‘It’s All Too Much!” is the title of the new book from Peter Walsh, the organization guru who hosts “Clean Sweep” on the TLC cable television channel. It’s also the cry of many a suburban parent as back-to-school not only looms, but also collides with the unofficial back-to-work season.
This is the time of year when sunburned employees relinquish half-day Fridays, begin to forget how blissed out they felt on the Amalfi coast or the Jersey shore, and discover that each and every one of their children’s backpacks have gone missing. There are no soccer cleats to be found either. Junk mail, however, has proliferated as quickly as the weeds in the front garden. Maybe the AWOL homeroom assignments are mixed in with the six LL Bean catalogs?
Walsh comes to the rescue, calming nerves when he provides practical organizing tips on Wednesday, August 29, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Wal-Mart’s Nassau Park store. To reserve a spot at the free event, call 847-204-4412.
Walsh, an Australian and one of seven children, has been an organizational consultant for 12 years.
He holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology and has been the president of an international training and development company. He is also the author of “How to Organize (Just About) Everything.”
In his “Clean Sweep” series, Walsh coaches invariably reluctant homeowners as they winnow the clutter in their over-stuffed homes — and home offices.
He first has the couple divide their belongings into piles — things they cannot part with under any circumstances, items for a garage sale, and plain old junk. It is always a wrenching business, with a husband trying to hide his collection of LPs or a wife clinging to mementos from her high school cheerleading years.
When the dust settles, and only truly useful and/or cherished things remain, Walsh and his crew tend to find creative ways to display them. While “Clean Sweep” participants are invariably pleased with their new, streamlined homes, it seems to be a fair question to ask how long their home offices and family rooms will remain in pristine condition.
Clutter is a problem that has deep-seated psychological roots, in Walsh’s opinion. In a PhillyBurbs.com article he is quoted as saying: “To me, what clutter is overwhelmingly about is fear. It’s fear about losing a memory or its about previous bad times. It’s also fear of being embarrassed, thinking that ‘I may need this in the future.’ It robs people of living a rich, full life now; it keeps them in the past. It’s ‘I have to hold onto this because of its heritage; it has great memories,’ or ‘I worked hard for this.’
“It’s seldom about the stuff,” he continues. “Help people gain insight into why they’re behaving the way they are. For example, I had a woman in Los Angeles on the show who had filled her house with mementos and furniture from a brother who died suddenly seven years ago. At one stage of the show, she looked at me and said, ‘My life stopped seven years ago.’ It wasn’t about the stuff, it was about trauma.”
After helping the hoarder understand her motivation, Walsh was able to induce her to part with 90 percent of her stuff. While not everyone memorializes a person, or a time in their lives, to this extent, many people do have large stockpiles of mementos that they rarely — if ever — even look at. Says Walsh, “If something is valuable, but it’s not on display, I don’t buy that it’s important.”
The same goes for half-read magazines, last week’s newspapers, the lion’s share of office files, and even, gasp!, the laptop purchased just three years ago, for $1,800, that a repairperson has said will cost $1,500 to fix.
Walsh, who has a new organization program on XM Radio, station 156, solicits clutter questions there, at his website (www.peterwalshdesign.com), and on Oprah’s website (www.oprah.com). There are plenty of suggestions for a freer life through better organization habits in all of those places. Among them are:
Attend to the little things. Your mother was right. Making your bed instantly makes any room look neater.
Keep paper in its place. Designate a place for paperwork. Have a filing system for bills, important files, and magazines. This will cut down on clutter in your home.
Try the clothes hanger trick. At the beginning of a season, reverse the way your clothes hang in your closet. After wearing that item, put it on the hanger and replace it properly when you return it to the closet. By the end of the season, you should be able to see what clothes you haven’t worn, and most likely can live without.
Organize your receipts. Use an inexpensive accordion file to easily compile your monthly receipts and paid bills. At the end of the year, discard the oldest bills and receipts.
Think like a kid. When organizing a child’s room, see it from his or her point of view. Hang shelves and hooks where they can be reached easily.
Be prepared. Keep a caddy of cleaning supplies in each bathroom for quick cleanup when unexpected guests visit.
Protect your identity. Photocopy all of your credit cards, your driver’s license, and Social Security card. Store copies in a safe location for quick retrieval if your wallet is stolen.
Maybe it’s not too much after all. Maybe an attitude adjustment is the quick route to getting things under control. Extend Walsh’s make-your-bed rule to other rooms. Assign someone in the family to winnow the junk mail routinely every single day. Have someone else make sure that all of the dirty dishes are out of the sink by morning. Take just a few minutes at the end of the workday to put ongoing projects into neat piles.
Dust bunnies may remain. Closets may still be a bit too full, but calm will reign on the surface, and might well filter down.