What clutter affects an unclutterer?

When I talk about struggles with clutter, I tend to speak in generalities — messy closets, disorganized desks, etc. My assumption is that the specific ways I fight with clutter in my life are different than other folks, and using generalities can make the advice applicable to more people.

However, I know there is value in concrete examples, and I believe our Friday Ask Unclutterer column is a great way to explore specific problems readers face. I received an e-mail from a reader recently, though, asking if I would talk about actual problems I face in my daily life. She wanted to know where clutter creeps into my schedule, home, and office.

I thought about it for a week and decided I would reveal one area where I completely fail at uncluttering. I’ve hinted at some of this in the past, but now I’ll share the whole story. It is, without a doubt, my Achilles heel:

Erin’s Failure: If something I rely upon breaks, stops working, or fails to do its job any longer, I have a tendency to ignore it instead of dealing with it. Last year, our washing machine was broken for two months and I responded by ignoring the problem. Out of necessity, I had to go to the Laundromat twice — spending more than $25 and hauling five hampers of clothes with me each time. Did I once research washing machines online to learn what might be wrong with our washer? No. Did I research replacement units, prices, warranties, or reviews? No. Did I find out which stores would haul off my broken machine if I replaced the washer with a new one? Definitely not.

I told my husband that I would take care of it, yet he’s the one who called the repairman, researched reviews of new washers, and dragged me to Sears kicking and screaming to buy a replacement. Our new washing machine cost less than $500, and I had spent over $50 at the Laundromat. I wasted more than 10 percent of the cost of the new unit because I refused to act and take care of the situation.

Nine years ago, my car died. While driving it home one evening, it transformed from a Volvo sedan into a piece of steel sculpture in the shape of a car. Did I call a mechanic to check to see what was wrong with it? No. Did I call Goodwill to donate it to charity? No. Did I have it towed to a junk yard? No. Instead, I paid $200 a month for EIGHT MONTHS for it to sit in its parking space in downtown D.C. Finally, my husband (who was just my fiance at the time) picked up the phone and called a local charity that came and towed the car away on my behalf. I wasted $1,600 in parking and $950 on insurance over that time period, and I didn’t even need a car. I lived in D.C., worked in D.C., and had unlimited access to taxis and the Metro. I’m still kicking myself over my inability to act when my car died and the loss of $2,500.

Now you know where my uncluttering fails. This is my very specific thorn in my side. How about you? What uncluttering failure specifically plagues your life? Apparently Martha Stewart struggles with clutter in her clothes closet, so I know it affects everyone. Feel welcome to bare your soul in the comments.

54 Comments for “What clutter affects an unclutterer?”

  1. posted by Tracey on

    Wow, you and my husband are the same person! His car broke and it’s been sitting in the spot for several months now. Thankfully we don’t pay for parking, and I was able to call and get the insurance taken off. I told him I would have it towed away as soon as he cleaned it out because a lot of his things are in there. At this point I’m just going to have it towed anyways!

    My failure is with paperwork. I am terrible with it. I get as many of our bills/statements online as possible and those I neatly file in digital folders and keep impeccable track of. But if it’s in paper form it will be lost, crumpled, stained, piled, misfiled…you name it. By the once or twice a year I get up the courage to go through the paperwork most of what is in the pile is no longer relevant.

    The irony is, I work in regulatory work for the government and in my job we have to keep paper records of everything. My work files are meticulous!

  2. posted by Judith on

    For some reason I fail to deal with things that would actually make my life easier. Part of that is the ignoring-broken-appliances-thing you described as well. I have a stove with two burners that sits on my counter (tiny tiny kitchen), and one of them broke. About three years ago. After one year, I did go and bought a new one (and didn’t send the receipt to my landlord, although he’d have paid for it) which also broke. I’ve been using the old one ever since and cook all my meals on one plate.
    Also, my laserprinter hasn’t been working for the last year. Still under warranty, and after fighting with Samsung they offered to have it picked up and looked at. Haven’t made an appointment for that yet, though it’s just another call (to be honest, the original discussions with them were so unpleasant that at some point I just didn’t want to have to deal with them anymore).
    I was without a radio in my car for a year because it broke and I couldn’t make up my mind about replacing it.
    I had rented out my parking space and rather than getting it back when parking became increasingly difficult around here I went through hours and hours and hours of looking for parking spaces when coming home, totally stressing myself out.
    Why am I doing stuff like that? I’m really puzzled. It is hard for me to deal with unpleasant stuff, too, but at some point I do it. But things that would benefit me? Somehow I can’t.
    That’s maybe not my biggest uncluttering issue (I’m just getting started after being a clutterbug all my life, and it’s hard) but one that, in total, has quite an impact on my quality of life in general.

  3. posted by Anne on

    Broken things are probably my Achilles heel as well (*cough* coffee machine *cough*) but … your machine was broken for two months and you only had to go the Laundromat twice? I’m in awe – or do you have another machine somewhere? We’d be out of clothes in 10 days if the machine died – might stretch to 15 days if we wore all the sports gear as well, but neon yellow technical tees would look odd with suits!

  4. posted by Adam on

    I’ll second the paperwork as my Achilles heel. We’re actually not so bad at handling new stuff that’s coming in now, but there’s a bunch of old paper just piled up in the home office that we know we’ll need to be rid of. I think my biggest problem with paperwork is that I keep breaking shredders, about one every year. I need to just bite the bullet and put some money into a shredder I know will last, and perhaps one with a good warranty, rather than these cheap little ones that break so easily.

    Tool clutter is probably another area where I could do more work. There are so many small projects to do around the house, and I’ll occasionally leave tools near those, or all over the place in the garage, but not organized, so I waste five minutes looking for every tool, which makes quick fixes impossible. At least I smartened up at one point and put a multitool and screwdriver with multiple bits in a kitchen drawer. That reduced some of the tool finding aggravation.

  5. posted by sheila chandra on

    I recognise myself in your article. I hate it when something essential stops functioning! I think it’s really hard to make the effort to go out of you usual comfort zone and round of tasks, to sort it out, but as you pointed out yourself, when you don’t do this with something essential that you use everyday then it can end up costing you big time.
    It’s less painful in the long term if I put the item on my ‘priority to do’ list and deal with it immediately. If just a couple of essential systems break down and you don’t deal with them, life can become a real chore, so it’s worth being timely, even though I generally grumble my way through it…

  6. posted by Handy Man, Crafty Woman on

    Anne, I was wondering the same thing: only 2 trips to the laundromat in two months??? I’d have to go more than that.

    I can see how just letting something go for a day or 2 turns into a week or two or even a month. I try not to let broken things go for too long; the more often I use something, the more willing I am to fix it quickly. But if something breaks that’s not used often? If it sits and sits, I need to re-evaluate if I even need that item at all.

  7. posted by Alix on

    Clothes. Specifically, clothes that don’t QUITE fit just yet, but will in a couple of pounds. Or 10. Or 20. Piles and piles of clothes I can’t bear to get rid of, because the moment I do, *then* I’ll lose weight and have no clothes to wear! Completely wacko, I know.

  8. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Are we limited for the purposes of this column to just one Achilles Heel? Sigh, heavy sigh.

    Computer stuff. New programs. DH bought me an iPod for Christmas, and I’m terrified of the darn thing. I just know it will suck hours of my time, I’ll break it or fry it or turn it inside out, I’ll have to wear my reading glasses all the time in order to use it, I can’t even open the box it came in.

    Perhaps we could start a 12 Step Program – maybe on the chat lists here?

    Ruth

  9. posted by gypsy packer on

    I hate to say it, but replacing instead of repairing clutters up the earth. Belts on washers are sinfully easy to replace (at least on old Maytags) and many problems with cars boil down to one loose wire.
    Clothes in multiple sizes, for multiple workplaces, purchased cheap and stored “just in case”. And a thousand or so USB cords. I have a multi-end kit, so why have I not disposed of the duplicates?
    @Ruth–If I can run an iPod, you can. It will suck initial time when composing playlists, but it will save you time when you listen to educational ebooks or podcasts while doing mind-deadening tasks. Don’t worry about frying it. It will develop indigestion every single time it updates, but the problem will eventually work itself out of the system. Like you, I have a stack of software to learn, but I simply hate official nitpick detail work, and prefer to be outdoors or up and moving around to the rhythms of that iPod.

  10. Profile photo of

    posted by themusiclivez on

    For me it’s new items. Whenever I purchase a new CD, book, etc., I leave it on the coffee table or the kitchen table. My excuse is that I “don’t want to forget that I bought it” so it sits out until I am in the mood to listen to/read/take care of it.

  11. posted by Fred E. on

    I have some things I use occasionally just to justify having them and I have them because I occasionally use them, if that makes any sense. I never really need them or desire them but use them just because they are present. If I got rid of them I would never miss them.

    Cologne from a dead relative that I don’t like but doesn’t give me a headache.

    Some clothes that I wear only because I haven’t worn them in a long time.

    Books and music I will read or listen to just because it’s been a while.

    Cuticle moisturizing cream. Don’t need or want it but I will see it and use it just because it’s there. My cuticles aren’t dry as far as I can tell.

    Some nice handwoven blankets that are really too heavy so I will get them one out and use it just because it’s been two years since I touched it.

    Socks. Big problem. I have socks I wear only because I look at them and can’t remember how many years it’s been since I wore them.

    There is even food like this in my cupboard, including canned evaporated milk. Worse than that, I have spices I use just because they are there. Random spicing with old spices.

    Do I just hate to give unneeded and unwanted things up, especially when they are good quality or seem like they ought to be useful or desirable? Dunno. Maybe someone can give me insight into this.

  12. posted by chrisbean on

    This is SO me, too. I never considered this type of procrastination to be clutter, but it consumes time, wastes cash/resources, and stresses me out. So in the sense that “clutter is just delayed decision-making,” wow!

    When it comes to renegotiating the cable bill, calling the super, warrantying with a brand-new $60 coffee-grinder that died after four uses, etc., things won’t get done on my watch.

    I mean, if I HAD to, I think I totally would take care of it, but my cohabiting boyfriend is just so much BETTER at that stuff… or so I tell myself.

  13. Profile photo of

    posted by themusiclivez on

    Fred – I know exactly what you mean! I do similar things – if I have clothes I don’t like a whole lot but haven’t worn them in awhile, I will wear them because they are “perfectly good clothes”. I have been really trying to just use things up and wear them out so I can purchase things I actually love. However, I have also been making great efforts to donate things I really really don’t use to Goodwill!

  14. posted by roots on

    i think it just means that one is making a choice, which is:

    disallowing something that is mentally taxing and one absolutely doesn’t feel like thinking about to disrupt the daily routine.

    the other choice is allowing the disruption to happen and saving money.

    one could see it as a way of paying to keep your mind less stressed temporarily (relatively and subjectively speaking, that is, like one could feel less stressed going to the laundromat than researching stuff), not completely unsimilar to paying someone to clean up (which is also temporarily), though it still involves one’s work, though again, this is relatively speaking.

    as long as one is aware of that and fine with the costs (money, hauling laundry around, whatever) it’s probably not too much of an issue.

    of course, when it happens over an extended time and one does think it is an issue (as opposed to for example, “i’ll do it over the weekend when i have less stuff to deal with, but for now i can’t be bothered”), there is the additional cost of a mental burden and one could be much better off acting on it quickly.

    having said this, i’m a victim of this as well ; ).
    and yeah, i just made that stuff up, but it could have some truth.

  15. posted by Mark Morgan on

    My weakness is having a really bad case of out of sight, out of mind. Put things in a drawer and they might as well have vanished into an alternate reality.

    A close second would be anything involving a phone call. I’m a GTD dork (is that redundant?) and my “Calls” list might as well get deleted for all the value it adds to my world.

  16. posted by Anita on

    Things that stop working are on my list as well, although for me it’s less about the big things that break down and more about little things that aren’t all that essential.

    Replacing watch/clock batteries comes to mind. I have 3 wrist watches that have been without batteries for… oh, years. I also have a little desktop clock by my jewellery box that I glance at in the morning to see how much time I have left before needing to leave for work; it’s been showing 8:25 for the past month or so. When my current watch runs out of battery, why I just don’t know what I’ll do for time :P

    Actually, thanks for this post. Might finally give myself the required kick in the butt to get this done.

  17. posted by Availle on

    Paper. Not paperwork that has to be filed (like invoices), also not obvious paper trash (envelopes to the above), just pieces of paper that I might need in the future: project lists, stuff to read soon (no books, they are put away neatly), misc. scraps for scrapbooking, free tickets for my friends concerts… you get the idea. It just seems to pile up on every possible horizontal surface. I have a desk of about 2 square metres, and all that paper occupies 2/3 of it.

    I do touch the stuff regularly, though! I put it into neat piles and then, instead of dealing with it, I just push them around…

  18. posted by Lilliane P on

    I’m with Mark on the out of sight, out of mind. That may be more of a result of how our brains are wired, though, than any individual fault … or so I’ve read. “Vanished into an alternate reality” is a good way of putting it. LOL

  19. posted by Lilliane P on

    Um, to add to that … using strategically placed post-it notes is less clutter than having the actual objects, files, whatever strewn about. All my post it notes go under a small statue which screams “this is important”. A good day is when there’s nothing under the statue.

  20. Profile photo of

    posted by Abeline on

    Clutter that goes in the trash, no problem. Clutter that gets sold sits around forever.

    I have a dozen things collecting dust, waiting to be photographed, put on eBay, and so on. I think it’s because I’ve had so many bad experiences on auction sites and on Freecycle that it’s made me gun shy.

  21. posted by Margaret on

    I am so cluttery and messy that I would be considered a hoarder by some people, although I don’t think I really am, because if I were ever able to put the rest of my life on hold and do the work and someone was waiting outside to take everything away for me, I would get rid of tons of stuff (I live on a farm, so it is 50 km to the nearest place to donate things and 25 km to the nearest town if I were just giving it away and 15 km to the nearest dump). ANYWAY, one thing that I do that makes me crazy is that I will get something for some purpose, and then it will be months before I use it. E.g. I got 3 new dressers from Ikea in October because two of my kids and my husband have such horrible dressers that their clothes mostly live in laundry baskets. It was over three months before I put one of them together, and the other two are still waiting. I got some decorations for the playroom downstairs that will be really cute, but I’ve had them for 3 years in a box. THREE YEARS!!! By the time I get them up, the kids will only have a couple years left of wanting that kind of decoration! Part of this is my natural procrastination, part of this is because the house is such a disaster that it really is hard to get things done because there’s no where to work and impossible to find things, and part of this is that I think I have to do such and such horrible job BEFORE I get to do the fun job, so I don’t do either.

  22. posted by Anna on

    The past tense of “drag” is “dragged,” not “drug.” I’m sorry to be pedantic, but this sort of thing drives me crazy on an otherwise awesome blog.

  23. posted by Anne on

    OMG! me too! me too! me too!

    And even more when I have plenty of money I will get some things done because a phone call and cash will fix them, but when I am broke…I will spend more avoiding the issue.

    Brain rewiring definitely needed…but you can’t get that with cash and a phone call, so…. :o)

  24. posted by Alix on

    @ Anna: Thank you, it was bugging me too! (I spend my life resisting the urge to tell bloggers the difference between “its” and ‘it’s” — not you, Erin!)

    I don’t know about anyone else, but after reading all these posts I feel soooo much better, knowing other people have the same issues! (And yes, I’ve thought of several more clutter problems I have, just skimming over all of yours…)

  25. posted by Carrie on

    Laundry is my clutter monster.
    I keep a basket in the bedroom and when it’s full, take it to the basement where the washer and dryer are. Then I look at the other baskets full of dirty clothes, sheets, towells and convince myself there’s not enough to justify doing a load. It only gets done when I’m down to my last pair of pants/undies/socks. I hate this but can’t seem to find a schedule that works for me.
    Like Monday night is bill night, Tuesday I focus on the dog (he gets brushed, teeth cleaned, fresh bedding, etc) and so on. I just can’t find a place for laundry.

  26. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anna — I wonder if this is a regional thing? I have honestly never heard the word “dragged” before right now. Although, looking it up, you’re totally correct that “drug” is not listed as the past tense of “drag” in the dictionary. Weird. I wonder if it used to be “drug” like other Germanic-derived words in the English language? (Sing, sang, sung for instance). Oh, if only I had a subscription to the OED!

  27. posted by chacha1 on

    I will never feel guilty about my harmless procrastinations again! Just … wow. Erin, you get snaps from me for having the stones to lay out those really quite major uncluttering pitfalls of yours.

    I LOVE it when stuff breaks irretrievably, because as long as something is working or fixable, I’ll keep it. I am counting the weeks until our microwave finally croaks. So far the 3, 9, and clock have stopped working, but the timer and the other numbers are still functional. (Dammit!)

    Soon … soon, I will have a new microwave.

  28. posted by Karyn on

    @Erin – I’m a mostly lifelong Minnesotan, and I’ve always said “dragged,” never “drug.” Never even heard of “drug around” as an alternative to “dragged around!” (On the other hand, if I had a dime for every time a fellow Minnesotan offered to “borrow” me something, when they meant “lend” me something, I wouldn’t be spending my winters in Minnesota anymore. ;-)) So I don’t know if “dragged” is Midwestern or, more likely, that “drug” is from wherever you spent your formative years, but your hunch that there’s a regional difference at work is probably a good one.

  29. posted by Karyn on

    By the way, my big clutter nemesis is definitely PAPER. I’m working on getting it corralled electronically, via archving (and backing up) on my own computer, using Gmail and Google Docs, and, recently, playing around with Springpad to organize all those odds and ends notes and reference subjects that I gather like corners gather cobwebs and dustbunnies.

    Runner up in the clutter department is letting the dishes go to hell for a day or two when I’m too busy, tired, and/or distracted to get around to washing them. They never sit for more than a couple of days, though, and sometimes I go for several days in a row with no dirty dishes sitting around, ever, so I consider that progress. ;-) And even my “dirty” dishes are rinsed shortly after use, so it’s not like I’ve got crusty old food sitting around saying, HELLOOOO rodents and bugs, it’s snack time!

  30. posted by DJ on

    My Achille’s Heel is clothes. I’ve recently admitted that this is an issue, and I am taking steps to resolve the issue as a good declutter doobie.

    I find that I can spend an entire Saturday or Sunday rearranging the closet. I get a little OCD, I have “no wire hangers!” I have purchased four different sets of wooden hangers from four different manufacturers, and now, I get a little nuts clustering the same type hangers together. All the t-shirts have to be on “this” type of hanger, all the work shirts on another, ect, ect. I have baskets on the shelves, and a rack system of shelves which I am constantly rearranging in the quest for the perfect layout. Without a doubt this is the biggest micro-managing time suck in my life!

  31. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anna and @Karyn — I grew up in Kansas and I know I have many idiosyncratic language habits. The worst one is that I drop “to be” in my speech when using the past tense. So, I’ll say “this needs ironed” or “this needs washed.” It drives my husband batty. Thankfully, I catch it when I write and “this needs ironing” or “this needs to be washed” ends up on the page instead :)

  32. posted by Amy on

    Honestly, bills. If it’s on Autopay, GREAT!!! If I get a bill in the mail it sits around waiting for me to pay it. Especially if I have to write a check and mail it. Thank goodness that all of my bills are now automatically deducted from my account. I ruined my credit in my younger days just by being a “slow pay” with my bills. It wouldn’t matter if the bill was $8.00 or $500.

    @gypsy packer, I agree that it is important to consider the environmental impact of replacing. However, most items have a useful lifespan. I manage a furnished apartment complex and the person I replaced gave me a lecture about the same thing. Unfortunately my predecessor had let the washers get so bad they were corroded and spent tons of money repairing machines that were not energy efficient, was keeping threadbare linens, had vacuum cleaners that needed to be replaced constantly repaired instead (using unnecessary gas money and time) and would have household things fixed with glue that would be handed to me by a resident hanging by a thread. In addition I spent months cleaning out a storage room full of broken junk and random useless things because the last person was concerned about it ending up in a landfill. It bordered on hoarding. There is a balance.

  33. posted by Mike on

    For me it’s whenever I travel or do projects. If I have to find something I’ll tear the place apart to find it. Even if I know where it is I tend to pull almost everything out. My room will look disorganized even though everything is “out” it’s something that I might use. I should instead walk around with a basket or pile my supplies in an organized basket.

    My second weakness is selling things online. If I need to sell something I’ll usually just keep it on the counter. Since selling things online is really convenient there isn’t any pressure to get it off my checklist.

  34. posted by tabatha on

    I have a major problem finish projects i start or just buy the stuff for and then never get around to finishing them. Yesterday I decided I really needed to get a bunch of stuff done so thats my goal from now on till i finish them. I have shelves that have to be put together, and hooks to hang in my closet and a set of blinds to put up and a bunch of other stuff I want to get done. I always have these ideas for stuff I want to do and then I go out and spend money and the stuff just sits around forever. sometimes I don’t even do anything with it. I just decided to let some other project stuff go and i have it in my goodwill pile.

  35. posted by Mike on

    I begin many projects and it takes too long before I finish them and put them away. Virtually all the remaining clutter is from these… long ago I followed the tips here on this blog to divest of the majority of the REAL clutter.

  36. posted by Alix on

    @ Anna, Karyn and Erin
    Wow, I never heard of dropping “to be” before. I’m still trying to imagine how you use “borrow” to mean “lend”. Like, “I can borrow you my socks”?

  37. posted by Diane on

    Erin, you are lucky that your washing machine problem lasted only two months. Ours croaked in MAY! We have taken it apart enough to know we can’t fix it ourselves and that it’s not worth having it repaired. We have also picked a replacement – twice. The problem? Clearing the front hall, basement stairs and basement enough to allow the old one out and the new one in. Yes, my husband has major cluttering issues…

  38. posted by Stormbringer on

    Sure, we can all get ruthless in some areas and have difficulties in others. There are “out of sight, out of mind” boxes in the apartment that are pushed aside while I deal with more immediate things. Or I will run out of motivation in dealing with my primary goals, and feel very depressed over them until I finally deal with them.

  39. posted by Shana on

    @Fred E.: donate those things! Honestly, it doesn’t do you or anybody else any good to have nice, useful things lying fallow. Even if they were gifts, I’d think the givers would want the gifts used, you know? And if you donate those nice blankets, they can be found and loved by someone in need of a nice heavy blanket and who will know just when and where to use it.

    I try to see these things as wasted, because they really are if they’re not being used. I know the “green” thing bugs a lot of people these days, but I’m an unapologetic hippie and the way I see it, you can have this useless-to-you thing clogging up your closet, and somebody else can go spend money on a newly-manufactured thing, OR you can get the nice thing out of your life and somebody else can save some cash and give a nice thing new life, without using any additional resources, which is a win-win, in my opinion.

  40. posted by Barbi on

    I am a visual person so I think that is why I do this: Pile. I love to make piles to do later, I put these piles in the guest room on the laundry room until the sight of the piles gets to me or my dear hubby. I am also a busy mom of two so when I do make these piles, I have ever intention of dealing with them but out of sight out of mind…. but I have to admit sometimes a small pile or two will pop up on the dining table or sideboards! : )

  41. posted by Jackie Pettus on

    Our Public Storage Space is a disaster. We got it to store excess furniture from our home and my mom’s because “maybe the kids or mom can use it someday.” Being in the “organizing” business, I very carefully inventoried everything in there. Mom died at 95 without ever taking anything out of storage. My grown kids not only didn’t want what we had in storage, all three of them ended up putting stuff from THEIR apartments in there! (One moved home temporarily, the other was deployed to Iraq, and the other moved to Paris to get a Master’s Degree.) For what we have paid for storage over the years, we could could furnish three apartments easily.To make matters worse, we’ve just been told everything has to be out by March 1 – the building is scheduled for demolition. I’m afraid to look and see what’s in there, but that may not even be an issue – I no longer know which kids have the keys!

  42. posted by Karyn on

    @Alix – Yep, that’s basically it. ;-) Only it’s more like: “Can you borrow me twenty bucks till payday?” “Sure, I can borrow you twenty bucks.” It’s not universal, but this usage definitely exists.

    I’ve been told it’s also a regional thing (not necessarily just Minnesota, though) to say things like, “I’m going with,” or, “Want to go with?” This is one I tend to use myself, but I’m told it drives people nuts if they aren’t used to it.

  43. posted by Fred E. on

    Thanks, I know I need to donate more stuff. I started three years ago getting rid of stuff by donating it to a charitable thrifts hop nearby or giving it to friends and have made a lot of progress.

    It seems to be getting harder though. One thing I have been doing is taking at least three books to donate to the library every time I go and have sold some books, CDs, and DVDs on Amazon. I got rid of all the clothes that didn’t fit a couple of summers ago.

    Honestly I don’t miss the stuff I have gotten rid of one bit, probably couldn’t even remember but about 10% of it if I tried.

    The biggest thing that has helped has been just not buying anything unless it is consumable like food or toilet paper or a gift or to replace something that has worn out that I need and do not have, like one pair of shorts last summer.

    At this point in my life (mid 40s), if I could give one piece of advice to young people it would be “don’t accumulate stuff”. I have spent a lot of time and effort earning money and buying and cleaning and moving and storing (and trying to get rid of) STUFF and it took me almost 40 years to learn that there is an inverse relationship between how much stuff I have and how happy I am.

  44. posted by s on

    Hmmmm. Piles. I used to have things piled on all the flat spaces. Then I got adopted by a cat. She likes to chew on paper as well as watch it fall on the floor when she bats at it!

    It just occurs to me that I suffer with another kind of clutter. I’m a leader in my organization. However, it’s the military, so I’m kind of temporary. Anyway, I’ve been told that I’m a good leader and boss, but I find that I avoid confrontation that will require me to help figure out a solution. I don’t mean that I can’t make a decision or disagree with a superior. I mean that I have good folks working for me, but they don’t keep me informed. Rather than insert myself, I’ve let things flow for too long. Now I’m frustrated that I’m left out. Not only my fault, but I wish I could start over, knowing what I know now. But I’ll go to the next assignment and start over with new issues that I don’t tackle head-on for fear of making things worse, rather than better.

    Oh, and anything that requires talking to “customer service” makes me shy away for days, at least.

  45. posted by Nat on

    Paper and by extension digital documents. This includes correspondence that’s outbound. Also, I think I keep too many things around that don’t have homes and never will.

  46. posted by s on

    I want to recycle. I have separate recycle bins. I totally procrastinate taking them to the recycling center in my neighborhood. It’s been too cold/hot/rainy/nice/whatever to walk the stuff over and it’s too short to bother driving…and I don’t feel like it on my way to somewhere else.

    I am not much of a house cleaner. I’m pretty tidy, overall, and I try to prevent or clean up any particular messes. But, no matter how small my house, I just can’t seem to vacuum very often, even if it only takes about 10 min and I don’t even have to unplug! I kind of LIKE to wash dishes. But I’m single and mostly do one-pot cooking, and I don’t have too many dishes/pots. So, it seems wasteful (or I’m just too lazy) to do dishes every day. Sometimes the pile gets so high that there aren’t any dishes left or I can’t fit another one in the sink to fill with water (at least I let them soak until I wash them, so that’s a little easier.)

    And LISTS. I want to make lists to keep me organized. I have so many lists, I can’t remember all the things I want to remember or where the lists are. I want to make lists to keep me productive. I put off doing the hard stuff, and even the easy stuff, for napping, flipping channels, and surfing the ‘net. (I can even nap right after I wake up and BEFORE work! I’ve had my thyroid, etc. checked and all’s ok. I think I’m just avoiding stuff.)

  47. posted by s on

    And finances! I’m fortunate to be pretty comfortable, but that just means that I have to keep track of it and make sure my investments are good. Just typing the word “finances” makes me sleepy. Fortunately, I’m pretty frugal, so I don’t have to worry too much, but I hope I’m making the most of what I do have.

  48. posted by gypsy packer on

    @Erin and all–“drug” for dragged is, indeed, regional.
    It is Appalachian to the core, but other Southerners use it as a humorous replacement for its grammatical cousin.

    If you keep things far beyond their useful lives, for the parts, you are running a junkyard and should be licensed, behind a privacy fence, and should be using those parts to repair your stuff and sell cheap to poor folks. Untidy but handy incomes can be earned with such activities.

  49. posted by Kathleen on

    Oh, I feel your pain!

    The battery on my MacBook Pro was failing, and the computer always had to be plugged into a power source. I was annoyed but ignored it for 3 months. One quick trip to the Apple Store — 10 minutes — and it was taken care of. Why did I wait?

    Currently we have a broken coffee/espresso maker. It looks so pretty sitting on the counter. It is completely useless.

  50. posted by CrankyOtter on

    Hello – first post here, just found the blog.
    @ Karyn, duck duck… I moved to MN during the DDGD/DDG years which threw me off but “would you borrow me a pencil” drives me insane. My MN neighbor, a transplant from Georgia, when faced with this question would say, “sure”, then turn to the person next to her, ask them to lend her a pencil, then hand it to the original requester.

    I’ve hired an organizer to come over and help me on saturday mornings. Because I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t do this on my own. I now know enough that I probably can; I just won’t. So all the usual clutter will be taken care of in time and then I’ll go on my maintenance dose of once every 3-4 weeks just to keep things going. Thankfully I have a good job. (keep buying cell phones please)

    All the clutter areas are problematic, but the weirdest one is probably consumables. I have pretty strong loss aversion. So once I buy something, it’s mine. I don’t want to start using it because then it won’t be new, and I don’t want to stop using it because then I won’t have it anymore.

    For instance, I drink all but the last inch of soda (pop) in a can or I’ll use progressively less and less shampoo toward the end of a bottle. Eventually I’ll open a new one and still not finish the old one. I won’t throw them out if there’s a molecule of product left inside. I also buy candles and don’t burn them. Unless I think about how crazy that is. But every single time I crack open a new container or dispose of something (tube from toilet paper, shampoo bottle, can of tomato paste) I have to give myself a pep-talk. “These things don’t last forever, and don’t you want to try that great new version? You know you’re sick of this old one. This product is made to be used, not stared at! You have 18 more, you won’t miss this one.” And it’s still hard to both use new things and throw things out. This weekend, I finally got rid of 3 extra tubes of conditioner that each had been sitting in the shower for 6 months with a miniscule amount of product remaining. I now have only 1 conditioner and 1 shampoo open (and 6 or so in the closet). And I don’t feel deprived, so why is that so hard to finish? Don’t know.

    It’s as bad with food – For instance, I don’t cook with stock because if I use my supply then I won’t have any in reserve! Forget that I can replace it at a moments notice. I do this with limes, stock, juice, and other varied ingredients where I buy it and don’t use it before the expiration date because then I won’t have it to use when I need it, never mind that I need it now and am refusing to use it. sigh. I did live for a year before the kitchen reno with a dorm fridge. The goal of that was to figure out what I needed in the fridge and what I didn’t. Now I limit myself to opening 2 jars of jam/jelly and 3 of salad dressing. I have to use what’s open. I do not get to open more or I would have a fridge full of condiments with 3 servings missing going bad in the fridge. It’s working ok so far, but I the grown up fridge does allow me to slack. Me and consumables. It’s a broken relationship.

  51. posted by Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists on

    Love this! I love the airing of the dirty laundry!

    My issue, strangely, is, and always has been, my pajama drawer. Every other drawer in my life is just fine, perfectly organized. My pajama drawer, though, is a monster. No matter what I do. It’s weird.

  52. posted by WilliamB on

    In addition to the factors mentioned here, there’s another I want to throw in the mix. It’s a known problem in the addiction world.

    The problem is acknowledgement.

    If you’ve been doing something you don’t like, think is wrong, or has been painful to you and those around you – digging out of that hole means facing up to that fact. You have to acknowledge that you did wrong, you have to face up to your wrongdoing. It’s painful at best and can be excruciating. It can be a huge barrier when, just by doing whatever you’ve been doing for just a little longer, you can put off the pain. It’s very tempting, then, to deal with it tomorrow … or the day after … or the day after that.

    For example, dealing with a dead car would have meant acknowledging the money wasted by procrastination. It hurts. BTDT.

  53. posted by Mel on

    Oh this is so me. Our family went YEARS with a faulty water softener that was leaking salt into our ice maker and fridge water (ruining our fridge in the process). I “thought” it would be too much trouble OR money to fix. Finally, 30 minutes and $35 bucks later – problem solved. Why I didn’t take care of it sooner…I’ll never know. It’s just how I am and it’s ridiculous.

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