The Clutter Cure

“I recently discovered the secret to livening up even the dullest conversation: Introduce the topic of clutter. Everyone I meet seems to be waging a passionate, private battle against their own stuff, and they perk up as soon as you mention it.” So begins Pamela Druckerman’s NY Times column.

NY Times declutter

It’s an interesting piece (click here).

Here’s her conclusion.

“But the more stuff I shed, the more I realize that we de-clutterers feel besieged by more than just our possessions. We’re also overwhelmed by the intangible detritus of 21st-century life: unreturned emails; unprinted family photos; the ceaseless ticker of other people’s lives on Facebook; the heightened demands of parenting; and the suspicion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes, forever. I can sit in an empty room, and still get nothing done.

It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of “mindfulness.” But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was. Less may be more, but it’s still not enough.”

This rather bleak assessment begs the question:  In the humans v. stuff struggle, who is the consumer and who or what is consumed?  And how much worse does “digital clutter” joining our “carbon clutter” make us feel?

Druckerman’s hypothesis that our stuff is consuming us is born out by the proliferation of storage warehouses, organizing services, and garages with nary a car in sight.  With the proliferation of cheap imports and discount retailers, being awash in clutter is no longer just an affliction of the well-heeled.

We think of ourselves as rational beings and in truth, we’re often not so rational.  Dan Arieley,  behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational has conducted experiments to prove just how irrational we really are. The take-away message is that we are more pained, psychologically and emotionally in letting go of something (even if it’s something we neither love nor use) than we were pleased to have acquired it in the first place.  Our things have a strangle-hold on us.

So what’s a person to do?

Embrace Will Roger’s First Rule of Holes- “When you’re in one, quit digging.  Consider a “spending de-tox.  Follow the advice of Sarah Lazarovic from, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.  Learn to wait.  “Don’t buy anything the first time you see it unless it’s the thing you’ve been searching for all your life and it is flying by on a speeding train, never to be seen again.  Even then, don’t buy it.”  Practice waiting.  What starts out as a hope, will become a habit.   Saying no to impulse purchases will eventually become second nature.  Exercise your will power and it will get stronger.

Stop hiding behind “conscious consumerism”. The goal of consumption used to be to buy and use things to satisfy (mostly) legitimate, practical needs.  Somewhere along the way, consumption morphed into consumerism. The goal of shopping became to kill time, drown our sorrows, keep up “The Jones” or even surpass them!

Again from Lazarovic, “Conscious consumerism is not an excuse to shop.  It may be a fair-trade, organic leg warmer, but if your legs aren’t cold, it’s still a frivolous purchases.”

Remember that just because it’s free doesn’t mean it isn’t without cost.  The kiddy meal prize, the thank you gift for the charity donation, the swag bag from a conference- leave them all behind.  If they never come into your home, you’ll never miss them.  Especially with the holidays approaching, be ruthless about what you let in your door.

By Robin Mcoy

Principles of Simplicity: The 80-20 Rule & Less is More

The Pareto Principle  (aka The 80-20 Rule)

This principle was first conceived in over 100 years ago by an Italian who observed that 80% of the land in his country was owned by 20% of the people.  We’ve all heard in the classroom how 80% of the trouble is caused by 20% of the students.  So what does this have to do with Simplicity?  Actually, quite a bit:

We are all looking for efficiency and efficacy in our over busy, over stuffed worlds.  Figuring out what 20% matters- in what we own and what we do, would be huge.  Even if it’s not 80% wasted time or unused possessions, most of us have a great deal of fat in our schedules and bloat in our stuff.

Less is more

How you say?  For example-
How much of the contents of your closet never see the light of day?
How many of your children’s toys never come out of the toy box (if you were lucky enough to have them corralled to begin with)?

How much of the backlog of magazines, journals and papers will never be read?

How much of the stockpile of staples in your pantry will expire before being consumed?

How much of what’s on your calendar or agenda is productive, necessary and meaningful?

Maybe eliminating the 80% that isn’t used, enjoyed, productive and meaningful, could take you a long way toward accomplishing more of your goals.  Activities and commitments that are “low value” or “no value” may need to go.  The same is true of the unused, unloved, outdated clothes, toys, foodstuffs, and paper piles.

If you haven’t used something for a while, ask yourself why you are keeping it?  Because I might need it one day, or it’s too much trouble to make the cull are not good excuses.  If you’re saying yes to commitments out of fear or embarrassment, reconsider your motives. Before the onslaught of new stuff from the holidays and new obligations with the new year, get the old stuff under control.  Remember, better the right 20% than the wrong 100%!

Parkinson’s Law

(aka Nature abhors a vacuum)

A 20th century British naval historian made the observation that-

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

The “stuff “ corollary is that things expand to fill the space available.   It seems that empty or unfilled spaces and time are unnatural and begged to be filled.

How you say?  For example-

A closet you just purged or the desktop you just cleared is soon in need of attention again.

A bigger home doesn’t mean more breathing space but more opportunity to shop and fill.

A leanly stocked pantry or supply closet isn’t a sign that you’re managing your home inventory efficiently, but a signal that it’s time to whip out the credit card.

You feel not a sense of calm and relief when you see lots of open spaces in your calendar, but a sense of panic that you’re missing out on something or that you’re not considered a valuable contributor.

We are generally big on procrastination and not so bullish on actually getting things done.   In this 24/7 world where work can be anytime, anywhere, we’ve forgotten that it’s healthy and reasonable to limit how much time we spend on any task.  Be realistic about how long a task or project should take and limit yourself.  Maybe even give yourself a bit less time than you think you’ll need to really light a fire!  (This works well for children’s homework too.) Check to see how quickly you actually finished the task.  If you eliminate the dithering and handwringing, you’ll be surprised by how quickly things can be accomplished.

As to your material world, appreciate that less is more.  That needs and wants are not the same and that sometimes better is the enemy of good.

Either of these two principles can be helpful but there are synergies if you apply them in tandem.  When your friends, family and co-workers ask the secret of your new successes, just say Pareto and Parkinson!
Good luck!

Simplicity and Complexity: Opposite Extremes

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci 15th Century, Italy 

Leonardo DaVinci

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.”  

Edwin Way Teale 1920’s, Illinois

“Everything should be made as simply as possible, but not simpler.” Einstein 1940’s, New Jersey

“Simplicity is it’s own artistry.” 2015 Starbucks Ad Campaign, Seattle

Starbucks Simplicity AdStarbucks Simplicity Ad

Great minds from many different ages and fields have touted the wonders of simplicity.  From 15th century Italy to 21st century Madison Avenue, the notion that less can be more, simpler can be more elegant, and that perfection can be achieved by subtraction rather than addition, has been touted.

In some cultures and eras, these ideas have been embraced and in others, dismissed.  In times of scarcity, thrift was not just a virtue, but a necessity.  It’s pretty easy to keep things simply when you have no choice. But what happens when times are easy?  Simplicity can seem like an unnecessary restriction.  There are lots of goods and services at your fingertips and you’re flush with resources, so why not indulge?

For starters, do you want to have a life of sophistication and artistry or a life of clutter and chaos?  Everything we own also owns us.  Edwin Way Teale said it well. Reduce your wants and your labors will be reduced. When you own less, you tend to own better. When you own less, you are able to curate your life in a more thoughtful and harmonious way.  When you simplify your home, your schedule and your life, paradoxically, they all become richer and more meaningful.

So where are you on the simplicity-complexity continuum? If you want to shift, how do you make that happen?  The first step is awareness.  Remember that needs and wants are not the same.  The next step is to embrace the philosophy that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing more to take away.   Can you make things as simple as possible, but not a bit simpler?  And finally, you can begin to nibble away at the physical clutter and detritus that have accumulated over the years.   Stick with it and before long, you’ll be singing the praises of artistry through simplicity!

The Endowment Effect and Stuff

The best things in life are not stuff

The endowment effect is the notion that people attribute more value to things simply because they own them.  Much like the Stockholm Syndrome, where captives develop compassion and loyalty to their captors, victims of clutter may find it easy to make excuses for their overabundant possessions and even feel comforted by them.  These possessions literally hold us prisoners.  It can be hard to let go and free our life of clutter.

Blame evolution.  Our ancestors lived with chronic scarcity and getting rid of anything was risky business. You might be left cold, hungry and naked.  Scarcity is no longer a problem.  The number of items for sale is mind-boggling and they can be had with the click of a mouse or a quick trip to the mall.  “Retail therapy” is the number one American pastime.

Behavioral economists have devised clever experiments that prove we are reluctant to let go of things even if we don’t need them, or like them. We can be psychologically and emotionally saddened by letting go of something, which often outweighs the joy of acquiring the item in the first place.  Holding on to things we don’t like, want or need is one way of protecting ourselves from this sadness.  And it’s also the way to be awash in clutter.

This might sound like a lot of psycho-econ-babble, but the message is simple:  Be careful about what you acquire because it can own you, rather than you owning it.

You may be a victim of the endowment effect if you make excuses for your clutter, saying things like: “It’s not that much stuff.  I might need this some day.  It was a gift from my mother.  I’ve already got a lot of piles, one more won’t matter.”

Maybe you are identifying and sympathizing with your captor- all that stuff!




Tidying Up the Japanese Way

If you haven’t already read this book,

it might be one you want to consider reading for the new year.


the life changing magic of tidying up

20 Organizing Tips from:  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing  By Marie Kondo


1. Start by discarding.  But rather than choosing what to get rid of, choose what to keep.

2. Keep only things you love and use.

3. Do aim for perfection.  Decide whether to dispose of an item and if keeping, where to put it.  If you can do this with everything in your house, you’ll have achieved perfection.

4. Tidying is just a tool, not the ultimate goal.  The real goal is to create an environment that allows you to have the lifestyle you want.

5. Clever storage is akin to hoarding.  Using container, bins, and hangers to maximize space makes for temporary organization and the illusion that clutter has been banished.  What happens when the storage bins and hangers are once again full to overflowing?  What happens when you have to be an origami master to put the items back into the container so the lid closes? The first step must be discarding- keeping only what we really want, need and love.

6. Start with an easy category.  Clothes are easy.  Books next. Papers are harder.  Photos and memorabilia are the hardest.

7. Do not consider putting things away until the process of discarding has been completed.  Do not buy a single organizing supply until discarding is completed.

8. Visualize your space clutter- free.

9. When sorting into “keep” or “discard” piles, handle each item asking yourself if it brings you joy.  The ultimate point of tidying is to bring us happiness.  Does wearing that sweater bring pleasure?  Do the piles of unread books and magazines spark joy or guilt?  Do the toys and craft supplies bring calm or chaos?

10. Quietly dealing with your own excesses is the best way to encourage your family to embrace tidying.  Lead by example and usually the most reluctant tidier will come along.

11. Purge all paper that is not absolutely essential.  Warranties and manuals are available online.  Most financial statements are too.  Greeting cards- birthday, Christmas, Valentines- do you really want to keep these or do you just feel guilty about letting them go.  It’s the sentiment that mattered- not the printed paper.

12. “Just because” is not a good reason to keep something.  “I might need it one day.” isn’t either.  We are awash in odds and ends, knickknacks, mismatched socks, cords without a device and the like.  If you don’t love it and use it, let it go.

13. Don’t stockpile.  The big box store and super sized packages might work in institutional settings, but your home is not in institution.

14. Paring down your things lets you have a better relationship with the things you keep.  You know where they are.  They are properly stored.  And most importantly, they spark joy when you use them.

15. Identify a place for everything.  If you’ve done a good job of discarding, finding the right place for the keepers is easy.  Store all like items in the same place.  For individuals living alone, this is pretty simple.  For families, create a separate storage space for each family member.  For shared items, make sure everyone has equal access to these things.

16. Clutter results when things are not put back where they belong.  Make it easy to put things away and clutter will no longer be a problem.

17. Think vertical for storage- like books on a bookshelf.  This eliminates the problems caused by stacking (horizontal storage)- namely the inaccessibility of the items on the bottom.  If it’s hard to put something away, you probably won’t.

18. Empty your pockets, wallet, purse, backpack- whatever, frequently.  You’ll be surprised as how much clutter accumulates in these places.  And that clutter obscures the necessary.

19. Appreciate your belongings.  Treat them kindly and they will return the favor.   Send unwanted and unneeded things on a journey where they will bring joy to the new owner.

20. Letting go of things is more satisfying that adding new ones.  When you tidy your possessions, you restore balance to your home and that translates into balance in your life.  A home “de-tox” also detoxes the body and the mind.  There is a limit to how much we can truly cherish and appreciate. When you’ve surpassed that limit, more things restrict happiness.


Additional information:

How to Build an Organized Muscle

“I’m going to stop putting things off… starting tomorrow!”  – Sam Levenson

Procrastination is nothing more than postponed decisions.

“Oh, I’ll do it later.”

“I just don’t have the time, I’ve been so busy.”

“This really isn’t my mess. This is the result of children.”

Situational disorganization may occur from failing to unpack after a long trip, saying yes to every invitation, ignoring the mountain of mail, or when merging homes after a marriage.  Soon disorganization turns into chronic procrastination, chaos, and stress. Our daily routines become overwhelming and we feel stuck in the mess.  There seems to be no reset button in sight.

Today we bring good news. Being organized isn’t a personality trait. For the majority of individuals who are able to stay organized, it is a learned process. We like to think of it as a muscle. Unless we consciously work on developing, building, and shaping that muscle, it will remain as is, or worse, it atrophies. The muscle will not strengthen overnight.   Discipline and maintenance are required.


In order to maximize your muscle’s potential, you must start the process by tearing down your old muscles and rebuilding them to make them bigger and stronger.

So where do you start? Begin by making small changes that work for you.

Here are three tips to help eliminate your clutter tendencies:

1. Compete against the clock.

Set your timer in five to ten minute increments and race toward eliminating items on your to do list: cleaning out your fridge, replacing light bulbs, paying your bills, making a meal plan, or putting away a load of laundry. You’ll be amazed at what you can get done when it’s a competition.

2. Reward yourself.

When you’ve finished a list of to-dos, have a treat waiting at the end! It could be a handful of candy corn, or a download on iTunes, or extra minutes to read a magazine. Or maybe it’s simply taking in a few minutes of deep breathing

where you can actually relax because there’s less pressure hanging over your head.

3. Turn off your DVR. 

Watch your shows with commercials instead of without. Before you turn on your TV, grab your to-do list. When it comes time to fast forward through the commercials, don’t – work to check items off your list!

Completing small tasks helps us to stay motivated as we set out to meet our goals. Remember to keep in mind that being organized for most people is a learned skillset that begins with one small step.  Muscles are not built overnight and new habits aren’t formed in a single day.  Starting small and making tasks fun can help you concentrate your efforts and discover success.

Quit Trying – The Paradox of Success

Quit Trying

The Paradox of Success

“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” We’ve all
been on the giving and receiving end of this hackneyed and
flawed piece of advice. Trying doesn’t breed success so
consider the Jedi alternative.

Yoda famously says to Luke Skywalker, “Try not. Do. Or do
not. There is no try.“ Trying’s just an attempt, a stab, a Hail
Mary-with little expectation of success.

When we say we are trying we don’t really have to do
anything. “I’m trying to get organized. I’m trying to tame my
calendar. I’m trying to control my shopping habit.” So what?
Saying you’re trying means you don’t have to actually do a
thing. It also provides a built in excuse for the failure that is
almost ensured by trying rather than doing. And trying
really, really hard is no more fruitful than plain old trying.

You either do something or you don’t do it. “I got organized.
I didn’t get organized. I tamed my calendar. I didn’t tame
my calendar. I controlled my shopping habit. I didn’t
control my shopping habit.” Trying is effectively the same as
not doing these things.

Trying is a verbal crutch that we employ to ease the pain of
failure. This may sound like linguistic gymnastics, but it’s
much more. Whether you’re trying or doing sets the stage
for success or failure. Language is the vehicle of our
intention. The way we talk informs the way we believe and
the way we believe changes the way we behave.

Maybe it’s time to quit trying and just do it.

Here are three suggestions:

1. Eliminate the word “try” from your vocabulary. It is a
worthless word that accomplishes nothing other than making
you feel better when you fail.

2. Decide either to do or not do. If you don’t want to do
something, fine. Don’t do it. But don’t pretend that trying is
the same as doing. They are two completely different stances.
With a shift in self-perception from “I try” to “I do”, we
enhance our chances for success in whatever arena we’re

3. Commit completely to the outcome you want. Go for the
win. Don’t settle for merely trying. Rather than striving for
change, just change. In the words of the footwear giant,
“Just do it.”

A Perfect Christmas

puckettstockingsIt is the day after Thanksgiving and the Christmas tree and all the decorations are up.  The labeled holiday decoration containers are put back up into the attic.  A few presents are wrapped and under the tree.  The remaining gift shopping and holiday to do’s are scheduled on the calendar with flexible timeframes to ensure most everything is done before the kiddos are out for winter break on December 21st.  Lists are made, travel plans are complete, and teacher gifts are purchased. All is going according to plan except…that was last year.


This year, the day after Thanksgiving we were still at my parents after deciding to stay another day to spend time with family.  The Christmas tree was not purchased until one week after Thanksgiving after the entire family recovered from an upper respiratory virus that caused the kids to miss at least two days of school each.  The outdoor family cat (who had disappeared for two weeks before Thanksgiving) was recovering in the house for a week after a ten day stay at the animal hospital due to a near-death experience.

Currently, the containers with tree lights and ornaments still sit in the front hall from the first attempt at beginning the decorating process with the kids.  The bottom half of the tree is still dark after two strings of lights that decided to go out at the top and middle of the tree were finally repaired. The remaining containers of decorations have yet to come down from the attic. And last but not least, we are getting back to normal since my parents left on Monday after coming to stay with us as I recovered from outpatient surgery the Friday before. I have not done any of my Christmas to do’s and I now have eight days before the kids are out of school on break.

I normally would be a frantic person this time of the year even if everything was going according to my plan.  My husband always works with Santa on a couple of the kids items on their lists so I can focus on other things. I have already simplified my Christmas by not sending out cards for the last several years, and yet I would still be totally consumed with the remaining lists and to do’s saying to myself that I can relax when it all gets done. Well, a funny thing happened when I was forced to slow down this year.  I found peace in NOT having it done.  I found peace in the present moment.

Those six days when the virus went through the whole family, we spent time together and took care of each other.  We laughed through moments of misery and were grateful for being able to feel good again.

The four days after my surgery brought more of the same. As I tried to go take a nap during my recovery from surgery instead of getting upset because it was too loud to sleep, I listened to the sounds in my house. The laughter, the talking, the running up the stairs…I don’t think I have ever truly appreciated that sound!  And the smell of the comforting aroma of my Mom’s homemade chicken rice soup!  I could never duplicate that on my own.  When I was forced to be still, my senses overflowed with what life is all about.

This Christmas season simplify your to do lists, take time to be still and give yourself the gift of “presence” this year.

Staying Organized through the Holidays

 What is most important to you during the holiday season?


Can you believe we are only 19 days away from December!   The holidays are around the corner and it is time to start planning and preparing.  Despite the chaos of finding perfect gifts for everyone, coordinating family schedules and celebrating general holiday merriment, we often lose sight of the reason for the season! This year, put an end to the chaos by refocusing on what YOU find most important during this holiday season.

Whether your “most important” is spending time with family, creating a home environment that reflects your love for the holidays or reflecting on the spiritual purpose of this season, allow your priorities to dictate how you spend your time, money and energy. The following principles will help you to stay focused on what is MOST important and learn to let the rest go!

  • Have a plan: Facilitate a family meeting and discuss what will be most important to your family during the holiday season. Create and/or schedule activities that support your family’s vision and feel the freedom to say no to the ones that don’t. If your family plans to exchange gifts, decide whether you will draw names or purchase for everyone.
  • Purge and de-clutter: Amidst the general busyness of the season, let your home be a place of peace and simplicity. When pulling out your decorating, take a few extra minutes to purge the items that you no longer use or love! Not only will there be less to keep up with, you will save time packing your “keeps” away at the end of the season.
  • Enjoy the present moment: It is the simple things that truly make the holidays special!  During the rush of shopping, wrapping and planning for holiday parties, family gatherings, and travel – make time to be in the moment. Turn off technology and reconnect with the memories that you are making!

If holiday shopping, wrapping and running errands are taking time away from how you want to spend your holiday season, then Simplicity’s personal assistants may be able to help. If your decorations or home feel less than peaceful, then call a Simplicity organizer!

And remind yourself again what is most important to during this season.


Simplicity’s Holiday Organizing Services include:

  • Taking decorations out of storage before the holidays and putting them away after the holidays.
  • Making suggestions on simplifying decorating for the holidays.
  • Assessing current storage containers and recommend any changes.
  • Donating any unwanted items and discarding any damaged items.  No reason to hold on to items you are no longer using!
  • Purchasing, wrapping, and delivering gifts.
  • Updating address book and printing labels for Christmas cards.

When is clutter considered a problem?


Have you noticed clutter and hoarding have become a hot topic in the media recently? Have you seen the television shows on TLC and A&E and wondered if you or someone you love might be a hoarder? Well, hoarding is NOT a new trend or phenomenon. It has been around for a long time, but is usually only discussed behind closed doors. It is also more common than you think, with 2-5% of the population struggling with this issue (even more than the number of people who have OCD or Bipolar disorder which we hear about all the time).

Hoarders often keep items for many of the same reasons as you and I do, such as:

  • for sentimental value – an emotional attachment or to remember an important life event
  • for utilitarian value – the item is, or could be, useful
  • for aesthetic value – the item is considered to be attractive or beautiful

However, the clutter becomes a larger problem when someone begins acquiring possessions compulsively, never discards items or is not organizing or maintaining the saved possessions. The constant acquisition of items, combined with a refusal to discard any items can reach a point where one’s safety becomes a major concern.*

If you are curious about hoarding, please join Dr. Andrea Umbach and Simplicity Organizers for a discussion about clutter and hoarding. Dr. Umbach is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment of hoarding, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and trichotillomania. She trained under experts in the field and works with individuals who hoard both in and out of their homes. Dr. Umbach hopes to address questions you have about hoarding such as:

When is clutter considered a problem?

What is the impact of clutter?

What is the difference between collecting and hoarding?

Where does hoarding come from?

What can be done to help individuals who hoard?

Dr. Andrea Umbach

To learn more about Dr. Andrea Umbach, please visit her website or the Charlotte Anxiety Consortium.

*Information gathered from Children of Hoarders website.