How to Reduce and Avoid Clutter at Home
Clutter seems to be the bane of my existence at home. Well, maybe not quite so dramatically, but it is a never-ending battle to keep things neat and tidy.
A recent article published in the International Journal of MS Care1 details the clutter management group program offered at a large MS Care Center in New York City. The program addresses some of the psychosocial issues which may prevent organization and offers participants practical solutions for removing and preventing clutter in the home. In the article, the author suggests that healthcare professionals who provide care to people with MS should consider implementing their own “clutter groups” to improve the lives of those living with MS.
When I go to the neurologist’s office, I must complete a form in which I indicate how my symptoms are doing on a scale from 0-5. Many of the listed symptoms, such as weakness, immobility, balance issues, or visual problems, can greatly impact personal safety or the ability to accomplish activities of daily living for many people. It is important to address these symptoms to protect quality of life.
Never have I been asked about clutter at home during a doctor’s visit, but the impact of clutter can be significant. Clutter promotes confusion and places individuals in potentially dangerous situations by increasing their risk of falling, losing medications, and misplacing important documents. Clutter may also impact activities of daily living. Many common MS symptoms, such as decreased mobility, visual or cognitive changes, fatigue, and depression, can exacerbate clutter accumulation, which in turn can have detrimental effects on physical, financial, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. Not to mention that clutter can increase personal anxiety and social isolation.
The clutter management program provided by the MS Care Center in NYC consists of four steps: 1) make the time, 2) prioritize, 3) set easily accomplishable goals, and 4) reward clutter removal.
Fifteen (15) minutes each day is what is suggested to tackle clutter. No more, no less. Rather than try to complete a 3-hour task in one afternoon, spread the task over 2 weeks. Don’t try to conquer everything all at once. Prioritize what is most important, then select a small area to organize, such as one shelf, the corner of the coffee table, or a single dresser drawer. Set small, accomplishable goals and reward yourself for completing those goals.
When you are sorting items to remove clutter, place items into one of five categories: Trash (damaged, no longer can be used, sold, or donated); Good Homes (items that someone else may enjoy or be able to use); For Sale (valuable items that may be sold, but done so within a short time); Storage (functional items that are not used on a regular basis, containers should be clearly labeled); Keep (functional items used regularly or selected items with sentimental value).
Once you have conquered clutter, avoiding future clutter is equally important. Here are some general concepts which should help you prevent the build up of ‘stuff’ which so easily accumulates around the house.
Think Twice - Before purchasing an item or accepting a complimentary item, wait a day or two to avoid impulsive decisions. Determine whether the item is necessary and practical, or choose an item at home it will replace when you do bring it home.
30 Seconds or Less - General tasks which can be accomplished quickly should be completed immediately, such as washing a dirty dish instead of placing it in the sink with other dirty dishes, to prevent clutter buildup. If the task will take 30 seconds or less, go ahead and take care of it immediately.
Electronic Records - Scanning documents or photographs is a great way to preserve them without retaining a physical item. Word of advice from personal experience, you will want to establish clear folders and a filing system on your computer to organize material otherwise your computer can become as cluttered a mess as your home, maybe even worse.
Condensing - Choose representative items from a physical collection, such as your favorite five pictures out of over 40 from a specific trip, and discard the rest. This one is hard because sometimes I know that my favorites within a collection have changed over the years.
Use It or Lose It - If an object is not used, it should be discarded, sold, or donated. It is important to discard items that are not functional or not being used, instead of trying to rearrange or organize them. Avoid the trap of - I’ll fix it later to make it usable. Later rarely comes.
Take a Picture - Sentimental items to which you are emotionally attached are difficult to part with. Carefully consider whether retaining an item is critical to retaining a cherished memory. Taking a photograph of the item or collection may help to retain the memory of it while allowing the physical object to be discarded. Such a photo(s) could even be enlarged and hung on a wall.
Handle Mail Once - Immediately recycle junk mail to prevent accumulation and clutter. Separate important documents, such as bills or bank statements, from items which are less critical or more for enjoyment. Handle and file important documents in a timely manner. Set a time limit as to when you will act upon the less critical or pleasurable items.
Decluttering is a process that takes time and once completed, long-term maintenance of protecting 15 minutes a day for dealing with clutter is essential to prevent future clutter accumulation. Work at it bit by bit, day by day, and you can reduce clutter. Many participants of the clutter management group in NYC report that reducing clutter had a positive impact on their MS symptoms and quality of life.
What would you think if your neurologist’s office began offering a similar service - clutter groups? Would you take advantage of the opportunity to learn more techniques for improving your environment at home to improve your MS symptoms and quality of life?
The author of the referenced study suggests that healthcare professionals who provide care to MS patients should incorporate similar programs into their practice. Researchers are currently developing outcome assessments to objectively measure the effects of clutter management programs, as well as determine the prevalence of clutter within the MS population, for future study.
I have the hardest time with my MS during the following season: