January 24, 2017

Beware the Clutter Bullies

You may have heard the one-year rule for thinning out clothes from your closet.  Each year, go through your clothes and if you haven't worn something in one year, get rid of it.  Well, I don't follow that rule.  I have clothes I still love and have been wearing for twenty years!  No kidding!  They may take a few years off, but I come back around to them.  I still regret some of the items I have gotten rid of because of that "rule."  My clothes just go through phases.  The people who do this must like to buy clothes!  Every year.  The guideline I use is, if I hate it give it to someone who will like it better.  If it is totally used up, throw it out.  Imagine what must happen to the clothes people get rid of regularly!  If it was trendy to begin with, no one is going to want it now.  It seems better to me to put the breaks on buying new clothes as often.

Over the past few years I have seen and read many articles, books and blog posts encouraging people to "declutter."  Many of us are attracted to this to some degree.  In our consumer driven world, we do tend to acquire a great many more things than ever before and all these things need somewhere to go.  Advertising presents an enormous push to buy, but I've seen very few commercials for divesting of stuff.  There's just not a lot of money in that.  So, we read these articles and books to help us re-gain control of our acquisitions and the space they share with us.

Some articles are devoted to helping people organize what they have so they can put it (and the space it is taking up) to better use.  Often these are very clever and helpful. Others focus on helping people find good outlets for what they no longer need or want.  Some, though, seem to take the role of berating folks for not being better organized and demanding the purging of all extraneous items in one's home.  These are the clutter bullies.

I have taken them at their word in the past, believing them to be right.  It is a good thing to have an organized and clean home.  It's delightful to have a place for everything and everything in its place.  It would be a dream to have only items I love gracing my space.  But I have finally come to realize that the main thing they have caused to be purged from my home is peace.  I will no longer be pushed around by the clutter bullies!

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the ownership and organization of things.  Every person and family have their own style of living, their own level of comfort with the appearance of their homes, their own needs and level of struggle to achieve these.  They have their own priorities, too.

I'm a big believer that there are different personality types that influence how we take in information and react.  These different types will approach their living space differently.  For some, a sparsely and precisely decorated home is a necessity that comes naturally.  Others prefer a cozy, home filled with cute and sentimental things that create a sense of snug warmth.  The people who tell you you have to declutter to be a civilized human are the kind of personality that strongly prefers that - and believes everyone else should too.  It seems easy for them, because it is easy for them.  For those who are different, it's different.

The clutter bullies may be more likely than others to write a book on decluttering and insist that everyone must do as they do.  They like to be in control.  But it's simply not everyone's style.  If it were, the only home decor store would be Ikea.  But, antique stores abound too.  These are stores that exist because people have hung onto their treasures from the past.  Cultural differences play into this as well.  In Japan and Scandinavia, a clean simple line prevails.  An English cottage might lean more toward small, close rooms with large comfortable furniture and lots of old books.

I am not a champion of materialism and consumerism, but I have decided that the advice to purge my possessions regularly and ruthlessly can be taken with a grain of salt.  If you read something that makes you feel you're doing your life all wrong and you must unload a lifetime of accumulated possessions, take a moment to consider whether this will really benefit you at this stage of your life.

For all of you who feel bossed around by people telling you how tidy and organized your house ought to be, I give you permission to lower your standards.  I do tend to like many things tidy and organized, but there are times when that could be a defect.

For instance, I have always stacked things neatly in my linen closet and fretted when new items, like crib sheets, did not have a clearly defined space.  It finally occurred to me that it's okay to have a messy linen closet.  It does, after all, have a door.  I've noticed other people's in total disarray when we have stayed overnight as they sorted through looking for towels, but it didn't bother me.  I took years to realize I was way too uptight about my own.

Now, I spend way less time organizing all my linens into straight piles - and you wouldn't believe how many more things fit in there!  Which is good, because having kids has given us new, weird categories of things to put away.  The same has occurred in other spaces.  There are times in life when everything fits and times when it doesn't.  When your kids move out you can spend your retirement straightening up.  No need to fret; it's not really that important.

The clutter bullies can be very controlling.  They were probably the kids who made up all the rules that their group of friends had to follow.  But the danger is that it may lead to their house controlling them.  It has to stay organized.  So, a lot of energy and time is put into that activity.  And then it gets messy again because people live there.

Keeping your priorities in proper order should allow you to let go of some smaller worries in favor of a greater work you are accomplishing.  I know a family whose small house and precious time is devoted to educating their many kids.  Their house is cluttered.  Not necessarily a mess, there's just lots and lots of stuff tucked away in nooks and cranny and there's not a lot of clear, open space.  But there's a lot of thinking and learning and living going on and they are a charming family as a result.

They know where to find everything they need.  They hope to move to a larger home someday, but they have these children now and they focus on that.  The family is happy, holy, smart and wise.  They put their energies to use on the truly important; there will be time later for trivialities like decorating.  I'm not saying there's less learning going on in a tidy, well decorated house, but the clutter bullies may not recognize that in some homes it is not a defect, it is the result of prioritizing.  It could represent a sacrificial choice of how they will spend their limited time and space: decluttering or teaching and playing.  Their choice will not go unnoticed by those children.

I'm not advocating for disorder and slovenliness.  I just want to weigh in to the clutter discussion and give you permission to disregard any advice on housekeeping that makes you feel like a loser and does not bring you peace when you follow it.  There are different styles and different seasons of life for holding your expectations high and for giving yourself a lot more slack.  If you simply can't think unless your house is clean and you're good at throwing things out, good for you.  I pray if you have children that you are blessed with kids who have a similar personality (or there's going to be trouble for someone!).  If you're determined to declutter and organize, there are many, many resources out there, so find one that is encouraging for you that doesn't make you feel inadequate and then go at it at your own pace.

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