How To Take Control When You Live With A Chronic Clutterbug
By Rita Emmett, author of The Clutter-Busting Handbook
of Canada Ltd., 2004)
Manage messy family members
Article from Homemakers.com
HELP! THERE'S A CLUTTER CULPRIT IN OUR HOME"
What should you do if you find time to prevent clutter but somebody
else in your home is not putting things back where they belong? What
do you do with your spouse, kid, or other offender? Maybe you've tried
nagging these Clutter Culprits, or arguing with them, or yelling at
them. If so, you already know that such tactics won't work.
Solution: Bore them to tears. Josh handed his Clutter Culprit (his
teenage son) a little spiral notebook, a pen, and a stopwatch, then
said, "We have to go identify a problem. Come with me."
They walked to where clutter had accumulated on the kitchen counter.
Josh asked his son to time him as he rinsed out and placed in the
dishwasher a glass his son had left on the counter. The time was
recorded in the notebook. Then they walked into the family room and
timed how long it took Josh to pick up a glass, take it into the
kitchen, and put it in the dishwasher.
Though he felt like laughing, Josh kept a straight face as they noted
exactly how long each activity took. His son found this exercise to be
so boring and annoying, he decided he would rather pick up after
himself than endure another of Josh's "timing sessions."
Yes, I'll agree that maybe it won't work with your Clutter Culprit,
but how will you know unless you try? And it has worked for many
people. To find out how long it takes to put things back where they
came from can be a startling eye-opener not only for your family, but
also for you.
Another solution: When your Clutter Culprit is open to doing some
de-cluttering, and he is on the fence about getting rid of something,
you can be the Clutter Coach and in a kind, loving voice tell him,
"You will have the memory of those three broken doorknobs. Those
broken doorknobs can live in your heart forever, but now it's time to
say good-bye to them."
If that causes too much separation anxiety, suggest that you pack up
some of his stuff and leave it in the basement or garage for a few
months. If he is comfortable living without it that long, he might
agree to have you dispose of that batch of stuff. Neither of you
should look inside the box; otherwise the anxiety will start all over
Third solution: Sometimes you can toss out someone else's clutter when
that person isn't looking, and sometimes you can't. You've got to
figure out this one for yourself.
Shannon, who has had some success fighting stealth clutter with
stealth clutter-busting, offers the following advice: Most true
Clutter Culprits can't find half their stuff anyway, so when they're
not around, you begin to dispose of it -- discreetly. Don't start with
clutter that is right in front of them every day. Start with the stuff
they can't see that is hidden and buried under other clutter, and
remove it gradually.
Sometimes Clutter Culprits will agree to get rid of clutter, but they
just don't want to do it themselves or be around when it's being
tossed out. Don't force them to be present during the clutter-busting.
Otherwise, you'll be tossing stuff out, and they'll be right behind
you dragging it all back in.
It doesn't seem fair that you should be stuck with getting rid of all
their stuff, but this is not the time to get into "your stuff and my
stuff; your job and my job." If you are capable of throwing out
clutter and your Clutter Culprit is not, but is willing to let you be
the tosser-outer, then seize the moment and start tossing. Sometimes
that's the only way you'll ever dig out from all that clutter.
When Juanita's children grew up and moved out of her house, they
became Clutter Culprits in absentia by leaving behind boxes, bikes,
and all sorts of cluttery stuff.
She learned to say, "I'm trying to do without tons of stuff so there's
not clutter everywhere. One way you can help is to remove your [fill
in the blank] from my place, or on the fifteenth the Salvation Army is
picking up everything." The first time she spoke those words, she had
expected to be terrified, but it was not at all as difficult as she
A fourth solution: We can't change people who don't want to change,
and some people just gotta have their clutter. In that case, give them
one clutter spot that is all theirs and you promise to keep your hands
off. It can be their room or closet, or their half of a room or a
closet, or their office. Maybe a section of the basement or garage.
They may simply need one place where they can have all their beloved
clutter together. You won't clean it, won't nag about it, won't touch
it, but that means it has to be a spot where you won't have to see it
or step over it.
And if the clutter meanders out beyond the boundaries that you have
both agreed upon, you have the right to do with it what you want. For
first or second offenses, many people just stash away the captured
clutter for a while and eventually return it. But if they have agreed
to keep their clutter in a certain spot, and you keep finding it
spread all over, you might decide on more drastic measures. The choice
Excerpted from The Clutter-Busting Handbook by Rita Emmett. Copyright
© 2004 by Rita Emmett
Excerpted by permission of Anchor Canada, a division of Random House
of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the
About the author
Rita Emmett is the bestselling author of The Procrastinator's Handbook
and The Procrastinating Child. She is also a professional speaker
whose self-help seminars are immensely popular. Her clients have
included AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, and the National Kidney Foundation. Rita
Emmett lives in Des Plaines, Illinois.