“Clutter is a hot topic for a reason. It’s easy to create, not always easy to remove, and it has inspired discussion everywhere and a billion dollar industry to help you conquer it. Every January you can’t escape the posts. The memes are everywhere. Search Amazon books with the keyword “clutter” and you’ll get over 4,000 options. And the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals, whom I’ve been a member of since I began my business, has almost as many members…all in an industry to help you break free from your clutter. 

When I started Positively Productive Systems, I served my clients as a professional organizer. They were overwhelmed. They had too much stuff. And I helped them change that. II went into their homes and helped them sift through it all so they could make space for what mattered in their lives. We reduced the amount and set up the systems and habits to help them stay organized, keep the clutter at bay, and live how they wanted to live. Almost immediately I felt how much we needed to address the mental and emotional weight of clutter.

Over the years my role with clients has shifted from on-site, hands-on work to coaching the person and doing the inner work…exploring our personalities and values…understanding what drives us and how we can develop the habits that are actually the key to controlling the clutter. Now I can help clients declutter without ever entering the home or handling any of their things.  I started from the outside (which will always be helpful and I definitely recommend) but discovered how much more effective working from the inside/out can be. I am ready to share those discoveries with you, over many podcast episodes, but today we’ll begin with clutter…

We’ll cover what it is, why it matters, and what we can do about it. 

Before we do, I think it’s important to mention just how much we talk about and try to solve the problem with clutter…more specifically what I consider to be the crisis of clutter. Not unlike the weight loss industry, we are dedicating so much time and so many resources to it, and yet it still remains…grows, even. Homes have doubled in size since 1950s (yet we’re still overflowing)

Clutter is a hot topic for a reason. It’s easy to create, not always easy to remove, and it has inspired discussion everywhere and a billion dollar industry to help you conquer it. Every January you can’t escape the posts. The memes are everywhere. Search Amazon books with the keyword “clutter” and you’ll get over 4,000 options. And the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals, whom I’ve been a member of since I began my business, has almost as many members…all in an industry to help you break free from your clutter. 

Shows like Mission: Organization debuted on HGTV and Clean Sweep showed us some behind the scenes of a life as a professional organizer and popularized organizing. A&E’s Hoarders and later variations like Hoarding: Buried Alive were a cautionary tale. Every time I’ve watched them, I’ve felt the need to go declutter something. I know I can’t be the only one!

Marie Kondo is a household name for those searching for clutter freedom, and she’s merely one in that in entire 4,000+ category of books I mentioned. So many titles with the words “less” and “free” reminds us of the weight of clutter. Organizer Peter Walsh — who has inspired me since the beginning with his book “It’s All Too Much” and is best known for being on the show Clean Sweep — has identified the connection with his aptly named “Does This Clutter Make my Butt Look Fat”. Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite recommendations. I will add that Joshua Becker’s The More of Less is a great read if you are exploring minimalism and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism was a game changer for me, taking the idea of decluttering far beyond bins and baskets.

Since we’re talking industry experts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to organizers I know personally who have written helpful books. There is Lisa Woodruff’s Organize 365 collection of books and a podcast packed with lots of how-tos. Kathy Vines — aka Clever Girl — is a fellow NAPO member and author of the “Clever Girls’ Guide to Living with Less“. At the time of this recording, it’s available with Kindle Unlimited if you want to check it out. And my friend James Lott Jr. — a fellow NAPO member, life coach, and podcaster — and honestly a veritable Renaissance man with albums and books and show hosting under his belt — has written: Sort Out Sundays: Small Organizing Tips that Lead to Great Rewards. It’s on Amazon too.

Last year I was on his podcast  – the Super Organizer Show – talking about positivity in coaching and organizing and I’m excited to tell you that he has already said yes to joining me on the Positively Living Podcast so we’ll have a fun, and very likely deep conversation about all of this. Be sure to watch for that in the episodes. And don’t worry if you’re driving or don’t have a chance to jot down these references. I’ll link to the books, organizers, and the podcast episode I just mentioned in show notes.

What is Clutter? Why is it important?

When you are trying to deal with something…whether work with it, change it, or reduce it…you need to identify it. 

Let’s go back to Peter Walsh for a moment. He has a quote about clutter that I have carried with me for years and mention every chance I get.  

Clutter isn’t just the stuff on the floor, it’s anything that gets in between you and the life you want to live.

Peter Walsh

With that in mind, let’s talk types of clutter…

Types of Clutter

I believe there are five general categories of clutter that overlap and I have created a graphic to illustrate. It’s like a modified compound Venn Diagram, if there is such a thing. I promised you in the Podcast Trailer that Venn Diagrams were one of my favorite things, so this won’t come as a surprise. The diagram — which you can find on my social media pages — shows how they are connected. 

Physical, Mental, Digital, Information and Tasks

Physical Clutter

You know what I mean by physical clutter. It’s the kind you can see…that you live around (or it around you)…that you trip over, shove to the side, or move to the side to make room for it. It’s tangible and specific. And this physical clutter costs us dearly. 

25% Americans have a 2-car garage but can’t park their car in it

Nearly 10% us households rent outside storage at an avg of $1,000/yr

80% of the papers we have have we don’t look at

Digital Clutter

Unlike clutter in the physical world — where stacks of papers, books, clothing can be seen — there are no obvious outward signs that could indicate a problem, even when we look at the high number of email notifications. This makes digital clutter even more insidious.

Some stats: 

On computers, at least 30% of installed applications are never used.

80% of smartphone users do not use the apps downloaded after three months 

28% of our work time is spent reading email (650 hours a year spent on reactive work)

Mental Clutter

Mental clutter doesn’t necessarily have the statistics linked to it, but there is no doubt it causes stress. It’s those “I should,” “I’m supposed to,” and “I need to” thoughts can take up a lot of space in your mind. It causes you to hold onto physical clutter — when you are scared to put something out of sight for fear of forgetting.It reminds you of incomplete tasks, triggering shame and guilt

Allows worry and inaccurate stories to hold precious brain space, undermining your energy and ability to take action

In general clutter:

  • Overwhelms & Distracts
  • Signals unfinished work
  • Triggers guilt
  • Reduces productivity
  • Blocks self-care, healthy habits
  • Promotes dissatisfaction

What Causes Clutter?

1) Deferred Decisions – When we’re unsure, we leave items where they are. Examples: mail, sentimental items

2) Incomplete task loops – example of dishes for a meal as a complete task loop, other clutter makes closing the loop more difficult

3) Mismanaged consumption – clutter makes it hard to find things, which encourages purchasing more of what we can’t find. I’m guilty of it. And when you’re dealing with small items, it can seem innocuous but it adds up

4) Emotions – Fear, Anger, Grief — they play a different role in the decision you are making (or not making)  Fear – might need it, job loss; Anger – resentment – relationship issues and protection; Grief – we keep things to remind us of times, of people (include past selves) – identity

What you can do about Clutter

Seeing it clearly is a first step. We can become desensitized to the clutter in our lives, or at the very least, resigned to it. Deciding to do something about it and committing to it can sometimes be the hardest part. So if you do nothing else today, I encourage you to *decide*…what to declutter and when.

If you’d like help doing this, head to my website www.positivelyproductive.com and request my free Declutter & Destress workbook. I have included my custom six-step system to help you declutter in a way that works for you.

I will quickly outline the 6 steps now and cover them in more detail in another episode.

  1. SET– Set Yourself Up for Success
    1. Schedule, set goals, track your progress, ask for help
  2. IDENTIFY– Create a Filter for Your Decisions
    1. How you want to live, who you want to be, what purpose the space has. Create a guideline for what belongs and what doesn’t

  1. MATCH– See The Big Picture
    1. Capture all items in a category for sorting, like with like, compare
  2. PARE– Use Your Filters to Reduce
    1. Remove items based on filters
  3. LIMIT– Your Container Controls the Amount You Keep
    1. Size of the storage space
  4. EVALUATE– Repeat the Process, Prevent the Clutter
    1. Evaluating what worked/didn’t, what comes – as you declutter life goes on 

Your takeaways for today: Clutter isn’t just what’s in your closet. It can be in your mind and heart, or your smartphone. It causes stress and costs you money. Investing in its removal is worthwhile, but do it the right way for you. 

What I know for sure is that when you declutter – whether it’s on your home, your head, or your heart – it is astounding what will flow into that space that will enrich you, your life, and your family.

Peter Walsh

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