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Grateful or Overstuffed?

Thanksgiving celebrates the bounty of the harvest and is symbolized by the cornucopia, the horn of plenty. It is a time to remember our abundant blessings and practice gratitude. For those with organizing dilemmas, “bounty,” “plenty” and “abundance” may be more cause for frustration than thanks. 

The majority of my clients express a fear of seeming ungrateful when they get rid of clothing, food (even past the expiration dates) and gifts that have created clutter and irritation. It is natural to feel some guilt when abundance becomes excessive to the point that you need to hire professional help, but being “overstuffed” is an increasingly common American phenomenon and a reason organizing is such a growing profession.

Prevention is the greatest tool in keeping clutter — and guilt — at bay. Gifts and shopping are two areas you can work on.

You can’t prevent people from giving you things you don’t need or want. I recently attended a girlfriend’s birthday party for which she emphatically stated, “No gifts.” I was the only one who complied. If you already have all that you need or want, ask for experiences — such as lunch out, a massage, a hot-air balloon ride, a manicure — rather than traditional gifts. And when you are on the giving end, be sure to send edibles, flowers or certificates for experiences. 

Impulse shopping is a quick route to becoming clutter-challenged. Try to wait 24 hours after finding something you “have to have” online or in a store. If you can, put it on hold. If I have trouble sleeping, I know I have to go back and purchase the item, but most of the time I forget it before I even close my laptop or get home from the store.

HALT: Try to remember the acronym HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) when you’re tempted to hit the stores.  Dieting wisdom keeps us out of the grocery store when we’re famished and willpower is low. When it comes to clutter, angry, lonely and tired are the feelings to watch out for.

How many times have you pulled out the credit card in an “I’ll show them!” moment? It’s classic angry shopping. Or how many times have you logged on to Net-a-Porter and bought something to perk you up after another miserable match.com date? The Internet and QVC love the lonely lady. Have you ever bought something, anything, at the exhausting end of a day at the mall just so it wouldn’t seem a total waste of time? Nordstrom puts the accessories near the exits to tempt the tired shopper. No need for a changing room.

When you do shop, save your receipts. Toss them after you are certain you like and will keep something. Don’t let the receipts clutter you up — unless it is a deductible expense, and in that case, file it. Also, always be clear on a store’s return policy. If there is a “store credit only” policy, be very sure there will be no regrets.

The more thoughtful you are about what comes in to your home, the more gratitude you are likely to have for each and every item. After a thorough purge, the treasures you decide to keep — from an un-expired bottle of aspirin to a diamond brooch — seem much more valuable after being rescued from a sea of “so-so” stuff. My clients usually find the transition from guilt to gratitude fairly swift once they embrace the organizing process.