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What becomes clutter in your space?

Jun 27, 2012 04:24PM ● By Stacy

Katherine D. Anderson, professional organizer

What is clutter? It’s anything that interferes with getting things done or interferes with relationships, anything disorganized or not living in an assigned space.
I have taught a workshop, “Conquering Clutter,” for more than a decade. At the start of each class, I poll the attendees on what is cluttering up their space. I use the information to modify the content of the workshop for those attending, but I have also kept track of their responses. While a wide variety of items can become clutter, here are the categories of things most often listed.
As reported to me by my students, by far the item that creates the most clutter is paper: the incoming tsunami of mail not dealt with, unorganized photos, old greeting cards and correspondence, the mountain of paper children bring home from school, magazines and clippings, and professional journals.
The next most often reported clutter-creating category is unfinished projects and crafts, along with the supplies and tools needed for them. We start something, and then move on to something else, leaving the half-finished project or craft just, well, there. Along with the oversupply of tools and craft supplies, it all becomes dusty clutter. One class attendee called it “gonna-do’s.”
Clothes contribute to clutter in a big way, although most of this clutter often fills up unseen spaces like closets and drawers and extra bedrooms. We have children’s outgrown clothing, clothes that no longer fit us, clothing-too-good-to-discard-but-not-good-enough-to-wear, even laundry. It all means that we can’t access the clothes we want to wear, and everything gets crowded and wrinkled.
Toys with many parts or accessories (and ALL children’s toys seem to come this way). Ever step on a Lego block in your bare feet? How many pairs of shoes does a doll really need? At least jigsaw puzzle pieces come in their own box! (partly
finished jigsaw puzzles belong in the unfinished projects category, like the one in my living room that my granddaughter started.)
Memorabilia, souvenirs of a trip or a career frequently come into our lives and our spaces with no preplanned homes, and so become more dust-collecting clutter. Our emotional attachment prevents us from discarding it, so it hangs out in a
disorganized, not particularly aesthetic way.
Stuff we store for others, gifts and inheritances also arrive with no planned homes, sometimes becoming forgotten and buried, sometimes crowding our prime real estate, but always contributing to the clutter, and probably guilt.
Forgotten items also occur (and I sometimes think they reproduce when no one is watching) in refrigerators, pantries, workshops and closets.
Electronic equipment is becoming a surprising clutter problem. There are all those cables and connections of one sort or another, the obsolete devices we’ve been warned not to throw in the landfill, the boxes the new stuff comes in that will be needed if we have to send it back. It’s all growing at an alarming rate.
That reminds me of the following category of clutter: stuff I will never use but it cost so much money that I can’t let it go.
Or the stuff we just didn’t get around to discarding somehow. This category is often a problem because we leave it out without a home because we intend to discard it when the perfect opportunity arises. And it sits there ... and sits there ....
Let me make an interesting observation. These are the same categories of things that researchers report are the items that are most frequently hoarded. To see whether your stuff constitutes hoarding, visit the website of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, Click on the link to download a free publication, the ICD Clutter-Hoarding Scale.
So, now you realize you’re not alone. Others are even much worse than you. But does all this clutter get in the way of enjoying your space or functioning in it? Decluttering will leave your spaces and your brain uncluttered, ready for the
future. So make it go away: hold a garage sale. take it to a consignment shop, put it out at the curb with a sign that says, “FREE” and watch it disappear, sell it online, give it away online, donate it to your favorite charity, arrange for a charity to come pick it up.
If you are interested in my Helping Hoarders or Conquering Clutter workshops, visit UNM Continuing Education or Santa Fe Community College. I also hope to offer the workshops at Luna Community College.

Next time: Reducing the Stress in Our Lives
©2012 by Katherine D. Anderson, CPO-CD. All rights reserved.
– Katherine Anderson has been helping businesses, groups and individuals get better organized for more than 30 years. Visit her at