When I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference recently, I met Rita Rosenkranz, one of the authors of the book “Put Your House on a Diet: Declutter Your Home and Reclaim Your Life.” The co-authors of the book are Ed Morrow and Sheree Bykofsky.
Rita: How did you and your co-authors get the idea to write a clutter book called ‘Put Your House on a Diet?’
Ed: Rita Rosenkranz was moving and wasn’t sure she wanted to keep everything she’d acquired over the years. While having lunch with Sheree, they joked about how Rita should put her household on a diet. Both women are successful literary agents, and they realized that there was a book in the concept of ‘clutter dieting.’ They approached me with their idea. Sitting in my office, surrounded by books stacked to the ceiling, I was intrigued.
Rita: Your book is filled with helpful tips for reducing clutter. What techniques are especially helpful to baby boomers?
Ed: Like many of your readers, I had parents who grew up during the Great Depression. They wanted to pass on what they had learned about thrift. Mom said, ‘Clean your plate; there are kids in (insert name of an impoverished nation) who would love to have that (liver, Brussels sprouts, or some other unpleasant food).’ I would offer to stick a stamp on my leftovers and mail them overseas, but Mom never relented. Depression-influenced parents insisted their kids ‘waste not, want not.’
Boomers learned to feel guilty if they threw out something that was ‘still good.’ While thrift is virtuous, it can fill your home with clutter if you confuse discarding excess possessions with being wasteful.
You can avoid guilt by donating possessions that aren’t used up. Unlike the food that I, with youthful callousness, offered to mail to the needy, your extra raincoat or spare china can be given to someone in need.
Rita: You say in ‘Put Your House on a Diet’ that a house with too much stuff is physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Why is that?
Ed: Clutter can blight your life by simply getting in the way. Cooking, for example, can be difficult and frustrating when you can’t find an implement you need because it’s lost in a drawer it shares with old pizza coupons. A well-ordered home lets you work efficiently which is calming to the mind and soothing to the soul.
Rita: What is the best way for people to decide what to keep when they begin decluttering? I've seen an organizer on television whip a family into shape by giving them 20 minutes to clean up each room. That seems harsh. What do you recommend?
Ed: ‘Tough love’ approaches encourage hard choices. You don’t, however, have to use a timer; you can use your imagination. One of the decluttering gambits we suggest in ‘Put Your Home on a Diet’ is that you imagine you’re moving to an outpost in the Yukon. All your stuff will have to go by dog sled. Do you really want some poor huskies sweating themselves silly hauling your Elvis plate collection across the frozen wastes? Think of the imploring eyes of the puppies as you choose what to keep.
Any device that encourages you to declutter is useful, but we need to develop good habits to provide lasting results.
Rita: What are the three best storage items people can buy to help them be organized?
Ed: Good shelves invite you to store your stuff well. Plastic shelves, available for about $50 at your hardware store, are sturdy, simple to assemble, and don’t rust. Rickety steel shelves or haphazardly banged together wooden shelves may be dangerous when piled high with clutter.
Good boxes are also important. Clear plastic storage boxes allow you to see what they contain but are expensive. An ordinary cardboard box, labeled well, can be nearly as useful.
Another useful storage item, which you create rather than buy, is a ‘treasure map.’ This is a drawing of your storage area describing what is stored where. It can be extremely useful in finding items when they are needed.
Rita: What else do boomers need to know for their home “diet’ to be successful?
Ed: We need to understand that decluttering is an ongoing activity, a bit like the war on crime. The police may bust up a racket or jail the head of a crime family but other rackets and other mob bosses replace them. You can tidy up your sock drawer or clean out a closet but clutter returns. Don’t confuse this recurrence with failure. Like the police, we will never eradicate our foe but we can keep clutter in check. Just don’t quit trying.
Rita: Thanks, Ed. My readers and I appreciate your clutter tips.