… and what to actually do about it all! It's probably not what you think!
As a review... I'm talking today about why we have clutter. No matter the reason you have, (I've heard many from my clients), they always seem to come back to one (or more!) of the following reasons, each with it's own solution: Not enough time, not enough space, no home, and what I call Broken Window Syndrome (BWS).
“When it comes to clutter, there are four main reasons and each has a different solution: Not enough time, Not enough space, No home, and what I call Broken Window Syndrome (BWS).”
Last week I talked about not having enough time, and not having enough space. This week I'm discussing not having a home, and why I call the fourth reason, Broken Window Syndrome.
This is one that is often talked about in organizing circles. (Ever heard: "A place for everything, and everything in its place"?) But this seems to get lost in translation/application for many people.
In my experience, it is common for certain things to have a "place" or home. But then the rest of one's stuff just kind of is there, and maybe it goes in a general location like the garage, but is still ultimately couch hopping.
For example, most people have set places where their dishes, and utensils go. (Cups in this cupboard, silverware in this drawer --complete with drawer organizer to separate forks, knives, and spoons!) However, many pantries are just "the place where we store non-refrigerated food". And maybe there is a general area for cereal, and pasta, and snacks, the occasional container and maybe even label. But that's it.
Or think about your clothes. I bet you have a designated place for your socks, shirts, and pants. But shoes can be a bit more iffy. (Are they just in a pile or general area on the closet floor? Lined up if you're lucky?)
I find the reason for this is because people can see the value in having a designated place to keep things that are regularly used and make it easier to find and well, use them. The disconnect tends to come from one of two places:
1. An item isn't used so frequently to warrant a home, nor is it used so in-frequently to warrant a long term storage place.
2. There is a general feeling of not wanting to turn their home into a museum or foreign language classroom (i.e every object has a label on it "chair", "table", etc.)
In the first situation there is a natural set up for creating a home: we use it a lot or very little. But what about those pesky in between items, or seemingly random things? These are the typical clutter culprits found hanging out in corners, flat surfaces, and junk drawers across the country.
Okay so that tells us why these items don't have a home, but what is the reason most people don't do something about it?
1. It feels overwhelming. I'd argue the majority of an individual or family's possessions are these middle use items. Where are we supposed to come up with the needed time and energy to give everything a home? And how on earth are we supposed to do anything else if we are constantly needing to put every little thing back where it belongs?
2. It won't make a difference -- at least not one worth the continual (not to mention initial) time and energy required to always put things back.
If either of these feel familiar, don't worry you are in good company! I've been there myself for a lot, if not majority of my life. So what changed?
I got sick of cleaning.
Yep. It seemed like that was all I did, and despite seeming to spend all my time cleaning I never felt like I actually got to enjoy the fruits of my labor before it was a mess again. Talk about the definition of frustration!
“...despite seeming to spend all my time cleaning I never felt like I actually got to enjoy the fruits of my labor before it was a mess again.”
I got lucky in a way. We moved, a LOT! (If you're a close friend or family member who helped, you know what I'm talking about and we still owe you and are SO grateful!) Anyways, each time we moved we got more and more sick of just how much we had to move. Add to that repeatedly seeing everything you own in one big pile (Konmari clothes pile on the bed style) and you quickly get the picture you need to down size.
And just when I thought I was getting really good, we had some pests in our apartment building and had to get some treatments done. This required us moving a bunch of our stuff again and again and again (for each treatment over the course of a few months). Each time we put things back I had another new opportunity to take an inventory of what we have, what we use/missed, and what I was ready to let go.
The end result?
I'm no longer overwhelmed. Sure my brain will sometimes look at a room after my toddler has been in it and think "Oh man, this is such a big mess. I do not want to clean this up, it's going to take forever etc." But not nearly as much as it used to. Now I'm typically thinking, "I can't want to get this cleaned up and enjoying it!" But in those moments when my brain does act up, I generally reply with, "Your opinion has been noted brain. However, I know even though it looks like a lot, I can actually get it done pretty quick as everything has a home. Watch."
(Let it be noted, this is the case when I choose it. I am also aware that there are times where the best choice is not to have a perfect home, and in those times there will be a sink full of dishes, clothes on the floor, and toys everywhere. It's all about being intentional. But more on that later...)
I spend WAY less time cleaning. Any room in my home can be restored to order in 10-30 minutes, despite having a toddler and a baby. Sound too good to be true? I don't share all this to brag, or to show how perfect I am. I tell you this to be an example of what is possible. This is the whole mission behind everything I do at Making Homes a Haven.
My goal is to help women of faith recognize that they are capable of changing their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual space by being intentional in what they think, feel and do so they can spend less time stressed and overwhelmed, and more time living the life they've always envisioned.
“My goal is to help women of faith recognize that they are capable of changing their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual space by being intentional in what they think, feel and do so they can spend less time stressed and overwhelmed, and more time living the life they've always envisioned."
"That's great." "Good for you." I hear you saying. What am I supposed to do. I'm not moving and thankfully don't have to deal with pests...
From all my personal and professional experience, I say this: take it one step at a time.
Begin by noticing where you have clutter gathering.
Take note of what things in that clutter pile don't have a designated home. (By this I mean you could tell someone who asked for an item "it's in the left cabinet, top shelf, right hand side".)
Think about where you would like the home to be.
Check if there is currently space available there.
If not, start getting rid of things to make room.
Quick Start Tip: Use the steps above to start assigning a home to your things.
Broken Window Syndrome (BWS)
The first few reasons may seem a bit obvious. "Of course that's why I have clutter. I told you I don't have time, space, or energy," a client may say. But this last reason... This is the undercover clutter monster.
Generally we as people don't notice when BWS is happening, but your brain does! Because we typically aren't aware, it can seem like clutter just builds up, appears from no where, and often, despite your very best efforts!
As a result it is easy to get discouraged --fast. The good news is, the solution is also easier than you may expect. But first, what exactly IS Broken Window Syndrome?
Broken Window Syndrome is a concept I came up with after hearing about an idea from a police department. (Don't ask which department or where I heard it, I don't remember...) Anyways, the gist was this: The local department found their was a correlation between vandalism of abandoned buildings and whether or not there were any broken windows.
For example, if an abandoned building had all windows in tact there was usually very little, if any vandalism happening. However, once a window was broken, the amount of vandalism increased almost exponentially.
"Cool story, but what exactly does that have to do with my clutter?" I hear you thinking. Well, what I realized is the same is true of our homes. When a table, counter, or room is clean and clear it is more likely to stay that way. However, once someone places an object there they have effectively "broken a window", and now other people are more likely to put things there too.
It's as if one person was saying with their stuff "this is an okay place to drop things instead of putting them away" and then someone else saw the stuff there, said "message received" and proceeded to put their stuff there as well.
If you are trying to combat clutter in a place suffering from BWS it can be EXTREMELY frustrating. You may give yourself all the time in the world, work really hard to get rid of things and make it organized, and STILL it seems to attract clutter like a magnet.
“You may give yourself all the time in the world, work really hard to get rid of things and make it organized, and STILL it seems to attract clutter like a magnet."
Without recognizing BWS is going on, it is super easy to feel hopeless and discouraged, like your efforts don't matter, and ultimately that organization is a waste.
So what is the answer?
Well it's actually fairly simple; awareness and acceptance. Once you are aware of BWS, it becomes easier to recognize when it is occurring and take proactive steps to restore order before things get too far out of hand.
The second is acceptance. The entire universe is in a state of entropy, constantly tending towards chaos. Our job in this life is not to seek to control everything. (Despite the strong illusions we may create or how much we wish it was otherwise.) Instead, it is to discover what we can control, and seek to learn the best ways to do so.
More often than not we tend to realize that simply means accepting what is, over what we wish it was.
Now, don't get discouraged or misunderstand me. I'm not saying the places in your home that suffer from BWS are doomed to be chaotic. But I am saying the amount of effort required to maintain these areas is greater, and as such it is more important to be aware of the time and energy we are spending in these places.
These are the areas it is important to be intentional and proactive about. When is it worth fighting for the order, and when is it better to let things be. In other words, some times it isn't worth the fight over the shoes and the backpack. Sometimes the cost on the relationship isn't worth it. Maybe things will change and there will come a time when this is no longer true. Maybe it won't though. And maybe, that's okay.
Maybe that doesn't mean you've failed as a mother. Maybe that doesn't mean you're failing your son. Maybe that doesn't mean you're setting your daughter up to be irresponsible.
Maybe it just means you're choosing to set an example about what is important to you and what isn't, by the way you interact with your children, the way you show up in relationship with them, and the way you prioritize your time.
Too often BWS causes the most strife in our life because we feel like it shouldn't be there. That if we were better the clutter wouldn't pile up. This added guilt does nothing to help the situation. It just makes us feel worse about it. Acceptance helps to let go of the guilt so we can have clarity in deciding what the best solution actually is.
Anytime there are multiple people living in a space, you are battling multiples wills for that space. And sometimes the best answer is to allow areas that don't have to be perfect. Just like we as humans aren't always perfect. (More on this later too...)
For now, take a look around your home. What areas do you see clutter commonly pile up? What is the reason behind it? Is it not enough time? Not enough space? No home? Or Broken Window Syndrome? Whatever the cause, like always, you have the choice in how you'd like to respond to it. You've got this!
Quick Start Tip: Practice awareness and acceptance. BWS doesn't have to take over your life. You can set the terms. You can free yourself of the guilt and shame.