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Confessions of a Clutter Addict

Some people have homes that are always ready for company – should anyone just drop in. I don’t. That’s because I am addicted to “clutter”.

I have always had a clean home, but never a tidy one. Today is cleaning day, so I am faced with the daunting task of tidying up, again. Every cleaning day is the same. I am reminded that I have a lot of “clutter” to put away before I can get down to actually scrubbing.Clutter, clutter everywhere

My dining room table has always been the best – or worst – example of how I collect things around me. Not only does it have the salt and pepper shakers, a jar of chili peppers, and a half bottle of wine on it, but it also has two (his and her) bins with vitamins and medications. What’s the point of putting them away if you need to pull them out again tomorrow morning? And the banana bowl is front and center so we remember to have one with breakfast. But I do a lot of “living” at my dining room table, so there is more. There is also the crossword puzzle (that we do together during breakfast); and a pile of newspaper or magazine articles that I am going to read (some day). I put my To-Do lists (yup, there is always more than one) on the table so that I can find them and remember to “do” them. And that’s where I keep the mail that must be opened, or answered, because if I put it anywhere else I might not find it. And my latest book is there so I can read a few pages on my coffee or tea breaks. I think you get the picture. The table is never completely cleared away; unless we are having guests for dinner.

The rest of my place is cluttered too. As I have admitted many times, I am a hoarder of information. So my biggest sin is collecting books, magazines, and newspapers to read. There are piles of paper everywhere and the closets are full of filing boxes. I just cannot seem to help myself. It’s an addiction that I haven’t beaten yet. But I am working on it. I think I’ve said that every year now for at least the last seven or eight. In 2016, I was trying to Feng Shui my way out of the mess. Perhaps sometime in the next seven or eight I will have “kicked the habit”. I am hoping that by the time I am eighty, I will get there. Then I will be able to spend the rest of my life in a home that looks “ready for company”. But then I wonder, how often will I even have guests? So is it worth the effort?

I have, however, always had a house cleaning “solution” for entertaining guests. Just before the guests arrive or a few days before a party or event, I run around with a cardboard box or a grocery bin. I collect all of the items off the dining room table, the coffee table, the floors, the desk, and tops of dressers. I hide the boxes in the closet. I follow that with a thorough cleaning, removing the dust that had settled around my “junk” and washing all the floors. Voila! The place looks like a show-home.

After the elation of having friends or family over for a visit has passed, I grab my boxes and scatter the clutter back in the places where it rested before. Then I sit down with a cup of tea and congratulate myself on “fooling everyone” into thinking that I have a beautiful, tidy home.

Handling clutter and children

When my children were very young, my clutter was outpaced by theirs. Added to the piles of paper and ironing (waiting to be done) were heaps of toys, art supplies (we were a very creative family), and sporting equipment. Back in those days, I used large green garbage bags to collect their stuff – one for each room. One time, we forgot to put the stuff back after such an occasion and we found my daughter’s missing Timex watch six months later. That was an unfortunate mistake because we wasted a lot of time cleaning her room and looking for it. Oh well, a lesson was learned.

TIP: Always put the stuff back immediately after your guests leave.

If you suffer from the messy-house-syndrome too, I have another big tip that I used when the kids were young. Leave your vacuum cleaner and your ironing board in the living room. I never put mine away. They were always part of the furnishings. That way if unexpected guests came over or neighbors dropped by for a play-date, you can say: “I was just in the middle of cleaning, but I really don’t mind taking a break to visit with you. Let’s have a cuppa…” As I pushed a pile of ironing off the sofa, most people bought the “story”. I gave this habit up when the kids moved out. Now my vacuum and board are neatly stored in the closet, except for when they really are being used (on cleaning or laundry days). See, I have actually made progress with this dependence on “clutter”.

TIP: If people drop by unexpectedly, always tell them you were in the midst of cleaning up. But never make them feel “bad” for interrupting you.

Finding solutions to a problem

Clutter is the “bane of my existence”. I really do try to stay organized and keep the place tidy; so much so that I consider myself to be an expert in de-cluttering. When you have done it as many times as I have, you too will become an expert.

Over the years, I have invested in various solutions. I have bought file folders (paper and clear plastic), filing cabinets, filing boxes, storage bins, filing labels, and even a label maker. I have read articles about de-cluttering with the same determination that someone would attend AA meetings. I have tried many different methods like Feng Shui, Kon Mari, and Döstädning. I have even set schedules for de-cluttering. It is a permanent item on every To-Do list. I can help others do it. I have done so much of it that I am convinced that I could write a book on the topic. But somehow, I cannot cure my own affliction.

The irony is that even though I live my life surrounded with stuff in disarray, it is rare that I cannot quickly put my finger on what I need. I usually know where things are in all of the confusion. The rare lost items were my daughter’s first watch and my Will (which I had to rewrite this year; but I think that’s okay because they should be reviewed and/or updated every few years anyway). I have always defended my way of organizing myself with the phrase “there is method in my madness”. That phrase has suited me perfectly. Thinking about it now, I always wondered where that phrase came from. It turns out it is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Lord Polonius told us in 1602 that: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Wow, the phrase has been serving people like me for more than four centuries.

Generally I can live with clutter (but not dirt). And I do. The dining room table might not get tidied again until we want to play a game of Qwirkle on the weekend. Last week, I got rid of the pile of old electronics sitting on the living room floor. I have been improving my art studio table by putting my paints away in my new case. But occasionally, it overwhelms me. This is one of those days. Today the chaos on my desk must be sorted. Must is the key word here. I need to do the income tax. That means I must find all of the receipts that I have been piling on the desk along with many magazine articles waiting to be studied (and maybe blogged about).

TIP: Keep important papers (such as your Will and POA; critical numbers like health, drivers license and social insurance; medical results, etc.) that you will require long-term in binders so they can be easily found. Keep a labeled file folder in a consistent place for tasks that require collecting information over a period of time (like income tax receipts, or business expenses), so you can simply drop them in. Keep things that are similar in bins (toiletries, vitamins, art supplies, first aid) rather than just stacking them on shelves.

At the end of the day

By the end of my day, our place will be almost “ready for company”. However the income tax file will have probably joined the lists on the dining room table to ensure that I remember to tackle it this week. So the table might not be ready for guests, but I think we can call it “progress” in eliminating some of the clutter – on the way to my 80th birthday.

Are you addicted to clutter? What was the most interesting thing that you lost? Was it permanent or temporary? What aids do you use to prevent clutter from happening? What excuse do you tell friends when they unexpectedly drop-in?

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