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Interview: Author Barbara Tako Conquers Clutter for Spring

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Are you clobbered by clutter? Most people are. Even the Martha Stewart types battle misplaced wandering socks, deluges of mail, chewed doggie bones, misfiled CDs, and crammed closets everyday. Now that spring cleaning's coming up, Barbara Tako's no-nonsense book Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home & Reclaim Your Life arrives to save the day.

Unlike many anti-clutter books that run homeowners through a boot camp, sorting all their goods into piles and forcing them to shed all but their most prized possessions, Tako takes a looser approach.
Barbara Tako
"There's no 'one right way' to do it," she said from her Minnesota home. "If something makes you feel bad (and) induces guilt, stress, or rationalizations when you look at it, consider tossing it. Don't let things linger around to make you feel bad."

Pitching junk isn't without its dangers. Toss that 15-year-old stack of Popular Mechanics magazines and a wife might be relieved, whereas her husband will be ready to toss out her wedding gown.

"One spouse is often more a keeper than other spouse," Tako said. "What are the odds, anyway, that two people who meet and fall in love are going to have exactly the same standards for clutter, home organization, or even household cleanliness?"

Sometimes you must go back to childhood to find the causes of excessive hoarding, but that's a job for a therapist. Tako suggests couples with clutter issues decide how much gets saved and where it is stored, then decide on a single place where those items go (hint: not all over the house). Next, they limit the size of the storage space.

"If the keeper puts things in prime operating areas — like the kitchen counter or the table — agree on a location the non-keeper can move these items so that clutter won't interfere with basic home operations like getting dinner on the table or completing paperwork," Tako said.

Not everyone has problems that go this far, but most identify with taming the paper tiger. Paper descends on us from all areas: mail, newspapers, memos from the office, papers the kids bring home from school, even flyer shoved under the doors of apartment buildings. Most parents relate to school forms, permission slips, cookie sale reminders, lunch menus and other junk flying all over the house.

"When things are 'all over the house' there is no single organizing system in place for that category of stuff. Coupons, business cards, school paperwork can sometimes get scattered that way. I suggest creating one category for stuff and sticking with it….For school paperwork, I created a school folder for each child and kept it in the kitchen….All schedules, report cards, and school information were in one place."

How about mail clutter for grownups? Tako has it licked.

"1. Weed out the mail daily while standing by the recycle bin, Junk mail and most catalogs go here.

2. Create a filing/bill pay folder where you put things from the daily mail here (treat charitable donations like bills)…Pay bills from this folder weekly….I also have a second folder, an upcoming events folder–schedules, invitations, community education offerings.

3.Create a reading basket. It limits the space for storing this information. When the basket gets full, weed out the oldest stuff…if you haven't read it by now…you won't read it as it becomes more dated."

Finally, the old guilt-inducer — magazines! 

"Donate or recycle anything older than three months old. Feel guilty only one more time as you send those magazines out the door. A lot of material is seasonal or cyclical and will come back again….I like the Internet for current information."

So do we.

About Lynn Voedisch

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    I have a paper gremlin in my house. It feels like I’m constantly throwing away paper clutter – If I didn’t every flat surface in the house would be covered with junk mail, magazines, sales receipts and newspapers. It makes me crazy.

    “Create a reading basket.”
    Brilliant!
    In all honesty, I’m a book horder. I have bookshelves in every room and still tend to stack them up on the coffee table and bedstand. I can’t put them on a bookshelf because I have to read them for work and reviews. I like to keep them nearby. I actually have a very nice laundrybasket-sized painted wicker basket that would be perfect for holding books — and it would blend in with the rest of the decor. I never thought of using it for books, but that’s a great idea. Now I just have to find another one so I can have one in each room.

    I should probably take your advice fully and put one by each bookshelf as well. Start putting an old book in for every new book I add to the bookshelf. At least I’ll have some circulation.

    Thanks for the advise, Barbara. And the great interview, Lynn.
    I’m looking forward to reading the book!

  • Lynn Voedisch

    I shouldn’t be giving out advice because it looks like a blizzard broke out in my house, but not only do we have baskets of books, but we double-shelve books. Do you do that? It does save space. After that, you really have to start sending books out the door to libraries, second-hand stores or charities.
    Maybe Barbara will pitch in here.

  • http://www.clutterclearingchoices.com Barbara Tako

    Paper, including books, is the #1 source of clutter frustration. We are not alone in our struggles with this. I think you are on the right track with your baskets and “one in, one out” idea. Another idea would be to change the ratio until things are looking better for you: “one in, three out.” As for double-shelving, I am leery of it because if we can’t see it, we don’t know we own it. If we don’t know we own it, it is almost the same as not owning it. The same applies to paper clutter: If we don’t have a good filing and reference system, papers take up space but aren’t any use to us because we can’t find them. Just a couple more thoughts to ponder!