If I had a Declutter Book Club, the following would be my top picks. If a professional organizer is not in your budget, inspiration and guidance can be found in a well-written book on organizing. New or old, these books stand out to me as extremely useful guides.
“The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” by Margareta Magnusson
This is the newest decluttering and organizing book in my collection. It is a slim but mighty volume. The author has a wonderfully kind way of approaching the subject of death, particularly with regards to stuff and getting rid of things so that we don’t leave our descendants with a big, unpleasant job.
Magnusson’s book had a quick flare of fame when the English translation appeared in the US, but not near the popularity of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I think that, as with diet books, Americans want a magical, complicated, exotic way to tidy up and get organized. I think the cute, young Japanese woman, a compulsive perfectionist in her child-bearing years, appeals to Americans more than an elderly Swedish lady telling us we’re going to die so let’s let go of excess and clean up our messes. It’s a Disney Princess versus an Ingmar Bergman character—the princess wins with Americans every time.
That’s not to say Magnusson’s book is dark–it is highly readable, even entertaining. It’s just that the title turns a lot of people off. I found it full of sensitive advice, for example, how to approach cleaning out a tool shed. I learned that the Swedish word for tool shed is “snickarbod,” which I love, even though I tend to wince rather than snicker when faced with the disorganization of most tool sheds. These days, Magnusson reports, the Swedes refer to such rooms or buildings as “mansdagis” meaning “male kindergarten.” I didn’t say it, she did!
“Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui,” by Karen Kingston
Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art of balancing the energy (chi) and elements of a space. This is an old book and I found it a little bit tired when I reviewed it again for this column, but that’s probably because I’ve read it so many times that the information seems obvious to me now.
Kingston spells out why clutter is so draining — it represents “stuck” energy. She gives the reader insight into how and why we get stuck and direction on how to identify and clear clutter and maintain a clutter-free home. You can’t hide from the chi!
“It’s All Too Much,” by Peter Walsh
Walsh is the psychologist-organizer from the old TV show Clean Sweep. In this book, his first and best of many, he digs into the psychology of Stuff (capital S) and how to make letting go of clutter less painful. This is for you sentimental types! If nostalgia keeps you from tossing Grandma’s moldy table linens that have been in the attic for 12 years, this is the book for you.
“Getting Things Done,” by David Allen
This one is mainly for the office and paper management, but it also delves deeply into what causes procrastination and project roadblocks. I took my first seminar with David Allen in 1998 and it was life changing. I continue to take his seminars whenever I can and always learn new tricks to better organization and time management. Getting Things Done is a classic on the order of Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” but for me, Allen’s is infinitely more useful.
“It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys,” by Marilyn Paul
Paul’s book is for those who can’t find their way through the clutter to accomplish what they’d like to in life on a material and/or spiritual level. Her focus is on identifying one’s purpose behind getting organized and visualizing success in order to achieve it.