Being homebound during the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus has many taking a closer look at what fills their domestic spaces.
Experts say, amid such pervasive cultural and environmental uncertainty, it’s natural for people to re-evaluate and start reorganizing their stuff.
“This coronavirus is probably the most out-of-control thing any of us have ever seen, so if you can just box up a few things, there’s some comfort in that and it’s an actual sense of accomplishment,” Sallie Han, professor of anthropology at SUNY Oneonta and presenter of 2017's “Rethinking Clutter: An Anthropological Take on the Stuff that’s Hard to Let Go,” said.
“Decluttering is, even though not directly related to hygiene, a thing where we’re in a stay-clean mode and cleanliness and hygiene are so emphasized right now, so that’s an extension,” Han said. “Decluttering is a way of taking control of what you can. We’re all confined to the insides of our houses, so that’s our whole world right now.”
“It’s a really weird time and it’s affecting people in strange ways,” Karen Sheesley, National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals-certified organizer and owner of Straighten Up Organizing Services in Oneonta, said. “But I think putting things in order is a way to have control during this time when we don’t have control over much of anything. It’s a way to cope.”
“Not only does (decluttering) help the home function better, I think right now, when so many more aspects of our lives are uncertain and unsettled and out of our control, for me, having a bit more order and predictability is comforting,” Oneonta resident Ann Adamo said. “It adds to a sense of calm.”
And, in a March 27 L.A. Times article, Fay Wolf, organizer and author of “New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (and Everyone Else)” said, “Now that we are at home, we are faced with our stuff. But we have an opportunity to take action and feel better.”
While local experts agree that it’s a good time to tackle at-home organizational projects, they said it’s important to keep tasks manageable.
“Clutter is the stuff that just has no place,” Han said. “Rather than thinking about wanted or unwanted, think, does it have a place? Can you put it away somewhere? or does it not have a place in your life? The hardest part about clutter is deciding to be done with it.
“Decide what your criteria is; for me, it’s ‘do I have room for it, and would I be willing to make room for it?’” Han said. “Understanding that about yourself is a really big step.”
“Be kind to yourself, pick little things to do,” Sheesley said. “If you feel inspired to do something big, go for it, but it’s OK to do just little things.”
“Start small, with a small, doable task, like one drawer, and see how that feels,” Adamo said. “That’s definitely the way I’m approaching it.”
Small projects, experts said, can yield big results.
“There’s something so finite about taking a pile of clothes or boxing up some books and putting them away,” Han said. “It’s doable and you feel good at the end of that. And I think actually having a tactile container — when I have a box or a big bag sitting there and the point is to fill that thing—makes a difference. So, declutter by the container; by the house is impossible, but if you say, ‘I’m going to fill this box with dishes or books,’ that’s much more doable.” The L.A. Times article further suggests using clear boxes and bags, for easier identification.
“I have tackled a few smaller organizational projects that I wouldn’t say are critical, but now that they’re completed, add to a sense of order in our home,” Adamo said, naming organizing recipe files, updating address files and installing closet hooks as examples. “These are little victories.”
Sheesley also recommended zeroing in on everyday items.
“I’m just trying to encourage people to do even tiny things, like organizing the medicine cabinet or clearing off a surface,” she said. “That can be a bigger thing than the big projects and the small projects tend to involve the places we encounter more frequently.
“How many people are roaming around their attic every day? But we go into our medicine cabinet or our kitchen drawers, so those are really worthwhile things to work on right now,” she said. “And so many people have tons of papers filed away that they’ll never look at, so take a few out each night and poke through them and do a little bit at a time. Even something like grabbing all the pens and pencils out of all your holders; sit down, while you’re watching TV or something, try them all and see if they work or they’re dried up. There are little things like that that you can do that we wouldn’t normally think about.”
Though most drop-off sites are inaccessible through the pandemic, there are alternatives.
“If your local Goodwill or Salvation Army donation center is closed, you can list things for free on Facebook Marketplace, the Nextdoor app or local online groups,” the L.A. Times article said. “(Or) leave the item on your driveway or porch for pickup or place it on the sidewalk with a sign marked ‘free.’”
“Right now, it’s difficult if not impossible to donate things, so people are going to end up storing things they’d normally be able to donate or trash, so that’s a little tricky,” Sheesley said. “But if you have an out-of-the-way place to keep that stuff, get it out of your sight and out of your space.”
Sheesley said considering harder-to-see clutter is important, too.
“People need to be kind to themselves right now,” she said. “It’s so important not to neglect our minds in this and putting our minds in order. Our inner and outer worlds are connected, so if we’re cluttered in our inner world, it affects our outer world, because we’re not capable of concentrating and doing as much and that circles back around to causing us angst and trouble, mentally. It’s a cycle and I think people don’t give that as much weight as it actually has.”
Sheesley recommended “slow” activities, such as journaling, and the L.A. Times article suggests using guided-meditation apps.