Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I told you all a few weeks ago that I would share some more information about the mindset needed to clear clutter that Michelle Passoff writes about in her book Lighten Up! (HarperCollins, 1998) I summarized her description of six different kinds of clutter; however, it thinking about these, I realized that these categories are not exactly kinds of clutter but scenarios in which bad habits cause items to become clutter. Today, I would like to share some of her insight into why knowing these categories and knowing why they are different will help us learn to control the clutter. The first category is garbage. Here Ms. Passoff is literally taking about stuff that has not yet been thrown away! On Page 15, she says, “three-quarters of the piles of papers on desks and tabletops are things that have not yet been tossed…throwing out your garbage is part of the process!” I would say that on the surface, this is a no brainer – just throw away your garbage! Having bags of garbage that is not actually removed from the house is part of the bad habit of not completing a task to its very end – getting the stuff physically removed from your life. But it may really consist of bags of stuff waiting for the shredder or bags of recyclable products waiting for recycle day. I realized yesterday, that the three bags of catalogs and magazines that I cleared out the other day are still sitting by the back door waiting to be recycled. In the town in which I live, there is only curbside pick-up for bulk paper, such as newspapers, that has been tied into bundles. We do not have a container that can be brought to the curb for paper recycling loose paper recycling must be brought to the town recycling center, which has limited hours of operation. If you find yourself in a similar situation, it leaves the possibility of having the soon–to-be-recycled material still cluttering your house for a week or more! The best bet would be to find an out-of-the-way spot to stage these materials that doesn’t end up looking like the clutter is still with you and making sure that all of the items are delivered to that spot.

The second category that Ms. Passoff identifies is “a mass of mixed-up, jumbled, unlike objects.” She notes that these often occur near the entry door where things like mail, keys, small toys, unpaid bills, etc. are dropped the minute you come in the door; or on the dresser top when you empty your pockets or your purse at the end of the day. She suggests that the way to decrease the chance of these piles occurring is to “separate all unrelated items from one another.” This means to me that you have to have a system in place into which these items can be sorted, going back to the age-old adage, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” One such system is Jamie Novak’s open-top, hanging file folder box that is kept right near the door into which is sorted items such as bills to be paid, receipts to be compared against statements and then discarded (or saved in a tax file if it is an item that can be deducted or in major purchases file if you may need the receipt for future repairs or exchanges) and correspondence to be answered. She cautions not to file something if it can be dealt with immediately. This will require allowing a little more time as you enter the house or before you go to bed, to deal with stuff right away…all a matter of discipline or forming good habits.

The third category, and the last one I will address today, is unfinished business. Into this category on page 16, Ms. Passoff puts some of the items that gather as mentioned above: “a scrap of paper with a telephone number of someone whose call you have not returned; a letter you have been meaning to respond to; a half-wrapped package earmarked for the post office; bags of clothing standing at attention by the front door ready to be given away; an unreturned catalog purchase; and a long list of undone to-do’s.” She documents their often endless migration all over the house until you are finally shamed into doing something about finishing the business; however, she cautions that often by the time you get around to doing this, the task has escalated into a larger task perhaps with financial consequences. Obviously, developing the habit of doing a task when it comes up, and completing the whole task from beginning to the end when it is out the door, is worth the effort.

I will finish the last three categories from Michelle Passoff tomorrow. I hope you are all still making head-way not only into tackling the clutter, but in forming new habits that will help you continue to lead a clutter-free life.

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