Once, I couldn't find a matching pair of shoes, so I put one foot in a ballet flat and the other in a tennis shoe and acted like I had sprained my ankle. True story.
You may wonder then why this girl is writing an article on decluttering and disorganization and their relationship to finances, especially since I still have a lot to learn. While there are definitely others who are more organized, I have come a long way.
I have no idea how much being disorganized has cost me directly, or how much a cluttered life affected my finances indirectly. But it's significant: Paying credit cards late, getting overdrafts, losing bills or other important papers, buying stuff only to find out I already had it, and on and on. It was painful in so many ways.
As I mentioned in a recent article, when I conquered clutter, things really improved financially. This is an expansion of that article.
This magazine article cites a study that found a link between cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and clutter. I am not surprised; I felt stress every time I looked at my paper piles, too.
But it wasn't enough to feel stress. After all, I read book after book, article after article about organizing and decluttering. I knew how to improve, but I wasn't doing it. My house and life still looked the same.
Does that sound familiar? Money is more about the mind than it is about the math. And getting organized is more about the mind than it is about how many storage containers you have.
1. Easier is the goal. The first step to curing yourself of clutterosis (it's kind of like halitosis because you can't find your toothbrush) is to convince yourself that you just want to make your life easier; however that needs to happen, do it. I had to have several conversations with myself about this. In most cases, it was not easier for me to store things that I wasn't using for an indefinite period of time. I just thought it would be easier, you know, to have two coffee carafes in case we had lots of coffee-drinking friends over at the same time or a spare electric skillet for…something. In addition to clutterosis, I also had a serious case of the “in cases.” You know, in case I lose weight, I'll keep these clothes. In case I start playing the violin again, I'll keep this music.
2. Just say no. You also have to realize that your organizing abilities/desires are different from other people's. Since I have difficulty organizing a lot of stuff, I need to have less stuff. Period. For a long time, I had the reputation of liking free stuff, so if someone had something they wanted to give away, they called me. Most of the time I said, sure!
After all, what is better than free? Having only the objects you want or need, that's what. Once I realized that I could organize my life so much better when I didn't have so many things to worry about and take care of, I started saying no to even free stuff most of the time.
Guard your life. If you don't really like it or don't think you will use it often, keep it out of your life. I've never regretted declining a free item. But I enjoy my tidier, decluttered streamlined house. And now that we have two kids, I am even more zealous about keeping stuff we don't use outta here. You don't like that shirt and won't wear it? Let's give it to someone who will. STAT! Because I'm not great at managing lots of stuff, I have to be even more diligent about what comes through the front door.
3. Purge. Before I got serious about decluttering, I sold a few things, but the piles of stuff always found their way home. Once I was ready to tackle the clutter — for real — I started by evaluating the areas of my house that were the problem areas: the kitchen table, the kitchen counters, and some closets. I started out hesitantly, still stuck on “I might use this someday,” but quickly created a huge pile once I started feeling some freedom.
This is a step that had paralyzed me before. Even I find stuff to get rid of, where should I take it? I will have to put it in my car and make time to stop by Goodwill and then…do I just throw it away?
But to get the purging started, I called up a couple of friends and invited them to take any part of the pile. I was so excited to see my stuff leave my house and find new life with my friends. That inspired me to keep going.
While I still have some spots to declutter, I am getting there.
4. Be systematic. Once I cleared our house of things we weren't using anymore, I started creating systems and processes that maintained our new and (more) decluttered lives. This is where all the books and articles I had read in previous years came in handy.
Here are just a few tips that I've found particularly helpful:
- Sort the mail over the garbage can, immediately after coming in from the mailbox.
- Put like things together (for instance, creating a baking zone with flour, sugar, etc. in the kitchen).
- Make a place for everything and put everything in its place.
- Waiting does not change a mountain into a molehill. Many times, I left kitchen clean-up for the next day, but dirty dishes don't improve overnight, but wouldn't it be great if they did?!
There are a zillion websites on organizing/decluttering, but here are a few just to get you started.
Chime in if you're a reformed slob like me or if you've always had clutter under control. What works for you today?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).