Clutter workshop helps identify, how to let go, organize


Extra Fabric. A sailing ship model. Kitchen drawer odds and ends.

That’s clutter. At best, it’s taking up space in an out-of-the-way area; at worst, it’s a disruption and a drain on our daily life.

“Mine is scrapbooking. I have boxes of photos and I can’t get to them,” said Karen Richel.

Richel knows firsthand the clutter burden many struggle around and under. As financial literacy educator for the University of Idaho Extension office in Latah County, she provides information and workshops to help individuals organize home-life essentials, and one of these is helping people identify and get a handle on their personal collections – both physical and electronic.

“We all have a lot of clutter,” Richel said, and there are at least 15 different types that many can relate with.

“There’s the fun clutter, what we call rabbit clutter; the clutter that multiplys, like fabric and collectibles. It’s the kind of clutter we’re not sure what to do with it, but it doesn’t really have a purpose, but it seems to multiply.”

“There’s the mysterious clutter,” she continued. “We don’t know what it is, but looks like something important, like gaskets and such, and we throw it in a junk drawer. It looks like something important, so we keep it.”

“Then there’s our get-to-it-someday clutter,” Richel said. “It’s something we plan to make someday, or projects we intend to do.”

When she first started teaching the class, the common one was the Bob Hope clutter: “Thanks for the memories – old love letters, old matchbooks, baby’s first birthday cards,” she said. The most unusual clutter she heard of was collections of puppy baby teeth.

Clutter is not a bad thing, according to Richel, but where it causes problems is when it interferes with our life.

Overwhelmed? Richel knows the problem, and she is also part of its solution. Through U of I Extension, she provides “decluttering” workshops. This grew out of other programs she offered on estate planning and organizing financial paperwork, and on distributing the passing down and inheriting of family heirlooms and possessions.

“It’s a really good class, telling you how to declutter your possessions, your time, all your assets,” she said. “It gives you ideas on how to pare back a little bit, so you‘re not so cluttered.” It’s also a lighthearted class: “People have a good time, and we make no judgements,” she laughed.

Tackling the problem means identifying it, so the history of “clutter” is explained, the question is asked, “Who cares if we have too much stuff?” and then how to start the decluttering process.

“There are different solutions for everybody,” she said, “and I get new ones every time I do a class; new ideas how to reduce that clutter, different organization strategies to a find system that works. Also, tips on how to organize life a little better, prioritize more, decide what to keep – what is good stuff and what is not so good stuff … and how to let go of that stuff if no one wants it.”

For many people, they don’t know where to start working on this, she said. One method is the “52 weeks to an uncluttered life. It literally is every week you get a tiny project do and at the end you are completely uncluttered.”

“One of the biggest challenges for older generations, the older end of the baby boomers,” she continued, “is they collect things. They have antiques, possessions mean something to them. Kids graduating high school and college now don’t want those older things. They don’t have that same connection to them. That is where that line of communication is important -- Why should you care about this; what is the story behind this?”

A challenge for younger generations is not physical clutter but electronic, she said.

“The iTunes, social media accounts, that mind clutter,” Richel said, “as opposed to physical clutter, and this class can help with that too, pare down all the stuff they do -- events, meetings -- and how to say no.”

“And some people love their clutter and don’t want to get rid of it,” she said. “That’s fine. This class helps you organize clutter so it’s not overwhelming to you.”

Those interested in learning more about decluttering workshops can contact the U of I Extension Office in Orofino for the upcoming schedule: 208-476-4434.

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