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Entries by tag: cluttering

In less ranty news, setting up my oh-so-sexy dining table (courtesy of Phil) vomited piles of boxes into the living room. I've been avoiding making serious progress on whittling them down, though honestly, it shouldn't be difficult once I clear enough space in both schedule and head to do it. My first attempt at emptying a box revealed that at some point in the recent past, the universe said to me, "Would you like to throw away this complete set of electricity bills from 1997? Or would you like to pack them in a box and oblige your friends to haul them to your new apartment?" And I said, "Oh, I'll take them. There's plenty of room next to this sheaf of gas bills from 2004." The electricity bills, gas bills, phone bills, ancient credit card bills, and Sumerian-era bank records are now in the recycling. If anyone really wants to see what my bank withdrawals looked like back in college for purposes of historical research, I'm sure I could fish some out for you.

I also found parts of stories I wrote in college; Bellatrix newsletters; mysterious folders of Information About Things from the pre-Internet age, when a sheaf of stapled Xerox copies was the equivalent of a forwarded URL on Facebook; and no sanitary pad. The last is encouraging. It means I'm coming to the end of my clutterer-era boxes. No, I don't know why there must be one (unused) sanitary pad in every box I packed from college on out. It's one of life's mysteries. Another clutterer I talked to said she found a pad in every box of hers, too, so perhaps it's a Clutterer Thing.

So, a poll:

Poll #1625578 Sanitary pads: Gates through which surrealism is let into the world

Do you find random sanitary pads in your packed boxes?

I'm a clutterer who uses/used pads, and I do find them in my boxes.
16(35.6%)
I'm a clutterer who uses/used pads, and I don't find them in my boxes.
13(28.9%)
I'm not a clutterer, but I use/used pads, and I do find them in my boxes.
9(20.0%)
I'm not a clutterer and I don't use pads, and I don't find them in my boxes.
7(15.6%)

Ticky?

Ticky!
31(100.0%)

ETA: *scratches head* There was supposed to be an option for clutterers who don't use pads and do or don't find them in their boxes. Oh well. If you're a clutterer and you don't use pads, tick whichever box you like best.
One of the more depressing things about clutterers' boards is the number of people who have "messy" or "pig" in their handles. MissMessy, Pigpen, MrsMess, MissPiggy. People who have come to identify themselves as their mess.

One of the other depressing things is the animated smiley abuse, use of ellipses or dashes as periods, and inability to type the word "lose" without sneaking in an extra letter or two. But, uh, I think that's just the Internet.
A discovery and a few realizations:

It's not necessary to make someone accept that they're a hoarder. People tend to approach hoarding the same way they approach alcoholism or drug addiction, and try to force the hoarder to admit to their hoarding as a necessary first step. According to something I recently read, it's not necessary. Hoarding is different from substance addictions, and even from addictions like gambling. You don't need to force someone to accept that they're a hoarder; you just need to get them to agree that they need to make changes.

Storage space won't help someone with uncontrolled cluttering issues. The clutter will fill all the available space, and if you make more space, the clutterer will make more clutter. This is part of why storage solutions don't help people with cluttering issues. Not only do the systems rarely get set up, they also don't do anything but expand the clutterable space.

Storage space will help someone with controlled cluttering issues. It clears away large objects and boxes that can't be dealt with right now, giving the clutterer more space to handle what's left over. Also, the more clear a space is, the easier it is to keep it clear. It's important not to backslide and shove things into the storage space permanently rather than deal with them, but if getting things out of the way for a little while helps you, then go for it.

If someone invented a laundry system that could handle two weeks of laundry, they'd make a mint. Most laundry sorters and baskets are big enough for two or three loads at the most, as much as most people accumulate when they have a washer and dryer on the premises. When you have to sit in a laundromat for two or three hours at a time, you make fewer laundry runs--maybe one every two weeks if you have enough clothes to tide you over. A modern American goes through a LOT of clothes in two weeks. You could build a shambling mound in two weeks, easy. And then there's the layer of clothes at the bottom that don't quite fit in the bag, or they're hand-washing, or you don't need them this week and you'd rather use the space for something else, so you leave them there, then the next two weeks' worth of mound goes on top... I don't think it's coincidence that most of the people I know who have shambling mounds don't have a washer in the building.

So now you have two weeks' worth of clothes to keep sorted and off the floor, and a three-day hamper to do it in. Rrrrright. Plus you have to own two weeks' worth of clothes, which about doubles the average work wardrobe of someone who isn't interested in clothes--and all those extra clothes need to be stored, which about doubles the strain on the storage system. A lot of them end up on the bed, the chair, on the top of the dresser, or in their own little mound, which eventually gets stepped on and shuffled around and mixed in with the dirty laundry.

You'll be rich if you can develop a laundry system that a) handles two weeks of laundry, b) spreads vertically instead of horizontally, c) is its own transportation to and from the laundromat, and d) is easy to restack once you get it home. Billions of apartment-dwellers are waiting for it.

Toward a classification of cluttering

People have already classified the kinds of mess you see in houses with clinical-level hoarding issues. What we're missing is a classification of common issues in houses with less severe problems. This is my attempt at a list of the issues I've seen.

[NOTE: I've seen all these types of hoarding in multiple houses, so if you think I'm singling your house out, I'm probably not.]

Gracious insufficiency: The household lacks certain inexpensive items that are in heavy daily use (glasses, spoons and forks, dishtowels, bath towels) but spends freely on entertainment. There are several reasons:

  • Poverty spending: When you live on a severely constrained budget, the occasional blowout makes you feel less poor. Buying towels isn't fun, so towels come out of the house budget, not the blowout budget, and there's never enough money for them there.

  • Entropy: Live without enough of something for a while, and “without” becomes normal. People who are caught in entropy may resist fixing the problem even if they buy new items—the new items go in a pile and they keep using the old.

  • No cleaning: If you don't do the laundry often, buying more dishtowels can seem pointless. There'll always be a dirty dishtowel, so what does it matter that it's always the same dirty dishtowel?

  • Group housing: Buying utensils and dishes for a household of several roommates can be thankless. If the household as a whole is going to own the dishes, no one wants to throw money down the hole; if one person owns the dishes, they don't want to put them out to be broken and dirtied by the rest of the household. It's easier to use the dwindling stock of chipped and filthy house dishes and save a mug in your room so you have something to drink from.


Kibble carpet:
The entire floor is covered with kibble, with peaks and valleys that can come up to knee height. Sometimes there are paths through the kibble; sometimes there are only low spots where you're expected to walk on the kibble. Often paired with kibble shelves or unused furniture.

Kibble room: When the kibble carpet is chronic and the household can afford to lose a little living space, the room is abandoned. Because it's not piled floor-to-ceiling, it's easy to miss—look for abandoned furniture toward the back of the room, or furniture disarranged, as though it were once a complete room and then someone came along and stirred it. A kibble room is a sign of severe hoarding issues (when a household loses living space, the problem is always severe), but because it doesn't look badly hoarded, visitors and even household members can disregard and discount it.

Kibble shelves: Shelves covered with an inch or two of kibble so you can't set anything on them until you're prepared to clean the kibble away. The things that are supposed to be on the shelves are often on the floor in front of the shelves, creating a gradually expanding mound of kibble. When the mound of kibble gets large enough, you can't reach the shelves any longer and the kibble on the shelves acquires a layer of dust.

No chairs: There are only enough seats for the members of the household. Any other chairs are used infrequently enough that they are rapidly covered with kibble or pushed off into corners of the room where they can't be reached. Households show unconscious genius in making chairs unusable; some are brilliant at positioning chairs badly, others at positioning chairs well and keeping them clear but covered with an evenly spread inch of cat hair, and some simply break any chairs brought within reach. When the household simply doesn't have enough chairs, it can be a case of gracious insufficiency.

Ring of furniture: The room is completely ringed with furniture—couches, chairs, bookcases, filing cabinets, makeshift storage—with the spaces in between filled in with kibble. The center of the room is usable and may be quite clean, but the edges are packed to capacity. Furniture may even block off windows and doorways. It's the sign of a household that has organized its possessions relatively well and managed to keep space usable, but still has far too much stuff.

[NOTE: Ring of furniture is practically normal in fandom and among bohemians. We tend to overstuff our homes regardless of whether we have cluttering issues—try comparing your apartment with the apartments of non-fans in the same complex with the same apartment layout.]

Ring of stuff: The room is completely ringed with piles. If there's furniture around the edges of the room, anything that's not in daily use has been covered with piles. This is the next stage after Ring of Furniture, and is a sign of severe hoarding issues.

Shambling mound: A massive pile of laundry blocks off part of the room. Doesn't matter whether it's clean or dirty—and often it's both.

Unused furniture:
Furniture that's not used even though it's not piled with belongings. Sometimes it's unused because it's no longer reachable, marooned in the corner of a sea of kibble. Sometimes it was brought into the house and never set up for use, so you'll find a modular bookshelf with all the shelves piled on the floor (and a pile of kibble on the bottom shelf and atop the bookshelf), or a table stacked upside-down atop another piece of furniture.

Ventilation, what ventilation?:
The windows are unopenable. Often they can't be reached because of the furniture or kibble in front of them. Sometimes they can't be opened for mechanical reasons: the window broke and was fixed with cardboard, the owners covered the window with film during the winter and never took it down, it was easier to block a drafty window with a board than to replace the window, the window wedged shut and no one called a carpenter to fix it. Some hoarders deliberately block windows to prevent neighbors from seeing in or because they have a horror of light. (This last one is more common in fannish circles. No, it's not a sign of vampirism. The people I know who did it were computer programmers.) Entropy plays a large part, too. It takes effort to raise and lower the shades every day; it's easier to lower them and leave them down.

This morning in the shower, I tried counting the number of clutterers and hoarders I know. At current count, the number is 14 16 definite, including three households that are heading toward forcible clearance by the county and five people who have lost housing situations as a direct or indirect result of cluttering or hoarding.

Hoooooly shit.

Reality check: How many clutterers or hoarders do you know personally?

Hoarding and Cluttering: Reality Check

Something I need to reread every so often, that some of you might find helpful too: Victims of Hoarders. It's a professional organizer's page for non-clutterers/hoarders who come to him looking for help for the clutterer or hoarder in their life.

A few quotes that I, personally, would like hammered into my head:

Because they are so smart and some have several degrees they have a warped sense that they are great "do it your selfers" and undertake copious amounts of projects that never get done because they omit and forget the amount of TIME it will take them to complete the project.

[....]

They are so smart that they belief is that there is nothing that they can't do themselves. NOT SO.

To the contrary, the concept of "I will do it myself" is the very reason clutter begins and grows with every new do-it-yourself project or remedy

Arg yesssss. So many situations go from bad to worse because cleaning and reorganizing efforts are bottlenecked behind some project that absolutely MUST be done, and must be done by the clutterer (or by carefully chosen workers closely overseen by the clutterer), and may never get done because if they're finished, the clutterer has to do something about the clutter.

I disagree that do-it-yourselfing is the cause of cluttering. But if you're looking for something to really spice up a cluttering problem and take it to the next level, do-it-yourselfing will get it done fast.

Random Decluttering Tip

Put a trash can in every room. Every room. Even the room where you've never had a trash can because you can go five steps away and put it in the trash in the next room, so having a second trash can seems wasteful.

And then ask yourself, where are your recycling bins? If you're like most people, they're in the kitchen, pantry, or garage--out-of-the-way utility spaces where you won't have to look at the recycling. Now ask yourself, where do you create the recycling? In the kitchen, sure. But how about by your desk? In your living room? Everywhere you create more recycling, put another recycling bin. It doesn't have to be a big blue bin like the ones you put out on the curb; an ordinary trash can does just fine. (Or if you're trying to get rid of cardboard boxes, a smallish box makes an excellent green recycling container.)

Now look at the size of the trash cans and recycling bins you already have out. Are they big enough? Or do they regularly overflow before you're ready to change them? You might be tempted to blame yourself--"The trash can is the right size, I just need to empty it more." Don't do it! You're not in the wrong. The trash can is too small and needs to be replaced with a bigger one. The ideal size for any trash can is one that needs to be emptied right around the time you're prepared to empty it. For high-volume rooms like the kitchen, this should be weekly or biweekly, whenever trash day comes; for lower-volume rooms, once every two weeks, or a month, or every two months is fine. Go through your house and right-size your trash cans and recycling bins.

Why is all this fussing with trash cans important? Because garbage is an important part of clutter. If it doesn't go straight into a can, it piles up around you, filling surfaces (so you can't use them and have to put objects elsewhere, creating more displaced clutter) and the floor (so you have to walk around it, creating islands where other things gather) and filling in the spaces between your existing clutter with dusty, sticky chum (so it's harder to declutter when you're ready to tackle it) and making the place look more cluttered than it is. If you get into the habit of putting trash or recycling straight into a bin when you're done with it, your clutter will accumulate far more slowly and be much easier to clear and clean.

Don't fight your own tendencies when you do this. It may make sense to walk five steps into the other room to throw trash away, but are you actually taking those five steps? It may sound better to empty a small can daily, but are you doing it daily? It may be more efficient to keep all the recycling bins by the back door, but is all the recycling making it to the back door, or is your TV room full of Coke bottles? The answer isn't to fix you. The answer is to fix your surroundings. After all, discipline takes weeks, months, years to acquire, but a trash can is $5.


ETA: Read the comments for more excellent tips on dealing with trash and recycling.

The essay that sparked off this post is "Stuff," by Tyler Gore.

THE NEWS YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR IS HERE.

The entire bedroom floor is mopped.

You may let out the breaths you have been holding. You're all so sweet.

Though seriously, I've had since October to do it, and it just got done now. This, children, is what procrastination looks like. Plus fear of the unknown. Because if you've mopped a floor under a half-dozen times in your life, the prospect of mopping an entire apartment arieek is more than a little daunting.

(The cats are prowling the washed areas, sniffing.)

It helps that the floor in the bedroom is clear. Hard to mop when there's stuff all over the floor; harder to want to bother when so little of the floor is free that what's the point in mopping? But right now the bedroom is completely clear--so clear that it doesn't feel like my room. Yes, it's my furniture, and my books, my lamps, the pictures I've had for decades; but I look around it, clean and alien, and it doesn't feel like my room. It took me until the day before yesterday to figure out that it was because the room was box-free and clutter-free. It's a weird side effect of decluttering, and one I don't know how to handle.

This is what avoidance looks like.

Up at 7:30, because when you don't have to go to work, getting up early is like conspicuous consumption of time. Also because inner alarm clock is stupid, in a convenient way. Fiddle around on net. Do finances. Call agencies for work. Fiddle around on net. Read a little. Fiddle around on net. Start hand-washing. Wash dishes until dishrack is full (15 minutes); wander off with food. Fiddle around on net. Look at photos of previous apartment. Be horrified. Look at photos some more. Put away dishes, wash until rack is full. Reorganize toiletries shelf of hall closet. Reorganize bottom shelf of hall closet. Move small piles of stuff to Away pile, Put In Hall Closet pile. Fiddle on net. Dust bedroom. Wash more dishes. Make tea. Start moving small objects out of bedroom. Wash bedroom mirror. Move bedroom mirror out of bedroom. Sweep bedroom. Move large, heavy furniture to the middle of the room. Resweep bedroom. Turn shower on. Move more things out of bedroom. Get mop and bucket out of closet. Rinse bucket in shower water. Take mop into bedroom. Realize that there will be more mopwater than the bedroom needs, consider mopping kitchen. Notice box of glasses sitting at the end of the kitchen on the floor, like always. Open box. Find three lone glasses. Put glasses on counter to wash, throw away box. Consider sweeping kitchen immediately. Shower. Emerge from shower. Brush teeth. Rinse hand-washing. Get dressed. Drink first cup of tea.

Fiddle online.

Next: Wash exposed half of bedroom floor; sweep and wash kitchen floor. Finish as much of the edging in the bedroom as is reachable. Move the furniture back into place. Move the rest of the furniture away from the walls. Finish as much of the edging in the bedroom as is newly reachable. Wait for the paint to dry. Sweep and mop the other half of the bedroom, bathroom, possibly any other piece of the floor that can't get away fast enough. Install curtain rods in bedroom. Hang curtains; measure them; then take them down and hem them. Rehang them. Put furniture back in place. Put up decorations that have been in storage for three months. Make bed.

Go shelve books in the library

Come home, flop into bed, wish I'd actually been productive today.


Stuff to not do:

Apply to jobs
Write articles
Write about the Winterbournes post-apocalypse
Write about Tory and the saint who wasn't except when she was
Write about steampunk gentlemen having hot tea

Random task generators?

Wold anyone find random task generators helpful? They'd be for those days when you want to do something, but it's all too huge and you don't know where to start. So, naturally, you'd ask the Internet*: Give me a 15-minute task. And the Internet, or my corner of it, would say: Do a clean sweep of one shelf of your fridge.

Would this be useful to any of you?


* If the Internet can tell you whether you're pregnate, it can tell you how to clean your room.

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