Toss your passive clutter

Find more energy and creativity

By Jeanine Hanson Lewis

NOT ALL CLUTTER is unwanted. We can classify clutter into two camps: active clutter and passive clutter.

Most creative people have active clutter somewhere. It is next to impossible to express our talents without stirring up a mess, whether that creativity originates in our kitchens, our garages or our studios. When we find ourselves in the creative zone, filled with inspiration, and surrounded with the tools we need, we can create a flurry of active clutter. No one need apologize for how that clutter looks to anyone else. If you have ever doubted this, try an internet search for photos of the studios of Alexander Calder or Picasso.

Passive clutter is another matter. If you’ve ever shoved a bunch of unrelated items into a box and stowed that box, without any label, in the back of a closet, attic or basement, leaving it to collect dust, you have passive clutter. It is never as simple as out of sight, out of mind. Whether you know you are thinking about it or not, it occupies a space in your home and a corner of your mind, lowering your energy level as long as it remains. And make no mistake, active clutter can become passive clutter if order is never restored.

Contrary to most organizing books and advice, clearing out passive clutter before tackling surfaces and active clutter can be the most productive way to begin. It’s not always easy to drag out boxes from the back of a closet and sort through them if you are working in a room that already has some disorganization. But once you’ve sorted and cleared out those long-ignored boxes of who knows what, you will find the storage space you need for organizing the things cluttering up your surfaces.

Here are a few examples of the rewards of tossing your passive clutter:

Write Your Book: That oh so constant stream of mail, cluttering up our counters and desk tops. Even the most diligent of us find that current mail becomes outdated information almost faster than we can process it. No wonder our file cabinet drawers need a regular clearing. Shred the old, clear your desk top, and write that book you have always wanted to write!

Allow that Ingenious Idea to Surface: We are often hooked by the never ending promises of the new miracle cosmetic, shampoo, or vitamin supplement, slightly used, now rejected, but still saved product stowed in our bathroom drawers and cupboards. Be ruthless and let them go. Keep a minimum number of bathroom products and reduce the time it takes to give the bathroom a quick clean. Something as simple as a clean bathroom can help you focus. And, fewer distractions might allow that ingenious idea to surface.

Relax after Meals: Your favorite dishes and serving pieces, used only for your spectacular holiday spread, can really take up space in your kitchen cupboards. Banish them from the kitchen after the holidays so your cupboards remain uncluttered and functional, and your countertops clear. This will make kitchen clean up easier, rewarding you with time to relax after meals.

Save the Memory: Gifts and treasures passed along from family and friends, first appreciated and used, can later become a responsibility. Once you have enjoyed them, don’t succumb to the temptation of boxing and storing them. Think about donating or passing them along to another family member. To save the memories without storing the gifts, photograph these items and keep the photographs as the mementos.

Remember the old adage: We use 20 percent of what we have 80 percent of the time. So look around your home, identify the passive clutter, give it a toss and reclaim your precious storage space to organize what you really need. Then watch your energy rise and your creativity ignite!


Jeanine Hanson Lewis, owner of The Organizers, has been helping clients clear clutter, organize, feng shui and redecorate their homes, using what they already own, since 1993. Jeanine has been traveling and studying home environments across the globe. She holds a B.A. in Art from UW, is a graduate of The Western School of Feng Shui, San Diego, a member of the Interior Redecorators Network (IRN), New York City, and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). Jeanine was previously an owner of the Ovens of Brittany restaurants and bakeries for 20 years.

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Published in Nature’s Pathways Magazine, January 2015.