Boomers battle a lifetime of clutter

Posted: Friday, July 05, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- It happens to many baby boomers: The attic or the garage, or maybe the closets or the kitchen cabinets, turn from a repository of great bargains and acquisitions into a nightmare.

A little like ''The Blob'' or the exploding marshmallow man in ''Ghostbusters,'' clutter has taken over and turned a house or office into a mess. And little wonder -- boomers, the wealthiest generation in history, have been the biggest consumers of clothes, gadgets and all kinds of stuff over the past 30 years.

Many have fought back. You can see it from the proliferation of garage and yard sales in suburban neighborhoods. Others are seeking help, which is feeding the popularity of professional organizers, people who teach homeowners and business people how to deal with the disarray.

Julie Morgenstern, a professional organizer and founder of Task Masters in New York, says most of her clients are boomers.

''What they are saying is 'I have too much stuff. It's weighing me down. I can't manage it all,''' said Morgenstern, who has written books on organizing.

''Baby boomers cannot tolerate working these long hours, competing out there in the workplace and coming home to a house that is not peaceful or orderly,'' she said. ''They want to reduce stuff and organize stuff. They want to enjoy their homes and kids, spouses and social lives.''

Shahla Salamat, who lives in Chino Hall, Calif., loves bargains and buying in bulk. She had cans of tuna by the case, tons of decorations for her home and lots of games for her kids to play, and it was all starting to drive her and her husband a little crazy.

''In the last four years, I've moved five times. ... You know much stuff I brought with me to each place?'' Salamat said. ''I've asked myself 'Where was your brain that you moved all this stuff?'''

She ended up going to an organizer for help.

Janice Kemmer, president of American Business Organizers in Chino, Calif., gets calls for help from people ''when they look around and find there's no open space in the cupboards, no more space to put clothes in the closet.''

How do people get to the point where they're swamped? Why don't they just throw things out?

''They're inundated with volume and don't know what to do with it, so it tends to stack up,'' said Kevin Hall, president of Clutter No More Inc. in San Diego and Scottsdale, Ariz. ''I see a lot of stuff within a home that needs repair or is broken, but they don't know what step to take, like recycling a (computer) monitor.''

Morgenstern said, ''It's very overwhelming and it's a lot of brainwork and physical labor also. There are a lot of things to go through and a lot of decisions to be made.''

But sentimental value -- and not only with baby shoes and record collections -- can also get in the way.

''You won't believe how much stuff I said goodbye to,'' Salamat said. ''Sometimes I think, I had a beautiful set of stemware from Mexico. Sometimes you think about all your old stuff and you think, 'Get a grip, it's just old stuff.'''

Organizers say the key to eliminating clutter is to be realistic about your needs and the psychological reasons why you cling to items that you have little or no use for. They tell their clients to focus on the essentials.

Hall, noting that people tend to use only 20 percent of their possessions 80 percent of the time, asks his clients a lot of questions about the various things they own: ''Do you need it a lot or do you love it? Do you need 20 pens in your top desk drawer? How many handkerchiefs do you need?''

Hall also urges clients to think before they bring in new clutter. ''Do you need to take home another pen from the next meeting'' you go to, he asks.

Sometimes people just aren't sure what they need. Salamat answered that question by boxing up some of her possessions and then, after not using them for six months, tossing them out.

Organizers also find clients often don't know what to do with things they decide not to keep.

Kemmer suggests giving to family members first, then to friends and then to charities. If you're not sure what would be an appropriate charity for some of your possessions, ask around. Friends who have already gone through this process might have discovered some organizations you've never heard of. And remember to get a receipt so you can deduct the contributions on your income tax return.

You might consider a yard sale, but it'll mean a lot of work, and probably less financial return than you'd get with a charitable donation.

And, hard as it might be to accept, some things are better off being recycled or tossed out.

People who have de-cluttered say life is a lot easier without all the stuff.

Vickie Bashor, a personal coach in Temecula, Calif., reorganized her office when she worked as a chiropractor and found she saved $3,500 in overhead.

''We found we could work more with a smaller space and smaller staff,'' she said. Bashor also reorganized parts of her home and found she has more time to do the things she wants to do.



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