If you are diligently pruning possessions but are still not seeing the fruits of your labor, you may be overlooking a critical aspect of organizing. It is an often-overlooked part of the process and not nearly as well-addressed as purging, finding “homes,” and containing objects. Many individuals do not discard enough items for goals to be reached. A second cohort easily parts with excessive possessions yet still does not see progress.
Many culprits may cause the clutter, and I work with clients to identify them and create strategies to work around them (if we cannot outright eliminate them). However, over-acquisition is a common culprit that many have difficulty addressing because of its emotional charge.
I empathize with the thrill of the hunt and pride that comes with snagging a good deal, and I also understand the excitement of finding an object that solves a long-standing issue. I relate to those whose kryptonite comes in the form of organizational tools that sport beautiful colors, designs, fonts, and brushstrokes. Even in the age of pandemic-related supply-chain issues, we still find an abundance of tempting items and experience that enjoyable surge of dopamine as we line up at the cash register or click on the “checkout” button while shopping online.
Then we get home, and that dopamine surge is long gone, but that old familiar feeling of guilt has walked in the door with us. We face spaces that are already bursting at the seams. The new object might be placed on top of a pile of already-existing clutter since there is no space to designate its new home.
Acquiring can feel like a harmless activity, and it can be at times. There are many situations, though, when acquiring is the elephant in the room. If left unaddressed, no amount of organizing will fix the issues. Instead, we will tread water and wonder with frustration why our efforts did not result in expected gains. In those instances, we have to take an honest look at what we bring into the home. An occasional object here or there might not negatively impact a home’s ability to support the activities of its owner. If the space is already overburdened, though, even just one new possession can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
You have most likely heard of the one-in/one-out rule. As we bring one item home, we donate, recycle, or trash an object of equal volume. The outgoing items are also preferably in the area where the new possession will live. It is a good rule for maintaining organization in the home. However, this is just the beginning of the entire theory.
If a home is already cluttered and there is not enough space for new items, a one-in/two-out rule needs to be applied. This will help slowly reduce the volume to a manageable level. Still, it will most likely disappoint many individuals because the process will take vastly longer than expected. If the amount of clutter is quite large, this rule is not nearly aggressive enough.
It is important to see progress to maintain motivation throughout a decluttering project. An effective yet lesser-known rule is the one-in/five-out rule. It might sound extreme, but if volume vastly exceeds available space, then five objects out for every one object in is the way to go. Some individuals need much higher proportions, but that is typically when a professional organizer’s help comes into play.
So, if you have been dutifully organizing your home but are frustrated with the results, I would recommend taking an honest look at what you are bringing home. It is often the missing piece that can complete the organizing puzzle. Additionally, you can slow down and take an objective look at tempting items before you acquire them. It allows you to decide if the item truly deserves a space in your home or if it moves you farther away from the goal of having a relaxing, supportive home environment.
If acquiring has taken on a life of its own and you feel that the urge is stronger than your ability to overcome it, please know that professional help is available. Therapists specializing in compulsive acquiring issues can be just the help needed to break free of the debilitating acquiring cycle.
Years ago, I had a particularly inspiring home décor idea involving a large plant. Its long leaves would gracefully arch over my armchair, carving out a tranquil reading corner in my humble San Francisco abode. I could almost feel the relaxation as the image came into focus. Those types of plants, though, had wince-inducing pricetags. “Too expensive,” I thought and banished the flash of inspiration from my mind.
A year or so later, I came upon a five-foot-tall bird of paradise in the unlikeliest of places. It was tucked away in the far recess of a massive store and on sale for an unbelievably low price. I felt like destiny was knocking. I left the store, grinning from ear to ear.
As I reached the parking lot, I hit my first snag. This lovely plant was almost too large for my car. That should have given me pause, but I was determined to bring my idea to fruition. So, with some struggle and a bit of spilled soil, I worked it out. Perhaps at that point, I should have known that this was the beginning of a complicated love affair.
As with so many budding relationships, it started effortlessly. I placed it behind my chair, and, voila, my vision came to life. The leaves were slightly too low, so I purchased a pedestal to elevate the plant a foot off the ground. That little corner provided quite a bit of joy over the coming months.
Flash forward a year and a half. Just like all relationships, the initial euphoria wore off, and reality set in. Due to the nature of my warm apartment, the plant thrived and quickly outgrew that corner. The leaves blocked enough light in the evenings that it could no longer serve as my reading corner.
Knowing that no good relationship comes without effort, I plucked it from the corner and moved furniture to accommodate its new home. The relocation worked, but the unsightly container was an eyesore. “No problem,” I thought as I headed out to purchase a ceramic pot within my price range. The simple task quickly blossomed into a large project: everything was too small, too large, too heavy, too expensive, or too unattractive. After a disheartening search, I finally discovered a quaint outdoor nursery and discount container store with exactly what I needed. I did not want a saucer to mar the planter’s aesthetic, so the nursery staff suggested using silicone to plug the drainage holes.
This was a more complicated task than I had assumed. At the hardware store, an employee suggested that I use rubber plugs instead of silicone. When I arrived home, I attempted to hammer them into place, but the rubber proved uncooperative. On to plan B: I cut them to size. Unfortunately, they did not create a water-tight seal. By then, I had run out of time and wondered when I could finish the project, given the busy week ahead.
There sat my lovely plant, beautiful dark green pot, hammer, toolbox, rubber stoppers, and a bag of rocks for the bottom of the planter. That pile of clutter was a big nuisance and taunted me all week. What started as a simple impulse buy turned into a big headache. Between shopping for the pot and the additional supplies, I ended up going to more than six stores. Repotting also took a fair amount of time, given the plant’s large footprint and my small kitchen.
After all that work, though, it looked lovely in the new planter. I enjoyed it for many more months as it continued to grow. Eventually, it reached the ceiling and became too large. Additionally, it no longer looked as healthy as it had in the original spot. I came to terms with the fact that we had to part ways. I extracted a small shoot and sold the rest of the plant, but not before removing some of the soil because it was otherwise too heavy to carry. That little shoot grew even faster than the original plant and meant I had to sell it long before I was ready. That was a sad day. I had invested an incredible amount of time and energy into making my vision a reality. The plant had brought me so much joy, but the breakup had to happen much sooner than I ever would have predicted. We just were not a good fit for each other.
Why do I share this story?
So, the next time you are tempted to purchase on impulse, do yourself a favor and stop a minute. That allows you to decide it is truly worth the time, space, and effort that it will usurp from your life. Feel free to recall my cautionary tale so that you can leave an impulse buy on the shelf and instead spend that time cozying up in a chair with a good book.
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.