The Benevolent Builder: Rabbi Semah Levy Kadi a.h.
By: Rachel Dayan
As city-dwellers know very well, space costs money. A little bit of room to move, play, store belongings, even to park a car, has a premium price in the average urban Jewish neighborhood. It’s not easy living in close quarters, and most of us resign ourselves to the overstuffed closets and crowded clutter that inevitably seems to grow on us.
Some people maintain that it is simply the lack of space that leads to clutter, and so reject any initiative to get the house neater as doomed to ultimately fail. But the painful truth is that most clutter is caused by habits, not by a lack of space. We all know people living in large homes with nearly all their kids married but every nook and cranny in their house is packed full. That is sometimes the nature of people – to accumulate, collect, buy and then rarely part with anything (unless it is ruined – and sometimes, not even then!). Spending lots of money on organizing supplies, or the occasional closet purge, won’t cure your clutter problem. Instead, you need to go to the source. Start by examining the kinds of habits that lead to clutter, and see if they sound familiar.
Just for a While: One clutter expert claims that the root of all clutter is procrastination. Thinking, “I’ll just put this here for now, until I figure out what to do with it,” is the grease on the slippery slope to Cluttersville. That’s how your mail takes up residence on the counter behind the sedaka boxes, and how your vitamins end up on the windowsill permanently. It’s how the bookshelves abound with objects of every variety. It is the reason behind the eternal “junk drawer.” Once you’ve digested this, you will appreciate the truth of this revelation. And the next time you put more things where they don’t belong, you’ll say, “Hey, I am thinking that I’ll just put this here for now,” and then, don’t it.
Being afraid to let go: You tell yourself, “What if we’ll need it later?” No matter that it hasn’t seen daylight in years. The likelihood is, if you haven’t used an item in several years, chances are you never will. Besides, most of the time we forget the things we own, or can’t find them when we want them. So instead of imagining your items coming back to life someday, instead try to imagine the worst-case scenario where you don’t have the item in question… probably not so life-shattering. If over the years you have to buy or borrow a couple of the thousand items you gave away, you’ll still be way ahead of the game.
The More the Merrier: Sometimes we think, “If one is good, more is better.” That’s why I’ve got a drawer full of cooking spoons even though I always use the same three. Maybe you have three people in the house and sixteen hairbrushes. Most of us have backup for our backups of every conceivable item, and it’s just not necessary. If you didn’t have so much junk, you wouldn’t need so many duplicates because you would be able to find what you were looking for. Most of this stuff is inexpensive anyway, so move it out to make way for the new you!
Seeing Green: As you consider removing the gaudy, neon-pink suit you wore to your son’s berit 17 years ago, it’s the money you spent on the suit you wore only once that makes you put it back in the closet (just in case quarterback shoulders ever comes back into style). We often hesitate to part with items that have a perceived monetary value, even if we don’t like them. Surely you can think of a few things you keep only because you believe they have value, even though you never plan on using them. But remember that space costs money, too.
Hanging onto the past: Often we create sentimental attachments to all kinds of stuff. But how much enjoyment do these items really provide? Fondly reminiscing over your kids’ old projects every few years, or keeping a monstrous vase because dear departed Aunt Sophie gave it to you, is nice in theory. But if these mementos detract from your quality of living, adding to the clutter that makes your life feel dysfunctional on a good day, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.
Having a clutter-free home is a liberating experience, making you more organized and less frustrated, and giving you space to make life more enjoyable for you and your family. For example, if your basement is a dumping ground for relics and antiques, cleaning it up and creating a lovely play space for your children or grandchildren will probably change your entire life. So say goodbye to the past and hello to a bright future!
Buy, Buy, Buy: Have you ever walked in after a huge shopping trip, and wondered, “Where am I going to put all this stuff?” Most of us spend a lot of time shopping for stuff – food, housewares, clothing, beauty products and more. That’s normal, but to maintain a balance in the house, when you buy new things, you have to review the old items that they are replacing, and be honest about whether you will ever use them again. Realistically speaking, you are more likely to wear the new clothes and cosmetics than the old. Shoppers often ask themselves, “Can I afford this?” The next question should be, “Do I have room for this?” You might have found a great deal on a lovely platter, but if it’s going to end up in the coat closet, maybe you should clean up shop first.
By now you might be shaking your head, thinking, “My useless junk is okay because I’ve got it stored away neatly where it isn’t bothering anyone.” But it’s not about whether anyone can find your junk, it’s whether or not you really need to keep it (and if you are referring to it as junk the answer should be obvious). If your junk is taking up seemingly unused space in your closets, or basement, or garage, then the overflow of the items you need and use is going to impede on the way your household functions. Clutter begins from the inside, out. By getting rid of clutter from the deepest, dustiest shelves and drawers, you’ll make more room for the useful stuff that’s floating around your home.
Ask yourself: Whose is this? Do we use this? What does it do? Where does it go? Can I find a better place for this? Examine your house with an outsider’s eye, because your eyes don’t see the stuff lying around. To you, everything might look like it’s where it belongs (even that vase which is oddly placed on top of the refrigerator).
Clutter is a visual mess. When everything in your home has a place (behind closed doors) it’ll make your house look neater and cleaner than any amount of scrubbing and polishing could ever accomplish.
Next Issue: Where to Give the Giveaway?