Monday, March 15, 2010

Me versus Clutter - the 100 Year War

Clutter. It is such a nasty word, full of negative connotations. Surely if you asked someone to identify the clutter in her home, she would point to the stack of mail that's grown over the months, that never seems to be gotten to. Or perhaps she would point to the bin of mismatched socks that have neither been turned into dust rags nor found their mates. But what about the other clutter that isn't so apparant? What about the kitchen cabinet that houses a panini maker, a quesadilla maker, and a bread maker - all of which only get used once a year and other pots and pans would substitue for them just fine? What about the emotional clutter people carry around with them? That ugly painting Aunt Betty gave to the household? The memories that haunt and return every so often?

It may seem that clutter doesn't belong in the categories of hippie, earthy, or mama, but yet, it actually falls into all three. As a hippie, I have the goal of reducing as much waste as possible. Maybe not as much as a zen monk, but enough that I am not collecting junk in my closets rather than in the landfill (as both are bad). As an earth lover, it's important that I reuse my clutter that I can, and recycle what I cannot. And finally, as a mama, it's absolutely necessary for me to reduce my clutter. Not only will it make for a cleaner environment for my child, but it will also create a cleaner emotional environment for him as well. Not to mention that as a mom, my first job is to lead by example.

The process of decluttering is always hard. Even the "simple" steps recommended by every article, specialist, and magazine one might come across can be difficult. One of the best, most useful pieces of advice for decluttering is to get rid of anything that hasn't been used in the past 6 months. That's great advice, and it seems completely logical and simple. That is, until I put it into practice. What about my prepregnacy clothes? It's been over a year since I've worn them, but prior to my pregnancy, I had many of them for 5+ years. Eventually I will be that size again, and do I really want to have to go out and buy all new clothes because I was in a decluttering mood? Then again, the specialists will tell you, "understandably you don't want to buy new clothes, but if you keep clothes too big, you're giving yourself permission to stop with healthy habits, and if you keep clothes that are too small, you aren't accepting yourself for who you are at the current moment." Great - I want to accept myself, but I don't want to go bankrupt trying to buy clothes in every size! Or what about seasonal items? I don't mean decorations, which can easily be boxed up and put into storage in an organized, non cluttered way. But what about those items that don't quite make it into the seasonal bins, but yet are taking up space? For example, fake fruit to be kept in a bowl on the countertop. It only goes out during the spring and summer, because there are different motifs for the winter and fall, yet if it was packed with the Easter decorations, it might come out too early or too late.

I think the best answer to this dilemma is to de clutter everything else around the item in question and see if there is storage capacity for it afterwards. After getting rid of the panini maker, I might actually have a spot for the fake fruit. If I don't, then I can evaluate if the fake fruit is important enough to create a space for, or if it might be easier to let the item go and replace it with something that serves more than one function (in this case, real fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the week).

Another problem I always face is the emotional attachment to my clutter. "Oh but my mom bought me those pants that don't fit" or "my dad gave me this pen that has no ink" is a common issue I face in the challenge of decluttering. I recently read a great article that says that just because you are getting rid of the item, doesn't mean you are getting rid of the memory of that person, or ignoring their thoughtfulness. The article advises us to acknowledge the memory attached to the item, and say out loud "this item is not the person who gave it to me", allowing us to seperate the person and relationship from the possession itself.

Two areas that always tie me up in my decluttering journey are the kitchen and bathroom. Ideally, I recognize that it is important to keep only the items that will be used within three months. Especially in rooms such as the kitchen and bathroom, it is incredibly important to be minimalistic because the capacity for germs to grow are amplified in both of these rooms. No one wants to drip defrosted meat across their silverware or accidentally throw a used q-tip into their toothbrush holder. But yet, these two places also have the highest incidence of the "what if" items. "What if I get a cold, and need saline solution for my nose?" "What if company is coming and request a freshly baked cake, 4 pounds of tomato sauce, and maybe some croutons?" Besides the "what if" issue, there is the issue of cost. Buying in bulk is cheaper, especially when dealing with food and hygene products. I think that in this case, as we declutter our spaces, we will find more room for the bulk items because there won't be as many unnecessary items taking up space. The "what if" items need to be inventoried and seriously considered. Maybe saline solution is important to have on hand, but is it important to have 3 of them? Maybe tylenol is good to keep, but that doesn't mean that there need to be 5 opened bottles throughout the house. Streamlining these products not only saves space, but it also eases the pressure of looking for these items.

Maybe at this point, it seems as though throwing away all of these things is not as eco friendly as we would like. Don't get the wrong picture - when I say throw away, I actually mean find a way to reuse the product first. Can the item be given to Good Will? Can you give the extra vitamins and travel sized shampoo to a local homeless shelter? Do you have two bottles of a favorite lotion that your friend or sister might enjoy using? If so, give her one. Reusing is also important in things like used toilet paper rolls. Do you have a toddler who would enjoy the end being taped off, the tube be filled with rice, and sealed at the opposite end for an instant musical instrument? Can your carton from your milk be reused to make a bird house?

Once we've exhausted all of the ways to reuse an item, recycling comes NEXT. Why not recycle everything first? Well primarily, because not all items are recyclable. But secondarily, because recycling still uses immense amounts of energy and resources. It is far better than using all new materials, don't get me wrong, but ideally, if we can find uses for things to make them useable rather than laying in a pile of clutter, we will not be using any extra resources. Only after having tried reducing, reusing, and recylcling should an item be considered for the trash can.

As I try to de-clutter my house, I realize more and more how much I need to reduce, reuse, and recycle my items. I take my piles of used undershirts and mismatched socks and create cleaning rags out of them. I give away my clothes that are still in good condition, or donate them somewhere. I recycle the things that are no longer useable. Despite my efforts, my house tends to be cluttered no matter what I do. As long as I am battling clutter, my house will never stay clean the way I want it to, because clutter does not have a designated space. It isn't a sudden thing, but it creeps up on us when we least expect it. This clutter battle will not end quickly, but I am bound and determined to be victorious over my clutter in the end!

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