How to be clutter free

The dog days of summer are nearly upon us; Graduations, Father’s Day, vacations, and maybe a project or two. What is on your to do list? May I suggest picking a spot to de-clutter?

In STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter we said, “The stuff we think we’ll need some day often gets in the way – and this is what we call clutter.” It is the physical clutter that I want you to think about for your de-cluttering project.

Since you define your own clutter, pick an area that would make you feel better if it was clutter free. Many items are available to you to clean and organize that area in a method that suits you personally. A quick trip to Home Depot illustrates the many options to choose from. How-to-be-clutter-free_De-Clutter_bins_2015 - R

I favor plastic storage bins because they resist water and critters better than cardboard, and come in many shapes and sizes. They can also be stacked neatly in a closet or used in conjunction with utility shelving in the garage.

Decide which will work best for your situation before purchasing something just because it is on sale or looks good at the store. Once you have what you need for your project, put some serious thought in what you want to keep, toss, or donate. Putting everything in bins on shelving in the garage is not necessarily de-cluttering your living space.

Out of sight and out of mind in the house is just moving clutter to the garage in plastic bins. Do not do this! Rather, keep what is important to you in the bins, and donate what is not. Be as ruthless as you can be with yourself. You may be surprised at how easy it is once you get started.

How-to-be-clutter-free_De-Clutter_shelves_2015 - RFinish a specific area of clutter before moving on to the next. This process should make you feel lighter as you complete each, momentum is a good thing. A quick review of S.T.U.F.F. may help.

I suggest working in 30-90 minute increments so you can complete a given area versus trying to do the whole house in one day. De-cluttering is a process, not an event. If you don’t feel like you are making meaningful progress it will not get done. Who wants that kind of frustration?

Take before and after photos to record your success; maybe even send us a note and picture to to share with others. Sometimes seeing how other folks do things can inspire us to take action with our own clutter.

Summertime presents us with the opportunity to consider the physical clutter in our living space. Use the storage solutions available at your local retailer to de-clutter just one area TODAY.

Pomegranates budding - Avadian photo

Is it Time for Spring Cleaning?

Spring is a season of renewal. We plant the seeds we’ll sow in fall.Corn fields in Wisconsin-Avadian-photo

It’s time to take a serious look around and do some spring-cleaning in the areas we define as clutter. Clear out the weeds so the fruits of summer can grow to their full potential.

What are some of the cluttergories in your life?

  • Physical – accumulated possessions that take up space.
  • Mental – mind clutter, such as worries and even too many thoughts.
  • Digital – excessive files to wade through in order to get to the good stuff on our computers, tablets, smartphones, and portable media.
  • Temporal – resulting in “I-was-busy-all-day, but-what-did-I-get-done?” syndrome.
  • Sensual – overloading our senses until sounds, smells, tastes, and more not pleasurable, any longer.

Remember, one of the key tenets of STUFFology 101 is that YOU define the clutter in your life.

Lately, my husband, David, and I have been spending about two to three hours each Sunday, reducing our tax files from 2006 to 1986. We got a bit behind in clearing our clutter.

Because I have a need to reflect, we’ve spent more time decluttering. David would simply toss the old files. Instead, I persuaded him to join me in reflecting on our past as we review our income and expense files of our various endeavors during a twenty-year period of our thirty-seven plus years, together.

Given that I work with family and professional caregivers for people with dementia, I am acutely aware and feel fortunate that we can recall what we did some twenty years ago when we retrieve a receipt from 1995.

More importantly, I am gaining a greater sense of urgency in not putting things off–whether it is as small as keeping up with the filing or as big as prioritizing my dreams instead of investing so much time and energy helping others build theirs. Besides, I’m older. If I don’t follow my dreams now, there might not be enough time left to dream!  🙂

Fawn comes down from the hills to graze during The Station Fire - photo by AvadianNo one would notice our progress, yet we feel better about getting rid of these records. Besides, we learned firsthand during the 2009 Station Fire of what really matters.

The ripples of clearing the clutter have moved to my desktop and worktable as well. Plus, we’re even making time to clear the excess brush on our property in preparation for fire season.

Again, it’s important to remember; only YOU can decide what is the clutter in your life. I’m not talking about hoarding, which is a different issue.

Part IV of STUFFology 101 Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter offers clear guidelines to help you clear the cluttergories in your life.

After you have taken the steps to clear your clutter, be available to help others clear areas they define as the clutter, too. You wouldn’t want someone else defining what’s clutter in your life, would you? We’ve made it easy with the Bonus STUFFologist’s Guide included in your copy of STUFFology 101.


Just Say NO!

Do you feel overwhelmed? Are you experiencing that feeling of too much to do and not enough time to do it in? If you are just too busy, consider a catchphrase from the 1980’s, just say NO!

Say no to things and people that are keeping you from fulfilling your goals. Decide what is important to you each day, and act accordingly inasmuch as you are able to do so. That is, declutter the time wasters from your day.

Granted, we all have family, work, and other obligations that we must attend to each day. But think about items in your day that you might be able to delegate, or not do at all. Often we get so caught up in our daily activities that we are living on autopilot, and not really questioning the need for doing a given task.

Consider the various euphemisms for how we use time:
Work expands to fill the time allowed.
Time flies when you are having fun.
There are only 24 hours in a day.
Time marches on.

These imply that we cannot control our time. While it is true that all of us have the same 168 hours each week, we can control how at least some of that time is utilized.

How can you avoid temporal clutter?

In STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter we talk about temporal clutter this way, “When you feel your time is limited, look at your daily activities. Sometimes we fill our lives with activities and feel overwhelmed by how busy we are.”

Just say NO to some of those activities.

The key is to work on those things that are the most important to you, while eliminating those that are not. This may sound simplistic. But it is the simple and obvious that often must be re-learned when we are in the autopilot mode of daily living. Stop and ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” The answer may surprise you.

Time is a precious resource. Think hard about how you can declutter time wasters from your day. Make it a daily practice to just say NO to things and people that are keeping you from fulfilling your goals.


Are Pets Messier Than Kids?

Pets are like kids in many ways. We love and take care of them. We buy clothes and toys for them. They make a mess and do not clean up after themselves!

Thanks to their owners (us), our pets tend to accumulate too much stuff. Toys, clothes, beds, and blankets are scattered about the house.


Eventually, our beloved pet passes on. What do you do when you no longer have that pet?

Take a hard look at each item and decide to keep it, toss it, or donate it. Your choice might depend on what kind of pet you have. For example, we have cats and dogs.

For dogs, items to donate might include a leash, harness, bed, toy, or kennel. Even food or treats might be appropriate. When our large outdoor dog Little Bear passed away a few years ago, we gave her food and biscuits to our neighbor, who also had a large dog.


For cats, items to donate might include a litter box, cat litter, scratching post, or cat tower.

Think about how much your local animal rescue or shelter can benefit from you donation. You can make a positive difference!

In (Click on) STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter, we talk about donations:

“When donating things in a meaningful way, two people benefit. By helping others with a donation or a gift, you affect someone else’s life. Sometimes the unexpected gift you receive is learning just how much the thing you don’t use any more means to someone else.”

I am not sure if pets are messier than kids. I am sure their gently used items can make a difference to someone else who has a pet.

File Cabinet Drawer Open Avadian

We need to declutter and archive statements more often.

File Cabinet Drawer Open Avadian

The truth is my husband and I archive our records once every three years. Thirty-six months of accumulated paperwork is all our file cabinets can handle.

By this time, our files have grown so full that even the hanging folders lose their grip and collapse from the weight of being overstuffed.

It’s also about this time that my husband and I hate filing papers. It becomes a chore to try to stuff one more balanced credit union statement, one more receipt, one more paid utility bill, one more… In years past, we’d start a pile in front of the file cabinet. But we learned painful lessons over the years when having to file all that accumulated paperwork.

Late last year, my husband, David, removed all the pre-2014 paperwork and stacked all those sheets of paper into a neat pile on a shelf.

Time to Archive

It was exactly three years and one month this past weekend, when we pulled out the banker’s boxes and plastic storage bins in order to archive this paperwork among our older records.

Eeeeewwwwww. There was even a dated note on one of the bins: 12/18/2011 This bin is full.

 We need to let go of our older records.

As a STUFFologist, the thought of buying a new bin did not occur to me. Instead, using Nature’s process as noted in “Input Throughput Output,” Chapter 21 in Part Four of (click on) STUFFology 101, we needed to let go of some stuff.

It took the better part of a quarter hour to decide what we would let go and then the better part of three hours to get the job done.

We keep records of the last seven years. Anything prior to that, we reviewed and reduced to make room for the newer records.

It’s a slow process at best because it’s not simply a matter of tossing records from 2006 and earlier. You may recall I have a need to look through my paperwork one more time before letting go. So, the process will take a bit longer.

For one thing, I purchased a few stocks over a decade ago that I still own. I need to look through my paperwork to see if I still have those records. It would be much harder to get them from the brokerage as I’ve changed brokers over the years, too. I’ll need this information to calculate the long-term capital gain when I’m ready to sell.

This is the process of dealing with (click on) S.T.U.F.F.—we need to Start, Trust the process, Understand that it will take time, and Focus, in order to Finish.

David and I decided that we need to archive and de-clutter statements more often.

In one and a half weeks, we’ve set aside time to return to this process of removing our older records. This time, it should be easier since we’re not waiting three years to review and be reacquainted with our filing system. Over time, I have faith that the process will move faster as we feel strengthened by saving only what we need.

How about you? What area do you define as clutter and how can you get started with decluttering your STUFF?

Armenian-Rose-Parade-Float-Brenda-Avadian - sm

Photos, PHOTOS Everywhere!

Photos, PHOTOS, when do they become Digital Clutter?

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Brenda Avadian standing in front of the first-ever Armenian float in the 126th Rose Parade

In STUFFology 101, we write about digital clutter the kind that harmlessly takes up residence on your smartphone, tablet, or hard or external drive. On the cluttergories page, we define digital clutter as anything in virtual form—such as photos stored in our computers, a backlog of emails, or too many social media accounts.

When do digital files turn into clutter?

  • When they’re on your mind in the wee hours of the morning and late at night.
  • When you realize after saving all this STUFF you can’t find what you need when you need it.
  • When you don’t even remember having some of this stuff!
  • When you decide you need to do something about them.
  • When you keep saying, I’ll download this stuff off my smartphone onto my computer so I can finally write about it.

WOW, sounds a lot like mental clutter!

AHA! There’s no better reason right now, to download these digital photos off my smartphone. This article is scheduled to be published the following day and I want to add some of my post-parade float photos. Also, I like to organize my smartphone photos in labeled folders on my computer.

#20150102_Happy-Hippo-Rose-Parade-Float - sm

Happy Hippo Rose Parade Float
Isn’t he cuuute?

Lucky you! You’re in for a treat.

Remember when I wrote the article about the (click on) Rose Parade Float Decorating – No Clutter? Well, the reality is you won’t care about the Rose Parade Floats in July. But you may still want to read about digital clutter and enjoy a few of the post-parade float photos I took. Right?  Please say, YES.

I came upon the following. Although, my initial source at The CHIVE didn’t cite its source of information, this is entirely plausible.

Every two minutes, we take as many photos
as all of humanity took during the 1800s.
In 2014 alone, humanity will take 880 billion photos.
That’s 123 photos for every single human on earth.

#20150102_America-Eagle-Flag-Rose-Parade-Float - sm As with any kind of procrastinating, which also leads to clutter, the actual deed took less time than I thought the task would require. Five minutes was all the time needed to download 38 photos and 3 videos; plus, another five minutes to download a few other photos and file them. I was on a roll.

The next morning, I opened my Rose Parade Floats file and began choosing which ones I wanted to share with you. While working on this, I also labeled the photos while choosing my top picks. #20150102_Flower-Rose-Parade-Float - sm There are too many to share; so, I further limited my initial selection to four, which include the completely decorated flower the float decorators were working on in my earlier post.

The deed is done.

No longer do I concern myself with downloading my float photos. I’ve labeled them so I may use them later as appropriate. And I feel better about eliminating this one cause of mental clutter.

Before I close, I want you to know that next week, the second Monday of the year, is National Clean off your Desk Day. Getting rid of the potential for digital clutter, gives me a head start on my virtual mobile desk. I’ve cleared part of the gallery of photos on my smartphone, filed them in appropriate folders on my computer, and now feel the momentum to keep going… while the clutter waits and WAITS.

How about you? What kinds of clutter are you dealing with? 

I've "Bin" there before

I’ve “Bin” there before

I've "Bin" there beforeClutter builds up over time. It creeps along, unnoticed at first. Then one day we almost trip and fall over that stack of stuff next to the couch.

We try to avoid the clutter creep. We try to outsmart it. We store things in bags, boxes, and storage bins. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then the different containers of clutter pile up too because we haven’t really done anything except move our stuff around. What is a packrat to do?

I am guilty of doing this. I tend to set things down in front of a bookcase near the stairs. These are items that I need to review, donate, discard, and so forth. When the bins stack up I can’t find the book I need on the shelf behind my stacks of bins. Then I know it is really time to de-clutter!

04062014_Front RoomClutter removal is a process. I go through each bag, box, and bin, sorting everything. Three choices: keep, donate, or trash. Sometimes it takes a while to go through all that stuff. That’s okay, just start. One bin at a time, bit by bit.

Once the process is completed, the bins are gone. I can see the bottom shelf of the bookcase. There is the book I was looking for!

Old habits die hard. I still set things down in front of the bookcase from time to time. But I no longer let boxes and bins pile up. I’ve bin there before, but I won’t be again.


The U.S. Savings Bonds Windfall

The U.S. Savings Bonds Windfall

By Brenda Avadian, MA


The U.S. Savings Bonds WindfallDuring the 1950s, while earning $100-plus a week, my father withdrew 10%  of his paycheck to buy U.S. Savings Bonds.

In 1996, after my father was diagnosed with dementia, my husband, David, and I returned to my childhood home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where my father had lived for forty-five years.

We tried to help my father organize his paperwork, but everything was a mess and David and I had to go through it all. (I inherited this quality.)

We meticulously went through each file and pile. It was nearly impossible to determine what was important and what was not. We had to leaf through every piece of paper one page at a time, being careful not to overlook something—like a $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond tucked between two sheets of scrap paper or hiding in a one-and-a-half foot pile of newspapers. We found important documents, cash, and bonds. It was an overwhelming task that soon left us exhausted.

After lunch one day, I returned to the sunroom. I watched my father hunched over paperwork at his desk. He was organizing his bills. I sat in a chair by a bookshelf in the living room, only a few feet away from where he was working.

Soon, I grew bored and turned my attention to the books in one of the built-in oak bookshelves along the wall. Some were my father’s German-language books from his bachelor years; others were reference books he used for his work as a machinist. Two hardcover books covered with brown paper bags grabbed my attention. I tried to decipher the rubber-stamped letters on their spines. Reaching out, I pulled one off the bookshelf. A little package fell on the floor. After looking quickly at the book, an engineering manual of interest to my father, brother, or husband, I placed it back and reached down for the package.

Three dry rubber bands bound an eight-and-a-half by three-and-a-half-inch packet. I scraped off the rubber bands and unfolded a letter-sized sheet protecting a stack of cards. When I turned them over to look at the front side, “1,000” caught my eye on the upper left and right sides. I looked at the card more carefully and read “Series E.” It dawned on me—it was a thousand dollar U.S. Savings Bond!

What happened?

Click to view this 3-minute excerpt of Brenda Avadian’s speech at a caregiver conference. You won’t forget THIS story.