This is podcast 140 and it’s called speak your clutter aloud. Whenever I start working with a client, the first thing we do is take a tour. This is partly for me to find out what’s going on, but it’s also for the client to become more aware of what’s going on.
The thing is, even if you have clutter that bothers you and you want to do something about it, your awareness of it waxes and wanes. It waxes when you stub your toe on some annoying object that should not be on the floor in that spot or in the house at all, for crying out loud, and now my toe is killing me! When one item of clutter reminds you of its existence, usually in a way that is not pleasant, then you suddenly notice all the clutter that you wish were not there.
Your attention to clutter wanes during the course of every day life when things for the most part stay put and out of your way, or you have accommodated them by not using parts of your home. You are busy doing other things and clutter simply isn’t on your mind.
When a client gives me a tour and I ask her to tell me what’s in all the cabinets and drawers and I ask questions about what I see on shelves and tabletops, clutter awareness comes roaring back. In the kitchen she points to three cabinet shelves devoted to coffee mugs and can’t help thinking to herself (or telling me), wow, that’s a lot of coffee mugs.
Or she hears herself say, about the miscellany of cups and plates on the very top shelf, those are the ones we don’t use. We own them, we let them take up space in our kitchen, yet we don’t use them. Not ever.
If you want to hire me to provide this reality check for you, either in person or remotely, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If that doesn’t work for you, here’s an idea; just pretend I’m there.
Seriously. Go to whatever room has clutter you’d like to eliminate and act like you’re conducting a tour for me. And you must do this out loud! That’s critical. You’ll be talking to yourself, but that’s fine. In fact, external self talk has been proven to improve memory retention and help people find things faster.
It helps because saying the name focuses your attention on that one thing you’re looking for, brings it up out of the constant stream of thoughts in your mind all the time. As I’ve said before, dealing with clutter is making yourself see the individual trees and not the entire forest. You can’t declutter a forest. You have to do it tree by tree.
Say we’re in your home office. While you would normally go straight to your desk, the tour needs to include everything, so we start with what’s to the left of the door when we walk in. There’s a tote bag, a briefcase, a cardboard box with some books stacked on it and a coiled up power strip before we get to the desk.
Some of those things have been there awhile. The tote bag has an item you need to return to the store. The briefcase contains your partner’s old laptop that you thought you might start using yourself one of these days. The books need to get back to their original owners. The box, well, you can’t remember exactly what’s in the box. Oh, it’s the tax documents you got back from the accountant five months ago. That’s right.
Normally, you don’t even see these things anymore, yet you have a sense that your office is too cluttered. It’s not until they jump back into your awareness, like making you trip on them, that you can see them. Or someone like me makes you see them.
Side note: this is why I discourage people from keeping things out so they are reminded of them. It works for, say 3-5 items, but beyond that your brain will simply tune them out.
Language is the way we give form to our worlds so that we can share them outside our selves. Language describes and identifies things so we can view them more objectively. You activate the language center of your brain which slows your thinking process down so that you can examine it.
Here’s what you can do right now. Choose that cluttered spot you want to tackle but haven’t been able to. Start your audio tour at one edge so you go all the way along the wall or across the surface without leaving anything out. Be specific. Don’t say, here are my clothes. Say, here’s a stack of tee shirts, a stack of sweaters and a stack of workout gear and behind that are three more stacks of tee shirts.
Note that I’m not making a judgment about how many tee shirts anyone should own but I regularly hear people express surprise when they enumerate the number of any single item they own. It’s just for your own information, so that you can make accurate decisions about what you want to declutter.