The Clutter Remedy
Remember the Nineties, when trendy new cable networks like HGTV featured reality shows about getting your life organized? A team of tough-as-nails psychologists worked with licensed neat freaks branded as ‘professional organizers’ to strategically put every piece of crap a person owned out on their front lawn for all of America to see. After those shows took off in popularity, our American lexicon included new phrases that changed our lives forever…
“We need Three Piles: Keep, Donate, or Toss!”
Believe it or not, I became one of those organizers. I was …. (dun-dun-dun!) The Clutter Remedy.
I bought ads in the Yellow Pages (and now you know just how long ago this was), I had business cards and colorful letterhead professionally printed, and I was on the verge of actually hiring help when Hurricane Ivan came along and (quite literally) washed away all my business. It was very prosperous work while it lasted and, kind of like a florist, I was often somewhat of a superhero to the people who hired me. I helped them do what they were physically and emotionally unable to do on their own.
Beverly called me because she was a clothes hoarder. I arrived at her home and found every closet in her house stacked with suitcases full of dirty clothes. She never unpacked. Her bathtubs and showers were full of dirty clothes and every flat space in her home had clothes piled on top. Once they were dirty, she simply put them in bags, threw the bags in the closet and bought new everything, and had been doing this since she was in college. She called me to ask for help after opening her son’s closet one day and seeing that he had also thrown in a suitcase full of his own dirty clothes. She knew she needed to stop this cycle in her family.
I taught my clients about the magical Three Piles just like all the other organizers did back then, but I took my cleaning a step further. I tried to clean up their minds, too. I counseled my clients about why people keep things they don’t need. I explained that it was usually one of two things that caused their hesitation, and there were actually serious psychological reasons why they kept hanging on to stuff they didn’t need anymore: One is guilt and the other is fear, I said. I tried to get them to realize, just as one example, that if they could ever actually lose twenty pounds, they deserved to buy themselves all new clothes. I could usually walk them through the fear of giving away their old wardrobe if they had the hopefulness to imagine a closet full of newer, skinnier things to wear.
Dan hired me to help him organize his garage, which was full of hobby items and sports equipment. Dan’s children had gone off to college and yet their family garage remained a shrine to the days of having two children playing three sports, with boating and traveling on the weekends. Expensive bats, footballs, tennis racquets, soccer goals, inflatable boat toys, surfboards and life jackets…items that hadn’t been used in years. But to Dan, they were tied to such wonderful memories of when his children still lived at home. He’d had a really hard time giving anything away because he said it felt like the was throwing away his children’s best memories. I had to get him to see the things for what they really were: just old toys.
At the end of our time together, I usually had a very happy, satisfied customer with a much cleaner, more sanitary, better organized and structured home. My clients always reported to me in follow-up that in addition to walking through their front door and into peace and tranquility when they arrived home each day, they also slept better at night and didn’t feel as much stress.
Once their physical clutter was gone, often their mental clutter went with it. Makes sense.
Susan asked me to help her organize her kitchen. She had run out of cabinet space and her dishes, pots and pans were encroaching on her diminishing counter space. We unloaded every drawer and emptied every shelf in her kitchen. Turns out that she had over 30 coffee cups, almost 50 Tupperware containers, more than three dozen drinking glasses and pots and pans that had belonged to both her mother and her grandmother. Her case was actually pretty simple. With my encouragement, she picked her eight favorite glasses, her four favorite coffee mugs, her eight favorite plates, her favorite skillet, her favorite saucepan and enough silverware for eight people…. and we donated everything else. She simply had never been told that you only need to have enough dinnerware to feed your immediate family and just a couple of guests at a time, even on a busy day.
Because of my experience in this area, I have never needed to be told to throw things away. I can do this effortlessly, and to a fault. (One particular bill-shredding session left me without my new Social Security card, so sometimes I admit I have to rein myself in). My house is not often squeaky clean but it is always organized and I know where absolutely everything is. In fact, I could inventory everything in my house simply by memory if I had too. I just don’t keep clutter, period. But, like many of you, I recently felt the stress of immense emotional clutter, especially on my social media. Yes, this is actually a thing. Twenty years ago when I was The Clutter Remedy, social media did not exist, so this addictive social media clutter has crept into my life and consumed my existence without me even noticing, until recently.
I have failed to recognize the disorganization of my online life with the same paradigm as I have always viewed my home. I realized I needed to clean my social media house.
There are trends we outgrow and, yes, there are people we outgrow. There are clothes that no longer fit (and will never fit again) and there are people who no longer fit (and will never fit again). There are dirty places inside your house that need to be stripped bear and rebuilt and there are lists, groups, associations and relationships that quite frankly need to be deleted and renovated from the ground up.
I did this recently, so I am speaking from experience.
Was it scary? Yes. There are long tentacles of my life that reach really far back, and severing them, I knew, would come with serious repercussions.
Was I afraid? Absolutely. Afraid of hurting people, afraid of sending the wrong message, afraid of causing trouble. But I assessed these old social media connections and asked myself those essential Professional Organizer questions about those old relationships: Does it fit? Do you use it? Is it serving any positive purpose in your life at all? If the answer was no, no and no, the person was deleted, or unfriended, or unfollowed. Simple.
I liberated myself from having to know everything about their life once I realized I didn’t really care about that stuff anymore.
It has been the best thing for me. I am no longer seeing people, things and events that bother me. I am no longer reading content that I took way too personally. I am not continuously engaging with people I don’t really like. In much the same way I don’t try on clothes that are too small (and make me feel bad about myself) I don’t need to intentionally involve myself in someone’s life if it doesn’t bring me happiness. Eliminating those old Friends and Followers has cleared my mind and I can wholly attest to the fact that my Facebooking, Tweeting and Instagramming have become entirely more enjoyable.
So speaking as your friendly neighborhood washed-up Professional Organizer, let me encourage you to clean house. Do it for your own sanity, especially if you find lately that getting online puts you in a bad mood. It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s supposed to be fun, inspiring and engaging!
Make your mental piles. Ask yourself the Three Essential Questions: Does this person fit me? Does this person make me happy? Does this person provide something useful in my life? If the answers are no, no, and no, then you don’t really need me or anyone to tell you what you need to do. (Chances are, you’ll be doing that other person a favor, too.)
Fill your home and your social media with as much joy and positivity as you can. Share boldly with one another, in all the magnificent ways the internet was designed to connect us to one another.