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How to Cure PackRat-itis

Photo: Comprex from contemporist

How do you feel when sitting at home? Calm and peaceful, nestled in your neatly kept place? Or could your space use some love, organization and cleaning? If you fall into the former category, that’s awesome, skip the article and please share tips on how you keep such a tidy place in the comments. If you can barely type over the pile of stuff on your desk, then hopefully you’ll find inspiration in the words below.

I used to be quite a pack rat. I seldom threw anything away. I loved to take home everything I could get for free, such as promotional items from work, or odds-and-ends donated from friends. At one point, I discover that I had stuffed more than 20 techie t-shirts from various University recruiting events at the back of my closet. Yikes!

Perhaps I formed this habit during my poor, uncared-for university days. Maybe I was influenced having grown up in a communist country, where everything was limited and nothing was thrown away. Basically, I had accumulated A TON of stuff from years past.

Not only was it difficult to find things, but my mind was constantly filled with thoughts about what to do with all my stuff. Each time a closet was opened, I was reminded of the stuff I had, and the endless organizing I still needed to do (maybe I need a hoarding treatment). Even if we claim that our messy environment doesn’t bother us, each piece of clutter still takes up mental energy in our minds.

I believe that we are a product of our environment. The physical environment in which we spend most of our time affects how we think and feel. I know the environments in which I feel especially creative and relaxed. Some spaces give me the sense of nervousness, anxiousness and tightness.

I find that I prefer living places with lots of lighting, wood floors, open space and high ceilings. Personally, this gives me the most effective amount of creative energy boost.

In addition to the physical surroundings that make me feel best, I’ve also found that the clutter in my environment negatively affect my performance. When I am surrounded by mess and disorganization, I feel more mentally cluttered, less decisive, slightly anxious and more easily annoyed. I’ve learned that in order to be at my best, I needed my physical surrounding to be clean, organized and clutter free.

Please note that I am not a clean freak. Far from it, but I am working very hard every day to ‘protect’ my space from clutter. It’s something I have to work at and be conscious of. The following are tips and tools I’ve used in my journey towards a clutter free home. The mental clarity and personal satisfaction is worth the effort of cleaning. I promise!

Pack Rat Decluttering Tips

  • Give each item a home – If you don’t know where something belongs, it can easily become part of the clutter in your house. You have to think about where to put it, and it will always conveniently find its way to the top of the nearest surface or the first drawer in sight. You know what I mean? Each time you see an item out of place, you are reminded once again that you still need to find it a home. Over time, putting things on random surfaces or drawers makes it difficult to find things when you need them.Assign each item a home. Not only does this create a place where it belongs, but it also saves mental processing when you need to put stuff away instantly, or locate them later.
  • Keep the flat surfaces empty – The flat surfaces in your home are likely to be the easiest targets for clutter. Clearing off a surface (tables, counter tops) are also the easiest way to create an environment that appears clean and organized. Sometimes, I get so tired of looking at a particularly messy surface, that I would throw everything on the surface into a box or bag. I then find homes for each item in the bag. Clearing off surfaces seems to have an instant calming effect on me.
    • Whenever you need to choose, always choose to put things out of sight.
    • Make it a point not to place mail on an open surface when you come home. Keep your mail in a box, or in a cupboard.
    • Make it part of your daily ritual to remove items from flat surfaces. Put them in places where the eye cannot see, like a drawer. Make quick sweeps whenever possible.
  • Clean as you go – One major tip for keeping your home free of clutter is simple – when you’re done with something, put it away immediately. When you finish a project, put everything away. When you take off clothes, do not drop it on the floor, toss it in the laundry basket or a closet instantly. This habit gives two things. First, you won’t have to clean up after a pile accumulates. Second, a clean home discourages others from leaving their clutter around (proactive de-cluttering).
  • Downsize your stuff – This can be a challenging, but relieving experience for people. Ridding ourselves of unused stuff removes the clutter and is mentally liberating. Make it a project to get rid of clothing you haven’t wore in more than 2 years, DVDs you’ll never watch again, books you’ll never read again, kitchen stuff you haven’t used in over a year. Give it away. The less you have, the less clutter and the less you’ll have to clean.
  • Set a timer – It’s been said many times before, but setting a timer and cleaning like crazy for 15 minutes really does work. One or two 15-minute sessions can make a huge difference in keeping your house clean in the long run.”Start doing the thing to have energy to do the thing” – Bob ProctorOnce you’ve started moving, you will gain the momentum to keep going and clean up other areas of your home. I personally use a physical timer for this purpose: ‘a cute little red number bought online for $14′.
  • Multiple projects – The thought of cleaning your entire living space can seem daunting and time consuming. I always tell myself that ‘I have no time‘, as an excuse to delay tidying my apartment. I’ve found it helpful to write out on paper, all the sections of my home that need organizational love. For example, I would put down:
    • my desk
    • cupboard surface by the front door
    • area behind my desk
    • area behind dining table
    • surface above the credenza
    • etc.

    Then I make each one a mini-project, where I’d tackle one every week. Make sure that each mini-project has a measurable goal, where it is achievable within an hour. If an area requires many hours, then break it up into several mini-projects. This way, the cleaning tasks seem manageable and will not take all day. Completing each mini-project also gives me small wins along the way, creating momentum to tackle the next mini-project.

Pack Rat Organization Tools

  • Labels – This might sound extreme, but when I last cleaned out my dressers and closets (after 3 years of resisting to change), I gave each type of clothing a home, and I labeled the locations within dressers to reminder myself. For example, I divided each dresser drawer into three compartments, I have 4 such drawers. I’d then gave each compartment names like:
    • white tank tops
    • black tank tops
    • workout/house pants
    • dark knit tops
    • white knit tops
    • house t-shirts
    • swimwear
    • etc.

    I’ve found the labels to act like little tidy traffic signs directing where to steer my clothes after the laundry cycle.

  • Boxes – It’s the loose stuff that can get tricky. I have the habit of leaving loose things on the table and other surfaces, because it’s easy. :) This of course, isn’t sustainable. I live in an open loft, where there isn’t much closet space, so everything is exposed. I’ve found that attractive boxes serve as great storage for loose items. They look modern enough to blend-in with the furniture and they are very reasonable priced. I get black ones and red ones from IKEA (various sizes) for about $5 each. The idea is to group like items together into boxes, so that they will be easy to find when needed, but hidden from the surface when they aren’t. Some examples of boxed collections are: receipts, incoming mail, paid bill stubs, research papers for stocks I track, office supplies, pictures, wires, blank CDs, loose magazine cut outs, pens. I even have a box labeled ‘Personal Development’, where I keep blank cue cards, quotes, journal, notes from seminars/reading/home-courses (pretty geek, I know.).
  • Drawer Dividers – These are awesome, if you keep your underwear/socks/t-shirts in one drawer, a divider will keep them separate. The divider may seem a bit expensive, but trust me, it is well worth the price. It’ll give you a piece of mind in the long run. I got mine from IKEA for around $8. [1] [2]
  • Utility Drawer Containers – Find small boxes (I use soap boxes, small Glad tupperware and store bought utility drawer containers) for your utility drawer. Get a box for every small item that you toss in that drawer. Example: batteries, stamps, elastic bands, random pens, scissors, notepads, etc. Give each small item a home. Since I started doing this, my utility drawer is no longer a mesh of random items, and I can finally find stuff when I need it (most of the time).

A clean home will add peace and harmony to your life. I hope that you find some of these tips to be useful and try for yourself.

Do you have any tips for cleaning and tidying? Share your thoughts with us in the comment area. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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