Mar 9, 2012

Psychology of Clutter - Guilt

I'm pleased to introduce a guest writer! In this blog entry, my dear friend and fellow blogger, celebrates the success of examining the psychology of clutter.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

The Low Level Hum
- Laura K. Nicholson
The beginning of the year is always my purge time.  Something about the gluttony and chaos of the holiday season tends to send me into an organizational rebellion.   I must donate!  I must create some empty spaces!  Where do those Christmas presents go?!  Every year it’s the same gleam in my eye and at least a week spent going through closets. 

This year has been different and much more intense.  It’s now March and I’m still full-steam-ahead.  This year, I started sorting out not only the “what” of my things….but also the "why."  Why did I still have unworn clothing from 1997?  Why have I carried around the same unused items through four homes in the last decade?  One night, after a particularly long day of sorting and recycling, I finally looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and asked aloud "What exactly is it that you’re holding on to?"

The answer came back quickly and with shocking clarity:


Many of the things I've been keeping are scarred by guilt. Guilt over spending too much money...guilt over gaining weight...guilt about the memories associated with the item...guilt over the fact that I didn't get my lazy butt to the post office to return the thing when I knew I wouldn't want it...guilt over the gift that was incredibly thoughtful but I *know* I won't use. There was guilt hiding all over my house!  It was usually a low-level vibration…a negative hum that I’d ignored for years.  The guilt was there, humming away and tethering me to the spot, making sure I stayed stuck.

The moment I had the "why", I wanted the "what" gone.

So I started editing again, but with this revelation in mind. For the past three months, I’ve been antennas-up whenever I consider an item in my home.  I’m actively listening for the hum...feeling for the ugly vibe. If there's the faintest trace of a negative hum, that thing, whatever it is, goes in the donation pile.  I’ve literally donated truckloads of my belongings…and it’s more liberating than I ever could have imagined!

Even better, I’m finding now that I’m clearing out the tangible stuff (and ridding myself of their psychological ramifications), there are some delightful second- and third-order effects.  Cleaning is less of a mental hurdle.  I’m eating better and sleeping more soundly.  I’ve finally started taking yoga classes (after at least ten years of thinking about it).   And the more “stuff” I deal with, the more I want to work through.  Without the low-level hum of guilt and stuck energy surrounding me, I’m finally feeling lighter and more capable.  I’m finally feeling free!

…and you can create that sense of freedom for yourself!  There are a number of online resources that can help you find a path to home organization (like this site!).  If you’re interested in reading more about the psychology of clutter, you might also take a moment to look at the Unclutterer’s website ( for some additional insights and references to help you create a home that sings…instead of hums.

Feb 17, 2012

Save Time/Money: Give Up Ironing, the Drycleaner, or Both!


Without question, there are some delicate items that MUST have the special care of a good, professional dry cleaner* - I have a few items that I wouldn't dream of handling myself. However, many ready-to-wear items in your closet don't need to go to the dry cleaner every time, and some never at all.

If you haven't heard of Dryel and Woolite -"The Dry Cleaners Secret," they are marvelous products. They are kits that turn your dryer into a dry cleaner, using steam and dry cleaning chemicals to do so. Located on the shelves of stores such as Target and Walmart, they are easy to find and coupons are frequently available online or in circulars.

Dryel requires a starter kit, which has a special bag that holds the items to be cleaned.  Simply follow the product directions, remove promptly and let any wrinkles fall out by hanging immediately. Woolite-"The Dry Cleaners Secret" does not require a special bag.  Items can go directly into your dryer, which I find to be especially convenient for larger items like blankets, pillows, winter coats, etc.

If you like a crisp crease on your dress shirts or pants, simply pull out your iron do so.  Using your iron is not so much a time saver, but the money you will save by doing dry cleaning at home is worth the cost. One kit can clean up to 24 items . . . all for under $10. Have you EVER taken 24 items to the dry cleaner and paid only $10?  Ive used these products to freshen suits, sweaters, blankets, pillows (including feather and down), jackets, stuffed animals, dresses, blouses, dress pants (including light-weight wool) and skirts.


If Dante wrote Inferno for modern times, I'm convinced one of his nine levels of 'hell' would be ironing.  Some people may consider it a relaxing, cathartic exercise.  Not me. I avoid it like The Plague.

By simply hanging your clothing as soon as it comes out of the dryer, you can avoid a mountain of ironing. My husband's work khakis and oxford button-downs, and my knit tops, go from dryer to hanger, with a few wrinkles that drop out after hanging or being worn for a few minutes. On occasion, a collar or a cuff will look a little wonky and I'll press it. But for the most part, the iron gets little or no use.

What if you have a pile of laundry that has a bunch of impossible wrinkles? You can steam them out. I like a product called the Steam Mate, but there are others such as Mr. Steamy and Steam-n-Go. Add water to the sponge inside, toss into the dryer, and within minutes most of your wrinkles are gone. Again, hang immediately to let the soft wrinkles fall out.

These short cuts are not for your delicate clothing items or for items that have complicated stains.  But even if your attire requires the crispest creases with flawless fabrics that hang like a dream, you can lessen the cost and time of maintaining your more casual outfits by learning how to care for them at home. Once you get comfortable using the products, you'll be surprised at how much less money youre spending at the dry cleaner. And once you get used to responding to the dryer buzzer promptly (or using steam to do the wrinkle removing for you) you'll have gained tons of free time by avoiding the iron and ironing board.

*See the link below for fabrics and special items that SHOULD go to a dry cleaner:

Both of these sites offer coupons at this time:

Feb 16, 2012

Toy Organization: Buckets of Fun!

My toddler is two. The baby is four months old. Yet somehow they have accumulated an impressive collection of toys, scattered so thickly on the dining-room-turned-play-room floor that I was in danger of breaking my ankles at just the thought of entering that room.

Don't get me wrong  - I don't a mind a little disarray. After all, it's a space for kids. And it seems like exploration and imagination are just no good to children unless its accompanied by loads of wonderful, glorious messiness!!! So for the majority of the day, the toy room is under Little People Management.  And at the end of the day, Mommy (that's me) wants to restore a little order to the black hole of play things, sippy cups, shoes, and anything else we might actually want to use in other parts of the house.

And so, I began keeping an eye out for simple ways to loosely organize the room so that my toddler could actually find things without me. It also had to be simple enough for him to begin to learn how to put things away.
I was flipping channels one day and landed on a reality show about a family with eight small children - this house had the mother load of toys! While I wasn't that interested in the show, I noticed they installed a wonderful shelving system with colored bins that looks very similar to the cubbies at our son's daycare.  When I can afford the investment, and take the time for the three hour drive to IKEA in Chicago or Detroit, I will install those same awesome shelves. 

But in the meantime, I still needed something, anything . . . because I'm pretty sure the toys were partying, mating and multiplying during the night.  And as much as I'd like to be a relaxed, 'go with the flow' kind of mom, I'm just not cut out for toy Bacchanalia.

While shopping for recycling bins, I saw these large, brightly colored plastic buckets with rope handles. Perfect for toys in so many ways:  They're big. They're lightweight and can go from room to room. They have large openings for kids to easily rumage through or throw toys into when it's time for clean up. They can be repurposed elsewhere in the house when they are no longer needed for toys. And they were $5 each on sale (at Lowe's.)

In 10 minutes, the entire floor was cleared up with plenty of room for playing and horsing around.  I divided the toys into groups, and put some picture labels on them (obtained from the clip art section in Microsoft Word 2010.)  The labels serve two purposes: 1) they'll come in handy later when I'm ready to work with my toddler a little each day on putting things away.  2) I use the words and pictures as a learning tool for reading, similar to the concept used in "Your Baby Can Read." 

After Teddy goes to bed and the baby has been fed, I gather toys from around the house, throw them in their bins, remove items that dont belong, and forget about it. 

Lots of room to play. . . . for now!
The room rarely looks this put together, but sometimes it does.

Feb 6, 2012

Protect Your Techy Things - Org Your Cords

(Microsoft Word 2010 clip art)

About 10 years ago, I had a stroke of genius (<---- a highly questionable statement).  I was moving, or helping other people move - a lot, which included dealing with a mind boggling array of cords, cables and equipment.  I kept thinking: "there has got to be an easier way to set up computers and A/V stuff. Why not label both end of the cords, so that I know immediately where everything goes? This is too good to keep to myself.  The WORLD must be informed!!!!"

Okay, so I get a little excited :)

Having labeled cords is not just about being neat and speedy. In today's techy world, where it seems there are similar looking cords, with similar looking ends everywhere, it's especially important to know what you're plugging in where.  Our toddler recently inserted the Notepad adapter into the baby monitor. The next time the monitor was used to check on the baby, it started smoking!  I know not all adapters are alike, but I didn't know using an adapter with too many amps can literally fry valuable equipment.

So remember how I said above that I had a stroke of genius? Turns out this was a good idea, but certainly NOT original. Apparently, cord management has been a proverbial thorn in the side of organized people for a long while. Fortunately, there are many options to choose from to avoid that tangled, time-consuming, not to mention dangerous,  mess.

( photo)
Personally, I like the options that dont cost a thing, such as using a Sharpie on masking tape.

Martha Stewart's website has a great idea to use old bread tabs.

And I love an opportunity to print off labels on my label maker (good old trusty-dusty Brother P-touch!)


Here are some seldom-used, labeled cables stored in a box. They are purposefully left unplugged to avoid the use of vampire energy ( 

It only takes a few minutes to label your electrical and extention cords and cables, but it will save you a bundle of time and money down the road.  Happy labeling!

See references below for information regarding cord lableing:

Jan 23, 2012

Why Do You Keep All Those Clothes?

Considering that I wear only a few favorite outfits each season, I have to wonder what my attachment is to all the other items in the closet, not to mention the seven large tubs of clothing stored elsewhere.

Yes, we have four seasons in Michigan, so I can justify keeping more clothing than say if we were living in San Diego (where the average temperature is a beautiful 72 degrees all year.)  And I could justify the seven tubs if I actually wore the clothing I've been hording. But honestly, some of it hasn't seen the light of day in 10 years. A decade!  Really?

It's definitely time to purge again.

You may have a similar closet scenario. I have to warn you about what you already know - it's not easy letting go of clothes you've been emotionally attached to for a decade.  But if you're ready to rip off the Bandaid, it's super liberating.  And if you just cant imagine the feeling that a good clothes purging provides, think of weight being lifted from your shoulders, the freedom of flight, etc.  Yeah.  It's that good.

Below are some bullet points of what I did to my clothes cache. Try one or two of them.  I promise you won't regret it.  If you can go whole hog, prepare for closet nirvana!
  • TOO BIG - Do you want to gain weight, or do you plan on using those maternity clothes again? Why hang on to them? Unless you are a person who needs to put on a few pounds, keeping clothing too big is like giving yourself permission to NOT eat more healthy and NOT exercise.  It is fall-back position most of us don't want or need.
  • TOO SMALL - Are you realistically going to lose two or three sizes before all those clothes are out of style?   Let's say you get back down to that size you were in high school - chances are your shape will have changed just enough so that even the most classic cuts will not fit your body the way it used to.  I kept one size below what I wear now (because I'm currently losing weight and almost ready for that size.)  I did keep a couple of items that are two sizes below for inspiration only.  If by some spectacular miracle I actually wear them again, I will have officially entered a hotness of physical fitness I thought I'd never see again. :)
  • WRONG COLOR - If it doesn't do anything to lift your spirits or complement your complexion, let someone benefit from it by donating it.
  • NOT A GOOD FIT  - If you find yourself tugging, pulling, pinning, taping, re-buttoning, gapping, etc. this item of fussy clothing is doing you no favors.  Either put it in the mending pile if it can be saved, or get rid of it.  It may be a beautiful blouse in your current size, but all anyone will notice is that your bra is playing peekaboo. Is that the kind of attention you want? 
  • WAY OUT OF STYLE - Dated clothing makes you look older and out of touch. While it's true that styles reappear, the cut and length will change to an updated, modern twist. Changes also occur in the types of cloth, material designs and colors. That leisure suit from 1970 (and everything from the 80's) is good for a costume and that's about it.  Say goodbye!
  • WORN AND TIRED - if frayed, faded, pilled and limp describes any of your clothing, why not retire it?  Some items can find a new use, for example in the rag bin, or the yard work/painting clothes category. But even here, you don't need an overabundance.  Like Moses said to Pharaoh: "Let them go."
  • EXPENSIVE/GREAT SALE ITEM BUT NEVER WORN - Most of us do it. We spend money because it was a great deal, or perhaps we allowed ourselves a splurge  . . . . but for some reason it never gets worn.  If you haven't touched it in a year, it's time to admit it wasn't a good purchase and let someone else benefit from your mistake.  (Dust on the shoulders is a good indication you can give this to charity.)
  • TOO MUCH TROUBLE - If you find yourself liking but not wearing an item because you don't want to iron it/dry clean it/brush off pet hair that is magically drawn to it, throw it in the donate pile. This is a high maintenance item taking up valuable real estate in your closet.  Be strong.  You can do it.
Emotional attachment to clothes is pretty common. And, without embarrassment, I'm guilty of hanging onto to clothing too long as well. But like me, eventually you may get tired of making space for things you don't wear. Try stepping out of your comfort zone and apply a couple of the suggestions above. And if you really can't handle it alone, call me or a professional organizer in your area to help you see it through.  It's so worth it!