An often-quoted phrase in the organizing industry is, “clutter is postponed decisions,” from the wisdom of long-time organizing expert Barbara Hemphill. Making timely decisions is the heart of getting and staying organized, but many of us struggle with even the most basic 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 the result of postponing 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 spent on things that we didn’t really need, can’t really use, and that 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.) Actually making the 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 rest assured that those decisions don’t get easier with the passage of time. The longer it takes, the worse the consequences of delaying can be. Sometimes, we agonize over even the smallest of simple decisions – those which are of very little consequence. The catalogs and marketing emails 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. And I ask you RIGHT NOW to weigh the consequences of your lack of decision-making. I get that taking time to decide what house to buy, or what job offer to accept, 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 two sizes to begin with and return one! Paint the kitchen classic blue – if you hate it, it can always be painted again. File those papers into the closest appropriate category (acknowledging that we never look at 80% of what we file ever again.) 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 clutter build up.
As for the credit card debt created by those piles of stuff you keep buying? Next time you’re ready to hit “complete order”, 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.
File it. Recycle it. Shred it. Donate it. Throw it out. Keep it and make a home for it. Make a choice. Take an action. Decide to decide!