Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What is clutter?

In the past few months, I have spent some time with Michelle Passoff's categories of clutter from her book Lighten Up! (Harper Collins, 1998) and I have excerpted a few ideas on clutter from Donna Smallin's book Unclutter Your Home (Storey Books, 1999). The other two books I have used are titled organization books, The One-Minute Organizer, also by Donna Smallin (Storey Books, 2004) and Jamie Novak's The Get Organized Answer Book (Sourcebooks Inc., 2009) but they are all essentially about de-cluttering your life. Which leads me to the question about whether there is truly a difference between de-cluttering and organizing and what constitutes clutter? Is an organized pile of stuff clutter? Does it have to be chaos to be clutter? Is getting the stuff in your life organized enough to claim that you are de-cluttered?

My brother and I had this conversation yesterday. He is the marketing manager of a family of mutual funds and has an eye on investment trends and consumer behavior. He has observed that the baby-boomers, the generation that has been at the forefront of consumer spending since the early 60's, are, perhaps for the first time in their lives, setting self-imposed limits on their personal spending and acquisition of material goods and exhibiting a general downsizing. We have seen, from the proliferation of information available on the topic, that there is a trend in the U.S. today to clean out, de-clutter and lighten our load. From this conversation about the trends in society, we discussed our own personal crusade against clutter. He sees clutter as the chaos in his life and the accumulation of random stuff that has no orderliness or significance and it is his goal to rid himself of this stuff. When I expressed that I was trying to rid my life of all of the detritus that I have acquired with or without intent, he drew a distinction between his chaos and my ordered accumulation. I don’t think that just because most of my stuff is in boxes, drawers, closets and organized on shelves, it isn’t clutter. Granted, that for the most part the stuff that surrounds me - that gives me stress and takes away all of my free time - isn’t heaped up in unmanageable piles, but to me, it is still very much clutter.

Perhaps the distinction I am making is the difference between garbage, clutter and true personal treasures! I think that clutter can be neatly ordered and can have value, per se. The task we are facing is to determine if it still has value to the person who owns it! To do this, it is important to make sure that your goals and your priorities are clear in your mind (and written down on paper). It will ultimately be the only way that you can make the distinction in your life about what to keep and what to throw away.

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