Tips For Dealing With Other People’s Clutter.

Right now, if you didn’t know already, I am visiting my family back east. While there are several reasons I am here for a few weeks, one of the big reasons is to help a relative get a jump on cleaning out her house. While I am a neat freak with a slight case of OCD, this relative is the complete antithesis to this – a packrat with 30+ years of “stuff”, from floor to ceiling, in every room of the house…and the garage. And since I am very good at sorting/letting go/throwing away/recycling “stuff”, I have been brought in to jump start the process. And jump start it we did! Here is what we took out of the house for the last 2 days:

Day 1 – 8 bags to Goodwill, 5 bags to recycling, 8 boxes to the consignment shop, and 1 bag to the landfill.
Day 2 – 5 bags and a box to Goodwill, 6 bags to recycling, 2 tables, 6 chairs, 4 picture frames and assorted antiques to the consignment shop, and 2 bags to the landfill.

One of the keys to success working with packrats is to keep the operation moving. We started in the worst room in the house and first went through every item that was stacked in piles on the floor, sorting them into different “Keep”, “Trash”, Recycle”, “Goodwill”, and “Sell” boxes. In just a short amount of time, we could see the floor again – must to the delight of the homeowner! That gave us more inspiration to start working our way around the room, going through the boxes, bookcases, and bags that took up the rest of the space. By the end of the first day, we had managed to thin out the “stuff” in that room by about 70%, leaving behind a very manageable and slightly organized space. While our day had ended, we were both motivated to get started on the next room the following morning. Keeping everything moving and always seeing progress helps keep the spirits up, that’s for sure. But along with this inspiration, there are a few other things I have discovered (and always try to keep in mind) when working with other people’s clutter:

  • Patience is definitely a virtue
  • When helping someone out with their clutter, you need to be very understanding. While I could never live like this, this is how some people do live – and you have to have patience with them about it.

  • Take breaks often
  • People (myself included) get overwhelmed sometimes with their “stuff” when forced to deal with it. Taking breaks relieves some of this pressure.

  • Let them help
  • If you are helping someone, let them do some of the lifting as well to appreciate all that you both are doing. Let them see things go out the door and how you organize what’s left.

  • Give a little
  • You don’t have to get rid of everything when staring at a house full of stuff. If the person wants to keep some mementos, a few is better than a million! Give just a little on important items.

  • Help them with technology
  • Helping to scan/digitize those mementos not worth physically keeping goes a long way to help settle nerves. Using something like Evernote can help in this respect.

I have found that by trying to understand the mentality of a packrat, you can actually get more accomplished than you would if you were negative towards the situation. Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard for me to be surrounded by clutter and chaos. But by staying positive and working with (rather than against) the “stuff”, the process goes a lot smoother – and the end result is much better.

What about you? Ever tried your organizing/decluttering abilities with a family member? Did you have any luck? And if you have any more tips for working with other people’s clutter, please do let us know!

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  11. October 18, 2010

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