Clutter Kills
by Patricia Draznin

In today’s column I was going to teach you how to succeed in relationships, how to lose seven pounds by dinnertime, and how to invest in real estate in the After Life. But I can’t find my notes. So instead we’ll discuss the secrets of how to organize your home so impeccably that even a burglar could instantly locate whatever the heck he broke in to steal. Or she. 

An Associated Press story entitled “Man Trapped Under Mountain of Books, Newspapers in Apartment Is Rescued After Two Days” grabbed my attention, not just because the grammar was crying for help but because this true story illustrates the danger of clutter. A 43-year-old man named Moore got buried under an avalanche of reading materials for two days until his landlord discovered him. Emergency workers excavated him after digging for 30 minutes and filling 50 trash bags.

My husband and I are not in this category but were headed in this direction, until I got in touch with my Inner Electrolux. Since we work at home we have to be super organized, carefully separating the business junk mail from the personal junk mail, and keeping all those lacerated window envelopes from oozing downstairs and mating with the TV Guides. The following rules of our household are guaranteed to keep your life in perfect order, even if they never work for us.

Rule #1: Designate a household IN TRAY. I recommend the kitchen table. Every item that enters our home must pass through this official checkpoint no matter how many days it takes us to notice it. This includes bills, magazines, “exceptional business opportunities,” stray deer, contractors, and houseguests.

Rule #2: Sort incoming mail. Our mail falls into three categories: recycling 59%, kindling 286%, and other .03%. This is because our names (Current Occupants) have found their way onto every mailing list from The Flat Earth Society to the Retired Plumbers Association of Yonkers. That’s why we sort our mail, which means we open it over the trash. Any pieces worthy of consideration get routed to the IN-PROCESS TRAY, which doubles as the breadbox, not to be confused with the OUT TRAY, or wok. After mail achieves the distinguished high-priority IN-PROCESS status, it’s only a matter of minutes until we forget about it completely.

Rule #3: Stay clutter-free. Inspect your storage regularly and dispose of old clothing, expired investment opportunities, future investment opportunities, teenagers, etc.

Rule #4: Make places. Chaos happens because you haven’t created enough places for everything, and also because you’re a slob. In our house, I’m in charge of making places. If my husband wants to find anything he just has to ask me, which is why he’ll never leave me, unless he wants to spend the rest of his days searching for a clean towel.  

Rule #5: Make lists. Whenever my husband or I think of something we want to remind ourselves to do, buy, or pretend we invented, we carefully note it down on the nearest Subway napkin. Eventually, these valuable lists migrate into the IN-PROCESS TRAY, mingling with my research on how to lose seven pounds by dinnertime.

Rule #6: When all else fails… Move.

Copyright 2005 Patricia Draznin


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