WHY CLUTTER ISN'T ALL YOUR FAULT
In many ways, it's not entirely your fault you have a lot of clutter. You'd have to spend a lot of time researching to really understand how the so-called marketing "geniuses" of the world use their knowledge of marketing and human psychology to manipulate your basic human drives and get you to acquire the stuff they are selling - whether you need the stuff or not.
You'd have to be as devious as they are to even imagine the lengths marketing strategists go to deliberately to manipulate you by direclty marketing to your kids. It's hard to imagine people would use kids on purpose to get you to buy stuff - but they do. Marketing gurus work hard to figure out how to get kids to nag you into buying them stuff. They call it the "NAG FACTOR" and they aren't even a little ashamed of themselves.
You'd have to be a super human to resist the social and cultural pressures that tempt us to accumulate stuff far beyond our real needs.
I became a professional organizer partly because I wanted to be part of the backlash against out of control addictive attachment to the "things" in our lives. Intense attachment to things and addictively using various elements of the external world to manage and / or escape from my intense inner emotional life played a huge part in how clutter and debt reached debilitating levels in my life. By the time I was 30 (1989) I had gotten in over my head with over $25,000 in debt.
How I Got Into and Out of $25,000 in Debt
I got my first credit card in 1978. This was the beginning of the "unsecured" credit era. Before that, if you wanted something you had to have the cash, put it on lay-a-way and make payments, or take out a loan which was seucred by some other asset such as your car or home.
Going to a sotre and being able to take home whatever you wanted using a piece of plastic that was not connected to money you actually had felt weird at first. It was a strange idea that some mysterious corporation was paying for it and just trusting you to pay it back eventually.
It quickly became intoxicating though as you began to experience the instant gratification of being able to take home whatever you needed NOW. Soon, it was taking home whatever you wanted. Wants began to feel like needs and it was became easier and easier to justify buying things you couldn't pay for.
Spending was so easy. But paying the bills at the end of the month got harder and harder. Credit cards were so new then that there was no one around to teach you how to strategize using credit cards and paying the bills. I had always prided myself on paying my bills even it was late. So when I found myself unable to make minimum payments, it was so embrassing and shameful. I had no idea who to turn to and even if there was someone who could help I was too embarrassed to ask.
Eventually, by the late 80's I had over $25,000 in crippling credit card debt. That was more than whole year's BEFORE taxes salary back then. Interest rates were 18% and up. There were no 0% interest offers. My interest charges alone were over $700 per month. That was a real shocker.
Thankfully, my career path led me to work for Arthur Andersen - an accounting and auditing firm. They required all employees in the professional education division I was part of to take basic financial accounting and auditing training as well as learning to use financial management tools like Excel, budgeting and financing strategies.
It was a revelation. It took me about 3 years to figure out that I could use those business concepts and skills and use them to deal my own debt. I got over my aversion to dealing with money by learning how it worked and realizing that mastering moeny was my real ticket to freedom in life. The only way I could ever have the career and life I dreamed of was to understand money and how to use it to SERVE me and my goals.
That deeper purpose gave me the conviction to take the time to design a budget and cashflow spreadsheet in Excel that made it easy for me to see where I could "play" with how I was spending money so that I could allocate as much as possible to getting out of debt. I began to think of buying things I couldn't pay for as putting myself in handcuffs and sentencing myself to a life of being a powerless tortured victim of a money game I didn't know how to play.
Instead of filing bankruptcy, became determined to learn enough about the money game to master it and make it a non-issue in my life. Determined to make a fresh start and climb out of my money prison, I sold nearly everything I owned and moved in with a roomate for a few years. By rethinking and figuring out needs vs. wants, I was able to use my creativity to spend a lot less money and still meet my needs. I also found ways to design my own game, rules, shortcuts and strategies to design simple ways to work with a budget without feeling like I was being controlled or having to deprive myself of what I enjoyed in life. I realized that being fully conscious about my money situation, and strategizing how I used my money actually made it easier to get what I wanted in ADDITION to making sure I had what I needed. I realized that learning to play the money game was EMPOWERING not enslaving.
ti took about 3 years, bit I finally worked my way out of debt and got that clean slate I so craved. The experience was one of the most painful but also one of the most upleveling and defining phases of my life. Money was actually starting to become a non-issue in my work life. The experience helped me start to learn that I could let go of stuff and survive. I could live with a lot less and I learned how easy it was to become "spoiled" by having more than you need. It's so easy to think you NEED things rather to just enjoy the things you have.
I learned first hand the value and immense power that comes from living below your means. I learned that saving money is not about depriving yourself, it's about empowering yourself to not be a slave to money. To this day I refuse to carry unsecured debt and only use my credit card for what I KNOW I can pay off that month.
The work I do now as an organizer, mentor and coach allows me to help other people take back their power and design their lives, homes and relationships with things and money to serve them. I get to be part of the resistance to the culture of "stuff" and part of the movement toward creating sustainable more spiritually fulfilling lifestyles.
Not everyone can afford professional personal organizing and coaching services so I put togther this list of books that helped me find my peace with stuff by changing my relationship with things, money and ultimately with myself. I learned to not blame myself and release the shame. I learned to be more compassionate with myslef and gave myself the time to learn and understand the sources of my addiction and attachment to things that led to clutter. I learned that aur culture and business practices have serious flaws that make us extremely vulnerable to clutter. If we aren't consciously shaping our own relationship with things, it's incredibly easy to be sucked in by the undertow that has led to an epidemic of clutter, addiction, anxiety and depression and to a way of life that is ultimately unsustainable.
These books don't just whine about the way things are but also offer suggestions and ideas on how to get back on track and make things better.
"We are a nation that shouts at a microwave oven to hurry up."
If you can relate to this quote, you may already have Affluenza. The definition of affluenza, is
"a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."
It's like a virus that feeds on our desire to be more, have more, and make life be as easy and convenient as possible.
It feeds on our desire for novelty. We love new beautiful things. So we buy, buy, buy. We can't just leave beautiful things in the store when they are so cheap and easy to take home, right? We stop thinking about what it will really take from us to own the thing, not to mention dispose of it down the line.
Affluenza is not only crowding our homes, it's threatening to destroy our environment. We simply can't continue to live an economic system that profits from promoting the ultimately unsustainable lifestyle centered around the aquisition of things. This book explains the symptoms of affluenza, how it became an epidemic, and what we can do about it. According to the authors,
- The average American spends more than $21,000 per year on consumer goods
- Our average rate of saving has fallen from about 10 percent of our income in 1980 to zero in 2000
- Our credit card indebtedness tripled in the 1990s, more people are filing for bankruptcy each year than graduate from college.
- We spend more for trash bags than 90 of the world's 210 countries spend for all their consumer good needs.
This books explains the historical, political, and socioeconomic reasons that affluenza has taken such strong root in our society, and offers practical ideas for change. They provide examples of people who have already opted for simpler living.
By the author of 'The Overworked American' and 'Born to Buy', this book delves deeper into the marketing, brand consciousness, and breakdown of neighborhoods, and many other factors that have led us to a society based on consumerism. She also describes the backlash Simplicity movement, in which people focus on living and enjoying life rather than working at jobs they hate to support a lifestyle of spending and acquisition.
If you want to understand the factors that influence you constantly so that you can choose your life rather than be unconsciously moved to compulsive and impulsive shopping and spending, this book will shock and surprise you and then ultimately empower you.
I love this book. And the documentary of the same title is extraordinary. As I've said many times now, clutter is a direct result of out-of-control, impulse spending.
Much of this spending is spurred on through extremely manipulative marketing designed to make us want things we don't need.
Why are corporate marketers so aggressive about this? - purely to make a profit for their coroorations. Social ethics and moral responsibility are so often NOT part of a corporation's identity. Their "morals" only exist where we have legislated them.
They don't want us to think before we buy. It's simply not in their best interest to care. I'm not advocating that everyone become a radical. Corporations have done a lot of good in the world. But the bigger they grow, and the more they market to children using devious tactics, and the more we start seeing schools and public art centers being named after corporate sponsors (e.g., the Garden State Arts Center is now the PNC Bank Arts Center), and the more corporations like Coke and McDonalds are fighting tooth and nail with school districts to have the right to take over school cafeterias, the more we have to start wondering:
- just how far will their campaigns to manipulate us go?
- what will stop them?
- What will the limits be?
This documentary explores the development of the corporation, it's marketing tactics, and it's social and environmental impact. It is chilling. They use video segments of actual interviews with CEO's, top marketers, and even top business professors. It's utterly amazing and enlightening the things they have to say and how they make no apologies for their behaviors. One top exec even says "Is it moral what I do? I don't know. It's not my job to think about that. It's my job to get people to buy."
They examine how corporations influence world wide politics, schools, our health and our food supply. I wish everyone could see this movie or read this book. I can't remember when I've been as deeply affected by a movie as this.
And now, it's time for me to get back to work! If you got this far, thanks for reading this. If you've read any of these books, I'd love for you to add your thoughts!
All the best,