Dealing With Other People's Clutter
Where to Start? Change Begins With You
You’ve worked for weeks to declutter the family room and kitchen, and once again, you wake up to wall-to-wall mess. Other people’s mess. Tempting as it may be to call a family meeting and lay down the no-clutter law, resist the urge. Any forced regime of clutter-free living will last only as long as you stand over family members and nag them to pick up their socks, newspapers and toys.
Instead, recognize that change must begin with you. Only when you have met and mastered your own clutter challenges can you turn your attention to helping other family members along the path to order. Moreover, their progress will be just like yours: made in small steps. Just as you must make slow and steady progress toward building new habits, setting up activity centers, and cutting off new clutter at the source, so with other family members.
Tips for the Family Clutter Consultant
Fighting over disorder and disorganization gets nobody anywhere and it doesn’t clear the clutter. Instead, adopt the role of clutter consultant to help other family members get a grip on clutter. Acting as a helper takes the heat off the dispute, and creates a sense of teamwork. Try these tips to inspire others to order in your household:
Work with the clutterer’s personality. “My-way-or-the-highway” clutter fixes are based on a faulty premise: that there’s one right way to cut clutter and get organized. Wrong! Personality styles dictate the shape of successful clutter solutions. A clear-desk strategy that works for a visually oriented parent won’t have meaning for a child who prefers his tools in view. Contain his colored markers in a cheerful mug on the desktop, rather than in a closed drawer, to respect his personality style.
Attack the problem, not the clutter. Clutter is only a symptom; the true problem lies within the clutterer’s relationship to stuff, space and order. As a clutter consultant, your job is to attack the problem, not the stuff. Picking up a child’s scattered papers after she returns home from school is a one-time symptom fix; setting up a Launch Pad for the child, and teaching her to visit it before and after school offers the true solution.
Be flexible. Spouses, roommates or housemates often disagree on what constitutes clutter. One person’s trash is another one’s treasure, so why waste time defining your terms? A successful family clutter consultant is flexible and reaches for solutions rather than confrontation. In my home, husband Steve’s poker materials had become an unwieldy collection of books, printouts and scraps of paper that drifted from sofa to table to floor, depending on where Steve had been studying last. To my eyes, it was clutter. To him, it was his poker library.
Solution: I designated a small shelf unit for his poker library. By making a home for the poker library, Steve has easy access to his reference materials, and I no longer have to see them piled across the breakfast table or heaped on the sofa.
Establish Clutter Preserves
There’s no such thing as clutter-free living. Even the tidiest among us still tosses clothing on floors from time to time.
Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries.
In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.
A kitchen junk drawer can house vitamin bottles, rubber bands, clipped recipes, expired coupons and shopping receipts that are unwelcome outside their clutter preserve.
A large magazine bucket in the living room is fair game for catalogs and magazines, so long as they can fit inside the bucket.
Crafting, sewing, or hobby projects create instant chaos, but, too, rigid pickup rules invade scarce crafting time. Dedicate a small folding table or outfit a spare closet for craftwork to keep inspiration flowing. To keep the hobby clutter in bounds, close the closet doors or screen the table between sessions.
Houseworks © 2006, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited
Text copyright © 2006, 2010 Cynthia Townley Ewer