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Eufemia Didonato


The Warren woman couldn’t park her car in her garage. She’d filled that space with crafting project materials and bunches of things for her plants.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Jackie, who declined to give her last name. “I don’t know that I’m a hoarder — I’m a collector.”

Through the local chapter of Messies Anonymous — she learned to dedicate 15 minutes a day to little bites at a time of decluttering.

“I had a cookbook collection. I decided however many books fit in this cabinet I keep. Everything else went to the church rummage sale. It took about two weeks to get it down. I gave away 80 cookbooks.

“I had an attic full of Christmas decorations. I went through it — not at Christmas.” She set a space limit in her attic and culled the collection until it fit.

“If I’m going to give it away, I put in a box, close it and I don’t look at it again,” Jackie said.

“It’s hard. It’s a lot of decisions to make,” she said. “You have to rethink your thinking. The more you do it, the more of a habit it becomes. It’s a sense of accomplishment.”

And now — “My car’s in the garage and I can have company come over and stay in the spare bedroom,” Jackie said.

Messies Anonymous member Belinda (not her real name) of Niles, said, “There’s some shame involved with having a problem with clutter. Do I want people to know I have a problem with clutter? I’d be ridiculed.”

She said her spouse’s clutter was packed in and organized.

“I like to have mine out in case,” Belinda said. “I’m afraid I’ll forget where it’s at.”

The local Messies Anonymous chapter worked through a “Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding” book and workbook, by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. The course divides tips between “good guys” — keep your eye on the prize, think it through, develop the skills — and “bad guys” — not my priority, overthinking and avoidance.

“It’s a hard thing to change yourself,” Belinda said. Having instruction and an accountability group helps, Jackie said.

For some members of Messies Anonymous, when the coronavirus pandemic halted meetings at the Unity Centre in Girard, they were stuck at home without support from the other Messies. But a few were able to use the additional time at home to become better organized, Belinda said.

A Messies Anonymous member from Youngstown said, “I kept saying we’d have more time than we ever did during the pandemic, but things kept happening. And there was less motivation because people weren’t coming over.”

And then the bonus time faded, but decluttering wasn’t complete.

TIPS FROM THE PROS

“Life is much easier when you are a little bit organized,” said Karen Pierson, a professional organizer from Beaver Township. “It makes daily tasks easier.”

“Disorganized or cluttered home and office spaces seem to increase levels of stress and anxiety. Clean spaces give people a sense of calm,” she said. “Our environments can and will influence our moods.”

The problem is that many people are messier than ever, thanks to spending far more time at home than usual since the coronavirus pandemic started shutting down businesses and venues a year ago in March.

“A lot of people work from home. It’s hard to work from home and clean. When you’re working from home, you’re making more of a mess.

“People began shopping online during the pandemic. Everything came to our door. It made it easier to collect things,” Pierson said.

“I find that a lot of people during the pandemic, because they were home, thought that they would finally do all that cleaning they could never get to, but instead sat down for a while. But folks did try to take advantage of the time home to work on organizing.

“I think people, because they’re home, they’re trying to do it,” she said. “(But) you have to be motivated to do this. There’s an art to it. It’s not that easy. It sounds easy.”

Denni Dattilio, who runs Practical Organizing by Denni in Columbiana, said, “People are spending more time at home, so they are more likely to make a mess and not pick up right away. The pandemic also has made people more aware of the condition of their homes. They are spending a lot more time there, in some cases with nothing to do during the hours they would normally be working and have become more aware of the cluttered condition of their home.

“People are also increasingly aware that the ‘systems’ they have set up are less functional now that they are home a lot more.”

“Clutter and chaos have a big effect on our mood during normal times,” Dattilio said. “The pandemic has exacerbated the problem because people already feel a lack of control over their jobs / careers, health and lifestyle. Now they are homebound and forced to acknowledge the clutter in their home.

“They become increasingly down on themselves because they do not have the motivation or skills to declutter their spaces themselves and clutter piles upon clutter.”

“Unfortunately, there is no such thing as perfect order,” Dattilio said. “Most of us live a life that is in constant motion and our homes are never going to be ‘Pinterest Perfect.’ We can however come close to perfect for us.”

Dr. Sarah Momen, psychiatrist at Trumbull Regional Medical Center, said that for some, organizing the home is a stress-reliever, a coping skill.

“I think it’s important to have little projects to keep you safe and active.”

Projects are important, especially when forced to stay at home more than one wishes. But don’t just plow through organizing, she said.

“Go outside at least 30 minutes a day. Work on a project, be it art or organization — something else to give attention creatively to. Hone in on a skill you want to learn. You might never get this time back, so use it,” Momen said. “Don’t get stagnant.”

Pierson said that she understands that people have such an attachment to things. “I still have my great-grandfather’s dental cabinet. He was a dentist.”

If there’s a solid reason to keep something, keep it, she said, but put together a system, maybe with marked storage containers, to organize them.

But if you really don’t need something, you have options to donate it to charities that need the help or to pass it on to family members or friends who can better use the object, or simply take it to the recycling center, she said.

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