabinet is cleaned, and any items which are on top of or around the cabinet are assessed. Once the area outside the cabinet is done, I will go through each shelf in the cabinet. Whenever I assess an item, I ask these questions:

1. Does this item belong where I found it?
2. If the item doesn’t belong where I found it, and I am going to keep it, where does it belong?
3. When was the last time I used this item?
4. Is this item damaged and in need of repair?
5. Will I have a need for this item in the future?
6. Does this item have sentimental value?
7. If I decide to get rid of the item, does it have enough value to put into a garage sale, or does it belong in a Goodwill pile or the trash?
8. Is this a collectible or specialty item which requires research and appraisal?

People who have hoarding tendencies have strong emotional attachments to objects, and will have a particularly difficult time answering these questions, especially numbers 5,6,7 and 8. In their minds, EVERYTHING has some sort of value which warrants a permanent spot in their home, even if it isn’t being used.

When I conduct these semi-annual purges, I have the following on hand:

trash bags
cleaning solution and paper towels
box designated for Goodwill/Salvation Army
box for items which need to be repaired or professionally cleaned
area for garage sale items
area for collectibles to sell

Once I get started, I am pretty ruthless about getting rid of things I don’t need. To be honest, I love making money back on items I bought which haven’t been used in a while, and I also get great joy out of donating things to Goodwill. Above all, I am very honest with myself about emotional attachments to inanimate objects. There are some items I will NEVER get rid of, like the little yellow musical stuffed dog that was in my crib, jewelry my mother gave me, my Pro Card watch, and all my trophies, but I am not going to develop anxiety about getting rid of a sweater I have had for 15 years which I haven’t worn for over 5 years!

If you are long overdue on spring cleaning, now is a good time to clear up the clutter. You’ll end up with a cleaner, more organized home, you will know where everything is, and you may make some decent money selling some of your belongings!

It’s All Just Stuff: Decluttering Your Home

Creek
Despite the fact (or perhaps BECAUSE of the fact) that my mother’s family is full of pack rats, I cannot stand the idea of accumulating tons of items which just take up space. Since my mom and I had different philosophies about objects and belongings, the subject of decluttering was a point of contention between us.  My mom sequestered all kinds of things in boxes and tissue paper for decades, never to be worn or used, frozen in a static, pristine state and kept hidden. After dealing with tremendous guilt over my mother’s attachment to things which I had somehow held myself responsible for, I let it go, and was able to purge items which only collected dust in closets and the garage. I just had a garage sale last weekend and it felt GREAT to finally let go of large, bulky items such as two very traditional oil paintings which simply were never my style to begin with, and which sat in museum boxes in my garage for nine years. I also got rid of a bunch of hot little mini-dresses which I had worn during trophy presentations at bodybuilding contests from 2010 through 2013. I must have pulled about 40 dresses from my collection, all of which were only worn once or twice. It was like shedding old skin, and it felt fantastic.

One of my friends had asked me if I had ever gotten rid of something and later regretted it. There have been a few instances in which this occurred, even as recently as last weekend when I realized that a re-seller who had purchased several groups of items had gotten a few gems which I had foolishly forgotten to remove when I was organizing and displaying items for the garage sale. Though I had a moment of sadness, I let it go since there wasn’t a single thing I could do about retrieving those things. Oh well, I thought, it truly is all just stuff. There are some items I will NEVER get rid of, things which hold huge sentimental value. But for the most part, just about anything which is damaged or worn down or sitting on a shelf unused in my residence will eventually find its way into a garage sale.

If you haven’t used something in a while and it is collecting dust, get rid of it. There is probably someone out there who will use it and will appreciate it. If there is something you haven’t used or worn because you are waiting for the right occasion, either USE IT or let it go!