When I coach clients on how to handle their stuff, I talk a lot about how stuff isn’t really the problem, at least not in the ways they think it is.
How you think about, feel about and interact with your stuff is what determines whether you stay organized or are dealing with the kind of messes that require outside intervention or some serious muscle on your part.
Because stuff isn’t complicated—it’s simple.
Stuff is just inanimate objects that lie where they fall, or where we place them.
The complicating factor is us.
So are you the bigger stuff problem and you don’t even know it?
Here are 10 questions to help you find out.
1: HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LATE BECAUSE YOU COULDN’T FIND SOMETHING?
If you’ve ever run late for an appointment or even a casual gathering simply because you couldn’t find [insert thing here], that’s about you not paying attention when you set the thing down in the first place. If you have a system for your stuff, you know where everything is—AND you know exactly how long it will take you to get somewhere—so lateness is a huge sign that your system needs fixing or is non-existent.
2: HAVE YOU MISSED A PAYMENT BECAUSE THE BILL DISAPPEARED?
I hear this one all the time from my clients: “I’m not the kind of person who pays bills late. I just couldn’t find the bill!”
I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you pay a bill late, you’ve joined the club of people who pay bills late.
Watch out for your 200 daily lies. Did the bill really get lost …. Or is it the state of your household that makes it easy to lose track of your bills?
3: DO YOU BRING HOME MORE STUFF THAN YOU NEED?
One of the pillars of The Organizational Triangle® is “Something In, Something Out.”
Now, I’d never tell you how much stuff you should have. Only you know exactly what stuff equilibrium looks like for you. If you have space for a dozen black shirts, and if you wear every single one of those dozen shirts, great.
But the thirteenth shirt should only come into your closet if another shirt is going out. We get out of whack when we fill our space and continue to bring in more and more stuff without getting rid of anything.
4: DO YOU OVERSTOCK YOUR SHELVES?
You’ve already got 5 bottles of Dawn dish soap at home—but Walmart has them on sale, so you buy 5 more. That’s what your basement is for, right?
Toilet paper was famously missing from store shelves for weeks after the pandemic hit, and even though things are starting to return to “normal,” there are still things that can’t be found.
I can only imagine how many basements and hall closets are filled to the brim with paper supplies, Lysol, and hand sanitizer.
And look, I get it. Having a few extra of some things is a good idea. That way, when you run out, there’s no need to dash to the store urgently. But if you’re storing more than you actually need—more than you could even use in the next 6 months, for instance—you’re probably going overboard.
5: HAVE YOU MISSED AN EVENT (CONCERT, PLAY, ETC.) BECAUSE YOU COULDN’T FIND THE TICKETS?
This one tends to hit people right where it hurts: in the wallet. It sucks to spend good money on tickets for something you want to do—a sporting event, a concert, a play, a museum exhibition, etc.—and then have to skip it simply because you can’t find the damn ticket.
E-tickets have helped a lot with this problem, but they aren’t always available. And stuff can drown in an inbox, too. So if you’ve ever missed out on an experience because a ticket got misplaced, you’re the problem … don’t blame the ticket.
6: ARE YOUR CORNERS TURNING INTO CLOSETS?
You know the story. You set something down because you’re not sure exactly where you want to put it. Or, you’ll just put it away “later.”
But then you DON’T put it away later. And, in fact, that thing ends up with other things stacked on top of it or next to it. Those other things might be in the same category (books, mementos, laundry …) or you might end up with piles of “miscellaneous.”
Either way, if weeks have gone by and your piles have only grown, that’s a huge sign that your stuff is owning you.
7: ARE ALL OF YOUR CLOTHES IN EITHER THE LAUNDRY BASKET OR THE CLOSET/DRESSER?
Clothes should only ever be in one of three places: on your body, in their proper homes (a closet or a dresser drawer), or being laundered. If they’re on the floor, on your bed, or in that chair in the corner of the room, they’re in the wrong place.
8: ARE YOU UNABLE TO THROW AWAY ANY ITEM WITH A MEMORY ATTACHED?
Mementos really run the whole gamut, from priceless family heirlooms that have been handed down over generations and are rich with genuine meaning, to a shopping list that a grandparent wrote on a scrap of paper that you just can’t bear to throw away.
When everything is important … nothing is important.
If you can’t curate the things that have meaning for you and that you choose to keep, you’ve got a problem. And that problem is you, not your stuff.
9: DOES EVERYONE HAVE A HOME FOR THEIR KEYS, PHONE, AND WALLET?
One of the three key pillars of my Organizational Triangle® is one home for everything. That’s because the average person wastes a YEAR of their life searching for missing stuff!
So ask yourself: how much time does each person in your home spend every day, week, month, etc. searching for the basics: their keys, phone, or wallet? If the answer is more than 30 seconds—quite frankly, you’re doing it wrong.
10: IS ONE PERSON IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD THE “FIND-IT PERSON”?
How many times in the last month have you had to ask your partner where your stuff is, because you have no idea where you put it? The reverse might also be true. Do your partner or kids always ask you where to find things, because no one can really keep track?
By now, you know where this is going.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Virtually every household in America has at least some degree of stuff discordance. We’ll climb into this in Part 2 and 3 of this series where we look at living with people who have a different relationship with stuff than you do.
For now, if any of the above accurately described you—don’t worry. You’re in good company.
I want to make one thing clear—stuff isn’t bad. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having things … even a lot of things … as long as they serve you and have a clearly defined home inside YOUR home.
The problem is when your stuff gets in the way of your LIFE.
Priorities end up backwards and upside-down.
And at the end of the day, it’s not the fault of your stuff. It’s just stuff—inanimate objects that stay exactly where you put them down.
The problem isn’t your stuff. It’s YOU.
What can you do about it? Stay tuned. We’ll tackle that in Parts 2 and 3 of my Stuff Discordance series.
So, how’d you score? If 5 or more of these things described you, you need some help. And if there’s any tension at home as a result of yours or someone else’s clutter, we’re offering a Master Class this fall for The Stuff Discordant Family. Join us to get YOUR relationships AND your home back on track.