Full disclosure: I am not a messy, disorganized person — especially when it comes to my workspace.
I can’t concentrate on work when there are too many papers on my desk, I have zero unread emails in my inbox (both work and personal), and sometimes when I look over at other desks covered with old newspapers, books, notepads and other journalism-related things, I get a pang of anxiety deep in my soul.
"Organize it, Erin," my brain whispers, somewhat maniacally. "Go ahead, make some labels..."
My only consolation is I am certainly not alone in my desire to declutter: In 2015, books under the cleaning, caretaking and organizing umbrella accounted for 91 per cent of all units sold in the broader category of house and home, according to BookNet Canada. That’s up from a 17 per cent in 2014, and 14 per cent in 2013.
So it’s no surprise decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was the No. 1 seller in the house and home category.
Kondo, who’s originally from Japan, has taken the world by storm with her KonMari system of tidying up, including tips on not only how to downsize, but how to fold and store the remaining belongings in a way that makes sense and brings joy.
She has taught millions of people how tidying up can literally change the way you live your life.
She’s followed that bestseller up with Spark Joy, which adds even more organizational tips.
Susan Macaulay, who runs the Winnipeg organization company Clarity Over Clutter, is also of the belief that decluttering can positively impact many aspects of your life. She says the first step to getting in the right mindset for reorganizing is to visualize the desired outcome.
"When you’re dealing with stuff in your home, and you start putting it into your mind that you want to make some changes, how ready are you to do that? What would you like your home to look like?" says Macaulay. "It’s like going on a holiday; you need to where you’re going before you can pack, and it’s the same thing with getting reorganized."
There are three main types of disorganization that Macaulay typically encounters: chronic, situational and hoarding.
Chronic disorganization is when, no matter what a person does, they just cannot seem to get their things in order. "It’s not just the stuff, it’s their habits, behaviours and routines," says Macaulay.
Situational disorganization is exactly as it sounds — disorganization spurred by a certain stressful situation such as a death or a big move.
Then, on the extreme end of things, there’s hoarding, which is when a person is unable to discard useless items, or items that have limited value, resulting in a massive collection of stuff that can potentially be dangerous to the person, their health and their home.
"Everybody has a different level of tolerance," says Macaulay, who has been a professional organizer since 2008. "I’ve walked into people’s homes where they go, ‘Oh this is just awful,’ and you go in and it’s just a couple of areas, but to them, that’s what plays heavy on their mind, it means a lot and needs to be taken care of."
In terms of helping clients decide what to keep and what to toss, Macaulay has an easy-to-follow approach. She assists her clients in dividing up their items into four categories: donate, recycle/garbage, auction or give to friends, and lastly, items to keep.
"The reason why I say ‘keep’ last is because you’ve already got it in your home; you’ve already kept it. Now you’re trying to change your thinking around," she says.
It’s not just physical items that pile up, either; digital decluttering is something that plagues many people, especially those who do the majority of their correspondence, be it work or personal, via email.
In her new book New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone Else), Fay Wolf dedicates an entire chapter to ways of minimizing digital clutter, and suggests the first step to consuming less digitally is to reassess our relationships with our digital life.
"What do we truly want from our tech-based connections?" she asks. "What parts are we willing to sacrifice for greater clarity? And what do we want (or not want) to be interrupted by?
"You may think you have zero downtime, and perhaps you’re right, but if you’re struggling to plant that mini herb garden on the balcony and you’re also aware of what your 27 favourite celebs are tweeting about at any given time of day, then the time is there, friend — you just gotta reclaim it."
The idea of reclaiming is a through-line for all forms of decluttering. Reclaiming time, reclaiming space, reclaiming control.
"You have to ask the question: do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?" says Macaulay.
Though each case varies dramatically, Macaulay notes there are a few things anyone can do to help kick-start the process of reorganization.
One tactic she uses is asking her clients to calculate their monthly expenses and then to divide the square-footage of their living space by that amount. Assigning a dollar amount to each square foot of unusable space means there’s a tangible repercussion for allowing clutter to accumulate.
"So now you’re spending, say, $8 a month, every month, month after month for that stuff to sit there... I’m working, I’m making money for what? To pay for this to sit there? To cause me anxiety when I come home and I’m not comfortable in my own home?" she explains.
The most important thing every person who wants to declutter must do, says Macaulay, is get mentally prepared for not only a change in mindset, but for a long, exhausting and time-consuming process. Kondo’s cute illustrations of neatly folded shirts and ideas of joy-powered sorting are all well and good, but getting the job done isn’t always going to be a pleasant experience — though, hopefully, the results will be.
"It’s not like what you see on TV where they do it in an hour-long show. This isn’t going to happen overnight, it’s going to take a long bit of time. They have to have the right mindset, they have to know that this is going to be a lot of work. It’s one thing to think about it, it’s another thing to start," Macaulay says.
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.