Clutter: The Silent Killer

Okay, clutter doesn't USUALLY kill people, though it actually did in the case of the infamous Collyer brothers, whose home is featured above.  One reclusive brother died when he was buried under piles of debris, his invalid brother then starved to death.  What clutter can kill, though, is peace of mind, well designed rooms, and a hefty chunk of change--one client recently completed her new home after losing her house during Katrina.  She's had things in storage for the past five years while waiting for this moment; however, she just realized she doesn't even remember (or now want) most of the things in the storage unit---items she's paid over $11,000 to store.  And that doesn't include the additional moving costs associated with bringing that stuff to the new house.

A similar thing happened at the design studio/boutique where I've recently started working part-time---they've had to move items from their storage utility to a smaller one.  Now, the design world is one where you can expect a certain amount of clutter---samples (fabric, wallpaper, furniture finishes, etc.) start to add up, and in a smallish boutique setting, you don't have a large stockroom to store items, but when I saw the things they were paying to move and store, I was shocked---it included large sample board of (admittedly beautiful) hardware from a now-defunct manufacturer because it was too good-looking to part with, boxes of damaged accessories (from several years ago) that "could be fixed one day,"  paperwork and receipts from the 1990s, etc.  I was just amazed at the fact that they didn't really seem to grasp how much holding one to so much useless junk was costing them--having to have a larger rental unit than would be necessary from normal operations, the cost of the movers having to do it over two days because there was so much stuff, and the fact that I had to spend 3 days working on the move instead of client related activities.

All this has made me  more fired up than ever on purging my house of even more clutter.  In fact, I want to start a movement for a clutter-free world.  So begins the first post in an expose of , "Clutter:  The silent killer." 

The lifecycle of a household item goes something like this:  Purchase-store while using-dispose of.  There are basically three kinds of household items:  Consumables, things like toiletries and food--things you plan on using up quickly and are usually stored for small amounts of time--they don't tend to be the major clutter problem, at least not in and of themselves.  They usally cause problems when storage of other types of items prevent them from being placed in an appropriate place.  The second type is what I think of as Usables--things like clothes and some electronics--their span of usefullness varies and we may have to consider long term storage solutions.  And finally, Real Property--large scale, expensive items like major appliances,furniture, lawn mowers, etc.  These are things we plan on having and storing for years.  In all cases, though, we should follow the basic model--purchase something we need, use it until it's utility is done and then dispose of it properly.  Clutter issues occur when this process breaks down at some point.  Therefore, the was to control clutter is a three pronged attack:  bring less into your home, organize what you do have most efficiently, and cycle things out (and don't give me the stink eye---I don't mean you have to stick it into a landfill...a lot of items can be donated to charity, sold on craigslist or ebay, given to friends and reatives, recycled, refashioned into something that you can actually use etc.)

In this post, I want to focus on the first place the cycle breaks down:   acquisition.  Basically, we buy too much crap.  Stop doing that.  Next step....Okay, stop buying stuff is easier said than done, but it's an important way to control your clutter.  Some tips.
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris

1.  Obey the dictum of Victorian wallpaper designer and artist William Morris, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." 

2.  Before you shop, make sure you really grasp this idea:  If you have "x" amount of closet space, you can only fit "x" amount of clothes in that closet.  No organizational system in the world exists that allows you to hang 15 linear feet of clothing in a closet that is 4 feet wide, 3 feet deep, and 8 feet tall.  This also applies to book shelves and kitchen cabinets.

3. While I admit that there can be exceptions, if the item really was that great:  1. it wouldn't be marked down, and 2.  you would have probably been willing to pay full price.

4.  Buy for the life you actually have, not your imaginary one.  I'm not saying you can't grow and blossum, but if your idea of home cooking is to open a box of Kraft mac 'n cheese,  you don't need a kitchen aid stand mixer and food processor.

5.  Shopping should be a search for a product needed to fulfill an actual, timely need--not a recreational activity---you need something to do on a saturday afternoon?  ride a bike.

6.  Avoid impulse buying.  If you didn't plan to buy something, but it calls to you:  calm down, walk out of the store, go home and really think about it.  If it's meant to be, it will be there if you return.

7.  Before you buy something, ask your self if you're really willing to take the trouble to unpack it, store it, maintain it, use it, move it, and pay the square footage price it takes to keep it.  Play this game:  When you get home from the store, someone calls offering you your dream job in your dream city---do you want to go to the trouble of packing this item and paying to bring it with you? 

8.  And on a morbid note, do you want your loved ones to have to deal with this crap when you're gone?

So in conclusion, join me in buying less crap, and stemming the flow of clutter into our homes.  Come on, let's make it a clutter free world!


Visual Vamp said...

I want my loved ones to drown in my clutter & crap when I die.
Q: When does decorating with clutter become hoarding?
A: When you display the plate collection with decaying food left on it.

24 Corners said...

Bless you for this post! We just moved "back" into our new home that we've been building for four years (long story) and most of our belongings have been in storage this whole time. We've had the necessities and a little exra, but not much.
As I start to unpack, I find I am loath to clutter up the place and have started becoming very particular...items I've always loved are not finding there way in...this post was so timely and perfect!
I'll be returning often for motivation & inspiration!

Thank you!

Ann said...

Yup, I'm all over this. When I moved out of state 6 yrs ago, I dumped a dumpster full of stuff. Some of the stuff I regret getting rid of (4 years worth of Martha Living Mags..sniff sniff...) but most of it I don't miss or even remember. How nice it is to still have room in my kitchen cabinets and space between my hangers. Remaining clutter-free is on on-going, never-ending job, though.

Marlo said...

Count me in for a clutter free world! Your points are right on. Great post!

I used to hang on to stuff and if I had no room to display them I would pack them in boxes and store them in the basement. Some of the stuff had negative associations and so whenever I'd go into the basement I'd get an uneasy feeling. It took a while before I realized that the negative associations were subconsciously bothering me. I got rid of it all and wow did that feel good.