A continuum is continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. A normal distribution along a continuum has a middle that is more heavily populated than either end. This creates the well-known bell shaped curve.
At one end of the clutter continuum is the person who puts her newspaper in the recycling bin as soon as she has finished reading it (which is before most of her neighbors have climbed out of bed). And it is more neatly folded and better organized than when it was delivered. At the other end, is the woman who says, “I’m not a hoarder. We’ve never found a dead animal in the house.”
‘Quite distinct’ is an understatement! One end sounds pathologically compulsive. The other end suggests damning oneself with faint praise. But the extremes tell only a small part of the clutter continuum story. It’s between the margins, where the descriptions may be less colorful, that most of us fall.
Clutter really needs no definition. It’s like a Supreme Court justice famously said about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” But if you want a definition, Barbara Hemphill’s is a good one. “Clutter is decisions postponed.”
But with clutter, it’s less the what than the why that bears examination. There are myriad reasons that we have so many possessions that bring us so little enjoyment or utility. Indecisiveness may be a leading suspect but decisions-poorly-made is undoubtedly an accomplice.
How might missing the mark on decision-making manifest?
Self inflicted clutter. The decision not to buy was ignored.
Guilty clutter. The decision to admit, “I made a mistake” is squelched.
Inherited clutter. The decision that you don’t want Granny’s china is not confessed.
Aspirational clutter. The decision to know your own mind is trumped by keeping up appearances.
Whether family china, a convention swag bag, or an ill-conceived purchase, it’s clutter just the same. If you don’t use it, love (or at least like) it, and have space for it to be properly stored, it’s clutter. Remember, knowing what clutter is, is easy. Understanding why you allow it to be an unwelcomed housemate is the hard part.
No matter where you are on the clutter continuum, the Rules help answer why. And once you know why, putting clutter where it belongs is pretty straightforward. Options abound, but in short, it’s someplace other than with you.
A truth. Letting go of things feels worse than acquiring them felt good. Remember that and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, money and clutter!