Local nonprofit directors dedicate their lives to the common good. photos by Keith Borgmeyer Cheryl Howard, Nora Stewart Early Learning Center As a former graduate...
by Jennifer Truesdale
I wonder how much stuff I own. Considering each closet, cabinet, and drawer of my home, is it possible that I own more than 1,000 things? Are these things improving my life or giving me joy?
Probably not. The blouse I bought two years ago (and have never worn) is not contributing to my contentment or quality of life. Nor is the mountain of papers I’ve let grow on my dining room table. So why am I holding onto this clutter, and why are areas of my home still disorganized, despite my best efforts?
With spring cleaning season upon us, I’ve decided to give minimalism a go — to live intentionally by keeping only the things that make my life better or bring me happiness. The simplicity is refreshing. I believe that no matter how much stuff may be littering my life, I can unclutter, organize, and get back to simple. So can you.
In September 2015, Melanie Dixon opened 2B Organized Mid-Missouri, a franchise of the Springfield-based business, and began uncluttering Columbia homes and offices. After years of digging into the personal world of people’s closets, pantries, and attics, she’s learned a lot about how and why we’ve become so attached to our stuff.
“We are trained to fill our space,” says Melanie. “If we keep adding stuff and don’t subtract, we’ll be buried.”
In addition to run-of-the-mill stuff junkies, Melanie sees clients who have lost family members and feel a duty to hold onto their belongings, or clients who find comfort and stability in their possessions and rationalize their packrat tendencies with “what if” scenarios for needing the items in the future. Others simply procrastinate, never creating working systems for themselves, and use their busy lifestyle as an excuse to let clutter be king.
“Everybody’s busy. Everyone uses that excuse,” says Melanie. “But being organized is a lifestyle, not a one-time chore.”
Society teaches us that excess is a measure of success: the more stuff we have, the better we’re doing. And we’re constantly bombarded with advertising for “aspirational stuff,” items that promise to make us prettier, healthier, sexier, or more capable to make ourselves, or others, happy. We become addicted to the high associated with accumulating things — not even with the things themselves.
We’re so addicted, in fact, that we keep upgrading our spaces to accommodate our stuff. Although Americans are having fewer children, the average square footage of the American home has more than doubled since 1950, from 1,000 to more than 2,450 square feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders. And one in 10 households use a storage unit to hold their surplus stuff.
Jen Wilson has spent the past few years delving into the topics of simplicity, minimalism, and contentment for herself. “The good life is not hidden in our attic,” she says. “It’s in what we daily choose to prioritize over the clutter of everything the world offers.”
Jen’s solution is to take an honest, inward look at the process of simplifying our lives. “Until we are authentic with our own needs and desires,” she says, “we will continue to move our stuff around in creative and often expensive ways. . . . Simple is the new black. The less you own, the easier it is to keep it organized and clean. If you don’t have a lot of stuff, you aren’t constantly trying to contain it.”
So how do we create a simple, minimalistic lifestyle for ourselves?
When Melanie meets a client in their home, she evaluates the space and crafts a game plan. She helps the client set goals and a timeline for completion, and she breaks the project into manageable chunks that can be completed during each session. She is on hand to help unpack, carry, move, sort, dispose, and reorganize until the job is done.
“Take it one step at a time,” advises Melanie. She says the cleaning out process is often emotional and overwhelming for her clients. “Be present with your pain points and get them off your plate, focusing only on what is in front of you before moving onto the next pile.”
One thing Melanie does not do is tell people what to keep and what to get rid of. Some clients feel they need permission to get rid of their late grandmother’s tchotchke or an expensive gadget they’ve never used, so Melanie walks them through the mental process of discovering for themselves what’s important to keep.
“It’s not my place to make decisions on their things,” Melanie says. “It’s my job to ask the hard questions to help them make decisions on their things. I’m a personal trainer for people’s stuff.”
Asking ourselves the tough questions about the habits that keep us disorganized and buried in stuff is the first step to creating a simpler, less-is-more lifestyle. When examining a cluttered area of your home, ask yourself how those items came into your home in the first place. Did you buy them or were they gifts? When was the last time you used these items? Are you keeping anything out of a sense of obligation? If they were lost or broken, would you replace them? Do the items give you any happiness or make your life easier?
“We need to shift our thinking to quality over quantity,” says Melanie. “Use what you have. Honor what you have. Our house is a home, not a storage unit.”
Charlette Heyer, owner of Organize That Space!, has been servicing the Mid-Missouri area since 1997. She enjoys gathering a client’s wish list, measuring and analyzing their space, and then creating a custom closet or storage design to meet their needs.
“An uncluttered home promotes health and happiness by decreasing stress levels, allowing for a clearer mind, and increasing the time for more meaningful activities and relationships,” Charlette says. “A home reclaimed from too much stuff also increases your square footage, saves you money, and allows you to park in the garage!”
Charlette encourages her clients to let go of perfectionism and simply work toward “making it better.” She suggests identifying an area of storage frustration, visualizing how you want the space to function, then briefly researching container and storage options. Unclutter the space and keep only what fits with the designated purpose and space requirements.
She also recommends being persistent, but patient. “For most people, the accumulation of clutter has crept in over time and is due to big life changes,” says Charlette. “Remember to give yourself grace and encouragement during the process. It is never too late to regain control of your things or your life.”
You’re ready to start tackling your clutter. Congratulations! So where do you start?
START SMALL. Unless you’re resolved to clean out your entire home in a single day, start small. Identify the areas that are driving you crazy and break them down into manageable projects. If it’s your linen closet, for example, do one shelf a day.
“For 30 minutes, turn off your phone and just start,” Melanie says. “Set yourself up for success by tackling projects that can be completed in those 30 minutes so you can build momentum to keep going.”
START WITH A BLANK SLATE. When you tackle an area — a cabinet, a drawer, a bookshelf — start by removing all the items in that space and placing them on the floor or a table where you can begin the sorting process. When the time comes to put back only the items you’re keeping, you’ll be starting with a fresh canvas.
MAKE SORTING EASY. Create piles as you sort your items. Sort into donate, keep, trash, and errand piles. If something lands in the errand pile, try to get it accomplished that day. “Put all items leaving your house in your car,” says Charlette. “Then drop-off items immediately.”
LIVE BY “ONE IN, ONE OUT.” After you’ve purged your possessions, avoid allowing the clutter to re-infest your home by setting boundaries for how much stuff you have. If you hoard books for example, allow yourself to fill only a certain number of shelves on a bookcase. If you bring a book home, a book on the shelf must go.
PURGE BEFORE PRODUCT. While customized storage solutions are available, purge your stuff and evaluate your current storage before investing in organizers, containers, or caddies.