July 4, 2005

The struggle against disorder.

Locally, I'm caught up in an email discussion about the struggle to keep one's house in order. I wrote:
I could use a little motivation to keep my house in order. One reason I want to move to a smaller place is to have more order. I love order just enough to appreciate it after I've cleaned up and to think I should keep it that way and then to remember that feeling, later, when disorder has taken over.
And then this:
I'm thinking of ordering a dumpster, just to fill it up. A dumpster's worth of stuff removed from my house would really make me feel better.
The idea of a yard sale was raised. My response:
It's not worth dealing with strangers pawing through my things for a few hundred bucks. You have to sort through things and display them and be pleasant to everyone and face their cheapness. Horrible!


ronin1516 said...

But, Ann, it is a lot of fun having a yard sale!! yes you will get folks who are extremelt chear, embarrasingly so. But, think about it, you could take a lot of wonderful photos, and also have a whole lot of stories that you could blog about. Like the time I lived in one of the student co-ops in A2, (right by the Rock ay the corner of Hill and Washtenaw), and we decided to have ayard sale to get rid of junk. Most of it was stuff left behind by previous residents of the Co-op house. And I remember thatthere was a non-functioning table lamp, listed at $100, since it had a reasonably nice ceramic shade. And a woman from the Burns park area came and argued and whined and fumed, because we would not lower the price to 50 cents!!!!We said that 75 cents was the lowest we would go, just to get her mad. She drove off in a huff twice, but came back each time, and then finall paid us 75 cents for a lamp that was clearly labelled "does not work"!!!! She wasted maybe 2 hours of her time to get a busted lamp!!!!!!

chuck_b said...

This situation calls for strong medicine.

Holding on to stuff you don't use that means nothing to you is a DISEASE! You're sick! You have to start from there and make the decision to get better, or you will go on living without dignity in a cluttered, crippling environment.

That's what I had to tell myself and it worked.

Holding on to stuff sucked and I don't regret getting rid of a single thing. Not one object. Nothing. Nada. You won't either. Just do it!

Garage sales take time you don't have to make money you don't need. The pittance you recover does nothing to assuage the financial micro-damage you did acquiring it all in the first place.

Take all of it to the Goodwill. Try to do it all in one trip; multiple trips may weaken your resolve to get the job done. Consider renting a U-Haul van if you have to. It'll be $20 well-spent. Call your garbage company and tell them you have extra stuff for pick up this week.

If you have things you can't bear to part with, localize them altogether in one area so you can get a very clear picture of what it is that controls you. Do this in an inconveneint area that forces to you deal with it. Don't let stuff diffuse all over the place in order to create the illusion you aren't drowning in clutter. You have to deprive yourself of the illusions and mental tricks that enable your habits.

chuck_b said...

PS Obviously, I don't really know your situation or the situations of the people mentioned in your post. My advice is for the people who know what I'm talking about. You know who you are.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lindsey said...

You want to move!?! But you just got those blinds up!

Ann Althouse said...

Ronin: Funny! You're right I could blog. That's a plus, as it is for all sorts of things, like crashing my car.

Leland: "Take all of it to the Goodwill. Try to do it all in one trip." That statement so misestimates the size of the problem. Not to mention the size of my car. My problem isn't that I'm clinging to things, just that I am not taking the trouble to rid myself of them. If I had a checklist of all my possessions and could make items disappear by checking them off, I would have no trouble.

Sippican: "Miniturization" is an extreme term when you consider that I want to downsize from a house that is 4000 square feet PLUS attic and basement. I would not make the mistake of just stuffing the old junk in new closets. I hate stuffed closets. Keep in mind that I have two adult sons in the final stage of moving out, so just to have the same space per person, I could do with a much smaller space.

Ann Althouse said...

Lindsey: And a blind in another room just broke.

Dale B said...

I have been struggling with the disorder in my house for my whole life. Since I live alone, and always have, there is no one to object to the clutter. As I see it there are several problems.

1) My deisre for order is not as strong as my tolerance for clutter.

2) I have too many interests that have LOTS of stuff associated with them (sailing, motorcycles, computers, and tools (for making more stuff)).

3) I have enough income to indulge myself. When I was poor there was much less of a problem. Right now there is a new Ohlins motorcycle shock absorber and a new set of impact wrench sockets under my dining room table bacause there isn't any room on my "motorcycle stuff" and "tools" shelves.

4) My house is too big and it's too easy to get just one more thing. When I had a small appartment I had just as much clutter density but much less absolute volume as there was less space.

5) I am going against the laws of physics. Entropy is always increasing in the universe.

6) By nature, I am a lazy slob.

A couple months ago I started to try to fill my big city provided trash container every week. It's huge and a couple of months of this would get rid of all the junk. This plan worked for two weeks and I quickly returned to my old habits.

One big effort seems more likely to succeed and I have seriously considered the dumpster solution. That would only account for maybe 30% of the stuff. Still, 30% is better than nothing. I have not yet done this as I can't find the yellow pages to look up the number of a dumpster company.

Saturday I went to The Organized Living store here as they were having a going out of business sale. I bought several of those nice chrome steel wire modular shelving systems. This should give me enough shelves to get everyting off the floor and onto a shelf in the basement or the spare bedroom.

One of the units I bought is a clothes hanger and have I set it up. It now holds all my motorcycle riding clothes and is full. It was supposed to hold the motorcycle AND sailing clothes. The sailing clothes are still hanging on various doors.

The other three shelving racks are still in boxes, two in the hall and one in the garage (because the hall is now full of shelving system boxes).

I am trying, but this is a REALLY hard problem.

Maybe the city of Minneapolis will use eminent domain to condem my house so that they can build some condos and I can just walk away. One can only hope.

Dale B.

Unknown said...

There is no reason to throw in a dumpster what might actually be sold at a yard sale... not because you should have a yard sale, but because there are charitable organizations who will pick stuff like that up and haul it away for you, so they can give it to those who can really use it. You would be surprised what they are willing to take, and how much they're willing to take, too.

At the very least you should find one of those organizations and give them first shot at the stuff you're going to toss.

Ann Althouse said...

Mcg: I would give usable stuff to Goodwill or St. Vincent's (which is less picky than Goodwill, in my experience). Maybe Goodwill has a container to drop off that they come back and pick up. That would be helpful.

Laura Reynolds said...

With three children at home (and not a big home) clutter and disorder are a constant struggle for my wife and I. Even though we have moved twice in the past five years and got rid of a lot, its still too much, especially as older relatives start passing along things. A couple points:

1. If you get to the point that you know what you can get rid of, giving it away is the best route, unless its something of significant value that can be easily sold.

2. Deciding what to get rid of can be very difficult, moving can force the issue. Do I really want to pack and unpack this?

3. I think we have all been in very neat orderly homes that lacked "fun" its not good to get too out of control but we've always tried to err on the side of having a happy home with creative (i.e. kinds messy)kids. I can't say what happens with no kids around.

Good luck, you can always go the FlyLady route, we Americans have too much stuff. When we lived in the Marshall Islands, their slang name for us, roughly translated, was "people with a lot of things."
It wasn't a compliment.

tommy said...

We have a local charity here that will come pick everything up provided you have something "large" enough that you couldn't just bring it over in the car. Therefore I'm in the habit of keeping an old fridge in the garage for just such an emergency. That has to be why I'm keeping it right?

In the Air Force we moved 6 times in 10 years and I complained about each and every one of them but...they were a wonderful way to get rid of all the crap that has accumulated in the 7 years since my last move.

Lars said...

Fighting entropy is futile

Lars said...

Fighting entropy is futile

Roger Sweeny said...

I hate getting rid of stuff. But I love the thought of someone--anyone--making use of it. So after we moved and realized how much we didn't need, we had a big yard sale, with everything priced incredibly cheaply. And if someone thought the price was too high, I probably lowered it. The idea wasn't to make money; it was to find my stuff a home.

Since then I've taken things to the trailers that several organizations maintain nearby or responded to one of the postcards saying "We'll have a truck in your area two weeks from Friday; please call for a pick-up."

Ann Althouse said...

SteveR: FlyLady -- I had never heard of that, but then I looked at the site and it kind of scared me. For some reason, though, it motivated me to set a timer at 60 minutes and try to do as much as I could but only for an hour. I got a lot done! If I did that every day or so, I would reach into the deeply troubled recesses of this old house -- like the studio, where a table leg broke, and a whole lot of boxed games fell on the floor. I've been pretending that didn't happen!

chuck_b said...

If I underestimated the size of the problem, it's because you provided me with incomplete data! :)

If you need to reduce 4000 sq ft of possessions, you could have an estate sale. Look in the yellow pages under "Estates--Appraisal and Liquidation".

Laura Reynolds said...

Yeah Fly Lady is a bit scary but she makes a lot of sense and as I understand has quite a following. Our biggest downfall is clutter on surfaces, table tops, counters, etc. "hot spots" as she calls them. Yous are not alone..

MarkT said...

Ann, as Lars said about entropy, resistance is futile. You are fighting a force of nature, namely the second law of thermodynamics, which states that 'in any natural process the amount of disorder increases'.

Here's how I deal with it. The dumpster/Goodwill/arson approach looks at the 'big picture', which for me is too much to deal with at one time. I think about the one, small, isolated thing that bugs me the most. Then I decide what I want to do about it, fix it, clean it, put it away, throw it away, sell it or give it away - whatever it takes. Then, I do it. Afterwards, I congratulate myself and consider how it feels to have imposed order on some small part of My Stuff. I focus on that sense of accomplishment. It feels good and acts as a reward, so I want to do it again. Then, I repeat the process.

This way, I’m not afraid of throwing away the baby with the bathwater and avoid the emotional upheaval of more radical approaches. I feel more in control; have a better appreciation for the things I have and don’t feel as if getting something else will only contribute to the chaos.

It may take some time, but I'm in no particular hurry. I'm never bored since there's always the next item on the list to deal with. And my neighbors don’t have to worry about my using high explosives.

MarkT said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PatCA said...

YOu should submit yourself at once to Mission Organization! It would be fun!

What I've gleaned from them is that you have to apply the same rigorous methodology of orderliness to home as to work.

I tried the garage sale thing, too. Made about 10 bucks. Totally bad experience.

amba said...

What an odd coincidence. I also wrote a post today about hating housework and fighting disorder and -- Dale -- about entropy. Maybe this is something people (or people named Ann?!) think about on holidays, because on ordinary days your routine tends to push the clutter into the background.

Russell said...

If you don't want to deal with cheapskates coming to your yard sale, how about a "free sale" instead? People will take lots of stuff off your hands, if it's free. No haggling!

lindsey said...

I'm so confused. Who is FlyLady? is there a link to some site I can't find on this page? Help.

Nancy said...

Ann--watch one episode of TLC's Clean Sweep. Then give yourself some time to reflect.

After that, let go most everything you haven't worn, touched, used in two years.

Renew yourself.

MarkT said...

Lindsey, here's a link to FlyLady.

Harkonnendog said...

A lot of people really enjoy having garage sales. You might have a friend like that. If you do, ask her if they'll sell your stuff at their next big sale- offer her half the gross or whatever.

My parents did this and it was a win-win- the bigger the sale looks the more the garage saler sells.


Harkonnendog said...

Oh- and i always go back to that Shel Silverstein poem about the girl that ate the whale. how did she do it? one bite at a time

Diane said...

I vote for the dumpster. They're big so if you can't fill it all up yourself, invite your neighbors to toss stuff in. They'll love it. We're moving, getting a dumpster, but what do we do with one grown child's old track tropheys? Another's stuffed animals and college notebooks? They want them, but they don't want them. We don't want them, but we want them.

Meade said...

off topic: one more reason for Ann to be concerned about someone "going all Tom Cruise on us."

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea of giving stuff to charity. It could definately provide the emotional motivation to really dramatically put things into order by being very discerning with what you want to keep.

I completely understand what you describe. For me it's because I'm naturally not an ordered person... I'm quite scatalogical in my thinking so it's such a relief to create order in my life.

I would try and be uplifted by the process... re-decorate, or change the furniture around. Sometimes subtle changes can provide us with new stimuli that can make a dramatic difference to how we feel.

Anyway good luck with what you do... and the blog is really great :)

lindsey said...

I think you might want to be more careful in your usage of the word "scatological". Just a guess. Maybe you did mean to use that word, but I suspect it doesn't mean what you think it means. If I'm wrong, please tell me to f off.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Hire a house boy to remove the clutter. Designate a corner of the house for "castaways" and as you go through your day, toss stuff there. When house/cabana boy wakes up at 1 p.m., it is his task to actually get rid of the junk by any means necessary.

Now you might think hiring such a strapping young lad might be expensive, but in the tradition of Kato Kaelin (whose that? oh such short memories), he will just be happy to have a home, and a place to walk around wearing his new European leapard skin swimsuit without getting his butt kicked.

Actually, when I was forced to leave NJ and make my way across country to Phoenix with only what I could carry on the bus (and it consisted mostly of mementos of my deceased father, plus a laptop that ended up getting stolen), I realized how much I could do without, having left most everything else in storage. (I further realized what I could do without when everything in storage got sold off due to may lack of attention).

Oh, and that Fly Lady website is very, very cluttered. She seems to have trouble actually throwing away words on her homepage.

goesh said...

Getting rid of so-called 'junk' is nothing more than a reminder of our own mortality. Good luck!

Ann Althouse said...

Goesh: I quite consciously don't want to die and leave a huge houseful of confusing items for my sons to deal with. I have personally gone through that experience and think the older you are the more you need to take responsibility for not imposing such a thing on anyone.

To everyone who keeps promoting charitable donation: there are a lot of household things that aren't really donatable. I regularly give away clothes, and I'd give away large items of furniture in good condition, but I'm not clear on how much Goodwill really wants other sorts of things. You have to consult their rules -- they have a lot of them.

Ann Althouse said...

Here are the Goodwill rules actually. I think it's funny that "no wire hangers" is one of their rules. Also, no beanbag chairs and mini-hammocks -- who would guess? But apparently they want small "housewares." And they take old computers and appliances. They take some, but not all cribs.

goesh said...

Lo! That I could'st forever revel in my hoard
t'is true testimony of a life n'er bored
verily fetishes self-esteem keep'th shored atop the pile I reside'th as Lord
Yea! it do'th keep'th my sanity moored

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree with Ann about garage sales. Yes, some people love them. There is an entire segment of the population that dedicates Sat. for this purpose.

I have tried them a couple of times, and regretted wasting the time and, esp., the energy they require. Far better to just give to charity.

Sitting here in Colo., I find I have some 500 sq. ft. of storage in Phoenix, professionally packed to the ceiling. That, of course, doesn't include stuff I have in three locations in Colo.

Freeman Hunt said...

Do you have people in Madison who will handle a garage sale for you?

Where I live, there is a woman who will set up, price, and run your garage sale for a 35% cut of the earnings. You just show her the massive pile of stuff that you want out, and she does the rest. I think she even calls charities on the last day to come pick up anything that didn't sell. It's a pretty good deal.

Mawado said...

If you have the equivalent of Craig's List in Madison, you can list the larger items. (FREE is the magic word). I gave away some TV and computer equipment that the Goodwill in Silicon Valley won't take. Remember Goodwill wants to resell the take, but there are more people who need beyond those who can buy.
My buddy who is moving off the SF pennisula even ended up having his trash hauling expenses reduced by offering 'package' deals (e.g. take this old purple couch and I'll throw in this working 15 year old, working color TV.) The package went to a newly independent college student who was happy to have both.
Some other charity 'types' to consider that haven't been mentioned (assuming appropriate 'trash' of course):
business wardrobes for those looking for jobs, but without the appropriate attire. (link to a San Ramon service, I don't know what's available locally)

Church based job training programs for the homeless often will take computer and office equipment that the resale charities won't take.

There may be an equivalent of the Teacher's resource center. They can use a lot of materials that otherwise would have little or no cash value: pencils, paper, cloth for craft projects, old software, paper clips, etc.

Luck on decluttering. I had to move to achieve the effect.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Professor Althouse:
One thing I learned from Mary Kay Ash [yes, the one who founded the cosmetics company] is to touch everything ONCE. My mom, a child of the Depression era, cannot throw anything away. So her walls are closing in like the trash compactor in Star Wars because she has all these little piles everywhere. FOCUS is an acronym for "follow one course until successful" and if you focus on the one thing in your hand, it's one less thing from your to-do list. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Ok. I'm done with the positive mental attitude stuff.

Sheila said...

Hi Ann, As a lifelong ADD emblematic pile builder I invited a group of teens from a church summer camp who are taking cues from the show "Clean Sweep' for a real life reorganization. Any thoughts you may offer as they set my family's life on the lawn?

Did you ever find success with your efforts?