Beating clutter is mind over matter, according to home organizing pro

  • Article by: MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
  • Updated: July 27, 2013 - 2:00 PM

The key to conquering clutter is all in your head, says the home organizing pro from OWN’s “Enough Already!”

Peter Walsh believes America’s clutter problem isn’t in our basements or our garages or our overstuffed closets.

It’s in our heads.

Walsh, an organizing authority who makes TV appearances and writes books, is intrigued by the emotional component of disorganization. In fact, he says clutter isn’t really about stuff at all. Rather, it’s about our relationship to stuff.

Clutter becomes a problem when people look for meaning, support and affirmation from their belongings, instead of from other people, Walsh said.

“Ninety percent of what I do is common sense,” he said. “All that I do is hold a mirror to people.”

Walsh rose to prominence as the voice of reason on the TLC series “Clean Sweep.” Landing the job as the show’s organizing expert was a bit of a fluke, but it’s one his life prepared him for, he said.

Walsh’s organizational skills were rooted in his childhood, influenced by his parents’ values — respecting what you own, realizing more isn’t necessarily better and recognizing that experiences are more important than things.

Before “Clean Sweep,” though, the bulk of his professional experience wasn’t in organizing, but in education. He taught elementary and high school in his native Australia and later educated people on preventing drug abuse and heart disease. In 1994 he came to the United States, where he and a business partner made video training programs on interpersonal business skills.

Then, in 2003, some friends with a TV production company asked him to audition for a series pilot.

Walsh thought the idea of his being on TV was “absolutely ludicrous,” but the makers of “Clean Sweep” disagreed. He was the show’s resident organizer from 2003 to 2005, prying into the psyches of homeowners overwhelmed by their stuff and cajoling them into mending their slovenly ways.

He later became a regular on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and then got his own show, “Enough Already! With Peter Walsh,” on Winfrey’s OWN network. He’s still a regular contributor to her O magazine and a regular guest on the “Rachael Ray” show.

Clutter is a distinctly Western problem, according to Walsh, because our culture instills the belief that more is better. Add to that the relative affordability of goods and our easy access to credit, and you set the stage for possessions ballooning out of control.

But organizing has to focus on the person, not the stuff, he said. He believes any organizing strategy that focuses on things will fail.

Walsh’s approach to getting clutter under control is, at its heart, quite simple. He starts by asking his clients, “What’s your vision for the life you want and the home you want?”

He might narrow that question to a specific space — say, a master bedroom. Often the client will envision a room where he or she can relax, be intimate with a spouse, and get away from the demands of work or kids.

Then, once the client has articulated that vision, the work of culling through possessions can begin.

Walsh helps his clients go through those possessions one by one, each time asking a simple question: “Does this item move you closer to or farther away from your vision?” If the answer is “farther away,” the item has to go.

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