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on clutter

Here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun ‘clutter’:

A collection of things lying about in an untidy state.

Here’s the same for the verb ‘declutter’:

Remove unnecessary items from (an untidy or overcrowded place).

I can see a collection of things lying about in an untidy state on my desk. I know that if I stopped for a minute and put them away, the corner of my eye vista would be infinitely improved, I’d feel better and perhaps concentrate more on what I’m writing.

I’ve just done that – and I do feel better. But I don’t feel any better about either of the definitions above. Apart from the consistent use of the adjective ‘untidy’ (whole other discussion), I’m missing something – context.

My clutter might not be the same as yours. More importantly, my clutter of the future isn’t necessarily my clutter today. Surely it’s all about context. Here’s a photo of our kitchen table. There’s a pile of papers and books, some flowers and some playing cards. All the papers and books are current (ok, fairly current). There’s a print out of a timetable for an MSC course I’m considering, a letter announcing the time my daughter got in a recent race, a copy of Everyday Sexism, a book recently published by a dear friend, a signed document about our neighbours’ building work and a coursework book from a discussion group my husband and I currently attend.

Time is coming when I’ll make a decision about that MSC and recycle the timetable. We’ll recycle, scan or possibly file the two letters. Our current go-to reading will change; the discussion group ends in 2 weeks and we’ll want to refer back to the source materials so we’ll put it with the other books on shelves.

Everything in the pile is relevant to one or more of us at the moment. Its status is ‘current referral pile’. If people came for dinner its status would change to ‘being in the way’ and it might get moved temporarily. I don’t think it looks untidy. I’d rather it was there than it wasn’t.

If we left it for 6 months it would become clutter. It would become clutter because it would get bigger, we’d forget what was in it, there’d be less room on the table and it would be hard to find anything in it. To paraphrase a lovely APDO colleague, Juliet Landau Pope, that now bigger pile, would be ‘getting in our way and stopping us being who we are’.

Clutter is subjective. Before we work out what, for us, is clutter and what’s not, it’s important for us to take a step back, identify who we currently are, what we’re up to and where we’re aiming for in the future. These are the kind of questions I ask all my clients before I work for them. When we know the answers to those questions, it’s so much easier to declutter, and to organise.

“Caroline was the enzyme who helped me make difficult changes happen, where I had been ‘stuck’ for years. I felt she understood and appreciated me, the family and where we had come from.”

– j, london


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