What is Clutter?

Helpful Organizer BlogI was very fortunate to have the opportunity to give a presentation on Conquering Clutter with Confidence at the 2018 Conference for NERSC (New England Resident Service Coordinators). I was excited to share my knowledge and expertise with this group. I started my presentation with the question, What is clutter? I shared the dictionary definition and my definition.

  • Dictionary definition: To litter or pile in a disordered manner; A confused or disordered state or collection; A disorderly heap or assemblageclutter
  • My definition: Clutter is a jumbled mess of miscellaneous stuff that has accumulated as a result of indecision and inaction.

After explaining my definition I was ready to move on, but was stopped with a few questions. One was, “What is the difference between hoarding and clutter and when is the line crossed?” I explained about the clutter-hoarding scale which is a tool used specifically for this purpose, and there is an image rating that is helpful to view. I also mentioned that I do not have the skill set to work with level 4 or 5 hoarders because the situation calls for more intervention and support than I can provide.

A second question was, “I have 3 sets of Christmas dishes, and my husband calls them clutter; are they?” To answer this I had to ask a few clarifying questions. Are the dishes scattered about in a jumbled mess? Her answer was no. Are they being used and serving a specific purpose? Her answer was yes. Are they causing you stress or frustration? Her answer was no for me, but yes for my husband. I told her that in my opinion, based on her answers to my questions, her Christmas dishes were not clutter. She gave an excited yelp and said she couldn’t wait to tell her husband. However, I was compelled to add that 3 sets of Christmas dishes may be a bit excessive, and if her answers to any of the 3 questions changes in the future, then their label would in fact be changed to clutter. I also pointed out that each individual views their own personal possessions differently than another person’s possessions. It is easy to misunderstand the value someone places on their own things. So think twice before tossing out someone’s stuff (“clutter”).

book caseA third question was asked, “What is the difference between a collection and clutter?” The dictionary definition of a collection is a group of objects or works to be seen, studied, or kept together. A collection is a group of items that someone is proud to share and display. Would you be proud to share and display your clutter? A collection holds monetary and sentimental value where as clutter is usually unimportant, random stuff. A collection is intentionally collected, but clutter is a mess that has accumulated as a result of not deciding what to do with things and not taking action with those things.

After thoroughly answering the question, what is clutter we discussed several clutter conquering solutions. Would you like some solutions? They can be found in the following articles.

Keep Clutter at Bay

Reaching the Finish Line

Organizing Small Spaces

©May 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®   All Rights Reserved

Downsizing Action Plan

Helpful Organizer BlogOne of my most popular workshop topics is downsizing. People want help with where to start and how to progress through the difficult task of letting go. They’re looking for guidance on how to make decisions about sentimental items and all the other things that have been accumulating in their homes. They’re hoping to get rid of stuff so their children won’t have to deal with it all. Therefore, I’ve devised a 7 Step Downsizing Action Plan that I share and discuss in my workshops. Here it is.

Step 1 – Prepare
Get ready for the transition by taking a close look at your options and where you are headed. Psych yourself up to make decisions about your next home and material possessions. Share the news with everyone and ask for help from family and friends, or seek professional assistance.

Step 2 – Write it down
Plan to work 8 hours for every year you’ve lived in your current home. Schedule 2 or 3 hours at a time and work for 20 minutes followed by a 5 minute break.

Step 3 – Get started
If you have a far off deadline (more than 8 months), start by removing items that you don’t want, use, or need. These items will include things that have been stored for others, unfinished fix-it projects, old hobbies, duplicate items, surplus stuff, items of which there are excessive quantity, broken things, expired items, outdated stuff, and damaged goods.
If you have a near deadline, divide items into 6 different categories and tag them. (I use colored painter’s tape to tag items.) The 6 categories are keep, recycle, toss, donate, give or return, and sell.

Step 4 – Reduce
Set limits by taping off cabinets, closets, storage areas, and rooms in your current home that won’t be available in your new home. Work to empty those areas of their contents.

Ask “W” Questions to help you make decisions:
Who? Who will use and maintain this item? Who gave it to you and is that relevant?
What? What purpose does this item serve? What would the giver tell you to do?
Where? Where do you want to make room for this item?
When? When is this item used, appreciated, viewed, treasured? When is it maintained?
Why? Why would you need this item in our new home? Why are you holding onto it?

Step 5 – Address Sentimental Items
Consider the cost of clinging to sentimental items. It takes a lot of money to pack, move, ship, insure, store, and maintain our belongings. Concentrate on keeping the memories, but not the stuff, by preserving them with words and photos. Do this with digital scrapbooks, videos, and a gratitude journal. Instead of having them gather dust in the attic, treasure them by highlighting the best and letting go of the rest.  Re-purposing them or use them in a different way so they sever a current need or look for a way that items can bring joy to others.

Step 6 – Establish Exit Strategy
An exit strategy is physically removing stuff by giving, donating, selling, or recycling what you no longer want, need, or use.
Give options:  Ask people you know if they want what you’re discarding. Ask family, friends, neighbors, club members, church members, past co-workers, and others. Put items on the curb with a free sign. Use Freecycle or Buy Nothing.
Donation options:  Give to charities, non-profits, religious organizations, Boy/Girl Scouts, senior centers, schools, camps, day-cares, shelters, libraries, theater groups, historical societies, and food banks.
Selling options:  Look into antique dealers, auctions, estate sales, consignment shops, on-line sites, newspapers, garage sales, estate liquidation.
Removal Companies:  Consider junk trucks, dumpsters, all-in-one clean out, complete house clean out companies.

Step 7 – Thrive in Smaller Space with Less Stuff
Here are a few tips for creating and maintaining order in smaller spaces. I hope they help you enjoy your new downsized, simplified lifestyle.

©April 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer  All Rights Reserved

tiny house key

Organizing Small Spaces

Helpful Organizer BlogMy house is small by today’s standards, but it’s a perfect fit for me and my husband. I love my tiny house, but organizing small spaces can be challenging. There is no room for excess and storage is limited. Little messes can appear to take over an entire room and a small amounts of clutter can seem like a mountain of clutter. So when working to facilitate and maintain order in my tiny home I rely on organizing systems and habits. Here are some tips that I use to help me organize my tiny home.

  1. Reclaim order everyday. Chart of Organizng FlowOrganizing is like laundry and dishes. It’s an ongoing cycle of order followed by natural disorder followed by the important step of reclaiming order. Schedule 15 minutes a day to reclaim order by picking up and putting things away.
  2. Be choosy and selective. Keep treasures and things you love but get rid of the rest. If everything is special, nothing is special; so keep only what’s really important to you. When you do bring things in, ask; Can this server multiple functions? Is it a duplicate of something I already have? Do I have room for it? Where will it go? It also helps to practice the one in, one out guideline.
  3. Be consistent with placement. Have a specific spot for your keys, handbag, mail, etc. and put them in that spot every time you set them down (again, and again, and again). Consistency is key. Establish a home for on-going projects and things you leave out as reminders. Don’t let items touch the floor unless that is where they belong (shoes).
  4. Have a 5 minute return-home-routine. Allow 5 minutes when returning home to organize what’s coming in. Have a do-it-now attitude.
  5. Be a decision maker. Give yourself time to decide what to do with unused, outdated, and unwanted stuff. Schedule time to edit and reduce. Weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly reducing prevents clutter buildup and disorganization. Get rid of duplicates and items that do similar things? Live for your current lifestyle. Remove or fix broken & damaged items immediately. Give up the fear of getting rid of something. Purge paper daily.
  6. Be a giver. If you’re not using it, or you don’t want, or need it, ask yourself, “Why not let someone else benefit from it?”. A giving person is greatly appreciated by charities, the less fortunate, and the needy. Establish and use a donation bin.
  7. Be creative with storage & utilize space wisely. Make full use of the space you have. Use furniture that has multiple functions like a small dresser for a night stand or end table, an ottoman that has built-in-storage, a bench at the end of the bed with built-in-storage that can be used as a chair. Use under the bed storage, organizers that attache to the back of a door door pocket organizerand cupboard. Make adjustments to cabinets to create more functional spaces. Customize closet with shelves and product that help you maximize it’s storing potential. Store like with like to keep track of how much you have.

I hope these tips will help you organize your small spaces or tiny home.

©March 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer   All Rights Reserved

book case

Why We Hold Onto Things?

Helpful Organizer BlogA common discussion I have with  my clients when we’re working together is why they are holding onto something. The more information I can gather about the item in question the easier it is for me to understand “the WHY”. What I’ve discovered over the past 10 years in assisting my clients is that although there are several reasons we hold onto things, those reasons fall into one of three basic categories, the past, the future, or both.

We hold onto things from the past, because they were significant and important to us in our past. They help us remember and honor a past event or memory. Some examples may be a bride’s maid dress that was worn at a friend’s wedding, paper products from a child’s birthday party, or Dad’s wood carving tools.

We hold onto things for the future, because we think they will be significant or important to us in our future or the future of someone close to us. Some examples may be furniture our children will use in college, papers that have resources we think we’ll need in the future, or dishes our children will use in their first apartment.

A combination of the two is when we hold onto things from the past for the future. For example I have two cool swivel chairs in my living room that were originally in my grandparent’s front parlor. They were saved and used by other family members before I inherited them, and I plan on passing them along to another family member in the future. Another example is my old photographs and scrapbooks. I enjoy sharing them and reminiscing about past events, holidays, and special occasions. It also makes me smile to think that they will bring joy when shared in the future.

As you may be able to tell, things that have an impact on both the past and the future, are usually the most sentimental items, and thus the one’s we cling to. If this is what my client and I discover in our conversation about an item, then it’s usually a keeper. Otherwise we discuss some qualifying questions to determine whether it’s worth holding onto.

  • How much joy and happiness does it bring you?
  • What amount of regret or disappointment would you feel if you let it go?
  • How would you feel about keeping part of it or a token amount?
  • Who values and treasures this and in what way?
  • Where does it reside – on prominent display or hidden away?
  • When is it used, shared, and enjoyed?
  • Why do you want to keep it?

Whether it’s a keeper or not, answering the above questions help establish some objectivity to the sentimental attachment we me feel about our things.

Want more help letting go? Here are three blogs that offer more assistance.

  1. Clutter Excuses
  2. Keep quiz
  3. More Clutter Excuses

©February 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer  All Rights Reserved

cool door

Innies or Outies

Helpful Organizer BlogHave you ever heard the terms innie and outie? If so, you may be looking at your belly button right now, because these words refer to the shape of it. Are you wondering what that has to do with organizing, and why I would write a blog article about it? It’s because a friend of mine, who is also a Professional Organizer, mentioned that she uses these terms when organizing. She uses the term innie to describe situations where clutter and mess are contained behind closed doors and outie for when clutter and mess are visible. I have found in my 10 years as a Professional Organizer that the projects with which I help my clients can be categorized as one or the other.

Innies stash clutter in drawers, closets and file cabinets. The surfaces of the counters, desks and tables may be clear, but the real issues lurk behind closed doors. Here are four solutions that may help control the clutter and create order in the hidden areas.

  1. Practice the one in one out guideline to keep the quantity of stuff manageable.
  2. Devote some time to answering the question, “When is enough?
  3. Follow the 3 step organizing process on the clutter that’s stashed away.3 steps to organizing process
  4. Schedule time to edit items from your space.

Outies have piles of clutter everywhere, which can create stress from the constant visual reminder that something needs to be done with it. Here are four solutions that may help lessen the stress.

  1. Schedule clutter aerobics at least 3 times a week to attack the piles.
  2. Practice the confirming process to help continually remove what is no longer used, needed or wanted.
  3. Mark off time on your calendar to reclaim order in your home. I’d recommend at least two hours twice a month.
  4. Incorporate one or two daily organizing routines into your day.

Which term would describe your home situation? Whether your answer is innie or outie the solutions above will help you remove clutter, establish order, and feel less stressed. I would like to hear of your progress, please email me with details.

©January 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®  All Rights Reserved