Mind over clutter

Today we welcome professional organizer Pooja Gugnani, founder and owner of Organizing with You in Chicago, and her advice on changing your mindset about clutter.

Imagine yourself in a state of organized bliss, where all parts of your life merge seamlessly together because you know where everything is and where it belongs. Not a far-fetched dream if you can recognize that organizing involves your brain as much as your brawn.

Throughout my professional organizing career, the biggest challenge I encounter is modifying my clients’ acquisition of things. It is easier to organize belongings than to change the way we think about buying new things. I’ve spent more time trying to get clients to eliminate the desire to collect things than to create an organizing system for them.

I recognize that our society is designed to foster consumerism and we all know that it’s the backbone of our economy. So, how do we fight our desire to buy? How do we conquer years of instilled desire to purchase and accumulate? Here are five easy yet powerful tips for you:

  • Saying is believing. Replace saying “I don’t have enough” with “I have more than enough.” Train your mind to be content by actually saying it out loud.
  • Make space, not mess. Instead of finding ways to create more storage to fit your clutter, think of ways to create more space by eliminating your clutter. Get creative! Storage systems and organizing products sure are wonderful — I could live in The Container Store if they would let me — but nothing is more visually appealing and satisfying than adding the space and the freedom to move around easily in your environment.
  • I see clutter. Learn how to identify clutter. I don’t just mean spotting the mess around you or recognizing which things which are out of place. As you’re sorting through your things, be wary of what I call “red alert” phrases. If the phrase “this may come in handy someday” or “I didn’t know I had this” is attached to an object, it is time to reevaluate if it belongs in your home anymore.
  • Face amnesia. When you come across an item in your home or office that you had forgotten about, there’s a 50 percent chance that you didn’t miss it enough to go looking for it — and most likely it has lost its utility in your life. Feel comfortable getting rid of these things.
  • Detach and donate. The toughest phase of the downsizing process is finding the heart to dispose things you’ve owned for years, or that have memories attached to them. The best way to part with your “favorite” things is to know it will find a good home again. I encourage clients to personally donate their possessions to a family member, a child in the neighborhood or a drop-off at a volunteer event. It is particularly rewarding to see firsthand your favorite stuffed toy in good hands, bringing a smile to a new face. And once you experience that joy, it will be easier for you to give things away.

Above are just some of the ways to modify your thinking before you modify your surroundings. From this day forward, think of buying anything large or small as an investment and weigh its usefulness carefully before you pull out your wallet.

Your mind is a powerful tool, so don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage as you get organized.

13 Comments for “Mind over clutter”

  1. posted by Ditch Forgotten Items To Purge Hidden Clutter | Lifehacker Australia on

    […] Mind Over Clutter [Unclutter] Tagged:cleaningclutterhousehold […]

  2. posted by Cimberly on

    Great information and very well written! I will take all points in consideration as I work through organizing our house after our remodel!!

  3. posted by Mletta on

    Whenever I am having trouble de-cluttering with an item that is 1/ in good shape and 2/still useful, I stop and remind myself that somebody else could use this–and that it’s a waste and wrong to cling to something without using it. Then I remind myself to “let it go.” I then either try to sell it, donate it or give it away.

    I had a fab little sofa/couch (sleeper) that was in great shape. I loved it because it took us years to find it and it had, in the past, fit perfectly. And would, once some other things were changed, fit again.

    However, we could not remove the other items in the near future and there was just no space for it in either our bedroom or living room.

    We’re in tough financial times and literally could not afford to buy anything to replace it-hence, the hesitation about getting rid of it. Yet, there it was. Taking up storage space within our apartment.

    Finally, I put it for sale on craigslist and did a bunch of photos and some serious copy.

    After a few people who did not want it after checking size, we found someone who did. Didn’t make much money (wouldn’t even come close to helping us replace it), but now someone is using it who needed it.

    I still miss the sofa, but knowing that someone else would use it made all the difference in letting go.

    I tell myself that it is a waste to have something that is not used when someone else needs it and/or can use it.

    That truly helps me release a lot of stuff (except sentimental value stuff).

    If we had more places to easily sell stuff, I think a lot of people would do it. (Ebay is not really workable for a lot of stuff due to size, etc. Craigslist is very hit/miss.)

  4. posted by Cynthia on

    This weekend, I finally detached myself from the curio cabinet I loved for many years. I bought it for a song off craigslist, and after years of enjoyment, sold it on craigslist for 3 times what I paid. *high five*

    The profit sure helped soften the blow, but for weeks I looked at the collectibles inside and realized I don’t have the same joy from them I once did. Getting real with myself, I honestly didn’t look in there much anymore. I sold off the small items to create space, and realized the whole cabinet could go.

    Looking at that blank wall doesn’t bring the regrets I thought it might. It created space, I paid off a chunk of my credit card debt, and the person who bought it was thrilled to get it. I know she’ll love it like I did, and now my heart and home are open and ready to find that next thing I’ll love. ^_^

  5. posted by Chloe on

    Where I live there is once per year “hard rubbish” pick up by the council. The last few years, when seeing vintage lounges, dining sets and various other items on the footpath that appear to have been left in the dust and rain and sun for several years before going out to hard rubbish as truly rubbish has really reminded me that had these things been moved on to a new owner when the original owner was finished them they could be happily intact and still in use. It’s so wrong to hang on to things once they are not being used, and are unlikely to be used.
    This has helped me let go of a mountain of student furniture that was filling my rumpus room. I just donated it and it felt fantastic! Now I have room to sew.

  6. posted by Carolyn on

    Good article. I really agree with the statement that “organizing involves your brain as much as your brawn”.

    On a personal note, I can say that life has become a lot happier and straight forward since I have started utilizing a little bit of mental discipline. Not an easy task for someone so used to being guided by her emotions!

  7. posted by Jess on

    I have some pictures of my baby steps in decluttering you might enjoy on my blog http://minimalistmum.blogspot......steps.html

    One key thing for me is to dig deep! Drawers and cupboards are gold mines for things I don’t use often. Clear those first, and watch the space magically appear.

    Your visible clutter is more likely to be things you use on a regular basis. And now you can sort those out, and have somewhere to put what you are keeping.

  8. posted by ami | 40daystochange on

    I love the idea to “make space not mess” – what a wonderful mantra to keep in mind when de-cluttering.

    and I suppose the same goes for our brains as well, right? Space in the house = space in the brain for thinking, remembering, planning.

  9. posted by Janelle on

    A beautiful, but extraneous thing broke yesterday. Rather than feeling upset, I was kind of relieved. I wonder how many other things I would feel that way about. Time to re-evaluate my “special” things.

  10. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Great article. Love the idea of getting rid instead of making more storage. I try to abide by that. Try being the key word!

  11. posted by finallygettingtoeven.com on

    I have found since de-cluttering that i LIKE the things that i still have a lot more. Ridding myself of a good majority of my possessions has made me appreciate my surroundings. My home is clean & clear and so is my mind. Little things that used to get under my skin have seemed to diminish or maybe it is just that i am able to handle them so much better now without all the ‘baggage’ that i carried around with me.

  12. posted by 5 ideas to whip your home into shape before summer | Maid in Chicago on

    […] 5) Declutter your home. Professional organizer Pooja Gugnani, founder and owner of Organizing with You in Chicago, wrote some great advice about changing your mindset about clutter in her article titled “Mind Over Clutter.”  […]

  13. posted by Link-O-Rama Mama on

    […] here to read the full […]

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