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October 1, 2011

Out, Out, October Clutter!

The first day of October has arrived, bringing with it a new, fresh calendar page and a feeling of fall and more than a little fear about the rapidly approaching end of 2011. A small, persistent voice in the back of my brain is saying, But I still have so much to do! It can't be October yet!

When I had my sudden middle-of-the-night move to this apartment last spring, I became acutely aware of how much clutter I still own. Anytime you have to pack and haul and pay to move your stuff it's a reminder that clutter can be a real drag.

For the first month or two that I lived here in Bland Hollywood Starter Apartment -- and especially as I unpacked each mysterious box -- I managed to reduce my clutter load by about 10%. But it's not enough for me. I'd like to ultimately get down to about half of what I moved here. It will free me up, cost me less, and make the next move all that much easier.

Oddly enough, having less money and therefore shopping much less hasn't reduced my clutter at all. I think as money gets tighter something inside my delicate psyche edges me to hang on to every last item, every paperback and sock and skein. Is anyone else experiencing the rise of recession clutter? It's mysterious. It makes sense in a 1930s save-the-rubber-bands kind of way, yet I'm not sure it's useful or even healthy. How can your life have ebb and flow if you're stuck holding on so tightly to your stuff?

The other challenge with my personal clutter level is that I've already gotten rid of most of the superfluous crap, the duplicate saws and fondue pots and end tables. Now I'm down to the harder decisions.

These seem to fall into three categories:

1) Stuff I want to get rid of but would require selling and having strangers in my home, or hiring movers, or some other gigantic effort.
This category includes some furniture and probably the treadmill (now redundant since I live in a neighborhood where I can safely walk outdoors all year round). Some of the furniture can be donated but logistically it's a hassle -- I live on the top floor of a building with no elevator on a street with no parking. I think the best thing for me to do with these items is to wait until I move again and make a plan for them at that time. That makes it even more imperative to deal with the other areas of clutter.

2) Stuff I want to pare down that requires significant time, effort or emotion to cull through.
Most people have some form of this clutter hiding in a cabinet or closet. How many of you are still holding onto that old, outdated computer because you need to clean up the hard drive and erase all the data and then find a place to donate or recycle it? Yup. Been there. For me it's old zip disks that should be transferred to an external drive, erased and recycled properly. And the large collection of CDs I want to transfer to my computer then get rid of. Stacks of press clips that should be scanned then discarded. Boxes of old photos and mementos I need to look through and cull out the keepers. Old photo albums that are falling apart and need to be deconstructed and weeded through and figured out. Many of these tasks aren't extremely difficult, just tedious and time-consuming, so the clutter tends to stay around longer than it should.

3) Stuff I just haven't wanted to get rid of yet.
This category has some clothes, a lot of books, a lot of yarn, craft supplies, and picture frames. They are items I genuinely like and keep thinking one day I'll do something with them. Of course the truth is that I've already had them for a long while and I have yet to make that Big Project or even the Little Project and I sure haven't done the Maybe This Could Be A Project. This stuff is hard to part with because I like it, and part of me feels distress about letting go of the idea that I'll use it in the future.

- - -

That one concept -- difficulty letting go of the idea of an item's future usefulness -- is what separates those who have clutter issues and those who do not. There will be readers who honestly cannot fathom the feeling. (These are the people who can get all their belongings into a single suitcase. Fascinating.) I'm not looking to live a spartan existence with no decorative elements, that simply isn't my personality. My goal is not to be a Zen minimalist, my goal is to lighten up because I will be moving again and I don't want to pay to move clutter.

When paring down, it's relatively easy to part with cruddy old T-shirts, rusted cookie sheets and duplicate saws. That's like the Defcon 1 of Decluttering. It's not fun to get started but once you do it's not as hard as you thought. Then there's Defcon 2 Decluttering: streamlining the main living areas and getting your bedroom closet and kitchen cabinets clean and clear. I've done a good job of this, helped along by the fact that this apartment is tiny and has almost no kitchen storage. My living area is tidy and clutter-free and the bedroom is so small that it's almost impossible to clutter up.

My office is the last big sucking swamp of stuff. It's the dumping ground, the purgatory of clutter and projects and paper. Every corner is packed with books or boxes or carefully curated bins of craft supplies. What makes it hard is that most of this stuff I genuinely still like and might want to use one day in some vague and pretty future. It's Defcon 3 Decluttering -- the painful paring down.

Unfortunately there isn't a quippy, quick tip that can fix this kind of clutter. The solution is simply to do the work. I've been avoiding it for a few months and now in October I'm taking on my office and its assorted piles and projects. My strategy is to commit to spending one day a week -- probably a Sunday -- in my office doing the work of Defcon 3 Decluttering. But why wait until tomorrow? Today is as good a time to start as any, perhaps with the mountain of mail and magazines on my desk.

This cat is not clutter.

Posted by laurie at October 1, 2011 9:36 AM