Monday, March 8, 2010

Clutter Buster

S. O. S. – I was drowning in clutter: life obligations, distractions, and tangible stuff that wasn’t improving my life or anyone else’s.

My home was relatively tidy, but over the years the corners and top shelves and isolated drawers filled with forgotten things. Newspapers. Knick knacks. Expired coupons. Too tight jeans. The warped dish-rack drain pan that I told myself I could salvage and use one day.

I tried to resist the urge to buy these things, but I went on vacation and saw the perfect souvenir; I caved at a school fundraiser; there was a sale. Two weeks later I often could not remember why I thought my memento was anything but a glittery ball of fired crap.

The intangible clutter was worse. It was all the should-do and wanna-do tasks and events that filled every moment of my day. At least once a month I came close to a screaming fit over the mountain of things on my to-do list. All that stuff sapped my time for the magical pursuits that bring me joy. It was time to purge.

I outlined these steps to rid my life of clutter and make more magic. I’ve been at them for a couple weeks now and they’ve worked.

  1. Stop saying “one day.” If I cannot think of a use for it today, it is better with someone else or in recycling.
  2. If I’ve forgotten I have it, chances are my life will not be worse off without it. A little research showed I’m not the only one who uses this mantra. I almost danced a jig when I read Eleven Myths of De-Cluttering and A Secret to Happiness: Don’t Get Organized. I like 27 Tips for Keeping Your House in Order.
  3. Listen to the husband when he says that I cannot do all things at this moment. Focus on one or two big goals. Accomplish them and move on. Sacrifice some of the other good intentions. It’s difficult, but it isn’t forever. Don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t have to do it all; even Superwoman leaves rescuing kittens to someone else.
  4. Develop a plan. (I use Google calendars, accessed through my gmail account, because I can color code each type of calendar entry, choose which to display, share it with the husband, and set repeating appointments.)
    1. The husband and I plan menus for a week or more at a time. Knowing what we’re having for dinner and how long it takes to prepare makes me more likely to cook. I also look forward to the nights we plan to eat out.
    2. We plan out chores. We break down house tasks into small chunks, like vacuuming or changing the sheets, and set them as repeating appointments. When I finish my chore for the day I can relax because I know everything else will be taken care of eventually. I don’t waste time stressing over it.
    3. I write down my work wardrobe for the week. On the weekend I wash what is necessary for that week and try to iron it. In the morning I don’t stress about what to wear, and I can writer earlier.
    4. Scheduling makes me see where my expectations are unrealistic. I cannot write, clean the kitchen, read, do laundry, call the family, email friends, and talk with the husband all from eight until nine. That is when I refer to #3 and start pruning my list.
  5. Realize clutter is no excuse to ignore magic, particularly writing. Do not wait for inspiration to strike. I find my best writing occurs when I’m in front of the page toiling through a scene. Wordsmith-Extraordinaire and My-Inspiration-Par-Excellence Madeleine L’Engle summed it up beautifully:

“Ultimately, you have to sit down and start to write. And even if all you do is type out ‘I can’t write this morning; I can’t write this morning; oh bother, I can’t write this morning,’ that will sometimes prime the pump and get it started. It is a matter of discipline. It is particularly a matter of discipline for a woman who has children or who has another job.”

That is my list. I hope you can find at least a tiny takeaway that will help you as it’s helped me.

What is your biggest area of tangible or intangible clutter? Any ideas how to fix it?


  1. I have to break things down into little bitty tasks and usually set a time limit. If I look at all I have to do at once then I start to have a panic attack, (or as close to a panic attack as someone like me can get).

    Basically this means that now that I am packing up to move, instead of letting it overwhelm me, I decided to make sure I packed up at least two boxes of stuff every night before I go to bed. I've gotten a lot more done this way without freaking out. (Not tooo much anyway. ;) )

  2. Go Lucy! I like your ideas, especially the time limit part. I think I'll start doing that. I know how you feel about the panic attack feeling and I think this will really help. Thanks. Good luck with your two boxes for tonight.