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Are You Doing the Clutter Shuffle?

A while back, I had a small stack of papers on my desk. There were only about five sheets in the pile so I didn’t consider it a priority even though I was sick of looking at it. Every now and then I would pick it up, flip through it, straighten it up, and put it in a different spot on my desk. “That’ll be my new ‘to be handled’ area,” I told myself. Then I’d get sick of seeing it there so I’d move it again. “Hmm, maybe if I stand it up on its side between these books I’ll handle it sooner.” This dance happened for months. Yes, months. I kept moving the stack around but never took action even though I had determined that these were “follow up” items—things that needed my attention and the next step was mine.

This is a little something I call The Clutter Shuffle, and it happens for a couple of reasons:

  • When your goal is to avoid dealing with the items, or
  • When you attempt to organize your space before decluttering it.

I was shuffling the papers on my desk because I didn’t want to face what was in the pile. What I needed to do about them was emotionally charged and scary, and Little Kerri wanted nothing to do with it. So instead of making that call or having that conversation, she’d move them around, fooling herself that she was actually making progress.

But it was a temporary fix. I felt a little better for a minute because instead of, say, the papers being strewn about, at least they were piled up and neat looking. But before I knew it, I was annoyed by them again.

I’m sure you’ve torn up the dance floor yourself in a similar way—moving things from one area to another hoping that’ll be enough. That the dreaded stuff will be taken care of. That you can finally stop thinking about it.

Or maybe you’re strolling through the store and see the cutest bins and baskets and think “Ah, yes! If I had those then my space would be totally organized!” So you buy them, get them home, and pile a bunch of stuff in them. The pretty bins become a catch-all place for your clutter and because you didn’t go through the stuff before you loaded it in, the bins, too, become clutter instead of an intentional home for your items.

It’s time to get off this merry-go-round because, frankly, it’s anything but merry. So how do you stop the dance and make some real progress?

  1. Whatever it is you’re shuffling around, commit some Pom rounds to sort through it to be sure there’s no clutter that can be cleared. Go through the pile or stack looking only for those things you know you want to get rid of and put them to the side.

    One thing that might stop you from taking action is the idea that you have to do something with each and every item you touch. If you’re not sure if you want to keep something or where you want to store it, it can stop you from getting started. To combat that, only seek out the items you’re ready to part with.

  2. Once you’ve narrowed it down to items you love, need, or use, it’s time to find a home for them. When considering this, use the rule: Form Follows Function, particularly if you’ll be purchasing a piece of furniture, basket, or bin to store it. What type of storage is best? What type will make your life easy to use the item and return it to its home? Set yourself up for success!

  3. As you consider the form of storage you need to serve the function of the item, challenge yourself one more time to see if it is, in fact, a keeper. We don’t want you storing clutter! Do you truly love, need, or use this thing or can you let it go?

    Out of sight is not out of mind with clutter. It’s always playing somewhere in the back of your mind—so be sure you only keep that which you love, need, or use.

  4. Finally, if you struggle to let go of something even though you know it doesn’t support the vision you have for your life, spend a Pom rounds journaling about what the item means to you. What does it represent? What does it have to tell you?

    If there’s something you need to do to close the circle with a particular paper or item and you’re not doing it, journal a bit about that as well. What are you avoiding?

    In my stack of papers was an estimate for a dental cleaning for my cat. When I journaled about it, I found that I was intimidated by the cost, and more, I was afraid to be the decision maker to put her under anesthesia should something go wrong. Once I identified what was really going on, I came up with a small step to take to alleviate my fears instead of jumping to scheduling the appointment—what I thought was the next step before journaling.

Holding space for and giving voice to your resistance is crucial in dealing with stubborn clutter. It’s often just what you need to finally say goodbye or make a move.

Previously posted on kerririchardson.com; used with permission.

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