Friday, March 5, 2010

Common clutter areas and what to do about them

Many of my clients have the same types of clutter in their spaces. There's something about the following areas that seem to stop people in their organizing tracks. These things are like rocks in a stream that stop up the flow and force you to navigate around them, all the time. Even if the rest of the room is fairly clutter free, having these problem areas can bring all the energy in the room down. Here are the three biggest ones:
Problem: Electronic accessories. Everyone somewhere in their house has a drawer or box with the little white piece of plastic that their iPod came with and black cords with colorful ends that most of us have no idea what function they have. There's the extra phone jack things that came when we installed our Internet service, and probably a few extra ethernet cables, disks that go to programs we never use, and sets of earbuds that may or may not still work. Somehow people, whether tech savvy or not, are afraid to get rid of anything that looks like a cable. But the problem is if  you throw all that stuff in a box, you come back and have cable soup. Everything is tangled, ugly and messy and you don't even want to look in the box when you need something out of it, so maybe you go buy a new on (one of the biggest inidcators of a clutter issue).

Solution: Only keep what you can identify and need. If you aren't sure what that plastic piece is for, look it up online, decide if you have a use for it, then recycle it. Cables, power cords, old modems and other electronic equipment need to be disposed of properly at an e-waste facility. You can usually get rid of most everything electronic at Best Buy or other local retailers, but do a serach for e-waste in your area to find out the most convenient location. If you decide to keep some of these items, store each cable and cord individually in a plastic zip-top bag, then label the bag with the contents. Then store all the bags in one drawer or box, leaving enough room to add future aquisitions. Alternately, use twist ties or rubber bands to contain cords and remember to label, label, label. That unidentified black cable is not going to ever get used if you haven't labeled it as belonging to your old digital camera. (Better yet, donate the camera and cord to someone in need.)

Problem: Plastic and paper grocery bags. Some people have entire closets bursting with grocery bags and shopping bags, even when they do the sensible thing and get most of their purchases with reusable bags. Kitchen and closet space is at a premium for most of us, and we can't afford to have bags taking up valuable space, yet we're terrified of getting rid of them because we're sure to need them. In a way, this is true. I use plastic grocery bags and paper bags nearly every day, to contain recycling before it goes down to the bin, to carry my lunch to my client's, to carry my library books when it's raining. But the amount of bags you could use in a day, or even a week, will never come close to the amount of bags that some people store. 

Solution: Recycle all but three plastic bags and two paper bags right now. Even those good, sturdy bags from the Apple store or whatever. The beauty to recycling these bags (and yes, even the small plastic grocery bags are recyclable nearly everywhere now) is that you're going to accumulate more. Quickly. Even if you are super diligent about bringing your own bags, somehow these things find themselves in your living space. Don't be afraid of running out, and don't keep more than a few on hand.

Problem: Used ink cartridges. Some people hang on to empty printer cartridges because they know they should recycle them but aren't sure how to go about it. Some think they might get them refilled and save a few dollars. 

Solution: I've never refilled my cartridges, but I have heard that they are not as effective and don't last as long as the real thing. So it might not be worth it. As far as recycling goes, you can take empty ink cartridges to Staples, where they will recycle them for you and give you a rewards credit to use to their store in the future. It's very simple. 

Creative Commons cable photo posted to Flickr by juhansonin
Creative Commons plastic bag photo posted to Flickr by evelynishere
Creative Commons ink cartridge photo posted to Flickr by kennymatic

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email


  1. Thank you so much for this post! This time of year I work hard to use up my chametz (food not eaten during Passover), which I interpret as both eating down my pantry and getting rid of the "chametz" in my life - getting rid of clutter, both physical and mental. This inspired me to get rid of some cords related to long-recycled cell phones and an extra tv cable. Bravo. It feels so good.

  2. It's wonderful to have a cycle built in to your life where you can address all kinds of clutter and feel a renewal.

    I think there's something especially heavy about extra electronics items that weigh us down, for some reason. Good for you!

  3. Lelah, I thought you peeked in my desk drawer! I am going to go through it ONCE AGAIN and separate the items into three boxes: stuff I know I need (which I'll put back in the drawer), stuff I know I don't need (which I'll pass on to a friend who repairs and builds computers) and stuff I'm not sure about (I'll ask someone knowledgeable to help me figure out which category they belong to).

    Glad to know I am not alone in this!