An often-quoted phrase in the organizing industry is, “clutter is the result of delayed decisions,” from the wisdom of long-time organizing expert Barbara Hemphill (Taming the Paper Tiger.) Making timely decisions is the heart of getting and staying organized, but many of us struggle with even the most simple of decisions on a regular basis.
Having piles of paper on your desk, or on your kitchen countertop, is the result of NOT making a decision about those papers’ significance, their relevance, or their proper place, whether temporary or permanent. Piles of clothes in your closet that you never wear because they don’t fit, are worn out, are out of style, or just don’t fit your lifestyle anymore are a result of not making a decision. We put off the decision to let the item of clothing go, either to trash, donation or consignment, whenever we try it on, take it off and drop in on the floor, or pass over it in the closet for the thousandth time, or just ignore it in the overstuffed dresser drawer again and again.
Sometimes those decisions are painful because they force us to face an unpleasant reality: we’ve gained weight, we wasted money on something that wasn’t right to begin with, we received a gift from someone and don’t want to hurt their feelings by letting it go. Sometimes the sight of all of those piles of clutter are a reminder of the money that we spent on things that we didn’t really need, can’t really use, and as a result, we’re now struggling under a mound of credit card debt that just doesn’t get any smaller (like the pile of stuff that grows and grows.) Making a decision to finally stop spending, or to give away those ill-fitting clothes, or to address the growing pile of paper, can be challenging.
However, delaying the decision doesn’t make it easier. It just adds to the pile of “mind clutter” – the stress of knowing that there could be something important in the pile of mail you’ve delayed opening, or the frustration of not being able to find what you want when you need it, or the embarrassment of arriving late yet again for another appointment, or forgetting another meeting, or not filing that report on time.
Yes, making decisions can be really hard! But sometimes, we agonize over even the smallest of simple decisions – those which are of very little consequence. The catalog pages pile up because we can’t decide what size sweater to buy. The paint chips pile up because we can’t decide what color to paint the kitchen. The papers pile up because we can’t decide what category to file them under. The social RSVP’s pile up because we can’t decide if we really want to go, or will something better come along?
And I ask you RIGHT NOW to weigh the consequences of your decisions. I get that taking time to decide what house to buy requires some decision-making muscle! But most of the things that we put off making decisions about are of very little long-term consequence. 99% of the stuff that we need to decide about is completely reversible, or reversible with very minor repercussions.
So – the sweater doesn’t fit. Return it, and buy a different size. Or just order 2 sizes to begin with and return one! Paint the kitchen orchid – if you hate it, it can always be painted again (and orchid is very in now….) File those papers into the closest appropriate category, or – brace yourself, Effie – make a NEW file for it! (acknowledging that we never look at 80% of what we file ever again.) That party RSVP? You know nothing better ever really comes along – what you really end up doing is feeling guilty that you never responded and everyone tells you what a great time you missed! Yes, I’m trotting out that old cliche – just DO IT! It almost always works out fine, and it just feels so much better to get it done. And you have the added benefit of not letting piles of undone clutter build up.
As for the credit card debt created by those piles of stuff you keep buying? Next time you’re ready to swipe, ask yourself a few questions: Do I really need this? Where will I put it? What will it replace? And the most important question of all: What emotional hole am I trying to fill by buying this right now? The answer may surprise you.