Pets are clutter!

Can pets themselves be clutter? They add chores to your daily routine and they contribute virtually nothing to your living space, don’t they? Let’s get right down to it, they’re freeloaders plain and simple.

I know this is going to get me into hot water with pet lovers, but it is the truth. The thought occurred to me as I vacuumed all the cat hair off a flight of stairs in my home. Pets add clutter to your life. Whether it be their food dish and water bowl in the kitchen, the hair they leave around the house and on your clothing, the toys that you buy them, or the cat litter in the laundry room, pets clutter up your home on many levels.

I don’t consider myself a pet lover, but there are plenty of people out there that partake in the billion dollar industry of pet supplies. These “supplies” can include outfits, jewel encrusted leashes and collars, multiple baskets of toys scattered about the house, combs, brushes, beds, booties, gourmet food, scratch pads, more toys, gates, treats, car seats(!), and whatever else that’s out there. These products clutter up the home and do more for the pet owner than the pets themselves. Does a dog or cat really enjoy wearing those ridiculous outfits? If you are a pet lover, do yourself a favor and think before you buy.

Here are some tips:

  • If you buy a new toy, throw an old one away.
  • Clothing is for humans and cartoon animals only. (Yogi Bear had a cool hat.)
  • Keep the pet’s feeding area in a inconspicuous place. Don’t worry, the pet will remember where it is.
  • Keep all the pet’s non-day-to-day items in one spot. (eg. outdoor toys, carrier, leash, bath supplies)
  • Brush your pet on a regular basis to remove dead hair and cut down on shedding that ends up all over your home.

Clutter creeps into the car

Some people live in such a state of clutter that even their cars become ensnared in a hopeless state of disarray. Sometimes it looks as if the person may live out of their car. CD cases strewn all over, fast food wrappers carpet the floor, receipts from last century in the glove compartment, and don’t even look in the trunk that’s where the real mess is.

Needless to say, the car is in need of a serious cleaning. After the cleaning, organization must be put into place so the state of clutter does not return. If you have CDs in the car, consider a small sleek CD case. The CDs will stay protected and all in one place. Better yet, upgrade to an MP3 player!

Next, keep the small compartments in your console for things that you’ll actually need while driving. For example, spare change for tolls and parking meters, sunglasses, and a hands-free cell phone device. You’ll now have room for these things now that you’ve removed all the trash and unnecessary items.

Now, let’s move on to the trunk. The trunk isn’t an extension of your closet and shouldn’t have articles of clothing and multiple pairs of shoes in it. After all the irrelevant items have been removed, add a strategically placed trunk organizer with velcro on the bottom for storage of necessary items (e.g. umbrella, emergency kit, flashlight, maps). The velcro will keep the box in place while you drive and it can be moved around to fit luggage and other large items when needed.

Traveling in a clutter-free vehicle will keep your mind on the road and make your travels safer and more enjoyable.

Put an end to remote control clutter

Quick quiz. How many remote controls are in your den? I have five. I’m going to venture a guess and say you have more than two. You could get a ridiculous remote control caddy with six compartments. On the other hand, you could get a universal remote. It’s always better to simplify than to store.

One could go for the universal remote gold and spend over $600 on deluxe model or a competitively priced Logitech Harmony 880 for your high end home theater. Units such as these can control the lighting in your den and possibly even the weather. You could also go the economical route and replace your remote controls with a reasonably priced unit, under $25, from Sony. Depending on how intricate your home entertainment center is, the sky is certainly the limit on what you can do to eliminate remote control clutter.

Slay your wire monster

One of my wife’s biggest pet peeves is the monstrosity of cables that lies behind our entertainment center. The monster seems to double in size every other year. And my entertainment center isn’t so hi-tech, it just includes a television, a receiver, a VCR (yes, I still have one), a DVD player, left, right, and center speakers. Add an infant to the equation and the problem becomes more than just an unsightly mess. (Just a quick FYI: Infants love wires.)

If you have a wire monster lurking in your den, you may want to check out cableorganizer.com and their “Thousands of Wire Management Products.” From wire looms to cord covers, the amount of cable organizing solutions on this site is rather impressive.

Selling your house? The one time you should definitely declutter

Cutting down on your house’s clutter can get it ready for the market. Closet space is a selling point that buyers tend to focus on when looking at a home. Before showing a home, make sure you remove all non-essential clothing from your closets to show off the storage space. From 411 Real Estate:

Clear out ALL clutter — This way not only will the rooms show better and larger, but more importantly the closets will appear larger. Anything that you will be not using in the next few months packed up and put into storage. I would suggest a garage sale or large donation to a charitable cause (check your tax adviser for potential tax write-off).

Clear the kitchen of all the countertop clutter to make the kitchen look larger and cleaner. Also, declutter your cabinet space as well. You want the buyer to feel they will have all the space in the world. You want them to imagine themselves living in an organized home.

While you’re at it, you might also want to consider depersonalizing your home. This gives the home a more presentable look and feel. Like I said, people tend to use their imaginations while viewing a home. Imagining themselves living in your home is a lot easier without photos of you and your family around every corner.

Solving the Imelda Marcos problem

I, like many women, have a fair number of shoes. Most of my shoes are what I consider to be the basic shoes for a woman who works in an office — brown boots, black boots, brown heels, brown flats, black heels, black flats, brown sandals, black sandals, house slippers, and athletic shoes. My collection contains two pairs of inexpensive, trendy shoes and one or two pairs that only match a specific outfit, but, on the whole, the basic shoes outnumber these. In total, I have 25 pairs of shoes.

Twenty-five pairs of shoes, when not properly contained, can make quite a bit of a mess and can cause a husband to mumble repeatedly about the sanity of his wife. Messes and mumbling husbands are not good for anyone, so having an organizational system for shoes is a must.

The floor of a closet can be the perfect place for storing shoes because often it isn’t a used space. (I love reclaiming under-utilized nooks and crannies in my house for efficient storage.) My shoe collection is contained in 19 small, 4 large, and 2 boot-size clear, plastic shoe boxes:

They’re stacked in a way that allows me to see into each box, so that I don’t waste time hunting for a pair. The boxes also keep the shoes from getting scuffed or my pets from gnawing on them.

If you typically get dressed in the dark while a partner sleeps, I would recommend adding a description to the outside of the box with masking tape or a printed label to keep hunting time to a minimum:

Another solution for those of you who are good at saving shoe boxes or who don’t want to shell out the money for clear boxes would be to fire up your digital camera. Photograph each of your pairs of shoes, print the photos on your ink jet color printer, and then tape the photo to the outside of the appropriate shoe box. Your life will be uncluttered, and you’ll save time getting dressed, too!

Some additional organizational tips concerning your shoes:

  • To keep your numbers in check, make a policy that for every new pair of shoes that you buy that you get rid of an older pair that you no longer wear.
  • With the start of each season, rearrange your shoe boxes so that your sandals are easily accessible during the summer and your boots are at the top during the winter.
  • If seasonal arrangement isn’t your style, try organizing your shoes by color or heel height or date of purchase — the categorized system that makes sense to you is the system you should use.

And, as a parting thought, be sure to let your shoes air out for an hour before storing them so that your shoes don’t build up an odor during storage.

The psychology of clutter

Dr. Amie Ragan, a clinical psychologist in private practice, has recently started a blog looking at the psychology of clutter. It seems as if she’s focusing more on compulsive hoarding than on more typical disorganization. That said, she finds certain personality types have more clutter than others and tries to offer tips for working through their problems. According to a story about her

Anxious people might have a need to hold on to things, depressed people might not have the energy to get rid of things, perfectionists might have a hard time because they fear the result won’t be perfect, and older people might have down-sized their living space without down-sizing their possessions, she says.

Depending on the severity of the cluttering, people might need professional help, or they might just need to take a good, hard look at themselves. If they don’t, they could find themselves in a vicious cycle.

“Clutter can cause depression and anxiety, and vice-versa,” Ragan says.

Photo processing (with a garbage bag)

If you’re anything like my mother, you have a few shoe boxes and plastic bags full of old photos in a closet somewhere. You remember film cameras right? Considering that most of the photos are blurry and overexposed, why not take a trash can and go through them. Get rid of all the horrendous shots and end up with a box or folder of “keepers.”

After all the trashing and sorting, get yourself some photo albums, preferably with acid-free paper. I recommend the Pioneer bi-directional album that has acid-, lignin-, and PVC-free archival-quality paper and holds 300 photos. How you sort the pictures is up to you. A general chronological order is an easy method that makes a lot of sense. You could also sort into categories (i.e. College, Vacations, Childhood, Family, etc.).

Another thing: what do you do with all those negatives? Trash them. Unless you’re a pro or hobbyist photographer, you won’t need them for archival purposes. What if your photos get damaged, I hear you say. Well, the negatives are next to the pictures, so it’s not like they’ll fare better in a flood or fire. You don’t need negatives to make duplicates since there are tons of places, starting with the local discount store, that can duplicate from a print. You can even skip prints by going digital.

If you want to go all the way and really minimize, skip the physical albums altogether and go straight to digital. There are a number of services out there like DigMyPics.com that will scan your negatives or prints and return them to you on a CD-ROM or DVD. Then you can trash all your old physical media. Don’t feel guilty about it. Any time you want a print you can just make one.

Another cautionary tale

From the Baltimore Sun: Man dies in Md. blaze; clutter hindered firefighters’ efforts. “A man believed to be in his 60s was found dead early yesterday in a burning Canton rowhouse, where the clutter of personal possessions and debris hampered rescue efforts by city firefighters. … Arriving firefighters could not get far inside the home because of the clutter.” Always remember: clutter kills.

Minding the storage

Mini StorageTo me, storage is a dirty word. What do you store? Things you don’t use. And if you don’t use something, why store it?

Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but not too much. There’s good storage and bad storage, but the former usually tends to make up the bulk. Good storage is made up of things you know you are going to use. For example, keeping your winter clothes in storage during the summer and vice versa is a smart idea because it reduces clutter and can be an easy way to double your space. A pantry for bulk foodstuffs also makes sense. But unless you’re the Queen of England, I’m not sure why you would want to have a “fancy” set of dishes or stemware in addition to what you normally use. If you’re using something only once a year or so, it probably doesn’t justify the cupboard or shelf space it’s taking up.

That gives many the bright idea that what they need is more storage space outside the home. The New York Times last week ran a feature on American’s growing demand for storage space. A taste:

Ms. Wagner, a 56-year-old book publicist, spotted a van tire wedged amid the jumble, an item that she seemed not to have noticed on previous visits, and gave her husband a knowing look. “I didn’t want to throw it away so I brought it here,” Mr. Wagner, 53, said, a little defensively.

The Wagners have been bringing their things to this storage warehouse rather than discarding them for two years. “It’s very much a part of our house, even though it’s not in the house,” Ms. Wagner said. “It’s like a hidden room.”

They are not the only ones taking this approach to clutter. According to Michael T. Scanlon Jr., president of the Self Storage Association, a trade group, 11 million American households currently rent storage space, an increase of 90 percent since 1995 — even as the size of new American houses has grown and the size of the American family has shrunk.

That is plain insane. A hidden room? Give me a break. There can be legitimate uses of rental storage such as temporary space while you live abroad for a while, etc. But if you have a locker full of crap you don’t even see, let alone use, seriously consider selling it all on eBay or a garage sale and then take all the proceeds (along with the money you’re spending on rental) and give it to charity or buy yourself a big flat screen TV.

Storage makes sense when you store for retrieval. That is, you store with a view to making it easy to have something on hand when you’ll need it. Storage merely to keep something out of sight, and therefore hopefully out of mind, is the equivalent of sweeping dirt under the rug. Seriously, if you have a rental space, think how relatively simple and rewarding it might be to get rid of it. And even if you just have a couple dozen boxes in the garage you haven’t opened in years, consider throwing them out without even peeking inside. Think of the extra room you’ll have.