Mary Astadourian (Professional Organizer) gives expert video advice on: What typically makes up 'clutter'?; Why does so much clutter collect in my home?; What's the most important thing I can do to cut down on the clutter? and more...
What typically makes up 'clutter'?
The dictionary defines clutter as a collection of things lying about an untidy mass. And I think that, that's brilliant because that's what it really is. I think it becomes clutter when you can not make any sense out of it. I will tell you and everybody will say to me,” I know where everything else in this pile, I guarantee you, they don't, they know it is there in this pile, or maybe in that pile. You know it is there but they don't really where it is, they don't know what else exactly is in there, so, I think clutter is just when things get untidy and large. Things are cluttered when there is just so much of it that you cannot really make sense out of it. Clutter is also a little dangerous because it is what really makes people feel so overwhelmed. You know, nobody wants to walk into a room and just look at piles and piles of newspapers and magazines and stacks of stuff and then think like,” oh I got to do something with this or will it worse, I got to sleep in this room tonight; nobody likes that.
Why does so much clutter collect in my home?
I think the biggest reason that clutter collects is because people don't have a space to put something. So they just put it on a first place that they could find, sometimes that's the floor, sometimes it's a table top. You know, I have friends who don't even eat on their dining room table because the entire dining room table is just covered with things they got to read one day. But they don't realize that if they have to start reading now and maybe they'll finish by Christmas, you know, to get that reading done. I think clutter really is just passed of because nobody knows where to put it. You know, the part of the functional organizational system is having places for things. You know, no one's telling you that you don't save magazines if that's what you really want to do. Or don't, you know, keep, you know, every ticket's stab you ever got for every game you ever want to. It's just, figure out where you're going to put it and always put it on that place.
What's the most important thing I can do to cut down on the clutter?
I think the most important thing is to know where to put things and to go through to make a commitment to go through your piles and weed out the things that you really don't want to keep. Lots of people will keep magazines because there is an article in there that they want to read. Well, when they finally go back and look at those magazines, they can't even remember what that article was about or what it was that they saved that magazine for. That's a sign to get rid of that magazine. So you don't want to keep things that really there is no purpose for them and sometimes we forget. So, really it's like keep the stuff but tell yourself once a month, I am just going to go through this pile and whatever I am really never going to get to or really don't want, I'm going to toss it out.
What kinds of systems can I set up to help manage my clutter?
The biggest system you can set up to manage clutter is to find a place for everything. Most people, their clutter is of a paper type. They don't know where to put all this paper, they know they want to keep it, there's a reason for it, but they don't know what to do with it. Create places for it. If it's tax papers, get yourself a plastic box, a file box. Even if you don't want to create file folders to separate it out, just putting it in that box will cut down on the clutter that you have in the rest of your environment. If it's magazines that you want to get to read, get yourself a basket and put the magazines in there. You can have all these things around you, you just have to find a place to put them. If you have that, it's certainly not going to seem as cluttered as it does when it's just all piled together in a space.
What clutter should I keep and how should I keep it?
Each individual has to decide on what clutter they want to keep and what they want to throw away, or what papers to keep, whatever. You want to keep the things that really have a value to you, first of all. So if you're sentimental and you want to keep notes and cards that people have sent you, that is perfectly fine. Give yourself a place to do that. I have a box that I keep, a really nice decorative box, and I put all the cards and notes that I get from that year in that box. At the end of the year, I go through that box, and I throw out the ones that I really don't want to keep. And then I put the ones that really mean something to me in an envelope and I file them away. And then I reuse that box for the notes and cards for the new year. So you have to determine, what the things that are important to you are. If you want to keep all your receipts, create a system to keep those receipts. Again, something that I do is I have an accordion folder, and I keep receipts in it by month. And I put all the receipts for that month in that accordion folder. So January receipts go in January and so on. Now at the end of the year, I can turn those over to my tax accountant. I can go through them and decide which ones I really want to keep or not keep. Or I can just, if I don't want to do anything with it, again, file that away, but I have a place that I'm putting those things. That I'm not finding receipts lying all around, in my dresser drawer, in my bathroom cabinet, because I just don't know where to put them and I'm just shoving them wherever I can. So it's really about thinking, what are the papers that are important to you, and how can I organize them so that I can still have them, but it makes sense. And, let's not forget, by doing all of that, you're saving yourself a lot of time by not having to then go through it when you really need to access that paperwork. So many people tell me, oh my god. I have my birth certificate, my license to practice medicine… I couldn't find it. It's somewhere in this cabinet. I don't know where. I tell people, create a 911 folder. Get yourself a little plastic folder that closes up, and put in it copies or originals, whatever you want to do, of all your important documents. Photocopy your passport. Photocopy all your credit cards front and back. Your driver's license, your social security card, your insurance cards, you car registration. That way, if anything should happen, if you had to run out of the house because of something, or if your car was stolen, all this information is sitting in this folder. And that's all you have to look for is this one folder, not search through everything and dig through stuff to find it.
Does de-cluttering mean I have to get rid of mementos and keepsakes?
The only thing I would say about mementos and keepsakes is that they're very important to everybody, but I think it's important to find a way that you want to keep them. Especially for people with children, I tell them, get a box that's large enough to hold artwork that your children may also be doing and put things from that year in that box. At the end of the year, go through it and only save the ones that really mean a lot to you, that you want to keep. You can get a box for each year if you've got the space to store it, or you can find something to do with the ones that you've stored and repurpose that box for the following year.
How much time should I expect to devote to de-cluttering?
Once you have de-cluttered your self you really do not have to spend that much time to maintain it. It is again I think is a commitment of time. It is dealing with things as they come up and not dealing with them later on. That is what saves you time or costs you time depending on how you are approaching at. It is a think your self okay and this basket is full of magazines I am going to throw them away or I am actually going to sit down and read them. I am not going to add anymore magazines to it because it now reached the saturation point. You have to limit your clutter you have to know the limits of your clutter. You have to say to your self “I am only going to allow this to happen until this point and then I am going to take actions”. That way, you are giving your self some freedom, you are not being rigid about it but you are also setting limits and saying” you know I can not get passed of this point because if you does then I am reaching getting overwhelmed. That is what we do not want to happen.