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Change Over Time

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I spoke this morning at the Azusa Chamber of Commerce on the topic, “De-Clutter 101.” I’ve been presenting De-Clutter 101 to a broad mix of audiences since 2008, the year I launched A Clear Path: Professional Organizing for Home, Work, Life.

My talks and workshops have changed over time because I have changed over time. The work we do is transformative – from despair, overwhelm, suffocation and demoralization, to living a life as one has imagined. I have come to understand that the word “clutter” is such a benign term for something that makes a lot of people like the worst people in the world.

In my first 3 or so years of presenting De-Clutter 101 I offered tips, strategies, and solutions for all manner of clutter, and then I’d go into client’s home and help them donate all the books in their library on how to deal with clutter, “they didn’t work for me,” “there must be something wrong with me,” I would hear as we cleared their shelves. I recognized the disconnect. Here I was telling people “how to do it” from the stage, only to de-clutter the “how to” books in their home. The very same people who were attending my talks were the very ones who purchased the books. I concluded that many organizing experts and authors make it sound easy (labels! containers!) but for those who have been dealing with clutter all of their lives, “easy” is the hardest thing they’ve had to do in their lives.

The more I listened to clients about the impact of the clutter in their lives and the lives of those whom they love, I recognized that I needed to know more about what they were dealing with. I threw myself into the education available to me through NAPO and ICD. I learned that clutter usually has deeper origins – it’s not as simple as saying that someone is just too lazy to hang up their clothes – there’s more there than meets the eye. (and I also don’t believe in “lazy”).

At today’s De-Clutter 101 I spoke about relationships to our stuff, our environments, to our future and to our past. I suggested that holding on to that which we may need, and that which has already happened, has trumped our ability to live comfortably today. I asked my audience to quantify what it means to have enough. To identify those items in their home that feed the body, the mind, or the spirit, give the size and parameters of their living space. We talked about how depression, major illness, a bad marriage, a sad childhood may have an impact on how we deal with “stuff” of life. I described the intelligence of the right-brain creative who would rather spend hours on a canvas than wash the dishes and open the mail.

I’ve immersed my study in the field of chronic disorganization. CD is not a diagnosis but an observed set of behaviors. People with CD have been dealing with clutter for a long, long while. They own every de-clutter book known to humankind and have tried everything they can think of to get organized but they fail themselves miserably. And clutter owns them; it’s impaired their quality of life on some level. I’m coming to believe that most people who reach out for help to de-clutter and organize are probably chronically disorganized. CD folks will offer a broad range of reasons for why the clutter stays present in their lives but also lament the fact that the clutter is ruining their lives.

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