If you have heard the term clutter family, you have heard of us. Organizing clutter was not our top priority.
I never really paid too much attention to it - we simply had lots of stuff. Didn´t everybody?
Even our new, bigger house was rather full after just one year´s living.
But that’s the way it had been in my childhood home too. Nothing new under the sun. Piles on tabletops and floors were normal in my opinion. Organizing clutter was not the top priority of my parents - my mother was an author who spent her days in her study. And my father was one of those old fashioned guys who thought men should never do any household chores.
And then my wife decided she would start painting again. She had been pretty good at it when she was young. So she bought an easel, acrylics, brushes and what ever an artist needs (don´t ask me, all I can draw are stick figures). She came home with the car and came in with her shopping bags. (What´s a few more shopping bags in a clutter family?)
- Where can I set up my working space,.. I heard her speak to herself.
- What if you use the attic? I asked, - It has a row of windows and it is warm enough. It just needs some vacuuming I think. Might be a bit dusty. And some organizing clutter, perhaps.
Well that was the understatement of the year. The dust balls in our attic must have gained consciousness by now - one year of no cleaning… And there were some unopened boxes that were stacked there since we moved. But nothing much, I was sure. Plenty of space to paint a few paintings. As I always said about the piles of paper on my own desk:
- As long as they don´t start to move and bite, it´s all right.
Now I was the master of desktop clutter. Someone had once tried the old joke on me: that the desk top clutter actually is a picture of your mind. Messy desk - messy mind. I had of course asked what did an empty desk mean then.
Well, my wife took the hint (mumbling something like organizing clutter seemed to be only her responsibility) and vanished upstairs with her art supplies and I thought nothing more of it. I heard some noise from upstairs but did not pay much attention. I was leaving on a business trip next morning and was busy writing my report, sitting on the sofa (couldn´t fit my laptop on the table because of all the files I had stacked there).
The dinner was late that day - my wife obviously was serious about setting up an artist´s studio and it took her time. But I know my way around the kitchen and warmed up some pizza from the freezer for the family. The kids didn´t mind. If there´s anything kids love, that´s pizza. I even folded the pizza box and threw it away (remembered her comments about organizing clutter, didn´t want to look like my lazy father).
At some time my wife appeared downstairs and looked somewhat tight-lipped. I was wise enough not to ask if she didn´t start talking about it herself. Years had brought me wisdom.
I left for my trip the next morning and came back after three days. I was met by a rather tired-looking wife. The kids were nowhere to be seen. Probably a question of keeping discipline. They had done something they shouldn´t have and were thinking about their actions in their rooms.
I greeted my wife and one of the kids appeared with big plastic bags full of stuff. She didn´t even seem to notice me but walked straight outdoors and towards the dustbin. Aha, I got it. My wife had given the worst punishment she could in a clutter family. Ordered the kids to clean their rooms. Now that was good. Teaching the children organizing clutter, very good indeed.
- Would you like to see my atelier? my wife beamed.
Good, she was is a very good mood. I had been a bit worried - she had looked rather… well, dusty. Of course the dust on her cheek was quite endearing too.
- Of course!
I dutifully climbed the stairs to the attic with her. She opened the door triumphantly. I gasped.
I mean when I had said to her the attic might need some organizing, I had no idea she would take it so seriously! Organizing clutter sounded like an understatement compared to what she had done.
The windows were washed. The floor was covered with carpets. All her paints and things were neatly organized on the shelves. There was an empty canvas waiting at the easel. And the boxes… Where were the boxes??
- What have you done with all our stuff? my voice came out squeaky like a mouse´s.
- The boxes? Oh, I threw them away, my wife said calmly.
I could see she had rehearsed her answer. Perhaps even in front of a mirror.
- AWAY? But all my stuff was there!
- Exactly what stuff? my wife was uncomfortably poised.
- Well, my… I mean… Hey, you just can´t throw the boxes away!
- I already did. Gone. I donated all to charity.
My wife switched on an old radio and sat into a comfortable looking armchair next to the window. I had an uneasy feeling I had seen that chair in our last home but forgotten about its existence.
I played fish on dry land, but before I could get a word out of my mouth my wife calmly said:
- See - you don´t even remember what was in those boxes. We have lived here in this house for over a year and not once have you needed any of the stuff in those boxes. I couldn´t even fit a small easel in here because of all that junk we had. I pulled a muscle just trying to get some of the boxes away from the windows so that light could get it.
I remembered the look on her face three days ago and thought it wisest to keep my mouth shut.
- And once I had thrown away the boxes here it felt so good I decided to keep on organizing clutter on the parts of the house too. Kids and I made lists of rooms. Each cupboard, tabletop and shelf was written there. And then we cleaned them together, one by one. I called for a moving company to take all that stuff away. Oh, and of course I paid the kids for each sack of garbage they carried to the dustbin.
It seemed the attic had been their headquarters. There was a paper pinned to the door that said "Organizing clutter" in big letters. There were two columns where it was written how many sacks each one had carried to garbage.
My desk… Oh my God, my desk… It would be very easy to fill a sack or two from it alone.
I ran downstairs and to my horror my desktop was totally empty. (Oh, it was brown. I sort thought I owned a black table…)
My wife was standing behind me.
- Before you get a heart attack, let me assure nothing was thrown away here. Look down.
I did. A brand new long shelf had appeared under the window.
- It´s all there. But in no particular order. Cleaning that is your job.
I must have looked funny because suddenly my wife started to laugh.
- Lets make a deal. You give me written list of all the things I have thrown away and you miss. I shall buy you new ones. I bet you can´t think of anything. If you do, I shall do the vacuuming for the rest of the year. If you can´t, you do the same.
- I´ll take your word for it! my hands were still all sweaty from the shock.
I took a notebook and a pen (quite nicely put in the middle of my desk) and sat down on my chair to write my list. It was nice to sit on my chair, usually it was full of papers.
And guess what? The only thing I could think of was the winter coat I had bough on my trip to North a few years back. I almost wrote that down, but then I thought it would look so lonely on the page I closed the notebook and got up. Also I wasn´t quite sure if I hadn´t already given it away before we moved here. After all violet had never been my color (I thought I had bought a grey coat but the store had very yellow lights and much to my horror I realized in daylight that I had bought a very dark violet coat.).
Of course my wife was smiling triumphantly.
- Ok, you win, I sighed.
The rest of the year I vacuumed the house - but it was sort of fun to do with so much empty space. Our house looked now like something out of a magazine almost. The house looked suspiciously empty and I never asked my wife what exactly was missing. I mean if I had, I would have been made to wash the windows as well.
It´s just good old fashioned wisdom to know when to shut up.
Clutter usually sneaks in slowly. One day you realize you don´t remember what is in the cupboards. You see piles of magazines everywhere. Old clothes you never wear. Glasses and plates that no one uses. Well, you know how it is.
There´s a saying that the stuff you own ends up owning you. So true. If your house is too full of trinkets and things, you feel uncomfortable there - hard to stay in a positive attitude when you feel like you suffocate with all that stuff around.
I know I felt like that. Then one day I simply decided to do something about it.
Still, organizing clutter felt too big a task when I looked around. But then I remembered the old saying "one step at a time".
Good idea. I took a notebook, wrote "Organizing Clutter" on the first page. Then on the empty pages, on top of each page I wrote the name of the room. And under that all the places in the room that needed cleaning.
Let´s take bedroom, for example. My clutter organizing list said:
- Clean under the bed
- Wash the bed sheet and curtains
- wardrobe: 1 shelf a day.
- bedside tables
- book shelf
- clean all horizontal surfaces
- clean all vertical surfaces
And then I took one item from my list per day. One small item - and slowly but surely the rooms began to clear up. The whole process was now in small, doable pieces and didn´t feel overwhelming anymore.
Try it yourself. If you don´t have time to go through the whole house, take one room. Make a list of all the places that need your attention in that room. And decide to do one thing a day from your list. And once you have cleaned a spot, stop piling things there anymore. Slowly the places where you can pile things will be fewer and fewer and you learn cleaner manners at the same pace.
Use an "Organizing Clutter" notebook to help you. You´ll keep yourself more organized when you write down what you need to do and what you have already done.
It really is easy, so why don´t you try? You´ll be amazed at the change in your attitude. Organizing clutter clears your mind too.