Importance of the Spillway

Clutter flows into our houses. With children in the house, things increase with each new activity or size. As we age, the house easily becomes cluttered with inheritances from family members. Some of us attract clutter like Pigpen attracts dust! Sometimes we have a strong reaction as the clutter reaches a dam and it all stacks, one thing on top of another, without release.

Emotions, sentiments, natural messiness, and thoughts sometimes become focused on things. Check out the illustration of dammed clutter and see where you find yourself.

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Did you look primarily at the things held behind the dam, or did you look at the things that have flowed through the dam? I hope you looked at both!

Dammed clutter is not about the dam that holds things back. It is about the flow and the spillway. Control of the spillway makes the difference. During the 2010 Nashville Flood, the opening and closing of dams played a crucial role. Watching the water overwhelm the city was traumatic.

Often, we become more concerned about what is held in and forget that we have a mechanism for letting things flow. I encourage you to consider the nature of your clutter that is held back and stuck. Then, consider how the spillway is controlled. You are ultimately the operator of the dam, but sometimes we lack training or skill to do it well.

If you feel dammed up without release, “Talk it Through” with me, and let’s find a direction for you to take that will allow movement through the dam that releases more acceptance and order.

For people in the Nashville Area, check out the Dammed Clutter Retreat on Saturday, March 24, 2018, from 9 am to 4 pm. (Been wanting to visit Nashville?) Please subscribe to this local events email list following to get the most details.

Wishing you smooth flow!





Is Paper Clutter Burying You?

The most time-consuming backlog to sort and organize is paper. When it becomes a problem, it is full of question marks and what-ifs.

The major problems boil down to:

·       Documents to retain

·       Time-frames for keeping documents

·       Security concerns

·       Paper vs electronic trust

·       Retrieving something valuable or needed

·       Fear of mistakes

·       Legacy

Let me describe how the problem grows, based on my own thoughts and those I hear from clients.

·       Junk mail

I think someone may piece together disjointed clues of my financial life and steal my money, or worse, my identity. Therefore, I need to shred everything or blot out anything personal including barcodes before I toss. (Tossing creates its own questions . . . recycle? Of course, but do I? What out-the-door system do I have for getting rid of paper. . . do I have to tear out the plastic address window? What about paper clips and staples?)

·       Promotions and marketing catalogs

Let’s keep our comparative options available. If I need a credit card, I’ll want to compare. The catalogs are important in case I need __________. I do not have a computer or internet, so it is essential that I not lose this information. . . . or . . . I do not want my information on the computer because I do not want people to have access to __________. (News flash: how do you think the marketing became targeted toward you in the first place?)

·       Documentation and receipts, usually for taxes

I am right to be afraid of being audited. It is better to be safe than sorry, so I will keep things, just in case. Everything must be filed by categories and I need to do this before January . . . February . . . March . . . April . . . Oh ****! Is it already April 15?

·       Personal papers and photos

This documents my journey, and it provides clues to the intricacies of my life. When someone writes my biography, or tells my great-grandchildren about me, this card, recipe, journal entry, _______, will be the link that makes everything fit together.

·       Information

This is valuable information and I may be able to share it with someone when they think to ask me if I know anything about _________, or if I can find it when they mention a topic, or if I need to prove something.

·       Odd pieces of paper or greeting cards

This is good and one day I may need to wrap a small package and this will be just perfect. Oh shoot, I meant to send this birthday card to ________ and it is still here. I will send it next year and just keep it out to remember.

For some of you, what I have described is normal and acceptable. However, for others, you are hoping for something different, and you are wanting to challenge your thinking and actions.


Spend three hours in paper therapy on Saturday, January 27, 2018. Bring your unedited stack or box of paper (please no more than one box) to my Paper Management Workshop and learn what to keep, why to keep it, and how to retrieve it. After this workshop you will have a basic intuitive filing system, including three types of files, a framework for challenging your unhelpful thoughts and questions, and a CPA’s guide to paper retention.

Included in the registration are the basic materials needed to sort, organize, file and retrieve your paper while at the workshop. I will also be giving away one Smead Life Documents Organizer Kit.

Register here. Limit: 6 participants. Couples are welcome to participate together under one registration if sorting the same papers.


Address Clutter Sooner Rather than Later

I would love to peek into your clutter and help you address it directly. If you want to send a picture or two, I’m glad to reply with a few suggestions or questions. 

What is clutter?

My rule of thumb is that something becomes clutter when it has not been touched or purposefully moved for a designated period of time. Different types of things have different time periods. For instance, if you have not moved junk mail in a few days, it is clutter. If you have not moved your holiday decorations this year, it becomes clutter. (Exception: a circumstance like illness or unusual activity interrupted the normal activity.)

When something occupies space but is not examined closely or used, it becomes clutter. Learn how to purposefully address things that are kept but not used is the way to a decluttered home, office, or car.

In our house, we have a fair amount of Christmas clutter to address. Over the next two weeks, Bud and I will take down the holiday decorations for another year. Everything that we put out is purposeful and chosen to use. However, there are items in the boxes that were not used this year and some of these items have become clutter and can be addressed as such. Instead of seeing how quickly we can put things away this year, we are first going to look through the boxes and decide what to do with things that were not used. Earlier in my career, it was important to have a Christmas Open House for the churches I served, welcoming people into the parsonage once a year. During that period, we decorated everywhere and used every serving dish available. However, that day is done. Because we have had the space, we have been able to keep everything. Now, however, we are beginning to downsize and choose carefully what we keep. Much has become clutter in the Christmas boxes and in the attic.

We have now begun these steps:

1.       Remove everything that is left in the storage boxes and decide if we will ever use it again. What about the Nutcrackers? How about the fabric sled that holds a loaf pan?

2.       Take pictures of every item for discard and upload them to Google Photos, sending a link to our now adult children. They will have first pick. Anything they want will be put in a box for them. Through this action, the items have been purposefully touched and moved. While we keep the box for them until they are in more permanent homes, it is no longer cluttering our attic. Put on the bottom boxes that will not be used next year.

3.       Give away anything that is not claimed within a set time frame (1 week is my choice).

4.       Return boxes to the attic.

The attic? That’s for another day! But we will know that the Christmas corner has been addressed already.

Declutteringly yours,


Company Readiness Progression

Sometimes I do something that needs little explanation. Today is such a day!

How open is your house to people from outside right now? Identify where you are in the following progression. If you want help to move from any level to the next, I’m available! I enjoy working with people from the nearly organized to the never organized and would love to help you get ready for the upcoming holiday season.


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Insight 2

Again, I am posting a past blog.

Last week I spoke about insight into our hoarding and cluttering situations. This week I want to offer a few suggestions about increasing insight and moving toward positive change.

First, we need to pay attention to what we tell ourselves and others about the clutter and see if we want this story to continue to define us. What story do you tell yourself or another about clutter? “Leave me alone. I’m fine with the stuff and should be able to live like I want to.” “I don’t know how you live in this mess!” “I like having my things around me. I find it cozy.” “I’m frustrated with my stuff, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve tried before, and it just gets worse.”

A way to increase insight is to seek other ways to view our relationships with clutter and with other people, to find a new narrative about the stuff. Buried in Treasures is an opportunity to examine stories about your own clutter and to look for another way of viewing the problems your clutter causes. The new support group forming in September, for people affected by another person’s clutter, is another place to examine one’s stories.

According to Gary Klein in Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, our story is the way we frame and organize the details of a situation. He says, “These kinds of stories organize all kinds of details about a situation and depend on a few core beliefs we can call ‘anchors,’ because they are fairly stable and anchor the way we interpret the other details.”[i] He describes five ways that stories change: connections, coincidences, curiosities, contradictions, and creative desperation and illustrates this in the following chart:

An often ineffective way to increase insight is to try to persuade another person with logic and reason about a seeming contradiction. Anyone who has tried to address another person’s clutter readily knows the impasse this can cause. However, when we spot within ourselves a contradiction of thought or action, we can figure out what is askew and begin to experience change.

Another way to increase insight is to listen closely in places of curiosity or coincidence. According to Klein, this path of connection opens new possibilities for understanding. This can be of primary importance when more than one person is affected by a cluttered or hoarded home. As mentioned earlier, insight comes from within. Change cannot be imposed on another person. However, if people become open to each other at a level of mutual respect, insight may open between people that comes as a creative gift.

Coincidence and timing of ideas, thoughts, and comments from others is a part of this path of connection. Think of times when you turned on the radio while someone was talking about clutter, a book crossed your path that made you think about your stuff, and then within a short period you learned about the Buried in Treasures Workshop. All these things in close proximity prepares you to see your situation through new eyes.

Finally, low insight is a cause for much of the conflict that people experience, what Klein calls the creative desperation path. This is why I offer mediation to people who are in conflict about clutter or hoarding. As the person who is not in the midst of the fray, I am often able to reflect back what is happening in a way that allows both problems and possibilities to appear more clearly. This can be the beginning of increased insight, and with insight people experience greater control over their situations and awareness to improve relationships.

Insight rarely increases in situations where people have entrenched positions about each other and about the stuff. I want to help you shift conversations and prepare for a safer situation. Also, you can find camaraderie in places of conflict, collaboration in places of ultimatums, and increased peace.


[i] “The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight”, Farnam Street,