CLUTTER! CLUTTER! WHY ARE WE SO DISORGANIZED? Tips to Reverse Bad Habits  by Sheri Warren Sankner

Tips to Reverse Bad Habits

You are five minutes late for work. The baby has to be fed. You can’t locate your shoe. You finally find your keys buried under mail on the table. You’re tripping over laundry on the floor as you hurry from room to room. Sound familiar? With only 24 hours in a day and so many people and things to take care of, what’s a busy working person to do? De-clutter and organize!

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” What would he think of today’s typical home, littered with paper, scattered with clothes, and overflowing with things? Life was simpler then. Now we need professional organizers, psychologists and 12-step programs like Clutterers Anonymous to tackle our fears and messes.

What Is Clutter? 
Clutter is anything that you keep that is not needed or wanted. It involves having a chaotic, overwhelming amount of objects in your living space, vehicles or storage areas. Clutter includes books, magazines, papers, food, clothing, toys, kitchen items, bags, supplies for cleaning or grooming, containers, and items in “junk drawers,” closets, garages, basements, attics, storage bins and buildings.

According to the website, “Clutter is also defined in cluttering recovery circles as relationships, activities and emotional issues that no longer serve a purpose in one’s life, but that also overwhelm and debilitate the enjoyment of daily life and prevent a sense of well being.”

Identifying the Problem 
“There are many reasons for disorganization and a tendency to want to hold onto things,” says Briana Berner of the organization services firm, Organized Fixology. “This can range from medical conditions to misconceived perceptions of scarcity to our basic capitalistic tendencies.”

Audrey R. Sherman, Ph.D. believes in the link between depression, anxiety and disorganization. “I find disorganization and chaos to be one of the biggest problems reported by depressed and anxious individuals,” writes Dr. Sherman. “Emotional baggage has a way of building up and then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil as if a hurricane had let loose in your surroundings.” Disorganization at home generally carries over to the workplace as well. “A cluttered desk, half finished tasks and deadlines not met are the work version of the problem and are with you all day.”

Lack of time may not the problem either, it’s that people have not “found a routine and organizational plan that works yet or you found one but are not consistent in following the plan.” Dr. Sherman’s advice is to live by the old saying “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

“Running around willy-nilly, being chronically late, never being able to find things and having a dirty or sloppy house are stressful conditions and contribute to the anxiety depression cycle. Things scattered about affect your ability to concentrate and irritability sets in if not outright anger,” she writes on her website,

Breaking the Cycle 
While you may have psychological obstacles to conquering your clutter, experts believe that clutter and disorganization are learned behaviors that date back to our childhoods. Often our belief systems and cluttering tendencies are rooted in our earliest memories, modeling from our parents and messages from our family. Even if you have a need for more and fear of scarcity, you can break that cycle and make changes to reverse these negative family traits. Essential organizational skills like the ability to remove, sort, categorize, and organize, can also be learned and applied to all areas of your life successfully.

“I tell people who are trying to face clutter to ask themselves why they are holding onto something,” says Ms. Berner. “There’s a common technique called the five whys, to ask why five times to get to the root cause. Once you determine why you don’t want to get rid of something, it’s easier to find a solution.”

“Perhaps, you are hesitant to get rid of your great grandmother’s china. No one in your family wants it, it’s been sitting in your attic since the 90s, but you feel guilty ditching it. Could you save just one piece from it? Could you snap some pictures of your family using it one last time? Could you find a family that needs it and will actually use it? The solution will be unique to your own situation, but asking yourself these questions will help determine a plan of action,” says Ms. Berner.

Berner and other professionals offer tips for reversing bad habits:

Keep it simple! Take an inventory — what you have, why you keep it and where it lives. Does it have special memories or sentimental attachment? Only things with true significance, use and value deserve to live in your home, purge other items often.

Keep only what you need. Ask yourself when you used it last or when you will use it again.

Buy only what you need. Ask yourself if you need it, if you’ll wear it, or if you’ll use it before purchasing.

Have systems in place for handling clutter. Label or color code things to remember where they belong. Develop a schedule for cleaning and chores and try to stick to it. Make sure everything in your home has a home. This helps avoid dump zones.

Don’t let clutter control your life. Letting go of things you don’t want or need is very liberating. Organizing is a step toward freedom.

All books are available at Click on titles to learn more. 
Simple Steps to Organizing Everything
by Donna Smallin
Clutter-Free: One Hour a Week Declutter!
by Iovana Yao
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondō  

Websites – clutter-addiction 

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