Oral Health Group

Lighten Up! Clean Up Your Clutter!!

March 1, 2006
by Janice Goodman, DDS

Everyone has some aspect of their life that tends to gather clutter and clearing up the clutter can be a first step towards improving one’s life. Clutter on a physical level is defined as “a crowded and untidy collection of things” according to the Oxford dictionary, but clutter therapists say that there are all kinds of clutter on many levels–physical, mental and emotional. It has been suggested that by cleaning your clutter, besides a sense of accomplishment, you might also experience other improvements such as loosing weight, improved interpersonal relationships and prosperity.



For individuals who don’t clutter, but are annoyed by others who do-here is an insight as to why you get frustrated trying to motivate the clutterholic to clean up and what might help. Clutterers collect things around them and feel insulated or even comforted by the presence of the clutter–they don’t actually see their clutter like you do, and have the ability to walk into the room and look right through it. They fool themselves into having emotional attachments to their clutter or believing that it is in some way valuable to them when it is largely junk. You can nag them, bribe them, and threaten them but they’ll say they don’t have the time (too busy), or the energy (too tired), or that they don’t know where to start (too overwhelmed). They think they know where everything is in the chaos and by having unfinished projects in front of them that they are more likely to get completed.

Bringing up the subject to someone that you have a personal or professional relationship with can feel threatening to them–ultimatums are seldom long term solutions unless you can fire that person and get them out of your life. Sparks might fly if you touch their stuff without their permission and you could cause them a great deal of mental anguish. Two suggestions to get them motivated are to leave a book or article on the subject on their mess and educate them on what they may be unaware of. My second suggestion is to lead by example: it has been documented that when a clutterer sees others experiencing the high of clearing out, that a magical mimicking behavior could kick in and you may not have to say a word. As we all know, this works well in spring time!


Here is just a sprinkling of ideas where you might need a little clean-up.

Office and computer clutter: clean up your desk and in-mail: let it build up and you might avoid visiting it.

Project overload: decide which unfinished jobs are worth dealing with and consider the others done!

Noise clutter: give yourself a noise vacation by turning off the suction, bell ringers, cellphones occasionally.

Kiddie clutter: kids’ multitasking, TV, video games, computer habits, teen mentality need parental role models.

Patient clutter: are there no patients that you would like to clear out of your practice?

Gift clutter: even when someone is kind enough to think of you, if you don’t love it–regift or dispose of it.

Emotional, guilt or burden clutter: deal with it or let it eat at you.

People clutter: whether at the office or not… someone may be sapping your energy every time you see them.

Status clutter: get rid of the trappings of prosperity that you neither use nor love; more is not always better.

Body clutter: I got this from Feng Shui ideology; sometimes it involves cleaning up by diet and exercising.


Clutter keeps you in the past-clear it up and you can move forward. According to Karen Kingston: “Clear your Clutter” there are three tried and true ways to deal with your clutter:

1. Put it in a bag or box and hope that it will get so old or mildewed that you will have to throw it out.

2. Wait until you die and let your lucky relatives inherit the task.

3. Take responsibility for the stuff yourself and clear it out, which is the recommended method of choice.


Once you get the bug and decide it’s time.

1.Make a list of your plan of attack and put stars beside the most pressing issues i.e.:

– make space so that I can actually see a space on my desk, find my glasses, the phone, etc.

– get the mail opened and dealt with

– return the calls I should and get rid of the post-it notes all the messages are on

– recycle the journals and magazines that I am never going to read (except Oral Health!)

– get patients’ files off the desk and back into the filing system-while you’re at it purge the file system

– clean briefcases, purses

2.Start small i.e. a drawer or small cupboard. Once you get the good feeling from doing this, move onto medium tasks and the whole ordeal may be more manageable.

3.Sort through your stuff right away. i.e. garbage, recycling, repairs, regifting. You can keep a dilemma box if you think that you might regret throwing certain things away. It’s preferable to be as ruthless as your comfort level allows.

4.Tidying–if you just have a mess and not a lot of garbage–start in one area of the room or desk and give all the items a “home”. Giving items a place where they belong leads to finding things easier. Do this with your keys first! Either do all this when there are no distractions, including phone calls, recalls,and music and you can actually make it into a spiritual exorcising experience, or, if it suites you better, put the music way up and treat yourself to your beverage of choice.


Advice on clearing out mental clutter

1.Stop worrying

2.Stop criticizing, judging, moaning and complaining

3.Stop gossiping

4.Reduce mental chatter–i.e. mundane chatter that blocks higher wisdom and creativity

5.Tidy up loose ends–don’t put things off until another day, follow-up on promises, return borrowed items

6.Clear your communications– this includes unresolved issues… some stress needs to be dealt with now!

7.Catch up on correspondence–includes professional obligations by mail, e-mail and telephone.

8.Clear your diary leaving personal time reserved purely for you.

9.Unclutter your mind for restful sleep. Ms. Kingston suggests leaving a to do list at the side of your bed and going to sleep with an cleared mind

10.Keep yourself up to date in life–live in the present–enjoy and experience life to the fullest

11.Let go of emotional grievances, flaky friends and move on from destructive relationships.

12.Don’t wear clutter on your body to boost self-confidence i.e. overdoing make-up, clothes and jewellery. If you don’t feel comfortable facing the world without overdoing it, try to deal with the why of it.

13.Send thank you notes as soon as possible to anyone you keep thinking you should have sent one to-make someone else feel appreciated and you will also feel good about it.

Well clutterers, I’ve scratched the surface of the research (there’s a lot of advice out there) and the consensus is that if you clear your clutter, you will no longer be “living in the past”, you will feel better on many levels and good things will happen to you. If you have an office or personal problem with this subject, there are individuals that actually specialize in helping you unclutter and are available for private consultation and I am listing a number of contacts and books that could also be useful. Instead of saying I “should” start today, say I “could” start today. Don’t say I “can’t”– it usually translates to I “won’t”.

Books to read: much of the above information came from these individuals/groups and books.

– Beardmore, Lori, fengshuibylori@hotmail.com- she also gives courses and consultations on clutter therapy

– Gibson, Karen, Unclutter Your Life, Beyond Words Publishing,2004; 503-531-8700

– Kingston, Karen, Clear Your Clutter with Fe
ng Shui, The Bath Press, 1999

– Organize Your World, www.organizeyourworld.com

– Professional Organizers Web Ring, www.organizerswebring.com

– The National Association of Professional Organizers, www.napo.net

– For organizers in Canada: www.organizersincanada. com

– For support groups: wwwww.clutterersanonymous.net; www.messies.com

Janice Goodman is the restorative dentistry editor for Oral Health. She is a self-confessed clutterholic. Janice gratefully acknowledges the empathy and kindness that her non-cluttering partner, Dr. Eva Paomees, has shown her, over the many years that they have shared the same space. If you have a clutter story please share it at www.oralhealthjournal.com

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