STUFFology 101 REVIEW – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  Marie KondoMarie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up takes a Samurai’s approach to ridding ourselves of physical clutter.

Written before the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake in Japan her book was released just in time to fill an urgent need of thousands of displaced families in Japan who needed to decide what to keep and what to let go.

Since then it has topped the bestseller list.

Rarely one to join the bandwagon, something drew me to this little hardcover English translation of Kondo’s book. As I read the pages, one incessant question wouldn’t go away: Who is this woman?

Who is Marie Kondo?

Very little has been published beyond the same biographical information rehashed in the media including the major media. Usually, one can find enough information online to satiate one’s curiosity; but Kondo is holding onto her privacy like Ft. Knox.

If you were going to undertake a drastic life shift by ridding yourself of mementos and even family pics, you’d want to be assured that the person advising you has a lifetime of knowledge grounded in research. What are her credentials? The best I could find is a kindergartener who loved to tidy up and a quarter century later, at age thirty, married, without children, advises us to rid ourselves of anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”

What if Kondo has children and later discovers a need to hold onto her children’s treasures? What will be her advice to those parents who hopped on the KonMari bandwagon to rid themselves of these possessions?

As a reader and STUFFologist, I am raising the red flag. Buyer beware of following a young lady who felt alone as a child and felt comforted by breathing life into her possessions. Today, due to timing and the forces of marketing (remember, the pet rock craze?), she’s a 2-million copy best-selling author without clear credentials.

What Works

Still, I do agree with a number of her ideas.

  1. Put things back where they belong.
  2. Take care of your things and they’ll take care of you.
  3. Fold and/or roll socks without folding over and stretching out the cuffs.
  4. Fold underwear compactly in threes.
  5. Fold and store each item vertically like books on a bookshelf, and not stacked atop one another where you’ll forget what’s at the bottom.

I do not agree with her self-admitted impatience. Although, that’s just me. I tend to be patient in our world hungry for instant fixes.

I do like organizing my clothes in my drawers and Kondo’s technique appeals to me. However, I do not agree with her technique of folding T-shirts. I’m rather meticulous in my approach and as many times as I tried, I could not find the wrinkle-free sweet spot for my cotton shirts made in the U.S.A., Vietnam, China, Nicaragua, or Jordan. Admittedly, I don’t have any made in Japan, while Kondo does.

I did apply her “Does this spark joy?” criteria to one third of the books on one of my bookshelves. IT WORKED. Yet, those that didn’t spark joy remain in a pile on the floor in front of the bookshelf with a space remaining where they once more. Now, I must take care not to stub my toe on the stack on the floor below.

Our Need for Quick Fixes

We’re a society who wants quick fixes. We want success, now. We lack patience. Kondo advises completing our decluttering in one major effort until something clicks and you’ll never have to do it again.

I’m not sure Kondo’s quick-fix click is a lifetime fix. Kondo admits to being impatient—needing it done right now. But just as eating fast food frequently results in poor health and crash diets are following by even greater weight gain, crash decluttering may result in long-term regrets. In fact, it may create an even greater problem, such as hoarding for fear of future loss.

What we need is patience and mindful accumulating of the things we need. In these ways, we develop life-changing habits for the long haul. I’m under the impression Kondo’s obsession with tidiness is due to her desire to shop and bring things into her space to feel good. Now, a walk in nature. Ahhh that feels good.



Cut Through the Clutter

What unexpected gifts will unveil themselves to you when you cut through the clutter?

In STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter, we discuss the five categories of clutter, which we call cluttergories. They are physical, mental, digital, temporal and sensual. Clutter has an ebb and flow to it, just like life. How we define our clutter may change.

Recently my Dad has been making improvements to his home, discovering areas of clutter in the process. One hall closet in particular had several shoe boxes full of old pictures (remember the print kind?) that were stored at random. My daughter Maggie volunteered to sort them out and organize them for my Dad so the whole family could enjoy them.

We took all the boxes home for easier sorting, and to help cut through the clutter at my Dad’s house! My first unexpected gift came shortly thereafter. As Maggie went through each box of pictures she would stop to ask who or what was in a given photo. It is amazing what memories (my unexpected gift) came into focus as I answered her questions. Of course there were questions that neither I nor my wife could answer about certain photos. That’s not a problem because a sticky note to mark that photo will do the trick short term. Maybe my Dad can provide the answers.  Unexpected-Gifts_Cut-Through-the-Clutter_05272015 - Copy

His pictures are now neatly organized in new photo boxes. As he looks through them in the future he will enjoy a pleasant stroll down memory lane, an unexpected gift worth giving.

Maggie was inspired to review and sort the family photos at our house as a result of this project. Fortunately my wife keeps them in pretty good order already. This is when I received my second unexpected gift. The photos triggered pleasant memories for sure, but also motivated me to take action.

Looking at my skinnier self from years ago, coupled with some good-natured teasing from my daughter, motivated me to lose weight. Getting back in shape is something I have been working at half-heartedly for most of this year, with limited success. Pictures tell a tale that is difficult to ignore.

The physical clutter of printed pictures has motivated me to get in better physical shape. What cluttergories are impacting your life?  Cut through that clutter to unveil an unexpected gift that is unique to you.

Alice in Wonderland Small door

Down the Alice-in-Wonderland Rabbit Hole of Cluttergories

When one part of our lives grows cluttered, so do other parts of our lives. Hence, the term we’ve coined to describe various areas of clutter – cluttergories.

When we think of clutter, it often deals with physical clutter—the stuff that makes us fear judgment by others.

What kind of person do we become when we hold onto these feelings?

Do our fears affect our relationships with others?

Beyond the obvious—don’t invite anybody over to see our clutter—what signals are we sending by our behavior?

Are we at risk of falling down the Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole of cluttergories?

Alice in Wonderland Rabbit

Let’s turn the tables for a moment.

We’ve all experienced relationships when we get to know someone initially and feel comfortable. Somewhere along the line, we start feeling the person is holding back. It’s not the shy or introverted behavior; rather, the kind of withholding that creates an inexplicable void in a relationship.

Some people tend to dismiss such observations as thinking too much. The reality is, we humans are far more observant and can sense anomalies in our relationships—things that don’t add up—well before we learn the truth.

Now, let’s look at ourselves.

I don’t intend to address the psychology of human behavior. Instead, I’m trying to raise awareness that such voids in our relationships may serve as clues to the struggles we have with the different cluttergories in our lives.

Whether it starts with physical clutter—what we observe easily—and then radiates outward to the burden of mental clutter. Or it starts in our mind with secrets we hold onto so tightly, we spiral into a life filled with sensual clutter; such as, too much entertainment, alcohol, or food.

Cluttergories play a greater role in our lives than many of us are willing to admit. Unless we do something about them, we’ll continue bearing the burden for a lifetime.

Isn’t it time, we crawl out of the rabbit hole and let the light create awareness?

Clutter free Kitchen table - Avadian - Web

Nature abhors a vacuum and other clutter postulates

About a decade ago, I came upon “Nature abhors a vacuum” in a book on feng shui. It left a lasting impression upon me. If we resist this force of nature, we may gain control over the cycle of clutter in order to enjoy the unexpected gifts in life.

At this time, I needed to get rid of a number of classic-tailored suits. I no longer wore them because after years of living in a dry climate — the High Desert of Southern California — the finely woven wool fibers had shrunk significantly; yet, I couldn’t let them go.

Isn’t it funny how when we don’t even need something, we insist on holding on?

That changed when a fellow caregiver and friend needed donations for the Children’s Hospital fundraiser. Knowing these clothes were to be purchased by women who would recognize the finer quality details, I donated a half-dozen suits and other clothes.

The void in my closet provided relief. I no longer had the toxic reminders of what was not in my future — a body to fit in those clothes.

And while the force of nature pressured me to fill that void, I resisted. I bought two new outfits. I needed something to wear at speaking engagements!

Today, I consciously resist the urge to replace something I give away or discard. I try to live without it a while to see if I really need to replace it.

This past weekend, one of our living room tabletop lamps stopped working. My husband took it apart to try to fix it. We agreed it wasn’t worth his time and tossed it. We considered buying a new one. Then, to fill the void with light, we experimented by moving two floor lamps. Amazingly, the new arrangement resulted in a much better effect with one less lamp!

What is it that compels us to give into nature’s force and fill a newly created void? And why?

It turns out that Aristotle made this statement. Ahh, now that explains why we accumulate clutter! It’s a physics postulate! And who can resist nature’s law?

We can, if we try hard enough.

After all, with enough power, we defy the laws of gravity and enjoy air travel around the world.

We CAN defy the laws of physics.

When we resist the urge to fill a void whether it’s physical, mental, or even temporal, we free ourselves to receive the unexpected gifts in life.

Unexpected gifts

Clutter free Kitchen table - AvadianYou may recall reading the part in STUFFology 101 about my husband’s and my commitment to keep our kitchen table clear after we grew tired of having to clear a space to eat. Instead, we put our food on trays and ate while watching TV.

This is a photo taken on May 4, 2015 of our clutter-free table. And we took advantage of two unexpected gifts. First, we focus on what we’re eating, which means we eat less. Instead of permitting TV to be a distraction, we take our time to enjoy meals we prepare together from scratch. Second, we’re talking more, just as we did when we became a couple almost 38 years ago.

You may also recall the article that we cancelled our television subscription earlier this year, in order to have more time.

This means less temporal clutter. We have more time to catch up with the things that piled up while our attention was diverted to the TV. And there’s no more mindless blur of daily entertainment that overloaded us with mental clutter.

As we consciously strive to defy Aristotle’s (clutter) postulate, we’ll have more time and energy to enjoy life’s unexpected gifts. One such gift presented itself a couple months ago after I took steps to reduce the hours and days I worked each week.U.S. News & World Report - Brenda Avadian

For almost twenty years, I worked 14-16 hours a day for 6-7 days a week. Last year, I began to take stock of my time and energy and reduced my schedule to 12-14-hour days. After facing some difficult decisions, I let go of several volunteer activities and reduced my work schedule even more.

This year, I’m working 10-12 hour days 6 days a week. This reduction left me with enough time and energy to accept an unexpected gift–an invitation to write for U.S. News & World Report.

This opportunity helps me to reach a wider audience with my message for caregivers. I would not have been able to accept this gift had I not cleared the temporal clutter in my life. Plus, I’m getting out more often to hike in nature.

What unexpected gifts will you invite into your life after resisting the urge to fill a void with stuff?

The Mental Codes by Dr Michael Duckett

STUFFology 101 REVIEW – The secret is in The Mental Codes

In this STUFFology 101 REVIEW, an older and little known work by Dr. Duckett entitled, The Mental Codes, contains the missing ingredient to our success.

Remember the book, The Secret?

Remember the book, The Mental Codes?

Remember The Strangest Secret?

The Mental Codes by Dr Michael DuckettThey all sound familiar, right?

Depending on your age, you may only have vague familiarity with Earl Nightingale’s, The Strangest Secret.

Almost everyone’s heard of Australian-born Rhonda Byrne’s blockbuster, The Secret. It was a marketing fait accompli!

And what about Dr. Duckett’s, The Mental Codes?

If it sounds familiar, it may be because of its similarity to Dan Brown’s bestselling, Da Vinci Code. Yet, it contains the missing ingredient of The Secret.

I will illustrate with an example.

Since my husband and I gave up TV this year, we find we have more energy—physically and mentally. We are being more proactive by reading, hiking, and catching up with those things that were left behind while we passively soaked up satellite-delivered entertainment.

Each night, before I go to bed, I’ve noticed that my brain is not stuffed with sensual clutter—thoughts and images spinning out of control from hours of TV viewing. I feel more focused and more at peace.

The Mental Codes

In 2008, when I received a signed copy of The Mental Codes, I set it aside to read later. For seven years, it leaned against one of the boxes in my home office. I picked it up multiple times, ready to donate it to the local library. It was adding to my physical clutter, which created mental clutter.  Each time I saw it, I wondered: Shall I make time to read it or let it go? It’s still there!

Ultimately, I resisted the popular advice from personal organizing experts, “If it doesn’t make you happy or you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it.”

The Missing Link

Although, The Mental Codes never became a blockbuster, it contained an important ingredient missing from the other blockbusters. Self-help gurus didn’t create a wellspring of expectation; instead, The Mental Codes quietly shared the missing link.

You’re familiar by now with the saying: When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come. I must have been ready, because I finally picked up the book, earlier this year, and began reading it. It all came together for me in about an hour.


It’s all about the strength of our EMOTION!

If I recall, Byrne’s The Secret offered one quote near the beginning that addressed our emotions when attracting what we want. She didn’t emphasize it though, and I missed it. I can’t even find it now among the twenty morsels I had marked with sticky tabs when I read it in 2007.

The intensity with which we feel an emotion while trying to form new habit will determine our success.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

As we know, the world didn’t self-actualize after The Secret. Although Rhonda Byrne’s life was forever changed, after hundreds of millions in sales. Meanwhile, the rest of us, still depend on self-help titles to get us through life’s tough spots.

The Mental Codes, published after The Secret, devotes two chapters to the importance of emotions in getting what we want in life. Duckett highlights this missing yet important ingredient throughout the entire first and last chapters of his book. Duckett’s book truly deserves more attention than the six reviews it received on Amazon.

Unexpected Gift

It’s amazing when you take one step, like letting go of TV, the kind of space it opens in life. It was an unexpected gift within the chapters of a seven-year old book. To think, I almost tossed this missing link, convinced it was clutter.

Today, I focus on the level of emotions I feel as I try to create new habits in my life.

I continue to be in awe of how diverse forces work together to paint a clearer path during our life’s journey. I feel the benefit of a feng shui related practice–to clear cluttered energy–be willing to let go in order to invite in.

I was ready to let go. Yet, I became that pupil who was ready, and that’s when it happened. I opened the book, found the missing link, and if there was any doubt, a day later, I came across this article, The simple secrets to happiness. About midway, it addresses the important role our emotions play in manifesting new habits.

For more information about these titles, visit the page for each.


START (again)

Does an area you like to keep clean and tidy suffer from clutter creep?

My home office desk area suffers from clutter creep as it is the repository for all household paperwork, and assorted other items. Even a dedicated STUFFologist has a hard time keeping it free of clutter!
I share this because I like to keep it neat and tidy as much as possible. When it accumulates like this, I define that as physical clutter in my living space. If I let it pile up, it becomes mental clutter weighing me down!

Often we forget to take our own advice when we get busy with life. I am no different. In the book we advise people to START small and ”…define clutter in one area at a time to avoid being overwhelmed.” It is time for me to START in my home office (again).

I also consider clutter removal to be an ongoing process, not an event. Don’t beat yourself up if clutter reappears. Take a deep breath and START again in that area.

Some stuff takes longer to complete than other stuff. Digital clutter is a hit or miss issue for me. The same advice applies to de-clutter what is weighing you down in the digital realm.

For example, we like to share the eBook version of STUFFology 101 on different social media platforms and book websites to help people get their minds out of the clutter. We recently STARTed to use a feature called BookShop from our eBook distributor as part of that sharing process. Once we have it finished, you’ll be able to purchase the eBook from multiple platforms (like iBooks) from one location. We will share that on the blog in News and Views when it is completed.

If clutter creep happens to you, remember to START small and focus on one area to avoid being overwhelmed. Doing so will get your mind out of the clutter.


How Does Fire Relate to Clutter?

Now that winter is here I like to have a fire going each night in the fireplace of my home. I find that it not only produces warmth, but that it also relaxes me. I like watching how the flames dance in random patterns and the crackle sounds that the fire makes.

How does fire relate to clutter?

Let’s start with a definition of fire from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products.[1] Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition.

The flame is the visible portion of the fire. If hot enough, the gases may become ionized to produce plasma.[2] Depending on the substances alight, and any impurities outside, the color of the flame and the fire’s intensity will be different.

Fire in its most common form can result in conflagration, which has the potential to cause physical damage through burning. Fire is an important process that affects ecological systems around the globe. The positive effects of fire include stimulating growth and maintaining various ecological systems. Fire has been used by humans for cooking, generating heat, light, signaling, and propulsion purposes. The negative effects of fire include hazard to life and property, atmospheric pollution, and water contamination.[3] If fire removes protective vegetation, heavy rainfall may lead to an increase in soil erosion by water.[4] Also, when vegetation is burned, the nitrogen it contains is released into the atmosphere, unlike elements such as potassium and phosphorus which remain in the ash and are quickly recycled into the soil. This loss of nitrogen caused by a fire produces a long-term reduction in the fertility of the soil, which only slowly recovers as nitrogen is “fixed” from the atmosphere by lightning and by leguminous plants such as clover.


Fire, like the clutter in our lives, is a process that causes various reactions.

The flame, like physical clutter in the home, is the visible portion of the fire. The intensity of the fire is determined by the substances in it. Likewise, the severity of our clutter is determined by the type and intensity of the cluttergories (physical, mental, digital, temporal, and sensual) in our lives.

Finally, fire can cause physical damage but is also an important part of the ecological systems around the globe; fire stimulates growth and helps maintain those systems. Clutter can also cause damage, especially when it reaches the level of hoarding. Getting rid of the clutter is an important part of stimulating growth in ourselves, as well as giving us a clean environment in which to live.

Now that we see how fire relates to clutter, let’s return to the fireplace in my home.


As I said, the fire helps me relax, which helps me better process the mental clutter in my life. I have also been known to fall asleep on the couch in front of the fire. A nap also helps me process the mental clutter!

How do you process the mental clutter in your life?

Our fireplace is double sided, facing both the family room and my home office. This actually helps me keep the physical clutter at bay in my home. For safety sake we have to keep the area around the fireplace clear of anything flammable. This also acts a trigger for me to keep the family room and home office clear of clutter so that we can better enjoy the fire, a mental trick of sorts.

Do you have any tips or tricks for managing the physical clutter in your life?

Winter is enjoyable for me because it tends to be a slower time of year. It is a time of reflection and goal setting with the new calendar year; a time to examine the cluttergories that might be affecting me. The fire is a cozy way to encourage that process and de-clutter my life.

I invite you to use fire as a tool, as I do, to help you process the clutter in life.

Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer

STUFFologist Reviews – Clutter Busting

Clutter Busting by Brooks PalmerClutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back by Brooks Palmer (2009) remains one of those down-to-earth titles written by one who’s served in the trenches of physical and emotional clutter. In fact, it remains one of the more psychologically insightful works on clutter.

Palmer writes (paraphrased):

  • 75% of what’s in our homes is clutter.
  • we should keep only those items, which make us happy and comfortable.
  • to de-clutter we need to remove clutter from where we currently stored it to the middle of the room where we can look at it with a fresh perspective.

A person with an impressive library of books may appear to have a problem with clutter. Yet, I believe that each person decides what is clutter. Although, I prefer less, I disagree with the “75% is clutter” figure that’s been repeated in the media over the years. Unlike hoarders – the result of a disorder causing significant discomfort when attempting to let go of items including trash – clutter is more personal.

As for getting rid of items that drag us down or make us feel uncomfortable; what lessons will we miss by discarding these items based on an emotion we feel during one fleeting moment in time? If, on the other hand, we take time to reflect, we will learn to avoid getting into similar situations in the future.

Palmer has a gift for getting at clients’ psychological struggles with clutter. He hones right in and helps his clients (mostly women) decide to take a new road without all those extra clothes that don’t fit, collections of books, self-development tapes, pictures, and more.

In fact, the way he writes about his successes with clients is both hopeful and unnerving. As my co-author, Eric Riddle and I wrote in STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter, we hold onto some things without knowing why. What if Palmer persuaded us in that moment to let go and it turns out to be a mistake? As I read examples of Palmer’s interventions, I kept wondering: What are his credentials? Does he have a degree in clinical psychology?

People can be successful without a degree; we’ve seen countless examples in business. Yet, it is my belief that higher learning enables people to better see the gray areas within bi-polar decision-making, often the standard in our industry. I’m tired of being forced to “use it or get rid of it.” In fact, Palmer writes of something similar when he admits that he stopped taking photos after realizing that doing so removed him from experiencing the moment. While I agree, we need to balance preservation of a special moment with experience. After all, I’ve spent years working with families who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s. That photo or unused object we should have tossed helps loved ones recall a precious life moment their brains can no longer conceptualize.

I prefer a more custom approach in dealing with clients. We hold on for our own reasons and one person’s clutter is another’s sanctuary. This is why I help clients define their own areas of clutter then work with them for long-term results.

Yet, among the books I’ve read in the de-clutter / organizing space, I feel drawn to Palmer’s message. He offers plenty of nuggets to digest, especially when I recall needing to evacuate because a massive fire threatened our home. I stood in a room frozen with indecision.

Some of Palmer’s exercises throughout Clutter Busting and the questions he suggests we ask ourselves will better help us to understand our relationship with clutter.

If I had to choose a book (besides STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter), I’d choose Brooks Palmer’s Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back.