Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution to clean up my house. In reality, I just needed to attack the horrific mess that used to be my garage. I needed to be able to walk the length of it and get out the other end, unscathed. This grand task sounded great on paper, but unfortunately I had made this promise many times before. From reading countless articles about New Year’s resolutions, this time I knew how to make it happen. I needed an outline of specific steps. I needed to let others know about my goal. And I needed to set aside time to make it happen.
As we all know, life has a habit of getting in the way. There are bills to be paid, grocery shopping to do, meals to be made, and appointments to keep. Let’s not forget about work, house repair, yard work, and general cleaning! All of these unfortunately take precedence over organization and sorting through clutter. But I was determined to make it happen. I took one day this summer to clean out the garage, giving my husband the baby and playing “invisible” for a day. We ended up with a much neater looking space and a generous truckload of items off to Goodwill and various recycling entities. But a few months later – yup, you guessed it – the piles were back and the garage was nearly impassable again.
As 2011 came to a close, I looked back at my resolutions and realized that I needed to do something different. With the end of December, the holidays left us with more toys and even less space. I found myself tripping over piles of things, not just in the garage, but especially in our study. I was always digging through piles on our desk, trying to find important paperwork, or trying to find the kitchen table underneath my “to do” piles. I was tired of groaning, “It’s just too much! I can’t take it anymore!”
It just so happened that in the teen area of the library where I work, a book in the nonfiction section caught my eye. It was titled, “It’s All Too Much!” by Peter Walsh, with a great front cover showing a teen holding a mound of items so tall that his face is hidden. This book just called to me to be read. I was so tired of so much “stuff.” Yet I wasn’t innocent - I didn’t think that a self-help book would change my life. But I figured it couldn’t hurt. I am so glad I was wrong.
The author of this book, Peter Walsh, is a professional organizational consultant. If you’ve ever watched his hit show, “Clean Sweep,” on TLC, you know his ideas work. From the start, the best thing about this book was its mantra, repeated throughout: “Imagine the life you want to live.” This phrase has stuck with me throughout my 2012 cleaning resolution (yes, I made it again!) as I sift through my house. Walsh’s belief is that we have to let go of the physical, external clutter (such as hobbies we never got into, clothes we never really wear, and cooking gadgets that just take up counter space) in order to clear our mind and allow us to take the mental and physical steps towards the life we want. Look at your house and each room within. What would it look like if you were living your ideal life?
The book’s tagline, “Less Junk, Clearer Mind, Better Life,” is another great mantra to keep handy. You know how you feel when your desk at work (or home) is piled with “to do” items, bills, reminders, and mail? Or how about when your bed is covered with clothes or the living room with toys? You can’t think straight, you probably get angry more quickly, and you certainly can’t find what you need to function smoothly. Walsh’s book teaches teens how to let go of what they really don’t need and move forward with a clean slate (pun intended). With short, clearly explained chapters and specific steps, I read it for pleasure, while quickly gathering the important points. Teen readers will like the short biographies of fictional teens, like, “Caleb Clutterbug,” describing the different kinds of personalities when it comes to clutter. These stories break up the book for easier absorption of ideas, point out how different clutter habits can be our downfall, and help teens realize that they are not alone in their messiness.
Of course, teens are not the only ones with clutter problems! They learn from adults, so we have to set a good example. For a more in-depth and mature take on the issue, Walsh wrote an earlier book with the same title, the subtitle being: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff. Readers will find this one just as easy to read (although with no fun illustrations!). It is perhaps even more helpful, because it also addresses overall household clutter, versus teen areas like lockers, bedrooms, and backpacks, which the first book focuses on. Identifying S.W.Y.K.S. (Spaces Where You Keep Stuff), creating function for each space, and working with family members during your “clean sweep” are some key ideas.
Two other great tips that have stuck with me to this day are “vigilance is key” and “you only have the space you have.” My problem with the garage was that I didn’t have a plan for the stuff that was out there, and so used it as a dumping ground for anything I needed to get out of sight quickly. Naturally, the clutter just built back up again. Also, whereas my husband believed that we needed to get a storage facility because we didn’t have enough space in our small house, Walsh’s books point out that this doesn’t solve the problem. He tells of people who buy second houses, just to hold onto their stuff and reminds us that, “stuff alone doesn’t make you happy.” We need to “redefine [our] relationship to stuff.” If it’s out of sight, it will certainly be out of mind, especially if it’s locked in a storage unit miles away. Walsh believes, “if you open your space, you open your life to infinite possibilities.”
By this time, statistics show that most of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Along with losing weight, saving money, and spending more time with family, getting organized often tops the list. If you’re tired of being overwhelmed with the physical clutter in your life, read Walsh's books. Put the ideas into action and put an end to saying, “It’s all too much!”
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