I have a theory that there are two types of people when it comes to tidying:
Type 1 | People who read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, watch the Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, maybe watch a couple YouTube videos demonstrating folding techniques, and they’re good to go. They make decisions about what to keep and what to discard fairly easily. They let go of things without too much trouble. They think tidying up is actually pretty fun.
Type 2 | People who read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, watch the Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, maybe watch a couple YouTube videos demonstrating folding techniques, and they’re paralyzed. Making decisions about what to keep and what to discard are incredibly stressful. Letting go of things is agonizing. They think tidying up is torture.
Type 2 people, this post is for you.
In an article on clutter by the Cleveland Clinic, clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Bea says, “If you struggle to make decisions about what to do with an object...you might escape the tense situation by just not deciding. Once you get into a habit of this, things start to pile up, and before you know it, there’s a clutter problem. You don’t know how your home got in the condition it is.”
Don’t worry if you’re in this group. You’re in good company. “Clutter and hoarding behavior are very common problems,” says Bea. “Part of the problem is cultural: We live in a society that’s driven by consumerism, and many people amass things that they don’t need simply because acquiring stuff is what Americans do.”
Another contributing factor is that we’re bombarded by choices when we acquire our stuff. We have to make an unbelievable number of decisions every day. No wonder we don’t feel up to making more, it’s exhausting! I just counted the number of non-dairy milks at my local grocery store. There were 57 choices! In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz asserts that having so many choices can actually be detrimental. He says it can “lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety and perpetual stress.”
In the beginning of his book Schwartz tells a story about buying a pair of jeans. We were visiting my oldest daughter Kelsey in Chicago a couple weeks ago and basically re-lived his story. She was going to be in a show at Second City one of the nights we were there (mom brag) and she ripped the pants she was supposed to wear. There was no way to mend them - she had to buy a new pair. We looked at the resale shop, but didn’t find what she needed, so we went to the Levi’s store. She was ready to plunk down the money to buy a pair of high-waisted black jeans. It seemed like it would be easy. We’d be in and out in 5 minutes. But nope. There were High Rise Skinny, High Rise Straight, High Rise Super Skinny, Mile High Ankle Skinny, Mile High Super Skinny, and Ribcage Super High Rise. Good grief! 45 minutes later, we left the store with a pair of jeans. But during that time, my fit, lovely daughter became more and more critical about how each pair looked because she was struggling to make the very best choice. She ended up feeling bad about herself. If she’d just had to choose between high waist and low waist...
Schwartz says that, “as the number of options increases, the effort required to make a good decision escalates as well, which is one of the reasons that choice can be transformed from a blessing into a burden.”
Actually, I guess part of the reason it took 45 minutes was that when Kelsey came out of the dressing room to show us the 1000th pair she was trying on, she let the door slam and lock behind her. Not just once. Three times! Yep. We had to go out front and ask the clerk to let her back in the first two times. I guess the third time the girl was listening for the tell-tale door slam and came back on her own.
Anyway, If you want to get your home tidied up but are struggling, Dr. Bea says that, “Getting some outside assistance to help with the decision-making process is one of the most effective ways to overcome the stress associated with clutter. This might be a family member, friend, or paid decluttering consultant.”
So...who should you choose to help? Let’s pretend you’re trying to decide whether or not to keep a t-shirt, and the friend or family member below who is helping you says this:
A. The meanie: “I can’t believe you want to keep that top. It’s always looked better on me than you. That color is horrible with your face.”
B. The guilt tripper: “I can’t believe you want to give away that top. Great Grandma Black gave that to you on your 10th birthday! Poor Grandma. Welp, I guess you don’t love her anymore. She’s probably turning over in her grave right now.”
C. The de-motivator: “I can’t believe you want to go through all these clothes! Ugh! This is soooo boring! Let’s go get coffee.”
You choice should be D, none of the above. You need to choose a person who will give you encouragement, be quiet long enough for you to think through your options, let you make the decision, and be non-judgemental.
If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, maybe it’s time to think about getting different friends (kidding). Or you could hire a professional organizer. KonMari Consultants are trained to gently but firmly guide you as you make your own choices. One of the key tenets of our training program is that we are to behave non-judgmentally. We don’t have an emotional attachment to any of your belongings, so we can look at your situation with objectivity. We are trained to help you stay focused and on-task so you aren’t tidying forever. We systematically make our way through your home with you, relieving you of the need to decide what to tidy next.
If you do choose to hire a professional organizer, I recommend you chat with them on the phone first. Make sure you’re comfortable with their methods, and that they understand your goals. For example, I prefer to work with people who are at least open to the KonMari Method™ because I’m convinced it’s the best way to tidy your home once and for all. I let potential clients know that I won’t come into their home and make them get rid of anything. I help guide them in their decisions, but ultimately, what sparks joy for them is not for me to decide. Also, I choose not go to someone’s home and tidy it for them while they’re gone.
I feel very privileged when someone invites me into their home, because this is a such a personal process. I hand people tissues when they cry. I laugh with them over funny memories. I rejoice when they tell me they feel like a weight’s been lifted off their shoulders. Sometimes my purpose is just sitting next to my client, sometimes I stand shoulder to shoulder with them to help them stay on track.
I feel proud of my clients for being brave enough to reach out and ask for help, and unbelievably thankful that I get to join them on their tidying journey. It’s so fun!!
If you want to tidy up but feel stuck or hopeless, I hope you’ll reach out for help too, whether you enlist family, friends or a professional. You can do this!!
Sue Fehlberg is Arkansas’ only Certified KonMari Consultant