People talk about “spring cleaning,” but a single bout of organization, nor one motivated trip to the Container Store, leads to long-term success. Organization requires the ability to let go of things that no longer have a place in your life or environment, and cleaning up can inspire a more positive mindset and help fade anxieties on top of merely opening up floor space.
Regina Lark, a professional organizer in Los Angeles who has appeared on Hoarders and has written a book about organization, sat down with the Daily Trojan to share advice and analysis on cutting clutter this spring.
WHERE DOES IT START?
“Most clutter is a decision to not make a decision,” Lark said. “As a result of the delay, it will just start piling.”
And people who are disorganized tend to be messy for one of two reasons. One, Lark says, is an inherent lack of mental organization.
“A lot of people are born with that part of their brain kind of tweaked,” Lark said. “Getting to homework on time, getting to class in college and not having the adult in their life going, “Get dressed!” — it can be a train wreck. These people will miss classes, appointments and deadlines.”
The other reason is the presence of a major life transition — like leaving for college. The transition from high school, where many have “structure by default,” to college can be chaotic for many.
“All through high school they have been able to keep their stuff together just because someone was at home preparing meals and their level of responsibility to the world at large was pretty minimal. They had someone picking them up and dropping them off,” Lark explains. “Then, they transition to college and it’s all on them.”
Whatever the source, the big problem with clutter, Lark says, is that once people become disorganized, they feel too overwhelmed or unsure of themselves to clean.
“It becomes much harder to control once it’s taken a joy ride in your dorm room,” Lark said.
But the best way to break out of complacency is to set hard, tangible deadlines, which create more pressure to get things done.
“One strategy is to understand that the word ‘later’ is not on any calendar,” Lark said. “If you’re going to do it later, define later. Say when something will be done.
“It creates a different kind of commitment because it gives you an opportunity to see the bigger picture of all the tasks you must complete.”
She also recommends keeping office supplies and other tools (such as kitchen utensils, hardware, etc.) to a minimum: “Only use what you need.”
Moreover, Lark says that a messy room can reflect an equally messy state of mind.
“Clutter can be a physical manifestation or representation of the crap in our head. When you feel good about yourself, your space looks good,” she said. “If you don’t feel good — you’re not attracting the attention of someone you want to attract or not getting the grade you wanted — it’s also reflected in your space.”
This isn’t something unusual for on-the-go millenials, who often struggle with keeping tasks and important information arranged neatly amid stimulation overload.
“Everyone I know is plagued with this, but if you’re between 18 and 25 and you’re in a situation where you’re a small fish in a big pond and everyone has friends but you, you will build up an amazing array of head trash – or psychic debris.” Lark said. “Before we know it, we can’t even find our socks, let alone our last assignment.”
HOW DO YOU CHANGE?
The strategy to deal with this is simple: Less is more.
“What I keep in my life are the things that uplift and elevate me and serve a purpose in my life right now,” Lark said. “I don’t want anything in my space that I can’t look at and have a nice feeling about.”
A good strategy is to only bring things home that you can use. Lark says to always ask ‘when’ you’ll need whatever it is that you’re taking or purchasing.
“I work with a lot of faculty and they tell me that they go to a lot of conferences, where they always give you bags of things,” Lark said. “What these brilliant people sometimes forget is that you don’t have to take these bags with you. There’s just a bunch of conference bags on the floor.”
Students should particularly avoid bringing home t-shirts, pens, bags and flyers that they won’t use. Lark also recommends setting limits on the amount of time you hold hold onto an object before throwing it away.
“For example, at the end of each semester, decide which schoolbooks you really aren’t going to need,” Lark said. “I work with adults in their 60s and I’m uncluttering their college papers.
While there’s no set strategy that applies to everyone, Lark says it’s important not to hold onto anything, especially gifts, out of feelings of guilt or obligation. In other words, it’s OK for the recipient of a gift to get rid of a gift they won’t use, even if they like or love the giver of that present.
“Greeting cards are a perfect example: It’s sent to us to commemorate an event, a moment in time. It’s wonderful and lovely and thoughtful,” Lark said. “But life keeps moving forward and the moment has passed, as every moment does.”
Lark says possessions should reflect a person’s present self. Don’t hold onto items that might be useful in the future but might also never be used, and edit the amount of items held for their nostalgic value.
“You have to live in the here and now — and really be present in your life,” Lark said. It’s like we’re always looking ahead and always trying to hold onto the past.”
While all of this sounds good and well, cleaning is not an easy task. Intimidation and procrastination can keep people from clearing clutter. Lark said working with a non-judgmental, positive friend can help and, because so many people are disorganized on some level, you can usually return the favor.
“It can be fun — order a pizza and play music,” Lark recommends. “Just make sure you’re on your friends’ calendar so it does happen. It’s also better to clean with a friend because doing the work is so much more fun with another person.”
But above all, people have to understand that becoming organized won’t happen overnight — it’s can be a slow process, but one that can pay off in the long run.
“You have to change your behavior and change your thoughts. That has to work in tandem,” Lark advised. “Change is very possible. It’s going to require new habits and changing your relationship to stuff. If your new habit is to clear your desk every Friday, you have to get that first Friday under your belt.”