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De-Cluttering Demons - Part 1

Dear Jo the Clutterbuster:

I work so hard to be organized. I have bought every plastic container ever made, additional file cabinets, shelf units and baskets. I own every organizing and de-cluttering book but I just can’t maintain any order in any area of my life.

Like the proverbial hamster, in the cage, I’m a little pudgy and spinning my wheels trying to get organized.

What am I doing wrong?


Hamstrung Hamster

Dear Hamstrung:

Many of my clients work very hard to stay organized and de-cluttered with varying degrees of success. There are many reasons why they can’t get or stay organized:

  • Sometimes it’s lack of systems;
  • Sometimes it’s lack of time;
  • Sometimes it’s lack of physical stamina; and
  • Sometimes it’s lack of psychological clarity.

“Clutter happens.” Controlling clutter may not be the goal; managing clutter in all its incarnations may be the real goal. Managing clutter requires putting systems in place and adhering to those systems. Managing clutter means having both the physical stamina and psychological health to organize and stay organized on a daily basis. Managing clutter also means examining the ways we prevent ourselves from setting and achieving organizing goals.

I have identified some De-cluttering Demons and the “mottos” that travel with each demon. The demons and their mottos live in each of us – sometimes they benefit our lives – i.e. a perfectionist surgeon. Other times, these behaviors and thoughts prevent us from managing the clutter in our lives.

Perfectionism Demon

Motto: I can control everything.

If you are old enough to remember June Cleaver, you will understand why we have unrealistic expectations of having a perfectly organized and appointed life. Stand in line at the food store and every magazine features articles about decorating, de-cluttering and dieting.

The Doyenne of Decorating (you know who she is) is our role model and also our nemesis. We want our homes to reflect serenity and sophistication so we buy stuff we see on magazine covers: dried flowers, baskets, trendy furniture, “cute” objects, etc. More stuff means more space. More stuff means more organizing. More stuff means more debt. More stuff equals more clutter.

De-clutter your perfection expectations before starting the de-cluttering process. Examine the Mottos that feed your need to be perfect. Here are some possibilities:

  • I don’t need help. I can do it all myself.
  • I don’t want anyone to find out “X.” (Fill in the blank.)
  • I can’t be as good as my Mother/Father/sister.
  • I can’t feel good about myself if it’s not perfect.
  • I can’t rest until it’s all done.

As you work to de-clutter and to be organized, the Perfectionism Demon will return. Remember: first you reduce the stuff (inside and outside.) Next, insure that whatever objects you own are functional and important to you. Then you decorate how you want to live.

Procrastination Demon

Motto: I’ll deal with it…someday

Someday is not a day on the calendar. We all delay doing things sometimes. But delaying a task – such as preparing taxes, cleaning out a closet – only serves to increase guilt and anxiety. The energy expended trying to stave off those emotions could be channeled into actually doing what we are trying to avoid.

Procrastination might be driven by fears: fear of debt, fear of confrontation, fear of bad news, fear of unemployment, fear of unearthing secrets. Roosevelt said it best: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Cleaning out the office, attic, files, completing the late taxes, discussing goals or who cleans up the newspapers, may actually allay those fears.

Poor preparation may also contribute to procrastination. If we don’t properly prepare how to start, continue and complete a task, we often become frustrated and give up. If we have no file folders, no trash bags, no space to work in, inadequate time, we don’t even start and tell ourselves we will: “ Deal with it someday.” Eliminate excuses for procrastinating by taking some simple steps.


Determine how important the task really is to do now or if there is something more important to do.
Do the worst first.


Set a date (or dates) with yourself to work.
Identify what you need to do the task.
Solicit assistance if necessary.


Be realistic about how much you can do at one time.
Give yourself “earned” breaks.
Before stopping, set the next date and time to work.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Confucius


De-cluttering starts One Bag at a Time. Jo the Clutterbuster

Read the next Insight Installment: More De-cluttering Demons