Thursday, July 21, 2011

Too much stuff

Okay, I admit it. I’m a collector. And a piler.

I think many teachers come by these traits naturally. It’s because we’re so creative, right? We can see the possibility for art projects in those weird pieces of plastic, just like we see the possibility of brilliance in wild, little James running amok in the classroom.

I have worked with managing STUFF for many years. And I have gotten better at it. Now it’s time to finish organizing this sweet, little cottage we currently inhabit. My primary goal is to get the studio (El Estudio!) in shape.

Here are some helpers I’ve found along my way over the years.

1. Julie Morgenstern - Organizing from the Inside Out

Her book still comes up first when you search for ‘organizing’ on Amazon. My biggest take away is her acronym for the organizing process.

S – sort
P – purge
A – assign a home
C – containerize
E – equalize (this is the only word I couldn’t pull out of my brain. no surprise that it’s the one I find most difficult to keep going—the daily maintenance.)

I had forgotten I had this book. A couple of days ago I was staring at the bookshelf, and the spine grabbed my attention. I figured I’d better take Julie down and see what wisdom I could glean this time around. Also, I like to be on a first name basis with my cleaning advisers. It makes the process feel less authoritarian.

2. Karen Kingston – Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui

Speaking of symbology, Karen talks about what your clutter represents in your life. She states that clutter can:
~ make you feel tired and lethargic
~ keep you in the past
~ affect your body weight
~ affect the way people treat you
~ make you procrastinate
~ cause disharmony
~ make you feel ashamed
~ put your life on hold
~ depress you
~ create excess baggage
~ dull your sensitivity and enjoyment of life
~ cause extra cleaning
~ cost you financially
~ distract you from important things
This list alone is enough to get me organizing. So why do people keep clutter? Here are two of my reasons: saving it for ‘just in case’ and ‘scroogeness.’ Both of these ideas show a distrust of the future and a belief in scarcity.

Scroogeness: “I must wring every last ounce of usefulness out of this thing before I can get rid of it, even though I haven’t used it in five years. Otherwise I haven’t gotten my money’s worth.”

If we change our belief system to trust that we will be provided for, we can let go of unnecessary space hoggers and smile when that new item comes our way just at the right time.

Still working on this. I feel a little itchy inside just thinking about it.

3. Lanna Nakone – Organizing for Your Brain Type: Finding your Own Solution to Managing Time, Paper, and Stuff

This book talks about our organizing styles the way Howard Gardner talks about his theory of multiple intelligences. Lanna classifies people into four different styles: Maintainers, Harmonizers, Innovators, and Prioritizers. She describes why people fall into each style based on their brain function, personality, and emotional style. (Click the link above to read more about this.)

My biggest take away: Pilers are often very visual people. Many pilers can pull out that one piece of paper within seconds when asked. They know exactly where everything is because they’ve memorized it visually. Pilers need to have things out in view because “out of sight, out of mind” is really true for them. But all this visual memorization is hard work! We can use our brain space more effectively. One suggestion she shares is to use wall files or vertical files instead of filing cabinets so that in-process work is visible yet not cluttery.

I have found these de-cluttering magicians indescribably helpful because they get to the heart of why people have the habits they do. Understanding the root of my cluttery ways allows me to acknowledge and let them go if I wish, developing new strategies. The contentedness I feel when a new space finally opens up is so energizing!

Do you have a favorite piece of wisdom that keeps you organized? Feel free to share!


  1. I always remind myself that function and form should coincide. I used to be a collecter, but I've gotten much better over the years. It's really my mother that needs to read your fantastic post. She holds onto everything; I think she equates things with memories. I'm not sure. All I know is that being in her home stresses me out.

  2. I totally get it. Karen talks about "inherited clutteritis." I'm a big fan of taking a digital photo and then passing on the object. All we want to do is look at it anyway, right?