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.
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.