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In Part 1 of “Decluttering for Real People with Rebecca,” she gave us some practical strategies for winning the war on kid and adult clutter, along with some of the psychology behind why we have so much stuff. In today’s part 2 episode, professional decluttering coach, Rebecca Mezzino, continues with the gems and gives us mantras to help talk us down while shopping, ideas about how to store (or not store) unending kid art and baby clothes, a helpful guideline for how full our spaces should be, and insight into clutter’s relationship to anxiety which basically felt like a personal attack. We talk about why women feel the weight of clutter more, the problem with memes like, “The dishes can be done later, we’re too busy making memories,” and Rebecca educates me about what the shows don’t capture about hoarding tendencies and disorders. And most importantly, we discuss the merits, neuroses, and dangers of Marie Kondo and her joy-sparking revolution.
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Brandy: In part one of “Decluttering for Real People with Rebecca,” she gave us some practical strategies for winning the war on kid and adult clutter, along with some of the psychology behind why we have so much stuff. In today’s part two episode, Rebecca continues with the gems and gives us mantras to help talk us down while shopping, ideas about how to store (or not store) unending kid art and baby clothes, a helpful guideline for how full our spaces should be, and insight into clutter’s relationship to anxiety (which basically felt like a personal attack on me). We talk about why women feel the weight of clutter more than men, the problem with memes like “The Dishes Can Be Done Later – We’re Too Busy Making Memories,” and Rebecca educates me about what the shows don’t capture about hoarding tendencies and disorders. And most importantly, we discuss the merits and neurosis of Marie Kondo and her joy-sparking revolution. I was so curious to hear another professional declutterer’s opinion about this and Rebecca does not disappoint. She might’ve even used the word “dangerous” in reference to Marie Kondo’s book. And back when we recorded this, Marie’s show hadn’t even aired yet. So all we knew of her was her book.
Brandy: Before we get to the episode, I want to give a shout out to two new Patreon people. Thank you to two Michelles – Michelle Rembolt and Michelle Kettleborough for supporting me and the podcast. I so appreciate you guys. Every single Patreon pledge matters and helps this podcast exists, and helps me do the thing that I love doing. Can you guys tell that I love doing this? I hope you can tell that I love doing this. Okay. Time to tear Marie Kondo a new one. Onto the show.
Brandy: So in terms of our own habits, what is the most common clutter habit that you see from women – moms specifically?
Rebecca: Bargain hunting and buying things for an emotional reason.
Brandy: Tell me more about bargain hunting.
Rebecca: Buying things that are bargains to get that high. One of the biggest clutter-causing problems that women have is shopping. A lot of the time we shop because we think that whatever we buy is going to make our life better because we’re always looking to make our life better. So shopping is meant to do that. And it does do it in the short term. It does do it for the first half an hour or so. But after a while that goes away, and you’ve got to go back and get another one.
Rebecca: But there’s also the thrill of the chase of getting a bargain and of buying something for less than what someone else might buy it for or less than what it’s worth. A lot of the time when we are shopping at cheap stores, you will buy something just because it’s cheap, not because we need it. And then we think, oh, we’ll find a use for that. Oh, that’ll be handy. I’m sure I can put that somewhere or maybe I can give it away as a present. And we do all of the justifying after making the decision that’s been purely based on price.
Brandy: Right, and that bargain justifies the acquiring of the object whether it was needed or not. Just the fact that it was a bargain. So how do we know… This is going to sound like such a stupid question, but how do we know when we need something or not?
Rebecca: When the one that we have breaks or we lose it, and that’s when we need to replace something. Or when you find you’re wanting something all the time. So for example, with shoes, so if for the last month, four or five times you’ve put on an outfit and gone, “Oh, I really need a certain type of shoe with this outfit.” And then a week later you put on a different outfit and go, “I really need this type of shoe,” and it’s the same type of shoe. Then that would be a justification because you know it’s something that you’re going to use because it’s something that’s popped in your head.
Brandy: Got it.
Rebecca: It’s quite easy to identify needs and wants as you go about your daily life. So if you think, “Oh, this would make my life much easier if I had this. If I had, a really large chef knife instead of trying to use this little knife all the time, life would be much easier because I’d be able to chop faster.” Then there is a good trigger for buying something. The problem is that what we do is we are triggered after we see something not before. And so one of my mantras for my shopping clients is if you didn’t need it before you saw it, you can’t have it. That means basically that if you haven’t already identified a need in your life at some point, you can’t buy that thing that you’ve just spotted and you’ve just decided you need because you’ve seen it. And you have to have identified the need in your day-to-day life first before it actually is allowed to be bought. And if you do see something and think, “Oh, that would be handy,” and you’d never thought of it before, wait a month and then go and buy it to see whether or not it actually is. Walk away. Don’t just buy it on the spot and then try and find a use for it later because that’s what a lot of people do. Simply because they have to buy something.
Brandy: Do you have any other mantras or go-to tips like that?
Rebecca: My biggest one is if you didn’t need it before you saw it, you can’t have it. Another one is it’s not a bargain if you don’t need it. One hundred percent off is much better than 50% off and you can get 100% off by walking away. And…
Brandy: These are all hard things to do at Target, by the way.
Rebecca: One of the things that does help me a lot with bargain hunting, and another thing I do tell my clients is, this might be cheap but it costs somebody something – secondhand stores aside because secondhand is environmentally and ethically responsible shopping. But if you’re buying from somewhere like Target and you’re buying something that is $2, and it is plastic and it is going to go out of fashion in six months time, ask yourself, “This $2 item, this thing that I’m buying for $2, who made it?” Was it a child? Was it somebody who is being abused in their working environment? Is it someone who’s being taken advantage? Are these materials sourced ethically or are they also taking advantage of people in disadvantaged situations? And so sometimes asking yourself those questions can also say, “Maybe this isn’t a good thing to buy just because I want a bargain. Maybe I shouldn’t be supporting this kind of consumerism.” And so for anyone who is ethically or environmentally minded, sometimes reminding themselves of that can actually help as well because you do think, well, this $2 item might not be costing me as much, but it might be costing somebody their life.
Brandy: Yeah, that’s a great point.
Rebecca: There’s some really amazing stat and we quoted it on our podcast recently and I can’t remember it now, but it’s something ridiculous like one or 2% of items bought are still being used in three months time. It’s just absurd. I can’t say that’s an accurate quote, but if you listen to my podcast – I think it’s in our Clutter-Free Christmas Gifts episode – I think we talk about it.
Brandy: Even if you’re off by 10 or 15%-
Brandy: I mean 30% even, it’s staggering.
Rebecca: It’s a ridiculous amount and it made me gasp when I read it. And so what are you doing buying something that is going to end up in landfill in six to 12 months but has also used all of these resources in getting made? If you think about it that way, that can reduce what you buy as well and you can start looking at buying quality over quantity. I mean certainly with people with limited income, I certainly say I can understand buying low priced things for sure, but there are a lot of us that might have 10 pairs of Target shoes that are never worn.
Brandy: Yes, for sure.
Rebecca: And that adds up to the same price, that one pair of good Italian shoes that you wear until they fall apart for five years. It’s the same value.
Rebecca: There are a lot of us that can afford to buy quality, but instead we choose to buy quantity. So I’m definitely not criticizing the people who can’t afford to buy quality. But if you can afford to buy quality, you should be choosing to buy quality over quantity simply because of the effects that we talked about.
Brandy: Yes. And that’s one of the pieces of wisdom from your mid-40s that happens. There’s finally, at some point, somewhere between the 40s and 50s when you finally realize, “Oh, you know that one really nice pair of boots that I wanted 15 years ago, but instead I’ve bought shitty boots every year? I should have just bought the good boots.”
Rebecca: So true.
Brandy: Like at some point when you really become a woman, you go through your clothes enough and you see the pattern of, “Oh yeah, I bought this thing in a moment where I was hoping that this would be cute and I thought it was cheap and I should have just waited and gotten the thing that I really wanted.” I think you have to go through four-and-a-half decades of doing that in order to maybe have it click.
Rebecca: It does take a while and it’s all about intentionality. I run a workshop called How To Build an Intentional Wardrobe and it is all around knowing what suits you, knowing what you love, knowing what works for you and what doesn’t and-
Brandy: Can you come back and do a whole one on building an intentional wardrobe?
Brandy: I need to know every single thing about that.
Rebecca: Yeah that would be fine. I have a whole workshop on it, so I’ve got lots of material to chat about.
Brandy: Oh my goodness. Okay. Something that I want to make sure – well, two things that I want to make sure that we cover – one of the things is how would you handle children’s artwork? I know this is a spot that people have a hard time parting with.
Rebecca: Yeah, that is a tricky one. It’s very hard to reduce the amount that’s coming in, so there isn’t a lot of prevention that you can do. You just have to work on the cure. One of the things I do and have done in the past is have an artist’s folio for each child, so it’s just like a big A2 or A1-sized – oh you guys don’t have those sizes in America. I can’t explain what it is. Very big and it’s like a polypropylene sleeve that you slide a piece of artwork into. I just got one of those for each child and I just slid all of their artwork into that that got received. So it would come in the house. It would probably go on a wall and after it’s been on display, it goes into the sleeve. And then periodically when it got a bit fat – so in the first few years of kindergarten and school with my kids, I had to do it quite frequently because there were quite prolific when they’re little, as you know. So, it would fill up really quickly. So then we would go through that together and they would pick out their favorites, which I would then put in a display book, which is just, again, another polypropylene photo with plastic sleeves in it. They would put their favorites in display books. I’d usually get them to choose one to three of those favorites at most, and then all the rest were photographed and then recycled, or sometimes they were sent to Granny or Grandma or someone like that.
Brandy: That’s a great idea.
Rebecca: Yeah, and then you can also use them as wrapping paper. Be careful that when you do give them to grandparents, that you also give the grandparents permission to throw them away because sometimes grandparents will then keep them out of guilt, so you can say, “Look, it’s okay if you throw these away when you’re sick of having them on your fridge, because we have a photograph of them. We’re just giving them to you to enjoy for awhile.” We don’t want them to feel cluttered.
Brandy: But I like the retribution idea though, of sending them garbage and then not telling them that they can throw it away so that then their house becomes cluttered with stuff that they can’t throw away. I just, I really like the idea of giving back a little bit of what they give us.
Rebecca: A little bit of payback. No, there are definitely some grandparents that are very guilty of cluttering up their children’s and grandchildren’s houses, that’s for sure.
Brandy: I mean, I hate to say it, but this is another one of those things that feels like for parenting you have another hurdle – it’s something else that’s working against you. In order to keep my sanity, I like to have a tidy space that isn’t cluttered and it’s like everybody else in your life, like, you know, schools and grandparents are like-
Rebecca: Yeah, have these.
Brandy: Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. We want to give you all this stuff.
Rebecca: You can train them and some are able to be trained and others will fiercely resist it until the day they die. And you just have to roll with it.
Brandy: Yeah. Right.
Rebecca: But I had a client once that was – she was a compulsive shopper. And she would buy things and then justify the purchase of them as to be gifts. So she had an entire room of these things that she was going to give away as gifts and she never gave them away. And I said to her, “We’re going to solve this problem in one fell swoop. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to get all of them out. We’re going to make piles and you’re going to give those gifts to those people right now. You’re not going to wait for Christmas. You just going to give it to them.” And she got all excited. She said, “Oh, that’s a great idea. Okay, I can’t wait to do that.” So she started making piles and I noticed that there were two sons and they were both married with children. And I noticed that son number one’s pile was enormous and son number two’s pile was quite small. And I just watched for a while and I sort of thought about, well do I ask her about this or not?
Rebecca: My curiosity got the better of me. And I said, “Listen, I just have to ask, why is that son number one getting so much more than son number two?” And it wasn’t just for him, there were things for their wives and kids and all that as well. But that was kind of the family piles. And she said, “Oh, because number two’s wife just throws out everything that I give her so I don’t give her anything anymore.” My mind was, oh my god, she has got you so well trained! She had made it clear to this woman that she didn’t want stuff and when it came in, it went out again. And so this woman stopped giving her stuff. And so some can be trained that way by saying, “If you give me things that I don’t ask for or that I don’t need or that have come in because you’re decluttering or when it’s not my birthday or not the kid’s birthday, anything like that, it will go, because I don’t have space for it.” Then maybe they’ll stop sending it. And I say maybe because like I said, some can’t be trained.
Brandy: Oh Man. Okay. That’s good to know that it might work. There’s a possibility.
Rebecca: Yeah. The communication is the key.
Brandy: I love this idea that you – there was something else that you said when you said the prevention and the cure. There’s something really wise in there and it feels so overwhelming, and breaking it down into the two different segments gives people somewhere to start. Maybe you can’t – the cure right now to make it all go away, you can’t do that. But maybe you can start working on the prevention of it. I just like that it’s being broken down into more doable pieces rather than, A, you have to change the way you do everything and B, you have to get rid of everything like that. There’s a slower, maybe more of an organic way to make the change for people who are wanting to make it.
Rebecca: Definitely. This is the thing, decluttering is not an overnight activity. It’s a lifestyle change. You’re changing the diet of your house. When people are overweight, the advice that they get from doctors is exercise more and eat less. That’s generally the message that you get and your house is exactly the same. Your house is overweight, it needs less coming in and more going out. Instead of going on the cabbage soup diet, you reduce your portion size slightly for everything that you eat, and that becomes the new normal. It doesn’t just happen for six weeks. It happens for the rest of your life. And so if you try to do the cabbage soup diet on your house, it just fills up again. You have to start making those lifestyle changes so that in the long term it’s sustainable. And that’s what the prevention is, and then you can chip away at all of the existing stuff like your body, you’d go on your diet and you do your reduced portion sizes and that becomes your new normal. If you then want more of an intense change, you can go on an exercise program or something like that. And the same way with your house, if you want that more intense change, you can start with your prevention. Then after a couple of months you can go, “Right, we’re having a decluttering weekend and everyone in the house has to get rid of a certain amount of things, and then we’re going to take it all to charity or we’re going to have a yard sale,” or something like that. But that lifestyle change of not bringing things in and having all of those boundaries persists right through the rest of your life.
Brandy: Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit more about when you were talking about the control, about how having a tidy space that’s decluttered gives you a sense of control. Can you speak to any sort of scientific research that backs up this idea of what happens to us when we go from being in a cluttered environment into one that is tidy and functional?
Rebecca: I don’t know of any specifically. There are some people who feel quite comfortable in the cluttered environment, but I don’t know of any research. All I know is that everyone feels better when they’re in control. If you look at your dining table and it’s covered in stuff, but everything on it has a home and it fits in that home, you know that you have control over that situation. So it’s all there and it’s annoying that it’s all there on the dining table and that no one’s put it away. But if you look at it and think, “I’ve got this,” then your stress levels are going to be so much lower than someone who looks at that and says, “I don’t know what to do. I feel overwhelmed.” The clutter levels might look exactly the same, but the level of stress they induce are significantly different and that’s the key. You want your stress levels down. You don’t want a perfect home, you want your stress levels down.
Rebecca: Part of your stress levels going down comes with acceptance that having a sometimes untidy home is normal and there are some people who have very high expectations of themselves. There are some husbands who have very high expectations of their wives – and we have a podcast episode coming out about that soon too – but we have to have homes for things and we have to reduce the volume of the things so that we can have that control. Even if stuff’s lying about, we can then quickly and easily deal with that stuff rather than letting it become a source of anxiety because clutter basically is something you need to do. It’s something you need to deal with. You look around and you go,” I’ve got to do that and I’ve got to do that and I’ve got to do that.” It’s like having someone walk behind you, nagging you constantly and you’ve already got that. We’ve got kids and so then you have the clutter nagging at you as well.
Brandy: Yes. Oh my god! Rebecca. Yes.
Rebecca: If you can reduce your possessions down to the point where everything fits in a home easily – here we go, if you want another rule of thumb for people to go by, my rule is that spaces should only be 80% full. What that does is that allows your stuff room to breathe. So if you open a cabinet and it’s only 80% full, you can pretty much see everything that’s in that space. It’s not so full that you have to pull things out to get to things. You can kind of see it all and you know then where everything is. And also when projects come up… I had a client who had this massive big home and she had every nook and cranny filled in this big home and we walked into her office and she had all of the Christmas presents all spread all over her office floor. And I said, “Oh, is this your Christmas preparation area?” And she goes, “Yeah, I’ve got nowhere else to put this, it has to come off this floor.” I said to her, “You need a project space. You need an empty space in your house that for when things like this come up, you can put them.”
Rebecca: So when you’ve got any got everything 80% full, you can squeeze some things aside to fit a temporary project if you need to. And then when it comes out again, everything goes back to it’s 80%. Because we do have these transient things that come in and out of our homes and we need space to be able to put those so that they’re not just hanging about bothering us.
Brandy: Yes. And you know what? That anxiety that you spoke about, it’s so spot on that there’s something that happens when you are in a space where all the stuff is out and it’s one thing if you know, “Okay, I have to do this, I have to put these things away.” But it’s another thing if you go, “I don’t even know where I’m going to put these and I know that I gotta shove them over here against this wall or whatever.” There’s something about this feeling of this anxiety of looking around your environment, and you’re exactly right – you see those things go by that say something like, “Oh, we have dirty dishes in this house, but we have lots of laughs and you can do dishes later,” or whatever. Like okay, that’s fine, but it actually is anxiety producing because when you look at these things, you know that it’s something that you have to do.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Brandy: And so it’s not just about accepting mess. I mean, I’m sure in some cases there are people who just need to accept a mess every once in awhile. But there is something legitimate about when you look around, all of these messes and all of this clutter just means there’s more on your plate. When you already feel like you are not doing all the things that you wanted to do – which I think is every stay-at-home parent – your environment, which is supposed to be your safe sacred space, actually adds to your feeling of overwhelm.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s so true. And unfortunately the women feel it because one of the things that our culture has done is it’s placed the weight of responsibility of the state of the home on women. And there are probably some men out there who do feel it, but a lot of the time our children and our husbands don’t notice the mess, because they’re not the ones that are judged by it. If someone comes into your home and you haven’t done the dishes and everything’s been untidy, they’re not going to turn around to the guy and say, “Well, what have you been doing all day?” They’re not. They’re going to think about the woman. They’re going to go, “I wonder what she does all day.” And that’s just this hangover from the olden days I guess, the olden days.
Rebecca: It’s just this hangover from when women were always responsible for the state of the home and now we shouldn’t have to be. We work as well and we spend a lot of time raising kids and we spent a lot of time trying to navigate parenting in a modern world. And then we have this expectation placed on us that we also have to have everything perfect. And so we feel this weight, this cultural weight on us as well and it’s just anxiety all over the place. It’s no wonder that we’re all a mess.
Brandy: Yeah. I would imagine for many women, like I know plenty of friends who have husbands who aren’t even cued into that, and who don’t help clean. And so if you are in a situation like that, when you look around at your things, you know that nobody else is going to touch that, if you don’t. And so when those things pile up, it is a matter of sort of survival, you know, it’s like your visual to do list. Whenever I declutter something I always think, “Oh this is visual Xanax.” Because it’s like all of the stress and anxiety just immediately goes away when you look at a shelf that’s tidy and it’s partially just because visually it’s pleasing, but it’s also like this is one area that doesn’t need my attention and my focus can go somewhere else.
Rebecca: Yes, I have clients message me quite frequently saying, “I just keep walking into my wardrobe and just standing there and smiling.” And there are some people who go, “I go to my bathroom because that’s the only place I have decluttered so far and I just sit in there because it’s decluttered and I’m happy in there.” People say that all the time. They go, “I just keep opening this cupboard and smiling at it. I don’t look at the rest of the room because that’s a mess, but when I open this cupboard, I feel a sense of peace.” And they feel peace because it’s done. It’s not something else to do.
Brandy: Yes, that’s exactly right. One of the things I want to make sure that we talk about, because I’m so curious your take on this. So this book by a woman named Marie Kondo, and her book is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And even the book alone is just gorgeous and it’s smaller than most books, which I feel like it’s already doing its job by taking up less space. It’s calls to the overwhelmed, frazzled mother that feels like she doesn’t have control and her house is a mess. So I bought this book and I immediately felt like my life is better, which the irony there is her book made me buy a thing that I didn’t need. But so I’m like, your book is doing the thing that it’s saying we shouldn’t do? See this is what happens when you have a brain like mine, that overthinks everything.
Rebecca: You’re great at overthinking. It’s fantastic.
Brandy: It’s such a waste of energy. But so I brought this book home and I read it and I immediately was like, this is bullshit. And so my couple of things that I felt that way about – well first of all, one of her things is that you can’t have anything in your home unless it brings you joy. I get that because ideally I would love if all the things in my home brought me joy, but sometimes you need batteries in your home and do those batteries bring me joy? So there was just this very – it felt to me like this black and white sort of thing. So that was one tenant that rubbed me the wrong way. A second one was, so she has this thing where she says you just have to do it all in one go. So take all the clothes off the hangers and you just put them in a big pile and then you hug and touch all of them and ask if they bring you joy. And so that immediately led me to Googling, “does Marie Kondo have children?” And at the time that I read that book, the answer was no. And I thought-
Rebecca: And she didn’t then, no.
Brandy: Yeah. And I thought, this is so insane because we all know, if we took everything off of our hangers and put it in a pile, it would never leave. We would then live around this giant mountain that we’ve erected in our home. So I immediately became frustrated because I thought that this is for people who are empty nesters who have time to hug all their things and they’re feeling sentimental and they’re trying to get rid of things. I get it that for a certain group of people it’s great, but it just made me so frustrated that I shut it and then was like, do I donate this? Like now what do I do? So I’m curious because I have a tendency to – sometimes things like this will rub me the wrong way and there will be parts of something that have some positive gem of wisdom that I will be like, no I’m too annoyed at this little thing right here that I completely let it go. So as a professional decluttering coach, what is your take on that book?
Rebecca: Okay, so the points you’ve said all ring true to me. First of all, start with the positives. So these positives that you’ve missed because you are so grumpy with the rest of it, we’ll go through those so that you can maybe absorb them. One of the positives is that she has got people excited about looking at their belongings from an intentional perspective. She’s got them excited and interested in actually curating their belongings and being intentional about what is in their home. So I really liked that. She has also done a lot for our industry as well, because people read her books and then they fail and then they ring us to come and fix it.
Brandy: Well of course they fail because her books make you do shit you can’t actually do with children. So I would imagine many parents end up calling you.
Rebecca: Yep. And so another positive of the book is that she talks about thanking your belongings and she makes it okay to perhaps grieve your belongings. I quite like that because a lot of people who are letting go don’t realize that it’s okay to be sad about letting go and it’s okay to thank their items. And I actually don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s a bit quirky, but there are a lot of people out there with clutter who are quirky and it really does ring true to them to say thank you to something before it goes. That’s pretty much about it as far as the pros go. So yeah, that lists stops about there. So probably my biggest frustration with Marie Kondo’s book is that, people who are advocates of it will tell everybody that it will change their life, and the assumption is made by Marie and by advocates of the book that it works for everybody. Then people get it and then they either get really mad and want to throw, it like you, or they get really miserable because it works for everyone else, but it doesn’t work for them so they must be a failure.
Rebecca: And there are so many people out there that cannot possibly do her methods because of their particular situation. So, for example, when I have people who may have hoarding disorder or who may have hoarding tendencies due to another mental illness, they have so many things that if they were to read these instructions that say, “Okay, get all of your pairs of jeans together and we’ll declutter by category,” these poor people, they have jeans in every nook and cranny throughout the entire house. They probably have them in the attic, they have them in the basement, they have them in their kids wardrobes, in their wardrobes, have them in the kitchen, they have them in the living room, they have them everywhere because they have lots of stuff and therefore they can’t fit things in all together in one spot. And so trying to collect all of your items together in a group for people with high volumes of belongings is pretty much impossible. So there’s a failure straight up. So they’re like, “Well, I can’t do that, so I must be a failure.”
Rebecca: It also promotes perfectionism. And a lot of my clients with high clutter levels already have issues with perfectionism. And one of the reasons why they live in clutter is sometimes their perfectionist tendencies. And I had a client I was sitting with one day and we were talking about something and I said, “Well, that’s your perfectionist tendency coming out.” And she looked at me, she said, “I’m not a perfectionist.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah you are.” And she said, “Look around me, I live in a hovel. How can I be a perfectionist?” And I said, “Alright, so why don’t you sweep a quarter of your floor every day of the week instead of trying to sweep the whole thing in one go, which you can’t do because you’ve got physical issues.” I said, “Just sweep a quarter every morning.” And she said, “Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t do a quarter of floor.” And I said, “And there you go.” And she said to me, “Oh my god, I’m a perfectionist.” And again, she had that light bulb moment.
Rebecca: But what happens is Marie Kondo promotes this perfectionist tendencies, and perfectionist tendencies cause clutter, they also can go the other way and cause really clean, pristine environments, but unbeknownst to a lot of people, they cause clutter. And so what she’s doing is making people think that unless things are folded perfectly, then it’s not good enough. And she makes then these people think that whatever attempts they make are never going to be good enough because it can’t possibly look like what she expects it to look like. And so again, they feel like they’ve failed.
Brandy: Yeah. Wow. That’s such an interesting piece to it. And it makes sense because I felt like there were some quirky things about Marie Kondo. I wanted an offshoot book, “Inside the Mind of Marie Kondo” because I remember she said something at the beginning about how she would sneak into her siblings rooms and declutter their rooms. And I was like, this lady needs to be tranquilized.
Rebecca: She needs help.
Brandy: This woman is a menace.
Rebecca: Yeah. You don’t declutter other people’s stuff. That’s incredibly disrespectful. And I think that, that’s the thing. I think she has a real unawareness of what goes on in people’s minds and their relationship with their belongings. I think she thinks that everybody is the same as her or should be the same as her. And that’s a really dangerous assumption to make because we don’t all want to be like that. And there are some little messages in that book that people can take things from. But I think that it can also be a dangerous book to the self-esteem of somebody who struggles with clutter.
Brandy: Yeah, I agree. And I think that it has to be livable. And that’s what I think I was feeling when I read this as I felt like, this is some ideal situation in which I have endless days and I can do this. But I mean my life is measured in hour-long chunks. My life is measured in Elmo’s Worlds. Like how much time do I have-
Rebecca: Yes, exactly.
Brandy: Between this Elmo’s World and the next one and how much until I pick up the next kid? So it felt so not doable, but I think I saw somewhere that she did have kids cause I went to Google that recently and I saw that she did have kids and I was just laughing because I wondered if her second book was titled something like “Pretend I Didn’t Write the First Book.” You know like…
Rebecca: “Oops, I Was Wrong.”
Brandy: Yeah. The second book had to be just like an apology for the first book maybe. But I wondered, what did Marie Kondo learn after having kids and I think I will be disappointed in whatever it is because what I’m thinking in my head is, she’s going to write this thing that’s like, “You guys, it can’t be done, but here’s little ways that you can do little things.” But instead I feel like it will probably be some version of “it actually still can be done.”
Rebecca: Yeah. I think she did say that after she had children, her perspective on things had changed. But I don’t think that will be reflected in any books. I think it will still be an unrealistic portrayal of a certain life. And look, she’s Japanese. I mean their culture is completely different to ours anyway. They have different, just little things – they value appearances in as different way. The Japanese culture, the way that a present is wrapped and how perfectly it is wrapped is almost more important than whatever is in it.
Rebecca: And so it’s those little things which is very different to the way we see things. That’s just one profound difference in the culture that you can see reflected in her attitude towards folding. I mean that folding, that’s not her folding method. I posted a picture on Instagram five years before she wrote her book with that folding method myself. I’ve got it there. I can prove it. We should call it the MezzBec folding method or something – but it’s not hers. But it’s been marketed very well and professional organizers have been doing that folding method for years and years. But also that folding method is completely unsustainable for children.
Brandy: For sure.
Rebecca: And so there’s these poor people who think, oh, it looks really good. I’m going to do this. But then they have to put their own kids’ clothes away because the kids can’t put it away that way. And so what are you teaching the children then, that someone else is going to put their clothes away for them? That’s another thing that annoys me. Or you can set up folding like that, but it’s not sustainable for young children to do and it just then creates more work for the person who has to, because from very young age, my kids put away their own clothes and I would fold it for them because folding is really is a difficult task for little kids. But I would fold it for them and I would say go and put these in your t-shirts drawer and these in your shorts drawer and your undies drawer, and they would do that. But as they grew a little bit older they then had to fold themselves. Well one chose to fall the other one just balls and shoves. But they do their own sort of folding and you would have to do all of that. So if you would have to put that away, because if you gave them a nicely-folded stack and then asked them to put it away in the Marie Kondo way, there’s no way that’s going to happen. And so you end up doing it yourself and then there’s more work and they don’t get those self-sustaining skills.
Brandy: Right. And you’re going from people who can barely get clothes out of a laundry bin, that are like on the bed or in a bin. We’re having a hard time even getting clothes in a drawer, much less folded like perfection. It’s silly. Like, oh, I see. So the key to my happiness is not only getting the clothes in the drawer, but having them folded in this perfect way. It’s just, yeah, there was something that felt really deeply, tragically wrong about that.
Rebecca: It looks beautiful and I go through these phases and it’s usually when I’m on holidays. If I’ve got time, I will fold my underwear. I’ve got little dividers where I’ve got my bras in one side and my undies and in the other. And sometimes I will fold my underwear and I will stand them all up in that beautiful folded way and then I’ll sit there and I’ll stare at them. I’ll look at them and I’ll be very pleased with myself. And then the other 11 months of the year they’re shoved in. I’ll just shove em in.
Brandy: That’s right.
Rebecca: I don’t need to fold my undies. One of my friends and colleagues, Susanne, she’s from an organizer in Sydney. One of the things that she says a lot is tidy is for everybody else, organized is for you. You know when you’re thinking about an undie drawer or a drawer of t-shirts or something like that, you only need it to be organized to the point that you need it to be organized for. Me shoving my undies in my undie divider in big lumps and balls and jammed in there, that is organized enough for me because I don’t need to be able to see all of them at once. I just need to be able to see one white and one dark one so that I can pull out the appropriate color. And that’s all I need and I can see that in my bunches. This whole idea as well that organized and tidy at the same things – it’s a misnomer as well because you can have an organized space that is a bit untidy. And that’s why I love Susanne saying, she says, “Organized is for you and tidy is for everybody else,” in her beautiful German accent.
Brandy: No, that’s one of the things that you’ve opened my eyes to, which is the idea that the decluttering process, it’s not about the mess, like you’re saying. It’s more about having more things than space and also having things that you don’t use rather than having things that you use but are out because you’re using them, but they have a place to go.
Brandy: That’s kind of a new thought to me. I feel like everything that’s a mess feels overwhelming and it’s like, okay, well now if I look at it in this way, then it feels like no, I’m on top of it if I just know where those things go because that’s not very much mental work, that’s almost mindless. You just put the things away. I mean, not that it’s that easy, but I feel like that distinction is really helpful.
Rebecca: Yeah. No, but it really is that easy. I have a home for every single thing in my house and if you were to fire a household item at me right now, I could tell you exactly where its home is. There is nothing that does not have a home in my house. I don’t even have a junk drawer.
Brandy: You don’t have the bin of pointless crap?
Rebecca: No, I used to.
Rebecca: I have a drawer in my living room, which is sort of the backside of my kitchen counter and in that drawer – I call it my stationary drawer, but actually all sorts of things get dropped in there, but it’s not a junk drawer because I know that the things are in there and I know what lives in there. One of the Christmas presents that one of the kids got recently came with this weird shaped screwdriver, and so I knew immediately where I had to put that and it was in my stationary drawer. If I open the drawer right now, it looks kind of messy. I guess there are things that aren’t necessarily in its section, but if I go to put something away, I know whether it lives in that drawer or whether it doesn’t. I used to have a junk drawer or junk bowl and that can be handy, especially for quick cleanups because if you’re running around the living room and you find a hairband and a clip and an arm of the doll, you can just stick them in that drawer while you’re tiding up and not have to go down and put them in the proper homes and bedrooms – or especially if you’ve got a double story, you don’t have to go upstairs. But those bowls are quite useful as long as they then emptied regularly of course. You don’t want to then fill it up and then create another one next to it. Or then have a drawer and then fill up the next drawer and then the next drawer.
Brandy: And that’s what happens.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly. You don’t deal with the one that you’ve got and empty it out and rehome everything. And this is the thing, when you are putting things away. Basically what you need to do is look at – a lot of people say, “I have to sort through this.” Like if you’ve got your bin of pointless crap, in your mind sometimes you’ll look at and go, I really need to go through that. And that’s the language that you use in your head, isn’t it?
Rebecca: Yeah. So instead you need to change that language. When you’re looking at a space that’s out of control, instead of saying, “I need to sort that,” or “I need to go through that,” you need to change because if you go through something, what’s the end result of going through something? You just end up with piles, don’t you?
Rebecca: If you sort something, all you’re doing is you’re just changing one pile of crap into seven parts of crap. I say to people, stop using that language of “I need to go through things. I need to sort this. I need to go through that drawer. I need to sort that drawer.” No you don’t. You need to look at that drawer and you need to re-home or de-own every single item in it.
Brandy: Whoa, okay wait-
Rebecca: So you with your bin of pointless crap, you look through it and you re-home or de-own every single thing in it. So the hairbands, they go in the bathroom or they go in the bedroom. The broken bits of toys, they go in the bin. The toys or the things you don’t need or use anymore, they go into the donation bag. Everything is either re-homed or de-owned.
Brandy: I like that.
Rebecca: Now, if it’s a space where things normally live, some things can stay in there. So if it’s your undie drawer, you would leave the undies in there and you would re-home or de-own everything else. But for things that are meant to be empty, like a dining table, you re-home and you de-own everything.
Brandy: I love this idea. I love this that either fits in one category or the other.
Rebecca: Yep. So it either goes somewhere else in the house, in a home, or it leaves the home altogether.
Brandy: I’m so grateful for you being willing to share your knowledge with us. This is a spot that I feel pretty, I don’t know that I want to say competent on, but I grew up in a home – my mom is such a perfectionist. She writes with a straight-edged ruler under her letters. So everything in my home had a place. I loved it. It felt so free and we never had clutter, so I’m trying to give that to my kids, but also, there’s modern motherhood. It makes it a little bit tougher.
Rebecca: Yeah, I mean you don’t have as much time as your mom did probably.
Brandy: Definitely not. There’s just different things like I’m trying to fight the patriarchy and work against a food supply that’s toxic, whereas my mom was trying to do neither of those things. So-
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s right. You’ve got a lot more working against you, I think.
Brandy: Yes, the modern nature of things definitely has that. But you’ve given me an inspiration about a couple of key pieces of decluttering and even you just saying the piece about the control factor – I knew that, but to have somebody who knows what they’re talking about say that, that just so hit home for me. And it made me understand why I feel like a better person and why I’m literally more patient with my children when my home is clean. And so I know that the control piece – taking a little piece of that back in that way – how powerful it can make us feel.
Brandy: So, one of my last lingering questions is: how do you know if you’re a hoarder or not?
Rebecca: Well, there’s two types of hoarders. There’s the hoarder with a lower case “h” and there is the hoarder with upper case “H,” which I prefer to refer to them as a person with hoarding disorder, because hoarding disorder is a mental illness. And so when you’re talking about someone who has hoarding disorder, I prefer not to call them a hoarder for a start because a person is not their mental illness.
Brandy: Got it.
Rebecca: And so it’s much better to call them person with hoarding disorder because they are so much more than that. And people with hoarding disorder are fascinating people, they’re really interesting. They’ve got very unique brains. They’re quite fascinating people with usually high levels of intelligence. We all are hoarders with lowercase “h’s.” We all will keep things for no good reason and there are some things that I also hoard and-
Brandy: Like what? We need to know.
Rebecca: I hoard my kids’ baby clothes – I’ve got a stash of my kids baby clothes. I do hoard my art pens, and I was hoarding houseplants quite badly, but my husband has imposed a ban on me. So yeah, I do keep those kinds of things and I’ve got a drawer in my bedroom. This is my dirty little secret. It’s the bottom drawer in my bedroom. I have in it like a handbag organizer that I bought in order to organize all my handbags and then I could pick up and put into every one of my handbags so that everything came with the handbag and I didn’t accidentally leave something important when I changed them back.
Brandy: Oh, wow.
Rebecca: And I’ve set it all up with everything that I need in it. And that sits in that drawer and I swear I haven’t looked at it in two years. So that’s my little hoard is those few things. So we all keep some things that we don’t have any good reason to keep.
Brandy: Yes, real fast. How would you recommend people handle baby clothes?
Rebecca: Well what I did is I just kept them all. No. Okay, serious, I did for awhile. I kept them all until my husband said, “Excuse me, but the top of Zoe’s wardrobe looks like a client’s house and you’ve kept more stuff there than you can fit and you need to do something about that.” And I said, “Yeah, you’re right.” So I had them in Ziploc bags – not Ziploc bags sorry, vacuum packs, space bags. That’s it. So I pulled all the space bags down and I pulled them all out and I donated 80% and then I put one space bag together of really special ones. I have one space bag of precious baby clothes.
Brandy: Okay. So, how did you know – how did you choose which ones to keep and which ones to let go of? Did you have some sort of measuring stick for that? Like which one gave you more tears or less tears?
Rebecca: Yeah, I guess I was channeling a bit of Marie Kondo, but the ones that gave me the most joy, the ones that I remembered best – there was some baby clothes that I pulled out and went, “I don’t remember which kid wore this,” so those kinds of things that didn’t have a special tug. But when we’re keeping things for sentimental reasons, they meet an emotional need of some kind. I could have 500 items of baby clothes and they will give me the warm fuzzies, but I can also have five items of baby clothes and they will still give me the same warm fuzzies, so I’m still getting my emotional needs met. So basically what I was doing was saying how much is enough that I can still have my emotional needs met, but not get picked on by my husband for taking up all the space in the wardrobe? So it’s that balance. And so for me, one space bag, it does still meet all of my emotional needs. It still gives me all my warm fuzzies. And so the ones that I chose, I just prioritized.
Rebecca: So as I went through, I just went, “Yep, keep, keep, keep, keep,” and then if they all didn’t fit in one space bag, then I had to just pull out the ones that I didn’t love as much as the one next to it. Knowing that even if I was parting with something that did give me a good feeling, it’s okay because something else that I am keeping, will still give me that same feeling because it’s not the item that I want. It’s the feeling that I want ultimately. If I can get the feeling in another way, then cool, the item can go.
Brandy: Right. You can get that feeling in one or two items versus 50.
Rebecca: Exactly. You could still get your warm fuzzies from a sample of the belongings that you’re keeping for sentimental reasons. You don’t need the entire volume of them.
Brandy: I feel like that right there is life-changing.
Rebecca: And you can get warm fuzzies without items, like you can still have your sentimental needs met. Like I was with a client one day and we were going through her grandma’s handbags, sorry, her mother’s hand bags – and she was passing me the ones that she was deciding to part with and I was then cleaning them out and getting all of the tissues and the lipsticks and the tampons out of them and then putting them in their donation bag. And at one set I’ve gone, “Ahhh,” and she looked over and she said, “Oh, what is this something gross in that one?” And I said, “No, it’s my grandma.” And I like, put the whole purse up to my face and took a really big whiff, and it smelled like my grandma. And she sort of smiled a bit at me and went, “Okay, this lady is a bit crazy.” She said, “Do you want that bag, Darling? Because you can have it cause I’m donating it.” And I said, “No. I’ll just smell it and I’ll get my little warm fuzzy and I’ll have my nostalgic feeling and then I’ll pass it on.” And so, I got that reminder of my grandma from something that I didn’t own. And we get those – a song will come on the radio. Sometimes it might be just a smell of flower, it might just be the weather and all of a sudden you walk out of the house and you get hit by this nostalgic feeling for your uncle because it reminds you somehow. And so we don’t necessarily always need to hang onto things in order to be able to get those warm fuzzies. They will still come.
Brandy: Right. Life gives us non- tangible reminders of these things that we’re sentimental about.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Brandy: So you were saying that there is hoarding disorder with a little “h” and a big “H?”
Rebecca: Yeah. So hoarding disorder is a psychological condition, it’s a disease and it’s listed in the DSM-5, which is the manual that psychiatrists use and psychologists use to diagnose mental health issues. Basically it’s characterized by an inability to let go of things and uncontrollable acquisition of belongings and an environment that is unfit for use as a normal home environment. So if you have somebody with hoarding disorder, quite often they have homes that you would’ve seen on television perhaps in those shows.
Rebecca: So that’s very different because that’s actually a mental illness. So it’s very different to a personality trait. So sometimes people will have hoarding tendencies, but they won’t necessarily have hoarding disorder. They’re two very different things. And when somebody has hoarding disorder, it is very complex matter. That requires great delicacy. It requires a lot of mental health help and support, as well as the physical and logistical support of parting with belongings. Quite often they have what’s called a low insight into the behavior, so they actually can’t see the behaviors and they can’t see the consequences of those behaviors. And so it’s very hard to treat that disorder because they don’t believe there’s anything wrong with them. It’s very sad actually because of that, because it often then leads to them being quite isolated from family and friends in the community. It’s really very dangerous and sad condition.
Rebecca: If anyone thinks they have hoarding disorder, the best step is to go to their doctor and to get a referral to a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist – someone who can diagnose them and perhaps then start to help treat them. There’s no medication that works for hoarding disorder. There is only therapy really, and even those therapies haven’t proven to be overly successful yet. It’s a very new field of research, so it’s only been researched for say the last 20 to 25 years. So there isn’t a great deal of body of research in order to support people trying to fight the disease.
Brandy: That must be so hard.
Rebecca: Yeah, and it’s very hard on everyone. It’s hard on family members and it’s hard on everyone. These people are amazing people. They’re so intelligent and they see things differently. You know, if I showed you a fork and asked you to list the attributes of that fork, you would come up with five or six things – its color, how many tines its got, the shape of it, maybe its texture, whether it’s bumpy or smooth. And you’d show that to someone with hoarding disorder and they can come up with 50 things and uses for things. Again, they can come up with a 100 times as many uses for something. They’ve actually been studied and shown to have more connections in their brains than people without hoarding disorder. So they see things that we don’t see and once you understand that, you can see why they want to keep things because everything is valuable because everything is unique. If you showed someone with hoarding disorder – again we go back to the forks, 20 forks – if I gave you 20 forks and I said put these into categories or groups, you would probably come up with about four or five groups based on how many tines it has, the shape of them, the length of them, maybe the size and maybe the patterns on them. If you gave someone with hoarding disorder 20 forks and asked them to put them into categories, guess how many categories they’d come up with? Twenty.
Rebecca: Because each of those forks, even if they’ve got the same pattern and are the same size and they’ve got the same number of tines, there will be a difference. One will be shinier than the other, one will look different in the light, one will have scratches, one won’t, one will have a slight bend in the tine and another one won’t. And so they see what we can’t see. And so to them everything has value because, everything is unique and the more unique something is, the more valuable it is, obviously.
Brandy: That’s fascinating because you don’t want to dull that part of their personality because it’s probably great for so many things in life. But in this regard, you want to try. It’s gotta be so nuanced, I bet.
Rebecca: Yeah. And they can’t see the damage that those beliefs have. There are a lot of beliefs that people with hoarding disorder have that really derail their entire lives, and they believe everything has value. And because of that it takes priority over all other areas of their life.
Brandy: That’s intense.
Brandy: Again, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you just gave us all of this knowledge.
Rebecca: No worries.
Brandy: Thank you so much for your time and your chatting and your wisdom.
Rebecca: No problem at all.
Brandy: Thank you guys for listening. I hope Rebecca’s genius has inspired you to make some necessary changes including possibly incinerating your Bin of Pointless Crap. If you enjoyed her, she has her own wonderful podcast with tons of helpful episodes. It’s called “Be Uncluttered” and it can be found on iTunes and the like. She also has a book called, Letting Go: How To Choose Freedom Over Clutter, and you can find it on Amazon. And if you’re enjoying the Adult Conversation podcast, please consider doing any or all (please, all) of the following things: leave a rating on iTunes, leave a review on iTunes, or join others and become a patron at www.patreon.com/adultconversation. At the very least, a rating is easy and it takes five seconds. All you have to do is look down at your phone, click on the fifth star (if you want to give me five stars, yay) and then you’re done! It’s that easy. Thank you.
** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.