The Obstacle: “If I put the bills away, I’ll never pay them on time.”
The Solution: Many clutterers have gotten into the habit of organizing their world visually and spatially, says professor Randy Frost. They’re afraid that if they put stuff away, they won’t remember it, because they won’t see it. “But it’s a perception of order,” he says, “not real order.” You may initially recall that the electric bill is next to the potted plant on the kitchen counter, but it will soon be buried by other items you need to have in plain sight, too, like invitations and permission slips.
Even hard-core clutterers can train themselves to complete tasks without obvious visual cues, says Frost. For starters, if you’re used to leaving things in piles, designate a logical home for every object. Set up automatic e-mail reminders to help you remember to pay bills. In addition, if you feel as if out of sight is out of mind, make transparency your friend. Take items destined for closets, the garage, or the basement and store them in clear plastic bins so you can always see what’s there.
The Obstacle: “I want this chartreuse muumuu to go to a good home.”
The Solution: People often want to find just the right place for their belongings. The problem is, trying to find just the right place can be paralyzing, says interior designer Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. And while you wait, say, for your niece to move into a starter apartment, your old love seat and dinette set gather dust.
To satisfy your desire for perfect placement, look for a charity with which you feel a strong connection — perhaps a shelter for women. To identify a worthy one near you, visit www.charitynavigator.org, a nonprofit research group that evaluates charities based on how effectively they use donations. Go to the Advanced Search page, select “Human Services” charities, and type in your ZIP code. Contact the three- or four-star charities that interest you and ask if they accept donations. If that sounds like too much trouble, call your nearest house of worship and inquire whether it has a clothing drive coming up. Ask if the donation is tax-deductible, and get a receipt.
The Obstacle: “I want to declutter, but I can’t get motivated.”
The Solution: This may be due to a phenomenon known as delayed discounting, says Daniel Hommer, M.D., chief of brain imaging at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in Bethesda, Maryland, and an expert on motivation. It works like this: If it takes a long time to reach a goal, you value that goal less than if you could reach it quickly — making it harder to get started. Make projects small and rewards immediate, says Hommer. After you organize a distinct area, dress it up — add decorative paper to the bottom of a now spartan toiletry drawer, for instance. Keep at it and your home will become not only more orderly but also more beautiful.