Like all good efforts at redemption, it always begins with a confession. I am a disorganized packrat. But I’m intent on recovery and my ability to clean up the mess.
What about you? Are you a disorganized packrat?
Listen to many psychiatrists and psychologists and they may tell you that disorganized packrats achieve this curious fame one of two basic ways. Either they create the disorder to show their internal turmoil or that they cannot cope with loss so they endeavor to keep everything – everything! – close by. For people who suffer from this syndrome – or suffer along with someone who does – it can seem impossible to clean up the mess they make
In my case, I don’t think either reason quite applies. I almost always start out with any project in a very organized state. Yet, as deadlines loom and paperwork and material accumulates, everything moves from tidy organization into the early signs of complete chaos. Books stack up everywhere, mail stacks up half opened sometimes over the top of sandwich plates, and coffee cups have a way of disappearing under the mess.
But, as I said, I resolve to clean up the mess. You can, too.
Some who suffer will need medical help. There can be underlying problems that make it virtually impossible for people to change their lives and clean up the mess without assistance. Occasionally, antidepressants and other types of drugs are prescribed to help the process.
In the most severe cases, the clutter grows so bad that people actually have to move out of their homes, with or without the behest of the local health department. Yet, left untreated, these sufferers are apt to simply recreate the mess in a new location so the new home or apartment becomes as bad as the old one. It’s not their intent to breed a whole new mess, but it’s almost always the result.
Most do not require long-term therapy, medication, or even a long talk from our mothers about cleanliness being next to Godliness. What we do need is to make the commitment to clean up the mess. We also need to make a deal with ourselves to refuse to let life or the rooms we live it in return to its previous chaos. Sometimes, this is easier said than done.
Commit on decluttering
Depending on how much of a mess you need to clean up, your first task after you make the commitment is to survey the rubble. Try to prioritize what needs to be done to clean up the mess.
Next, try to begin sorting through the clutter. Give yourself a limited space in which to place the items you absolutely need to keep and store properly. The idea here is to select what you keep very carefully. Everything else must go. Bear in mind, too, that you should only keep what you can store.
If you are short on filing cabinets, drawers, or closet space to put things away, you need to go to the store and buy organizational aids. Shelving, bookcases, more filing areas, or storage boxes may be the answer. You can also rent storage space elsewhere, but this can make it more likely you will just move the mess from one location to another, rather than cleanup the mess.
Once your absolute-keeps are put away, begin to move out everything else that does not make the cut. This material should not linger in a hallway or a garage. Instead, send it to the landfill, Goodwill, a garage sale, or recycle shop where it can become someone else’s precious junk.
Some experts say it is the “discard” pile that can be the hardest part of the work for chronic and acute packrats. They also caution us to be brutal with ourselves as we decide what to toss. Few of us need bottles of 10-year-expired medications, every stuffed animal we had as a child, or clothes we purchased in high school. Get rid of the broken items you have expected to – but did not – repair.
If you had lots of items stored up for your kids that you simply cannot part with, consider this. Make a box for each child and a single box for yourself. Put all the items related to each child in the respective box and keep only a few things for yourself. You can then give the individual boxes to your adult children and then store your own keepsake box safely away. If your kids are not yet settled in their own homes, you can store only what you can fit into those tidy, stackable boxes.