Kathrin Shenk – Guest Contributor – Owner and Chief Professional Organizer at FreeYourSpace, LLC.
A Zen parable tells of a wanderer who happened upon a river. He wanted to cross it, but there was no bridge. Afraid to wade across the river on foot, he spent hours building his own raft from vines and trees, which ultimately carried him safely to the other side.
However, once across the river, he thought to himself: This is a good raft; I might need it again if I must forge another river.
So the wanderer carried the raft with him for the rest of his life.
Are you carrying your own raft – belongings that once were of service, but quietly morphed into dead weight? Most of us do. Your closets, attic, basement and garage might be overflowing with a lifetime of accumulated possessions – not just your own, but other people’s. Perhaps you are spending lots of time searching for things. Or you have paid good money to buy items you already own because you couldn’t find them. Maybe you have lost gift cards, checks and bills in stacks of paper and had to pay late fees. You may have a vision for the basement or spare room which has to remain a dream, because the space has transformed into a storage facility. Are you longing for an oasis of calm but somehow can’t unwind? That raft you are carrying might be to blame.
We have a love affair with stuff. Some experts estimate that the average American home contains 300,000 items. Items that don’t just cost money to acquire, but can make us pay dearly over time in terms of:
- Space: The U.S. Department of Energy reports that 25 percent of people with two-car garages don’t park any cars in their garages, and 32 percent only have room for one. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) we regularly wear 20 % of the clothes we own, while 80% mostly sit unused.
- Time: According to a study conducted by a Boston marketing firm, the average American burns 55 minutes a day looking for things they know they own but cannot find. The National Soap & Detergent Association estimates that getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40 % of the housework in the average home.
- Money: Harris Interactive reports that 23% of adults say they pay bills late (and incur fees) because they lose them. According to an article in Consumer Reports, one in 10 households resorts to renting space at a storage facility. The article goes on to say that “The average national monthly cost of a climate-controlled rental space is expected to reach $1.63 per square foot this year… That means you could spend nearly $2,000 in one year for the most popular 10’ x 10’ unit.” Storing things at home is not free either. Many of us have “outgrown” our first home and are now making payments on a bigger mortgage to house a collection of stuff we feel we can’t do without.
- Health: In a study done at Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, researchers found that clutter competes for your attention and wears down your ability to focus. A study from UCLA looked at families with homes that were filled with an abundance of toys and household items. The researchers found that the mothers’ stress hormone levels spiked when they were home dealing with their belongings, but dropped when they left. Organizing expert Peter Walsh noticed a link between overconsumption of stuff and overconsumption of food, resulting in weight gain.
That’s a hefty price to pay. It may be time to take a good hard look at the contents of your home and storage spaces, and shed some of that dead weight. Here are some practical tips to get you going:
- Before you start, decide where discards will go and make arrangements: You may decide to take a few bags and boxes to your favorite thrift store, or you may need to contact a hauling service.
- Evaluate what will serve you going forward: Treasured memorabilia, special family heirlooms, the right furniture, age-appropriate toys, useful appliances, select housewares, your favorite clothes and footwear.
- Start with an area that’s easy for you: Storage areas likely contain items you don’t need often. You may want to save memorabilia for last.
- Move from quantity to quality: We use 20% of our possessions, with 80% sitting dormant. Do you like it? Will you miss it? How easy is it to replace? Do you frequently use it or wear it?
- Watch your visceral response: Does a piece of clothing make you feel like a million bucks? Or does it make you feel guilty for spending all that money and it never fit right?
- Curate memorabilia: Select one or two objects that serve as the BEST reminder of an event, a relationship, or time in your life. Would you try to save this in a fire?
This can be a difficult process. Be realistic and be patient. You won’t go through a lifetime of possessions in one weekend. In addition, this can be physically taxing work. It may require lifting, squatting, bending or moving up and down stairs. You may encounter dust, mold and perhaps
even critters and their leavings.
If, over time, you are making less progress than you like, consider this:
- Are you holding on to items that represent obsolete goals (scholar, gourmet cook, home improvement expert)? It may be time for a reality check.
- Are you feeling guilty letting certain things go (gifts, mementos, expensive acquisitions)? Give yourself permission to release them.
- Do you have trouble with the progress of time (loved ones pass on, kids grow up, your own declining health)? Be kind to yourself.
- Are you physically exhausted or unable to do it? You may need to ask for help.
- Are you overwhelmed with the sheer volume and/or emotional drain of the task? It may be time to call in a professional.
If attempts to get decluttered and organized on your own don’t lead to the desired results, consider hiring qualified help. Professional Organizers help clients declutter, organize and take control of their space efficiently and effectively. The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) provides a convenient practitioner search tool at their web site www.napo.net.
As you progress you will enjoy giving select memorabilia and special heirlooms the attention and care they deserve. The right furniture, useful appliances and select housewares will enhance and support your lifestyle. Your favorite clothes and footwear will make you feel great. You will have more space and more time to enjoy life. You may save money. Your overall health might improve. You will be so glad you ditched that heavy raft that you may just jump right over the next river!
Kathrin Shenk is the owner of FreeYourSpace, LLC. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and is fully insured through NAPOsure, a comprehensive program tailored specifically to the needs of Professional Organizers. She can be reached at 301-233-3885 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.