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If left unchecked, clutter not only poses physical constraints, but it can also pollute mental well-being. Just trying to find an overdue library book among the stacks of papers on the floor can spawn feelings of confusion, guilt and anger. Clearing clutter not only liberates your physical space but also evicts emotional clutter. Rather than being rattled by mountains of mess, you can take on life with clarity and confidence.
Here are six top clutter crimes and ways to cope with them
1. Closet chaos
“My closet was suffocating me,” says Lynn Van Bakel, a children's author and retired teacher in Victoria. “I had kept pants that had become so tight they made me feel hopelessly overweight, dowdy jackets and other things so heavy with memories I felt trapped in the past.” The closet also harboured guilt in the form of things such as a pricey suit Lynn had bought on a whim but never worn. Other clothes were robbing her of any positive self-image.
Together, we emptied her closet and kept just her A-list clothes (those passing the “I-look-and-feel-wonderful” test). She realized she didn't have to keep clothes she didn't like or ones that were uncomfortable. “Although I have much less now, I love each piece,” she says. “I feel unburdened, freer and better about myself.”
• Respect yourself. Keep clothes that fit properly and make you feel good about yourself. Pass unflattering or out-of-date clothes along to vintage stores, consignment shops or charity.
• Celebrate your size, whatever it is. Swap self-criticism for self-acceptance. Keep just the clothes that make you look and feel great.
• Practise restraint. Shop with intent, not impulse.
• Avoid guilt. Buy less and wear it more often. Your bank account just might flourish, too.
Page 1 of 4 -- Declutter your kitchen cupboards with ease! We show you how on page 2.
2. Kitchen gadgets
Six corkscrews, three egg slicers, multiple melon ball scoops and a cheese grinder still in the package: these were the items crammed into the kitchen drawers of my friend Catherine. And she's not alone. It's quite common to fall prey to the lure of gadgets that promise to save time or make you the next great Canadian chef.
But all too often, they simply take up space -- and create frustration. “When an item doesn't live up to its promise, we feel inadequate and blame ourselves, not the product,” says Hellen Buttigieg, a professional organizer and president of We Organize U in Oakville, Ont.
Ditch the excess items and your negative feelings; you don't need gimmickry to perfect your culinary skills. Chef David Evans of Santos, Montreal's latest Old Port hot spot, can put all his personal kitchen tools in one cupboard. “It's the love of food, quality ingredients and a good sharp knife that matter,” he says, “not the latest gadgets.”
• Separate the must-haves from the wannabes. Here's how: Transfer all your gadgets to a box. When you use one, put it back into a drawer or onto a shelf. After three months, pack up what's still in the box to give away. (Seasonal items such as the turkey baster and barbecue tongs are exceptions.)
• Practise self-discipline. Resist the urge to splurge on new kitchen gadgets. Indulge instead in consumable treats (for example, some artisanal cheese or handmade chocolates) or save up for a top-quality chef's knife.
3. Paper clutter
Writer Marianne Scott recently unloaded 150 pounds of papers and two shelves of books when she purged her home office in Victoria. Does she miss them? “Not one,” she says. “I feel immense relief and, strange as it sounds, mentally and physically lighter.”
Usually the result of indecision (should I respond to this now or later, file it or dump it?), paper clutter can weigh you down with anxiety and guilt and turn you into a raging monster as you frantically search for that passport application or overdue bill. “When things pile up we feel mentally defeated and exhausted, and the task of organizing seems impossible,” says Linda Chu, a professional organizer and owner of Out of Chaos in Vancouver.
Organizing that paper mess will instil you and your surroundings with a sense of harmony. You'll feel less rattled, more in control and be more creative and productive.
• Recycle regularly. Be ruthless, especially with newspapers and magazines.
• Purge first, then invest in filing cabinets and stacking bins. That way you'll probably need fewer storage containers.
• Allocate a specific spot as a “business centre” for mail and other paper.
• Open your mail daily. Make an immediate decision to respond, defer, file or discard.
• Automate. Paying bills with automatic bank withdrawals eliminates clutter and saves time.
• File, don't pile. Designate Current Files for bank and financial statements, income tax information and credit card slips; Archival Files for insurance policies, warranties and tax returns; and Permanent Records for wills, health records and family histories. Review yearly. Put personal reminders in a separate file organized by month.
• Donate it. Gift your used books and magazines to places such as seniors' centres, libraries or hospitals.
Page 2 of 4 -- Now that you're home's spic and span, learn how to declutter your mind with tips on page 3.
4. Unfinished projects
Kathleen Hamilton, an entrepreneur in Montreal, buys perfume bottles and samples for craft workshops she plans to hold -- one day. She has also bought armloads of wool, remnants, coloured threads and other odds and ends for craft projects not yet begun. It's easy to chastise yourself for being a procrastinator, but the reason you procrastinate likely has to do with time constraints, changing priorities or the realization that you've overestimated your skills. As time passes, just looking at those still-to-be-tackled projects can make you feel ashamed and incompetent.
Though abandoning unfinished projects can be difficult (it may mean giving up the promise of what might still be possible in the future), addressing them -- either by completing them or letting them go -- will stop your negative feelings of self-worth.
• Keep only those projects that are still fun to do and that you can realistically complete.
• Set a firm start and finish date for the keepers. Begin with the easiest (success is motivating).
• Inject new life into the castoffs by donating them to others.
• Before starting a brand-new project, ask yourself these questions: Do I really want to do this? Can I fit it into my schedule? Do I have the know-how to do it?
• Commit to a definite start and finish date before saying yes to any new project.
5. Virtual clutter
A father chats on his cellphone as he plays with his daughter in the park. A friend anxiously steals glances at her BlackBerry as she listens to your account of last night's date disaster. Modern technology is a tremendous convenience, but ringing cellphones and pinging e-mail alerts are blurring the boundaries between work and leisure time and flooding the family room, coffee shops and bedrooms with a tsunami of disruptions. “My five-year- old son gets annoyed if I interrupt my time with him to check e-mails,” says Donna Hall, a director of Solutions Research Group in Toronto, a company that studies women and technology. “He has a right to be upset.”
The pressure to be instantly, and always, available makes us edgy and hurried and plays havoc with our inner calm and our personal lives.
Putting the brakes on runaway technology slows the pace of our hurried days and opens us up for soul-nurturing pleasures that give life an authentic buzz.
• Choose only essential technology and use it only when you need to.
• Set boundaries. Turn off the phone during meals, relationship time and leisure time.
• Consider unplugging a few evenings each week and one day on the weekend.
• Delegate a separate phone for work-related calls and turn it off after hours.
• Press the pause button. Insist on gadget-free family time.
• Designate space at home as a tech-free sanctuary.
Page 3 of 4 -- Remove distracting clutter from your life with tips on page 4.
6. Relationships that hurt
No doubt you've been involved in at least one toxic relationship. Perhaps it was with the friend who exuded concern, then betrayed your most intimate confessions. Or maybe you had a live-in boyfriend who was irresistibly attractive but expected you to pay all the bills. Or you may have worked with someone who constantly belittled you in front of others.
Toxic relationships create the most poisonous of inner clutter. They can lead to unrelenting stress, self-doubt, anxiety and even depression. “You're in trouble if you're crying nonstop or unable to sleep or eat,” says Johanna Vanderpol, an author and emotional coach based in Duncan, B.C. A toxic relationship is like “an ice pick that chips away at the mortar that holds our self-esteem together,” says Vanderpol. “It hurts and hurts until, eventually, we feel dead inside.”
If a relationship lacks respect and trust, if you're constantly being criticized or put down, or if you're continually on edge, then it's time to step back and make some changes.
• Take responsibility. Assess your role in the relationship. Are you encouraging the toxic behaviour?
• Think positively. Find a strength you admire in the person with whom you feel a strain and focus on that. This can often shift a relationship and is especially important in work and family situations.
• Talk straight. An honest conversation might repair the relationship. If you find this difficult, enlist counselling assistance to hone assertiveness skills. It is money well spent.
• Limit contact. Step back if the dynamic continues. Send an e-mail instead of calling. Reduce get-togethers.
• Release the relationship. If the hurting behaviour continues, gather up your self-esteem and move on. You don't have to tolerate any kind of mistreatment.
• Examine yourself. We often repeat relationship patterns. Assess why this one attracted you and how the mental clutter it caused affected you. Choose the relationships that are right for you.
Katherine Gibson is the author of Pause: Putting the Brakes on a Runaway Life (Insomniac, 2006). For more information, visit katherinegibson.com.
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