De-Junk Your Life
Getting a handle on the problem areas that drag you down doesn't mean you
have to turn into Ms. Hospital Corners. In fact, a lived-in living room or a
chock-full kids' playroom can be a source of warmth and connection for you and
your family. "The world around us is messy. Mess isn't a black-and-white
war between order and chaos," says David H. Freedman, coauthor of A
Perfect Mess. And you may be more organized than your desk or countertop
lets on. "People naturally tend to keep and place things in an order that
fits the way they think and do things," says Freedman. That means that even
if the messy piles on your desk are confusing to everyone else, they probably
make sense to you in a way a color-coded file system wouldn't.
More evidence that (some) mess may sometimes be best: Hyper-organizing can
get expensive and requires a lot of time. While working on their book,
Freedman and his coauthor, Eric Abrahamson, were shocked to discover that
people living in ultra-organized homes tended to spend three to four hours per
day straightening and organizing. Who has time for that? Besides, living in a
comfortably cluttered home can stir up creativity. "If you have a lot of
information around you, it's easy to make connections between things," says
Freedman. For example, a book that's set at the beach paired with an article
about saving money on travel might spur you to plan a vacation. Point is, when
you let some of your stuff hang out, you're giving yourself the mental
permission to be flexible, make mistakes, and try new things — and after all,
it's your stuff that makes a house a home. Believing and appreciating
this is the first step to identifying — and tackling — those areas that truly
do need a new order.
TAMING TROUBLE SPOTS
To take the dread out of de-cluttering, grab your to-do list and follow
Morgenstern's simple (but not always easy!) steps.
- Watch the clock. Assign a time estimate to each activity. Say, this
weekend you plan to organize your vacation photos and put together a spring
yard sale for the stuff you no longer need. Next to each item on your list, add
a rough guess as to how long the activity will take. "Once you quantify a
task, that anchors it into your schedule," says Morgenstern. "But you
have to be honest with yourself." For example, factor in the time it takes
to sort through photos, date them, and put them into albums, and you may
discover that what seemed like a two-hour project could take more than five.
Knowing that, you can then make the choice to either devote an entire afternoon
to the task or break it down into hour-long chunks that would realistically fit
into the next several weekends.
- Trim away to-do's. Look through your list for any project you can
downsize or outsource. Instead of arranging all your vacation photos,
pare down the job to organizing just the ones from the trips you've taken in
the last year. Feel overwhelmed by the thought of a garage sale? See if you
could hire an enterprising teen to run it, and split the proceeds.
- Share the responsibility. Are you really the only person who
has the skills to take used clothes to the donation box? Says Morgenstern,
"By asking yourself that question for every task, you can begin to delegate
— and focus on what's really important, like spending time with