Where does all this "stuff" come from, anyway, and why is it so hard to get rid of? Where one person can give it all away, leaving no clutter behind, another person will live eyeball-high surrounded with his or her life's accumulation, unable to part with any of it. Yet another person has no idea where or how to begin this "letting go". As a coach with considerable experience as a professional organizer, I have worked with individuals in their homes and offices helping them to let go of too much stuff and organize what's left. What I have learned may help you understand why it's so hard for you or others to give things up.
Whether you are an all out clutter junky or just a closet-clutterer, take consolation in the fact that you are not alone. I have worked with lawyers, doctors, nurses, members of the media, various professionals and business owners, as well as homemakers and retired senior citizens, who all share the problem of keeping too much stuff. For the purpose of better understanding who is prone to cluttering and why, I have described below six categories of collectors and clutterers. You might recognize yourself among them.
This first category includes a growing number of collectors, the environmentalists. These individuals can't bear to part with anything which might add waste to our planet. It is truly hard for them to throw out, since letting go also means giving up something potentially reusable, and they can find a use for almost everything. The environmentalist, however, probably found a use for everything before they even heard of the terms recycling or ecology.
The paper mystic finds giving up printed material impossible, because every word and every page holds potential meaning in their life. If they should lose or throw out a certain article or reference, they might never get it back again. The very thought of throwing out those stacks of unread material, which might contain the answer to the whereabouts of the holy grail or the definitive answer to losing those extra twenty pounds, is tantamount to sacrilege and unbearable for them to think about.
The archivist feels a religious attachment to anything old. They enjoy remembering the past while holding a letter written years ago, a faded photo or some small useless trinket. They forget that libraries and museums are much better equipped to store these things then they are. Archivists have a fondness for the good old days which stops them from looking very far into the future. And it doesn't seem to matter if the present gets a little obscured, as well.
The touchy-feely person can't bear to part with an item which has an experience or a memory associated with it. However, for them, almost everything has a story or a feeling associated with it. They like to be surrounded by a certain amount of stuff, which they can touch and see. It makes them comfortable. Like the others, however, they feel unhappy with too much to touch, feel, and see, but they can't understand how it all got there.
The artisan keeps things, because they can't help but see the unlimited possibilities for turning their own, as well as, another person's trash into mobiles, sculptures, furnishings, clothing, holiday decorations and various and sundry objects d'art. If only they would collect less and give more of their collection to charity.
One might never suspect this next category-the perfectionist. The perfectionist hides out under stacks of paper and old stuff. To see them surrounded by their clutter, one might never entertain the thought of them as per Àfectionists, but perfectionists know themselves very well. They won't even get started on clearing out the clutter, because they can not do it perfectly.
The last of these categories is the procrastinator. This is someone who avoids the task of decluttering or who appears to avoid it. They share characteristics with any of the previous categories. Procrastinators are not always lazy. They may never have learned from a role model how to be organized in the first place and have no idea where to begin And they might certainly be someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or a Learning Disability (LD). Figuring out where to begin, let alone understanding the steps needed to get a job done and complete it without getting distracted, or bored, can be truly challenging. Add to this their fear of "out of sight - out of mind" and there is a real potential for getting stuck with too much stuff.
The previous categories are, of course, generalizations illustrating a variety of in-born personality and temperament traits, which can predispose one to having clutter and organizational challenges. Add to this the possibility of having ADD/LD, and then add behavioral traits and habits acquired, or not acquired, from family and life experience. What we end up with is a multi-layered picture of what can cause, for some people, disorganization, procrastination and too much junk!
What can you do if you have trouble letting go, but can't stand the clutter?
The answer is - find support. Find yourself a friend, relative, professional organizer or coach who is willing to help you. There is magic in working together, and it's less stressful and more fun. Decluttering requires sensitivity, honesty and humor. Find someone whose eyebrows won't hit the ceiling when they survey your collection. Choose someone who is non-judgmental, who will include you in the process, in the "doing" part, of organizing the stuff that stays, and find someone who smiles now and then. Remember this, start with what's going right for you, with what works for you, then move into the unknowns and boggles.
If things seem truly overwelming, you may want to contact a support group. Here are some other resources: Sandra Felton, who has ADD herself, provides ideas on how to declutter in Messie No More, The Messies Manual and Messies 2. Sandra also puts out a newsletter. Call 305-271-8404 for more information. The National Association of Professional Organizers can provide the name of organizers near to you : 512-454-8626. For organizers with special skills in helping people with chronic issues regarding too much stuff contact, The National Study Group for Chronic Disorganization, 404-231-6172. If you are a member of a CH.A.D.D. chapter, you might consider organizing a support group of individuals who can coach each other in decluttering and organizing.