Most of us have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. Think back to the last time you moved – were you surprised by how much you had?
If you do a search on the internet for keywords like “de-clutter”, “minimalist living”, or “Konmari method”, you will find that there is a recent hot trend in the housekeeping world. People such as Marie Kondo, author of the books “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy”, suggest that we all should dedicate some time to organize and simplify our home environment (read: GET RID OF STUFF). The rationale is that doing so would ultimately reduce our stress and make us happier being surrounded by only the things we need or love.
Before I go on to describe a specific method for de-cluttering, let me explain why this is the topic of a blog designed to help those living with MCI blog.
During Mayo Clinic’s HABIT program for people with MCI, we teach participants how to effectively use a day planner to help increase independence and compensate for memory issues. Participants learn strategies for writing the important information you need and want to remember, how to organize the information (i.e., where to write it down so that you can easily find it), and how to use the planner effectively. As it becomes a habit, participants’ worry less about whether something has been forgotten and gain confidence in their abilities.
It’s a similar concept when applied to our physical surroundings! While just about everyone can benefit from a simplified and organized home environment, imagine how it could be helpful to persons with cognition and memory problems. Let’s use the clothes closet as an example.
Do you really need to hang on to the clothes that don’t fit anymore, or that you haven’t worn in a year? Do you need 5 similar belts, 10 pairs of jeans, 20 handbags…? Are you going to be invited to a 70’s party anytime soon? Now suppose you reduced the closet to only the clothes that you actually have worn in the last year and the clothes you love… imagine how much easier it would be to find the items of clothing you are looking for when you need them! Would it be easier to pick out an outfit to wear, or find that favorite shirt?
I myself have a 6-year-old son who is very opinionated about what he will wear. I finally figured out that the fastest way to get him dressed is to go straight to the laundry basket of clean clothes to pick out his outfit for the day. The clean clothes laundry basket is filled with his favorite items and if he wore it recently, I know it’s something he will accept! I’m not suggesting that you live out of a laundry basket, but I am saying that reducing the amount of un-used and un-loved stuff in your home has its benefits!
Organization experts often suggest a specific method for purging your things, believing that some ways are particularly effective. The following is a basic description of one de-cluttering process that is loosely based on the Konmari method.
STEP 1. Pick a category of stuff to declutter: Clothes, Books, Papers, Personal care/Bathroom, Kitchen, Miscellaneous Household items (e.g., electronics, DVDs, medicines), Sentimental items.
Continuing with the clothes closet example, let’s suppose you’ve decided to work on your SHOE inventory.
STEP 2. Lay it all out. Now you can survey everything and get a good sense of how much you have of each item type.
For your shoes, find a space (e.g., table, floor) where you lay all your pairs of shoes out in front of you. Put your sport shoes next to each other, all your dressy shoes together, your sandals, loafers, boots, and so on. (Now it will be more obvious that you have half a dozen pairs of white tennis shoes!)
STEP 3. Pick up an item one at a time, and ask yourself whether the item is has been recently used. If not, does it bring you joy? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, KEEP the item and designate a space for it.
Pick up a pair of tennis shoes – when was the last time you wore them? If it’s been a while, why is that? Will you be wearing it them anytime soon? Perhaps they are your favorite most comfortable pair (KEEP), perhaps they are a too small, or utterly hideous (DON’T KEEP). Maybe you’re keeping them because you never really used them and they look brand new – but should you keep things that make you feel guilty (DON’T KEEP)!?
STEP 4. If it’s not a keeper, thank the item for its service and then decide to THROW AWAY or GIVE AWAY.
With the pair of tennis shoes still in your hands, you can think “I really enjoyed wearing you in the 1990’s. ” Now put them in the trash pile or the donation/give-to-a-friend pile.
The reason we keep utensils in the utensil drawer in the kitchen and our underwear in the underwear drawer in the bedroom is the same reason we put our doctor’s appointments in our day planner and our to-do’s on our to-do list – so we can form a habit of looking in the right place for important things and being sure to get those things BACK into the right place so we can find them later. Furthermore, making the effort to reduce how much stuff we have in each designated place - to only the things we really need and love - makes it easier to find what we’re looking for when we need it. We at the HABIT team feel that persons with MCI may especially benefit from an organized and simplified home environment.
So, why don’t you schedule some time in your planner to start de-cluttering? Give it a try and let us know how it goes and more importantly, how you FEEL!
Send an email to invite people you know to join the Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) page.