Complete, test, give, limit and thrift. How can these five habits improve your struggle with clutter? By reducing what comes in the home or office, and reducing the excess regularly, you'll eliminate what you don't want - including feelings of blame and hopelessness.
“How did I get this way?” In addition to living with too much stuff, many cluttered individuals crowd themselves with blame, judgment, and hopelessness at how they have let their stuff overtake their lives. We often view an abundance of clutter as a character flaw, poor personal management, or the lack of a special get-rid-of-it talent with which everyone else seems to have been blessed!
In all honesty, most of our clutter issues stem from one word: habit. We simply get in the habit of tossing our mail on the counter, placing papers on top of the file cabinet instead of within it, and purchasing items because they’re on sale rather than because we truly need them. And thanks to the research of behavioral psychologists, we know at least two things about habits: 1) rather than breaking a bad habit, it’s better to replace it with a new one; and 2) after twenty-one days, a new activity will become habit for us.
With that in mind, we can begin today to establish positive habits that will cure our cluttering before it becomes a struggle. Below, I’ve identified five such habits that can make a considerable dent in the amount of clutter surrounding you.
- The habit of completion. Do you know the biggest, not to mention sneakiest, clutter creator? Unfinished business. Those newspapers we’ll get around to reading someday, the projects we’ve begun but never quite completed, the papers we started filing but then found something more enticing to do. Whenever possible, finish what you start. If you are unable to complete a project, finish at least a measurable amount; you can then write the next steps on your to-do list and tuck the project away without fear of forgetting about it.
- The habit of trial runs. Before buying an item, consider requesting a test period or borrowing from a friend first. This can be done with large or small items and will help you determine whether or not you will actually use them. For example, several years ago I purchased an apple peeler/corer/slicer after a very convincing demonstration (and a few encouraging friends). Three years and forty baked apple goods later, I realized that I still peeled, cored, and sliced my apples by hand – either because setting up the gadget proved too much of a hassle or because I forgot about it altogether. Needless to say, I donated my device without hesitation and realized that borrowing first would have saved me money and cupboard space.
- The habit of giving. Rather than trying to find space to fit all your stuff or, even more costly, renting a separate unit to store those random items, develop the habit of donating, sharing, and giving things away. I often ask participants in my workshop which legacy they would rather leave: “She was generous and philanthropic” or “She sure had a lot of stuff!” Consider friends, family, charities, silent auctions, and nonprofit organizations that may benefit from your excess.
- The habit of limitation. We are bombarded with opportunities to increase the amount of stuff in our lives on a moment-to-moment basis. Therefore, it is up to each of us to set our own guidelines of how much stuff we will allow to enter our homes and workspaces. In my home, we have a drawer designated for movies and DVDs. Once that drawer reaches full capacity, that’s it; if we want to add a new DVD, we donate one of the existing ones to make room. I’ve learned two valuable lessons from this simple strategy: first, when we go through our collection to determine which one we will donate, we typically find not just one but several that we are willing to part with. Second, this is a fantastic way to model proactive decluttering – and sharing with those less fortunate – to our children. Knowing their no-longer-precious movie might help calm a scared child in the emergency room instills a positive and loving perspective of decluttering.
- The habit of conscious purchasing. I love a good bargain as much as the next person, but buying something simply because it is on sale adds considerably to our excess. In addition to considering where you will put the item or what you will use it for once you get home, ask yourself – in all honesty – will the item truly enhance your life or help you fulfill your purpose? Is there something more meaningful for which you would rather spend the money? (A vacation, a spa treatment, or a personal trainer, perhaps.) Many thrifty people find it helpful to ask themselves how many hours they will have to work to pay for the item in order to determine its worth. Whatever your motivation, pay close and conscious attention to the items going into your cart so you can make healthy, life-affirming decisions.
Getting rid of clutter can turn into a rather hefty task, depending on the amount and the emotional attachments associated with it. Much easier, then, is preventing clutter from entering our lives in the first place. By implementing even one of these habits, you’ll notice a decrease in the amount of stuff in your life – which will make living a clear, clutter-free life a natural result.