If you get my weekly quick tip, you know that clutter and decluttering have been on my mind lately. Not that this should come as any big surprise given my line of work (a term which makes what I do sound far less gratifying than it truly is.) But nonetheless, my normal pondering about clutter and the hold it has on our life has been cranked up a notch lately. Perhaps it’s the change of seasons. Or perhaps it’s Janine’s fault. Most likely, it’s a combination.

See when the season’s change, I simply get the urge to declutter. I think it’s hardwired in my genes. The air gets cooler in the fall (or warmer in the spring) and I just want to let stuff go. If I lived in an area where there was no change of seasons, I’m not sure what would happen. (Would things just pile up around me?) Nah…I don’t think so, especially since I’ve now been through several sessions of Organizing 101. Yes, I am the instructor and all but chatting online with students about their own decluttering and organizing journeys has caused my thoughts on my own “clutter” to evolve. (I’ll get to where Janine comes into this in a minute.)

Now before you gasp and say “What, Aby has clutter?” let me back up for a minute and share my thoughts on three different types of clutter. At the one end of the spectrum is clutter that prevents us from living our best lives because it is either physically or emotionally getting in our way. In this case, the clutter is homeless—there are no designated spots for the things that are out or there isn’t enough room for the things that are out to be put away. Let’s call this kind of clutter backlog clutter, for the sole purpose of distinguishing it from the other kids of clutter.

The next kind of clutter is surface clutter. With this type of clutter, the clutter items have a home, but at present they happen to not be in said home. Instead they’re laying on random flat surfaces.

Now to clear things up, I don’t have backlog clutter. Everything in my home has a designated spot. Throughout the day I do create surface clutter (remember, I am human and live with other humans, too) but I declutter the surface clutter on a regular basis and help / encourage the members of my family to do the same. So…let’s get to the third kind of clutter, and finally spill the beans about where Janine comes into the equation.

So, Janine is my friend and fellow professional organizer. And yes, it is very fun when you have friend that is a professional organizer. See, Janine wanted some help organizing her pantry, not because she couldn’t organize her pantry on her own, but rather because we both thought it would be loads fun (and faster) to swap services and work together on some of our projects at home. Janine went first, and we organized her pantry, which for me, is akin to going over to someone’s house for some sort of decadent chocolate and peanut butter dessert—yes I love organizing pantry’s that much. But as if that weren’t fun enough, it got better. Janine returned the favor and came over to my house to help me with some projects! Woohoo!

Panty before and after

So Janine and I tackled a space in my home that was organized, but contained some things I really didn’t need any more. In that sense, some of the items in this space were clutter. Yet it was organized clutter. Prior to our intervention, the stuff was already sorted and grouped together in logical groupings, and it was even stored in labeled containers. But none the less, it was clutter because these items were things I no longer needed or used that were simply taking up space and serving no purpose in my life. That’s organized clutter.

I became much more aware of this type of clutter while hanging out and chatting about clutter in several sessions of Organizing 101, because organizing is an evolutionary process. As one of the past Organizing 101 participants puts it, decluttering and organizing are like peeling back layers. Often when we take the first pass through a space to declutter and organize, we keep some items that later on (maybe just two weeks later) we realize aren’t actually very useful to us anymore. So organizing is an evolution…like peeling back the layers of an onion.

Now…you may be wondering why I’m sharing all of this. (And that’s a good question, as I could be verging on rambling. Hopefully you find the topic of clutter as fascinating as I do.) But anyway, I wanted to share these thoughts on clutter because often people get really bogged down by their clutter. They feel bad about it. But the truth is, unless you went through your home yesterday with a fine tooth comb, there might be some clutter, whether it’s backlog clutter, surface clutter, or organized clutter.

Because organizing and decluttering is an evolution, things that were yesterday useful can today become clutter. The key is this:  how do you feel about the stuff in your home? If it’s weighing you down, get up and take action! Invest some time in creating change—clearing out items that are no longer useful to you. Fill your home (and I don’t mean to the brim) with items that lift you up, and let go of anything that’s bringing you down. There is a tremendous kind of freedom that comes from letting go of things.

Second, I wanted to share that there truly is power in discussing our stuff with other people, and sharing our organizing journey with a group of like-minded individuals. You gain new perspectives on your things and your life and the role your stuff plays in your life. Are your things moving you forward? Holding you back? Lifting you up? Or weighing you down?

Admittedly, organized clutter is a bit more neutral than other clutter. It’s organized so it looks okay which makes it feel okay, too. But when you realize it’s clutter, you have the opportunity to create space and let go of things that are no longer serving you—even if they were previously organized, labeled and contained. Case in point: Three years of Real Simple Magazines left my home the day Janine came over. If you’ve been around this blog of mine for a while you’ll know that letting go of three years of magazines is H-U-G-E! (Really huge, especially since they’re Real Simple.) These magazines were previously sorted by year and month, and stored in labeled magazine holders, so it could be argued that they weren’t really hurting anything. But truth is, these magazines were organized clutter.

Magazine boxes

I didn’t really need these magazines. Yes, I love them, but I have already read them. So they were just taking up space that could be better used to store things I really do use, need and love. I don’t have time to flip through them casually on a rainy day, (or a sunny day, or even on a snowy day, for that matter.) And even if a window of time sufficient to browse through three years of back issues of a magazine did miraculously appear in my life, I’d really rather do something else with that time. So while these items weren’t weighing me down in terms of how they looked, they were a lingering obligation. (And obligations can become a big weight on our psyche.)

See my routine for letting go of magazines is to go through them page by page and tear out articles of interest. Then, I organize those article of interest by topic and put them into binders for future reference. Just think of how much time I saved by simply letting these magazines go. And that’s not the end of it. I also created space in my storage room and removed an obligation off my mental to-do list. Ahhh…decluttering feels good.

Regardless of what type of clutter you have—backlog clutter, surface clutter, or organized clutter, now is a great time to do some decluttering. Take advantage of the change of seasons, or join a group of like-minded online friends for thought provoking (and action provoking!) discussions on clutter by joining a simplify 101 self paced class. Our self-paced classes include access to a community forum, which gives you accountability as you make progress on your organizing projects, as well as a place to discuss topics like clutter. Whichever path you choose, if you have things in your home that are weighing you down, take action and declutter! I promise you, you’ll be really glad you did.

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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