October 31, 2014

From clutter to clarity

By Ronni Gordon

Clutter impedes clear thinking for many people, and is especially problematic for people in recovery. The good news is, from downsizing to a motor home to cleaning out your refrigerator, tips abound on how to de-clutter your life. Some are not especially realistic: Who’s going to move into a small space just because it won’t hold much stuff? But others, though seemingly small, can add up in a big way.

“The environment reflects what is going on in the mind,” says Sarah Allen Benton, a psychotherapist in a transitional residence program at McLean Hospital, a treatment facility in Belmont, Mass. “The challenge is keeping order in different parts of life. It’s important in order to move forward. Cleaning out your closet is symbolic of what you are doing in all aspects of life.”

People have told her that when they were using, they wouldn’t open their mail for a month.

“I say, ‘Just chip away.’ Avoidance, and having a pile you can’t get out from under, can contribute to the relapse cycle.”

Benton’s top tip: Get a planner, either in printed form or on your phone. Also, make lists and follow them.

“If you put it on paper or on a calendar it creates space in your mind,” she says.

Lissa Coffey, a lifestyle coach in Los Angeles, counsels “only handle it once,” or “OHIO.” This means dealing with each piece of mail when it comes in rather than making piles.

If you have piles, you’re more likely to lose things like bills and then waste time looking for them, Coffey says. “Before you know it, you have another pile.”

She knows this because she’s done it herself. “I have ADD,” she says. “This is our big battle in life. When you have a cluttered desk you have a cluttered mind.” Before she knows it, her desk is covered with books, magazines, printouts, mail and catalogs. She cleans up over the weekend, and then it happens again.

To break the cycle, Coffey has these tips:

Choose one day a week to go through the refrigerator and clear out food that has gone bad or is expired. Then make your grocery list and shop.

Go through your shower — consolidate all the bottom-of-the-bottle shampoo or throw out bottles and limit yourself to one of each product.

Clean out your medicine cabinet. Make a list and buy necessities like bandages.

Go through your closet and drawers. Pitch unmatched socks, worn out underwear and clothes that don’t fit. If you haven’t worn it in two years, chances are you won’t ever wear it again, so donate it.

Go through your knick-knacks. If you don’t absolutely love something, donateit. We don’t need extra stuff to dust and take care of.

Clutter in your personal life can be as detrimental as clutter in your home, says Christina Steinorth, a psychotherapist and author in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“My best tips for uncluttering your life are to reassess your friendships and figure out which ones are positive influences in your life and which ones are not,” Steinorth says.

“Stop saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’. So many of us are afraid of saying no to the requests people make of us that we in turn become miserable because we feel overwhelmed and taken advantage of.”

Andrew Schrage, co-owner
of the site Money Crashers
Personal Finance in Chicago,
has lived the cluttered life and
learned from the experience. He
says that as a college student, he
let old textbooks pile up in his
room. Later, his apartment was so overstuffed that “at some point I wasn’t able to get into some rooms and I dreaded waking up at night and walking around the boxes.”

Also, he recalls, he was embarrassed to have people over.

Schrage now specializes in helping people streamline their personal finances.

“Organizational declutter allows you to focus on other things,” he says.

Schrage suggests these strategies:

Create a filing system. “I have a file folder system that includes an individual file for all monthly bills and credit card statements,” he writes.

Bank Online. There’s no need to write checks for each monthly bill you receive – instead, pay your bills online to save time and money.

Set up automatic payments. If you have the option, set up your bills to be paid automatically by credit card. By doing so, you increase your cash back rewards. Make sure to review the charges on your monthly statement — and be sure to pay the credit card in full every month.

Consider your tax returns throughout the year. If you itemize, add files for non-reimbursed medical expenses, job-search and job-related expenses and charitable donations.

So go ahead: Get up right now and tackle one project. Clear one pile. With these small steps, you’ll soon be on your way from clutter to clarity.

Ronni Gordon is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers and magazines. Her blog, Running for My Life, chronicles her battle against leukemia.

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