I need to get something off my chest. I’ve been taking advantage of people who ask me for organizing help. I have discovered the answer to society’s clutter epidemic but haven’t told anyone until now.
In helping families declutter and get organized over the past few years, I’ve observed a common thread that connects them. I have to conclude that it is the cause of all the clutter problems.
Okay, so it’s not always exactly Amazon. It’s Overstock, eBay, Peapod, Everlane, or other website du jour, but it IS online shopping. More specifically, it is the “Amazonized” attitude towards shopping that values convenience, quickness, and getting a good deal.
I’m not talking about procurement, margins, and what happens at Amazon-the-business — that’s not my gig. My concern is that the ease of shopping online is causing an epidemic of cluttered, disorganized homes, leading to unhappy families.
Every time I visit a client for an organizing session, I see boxes in the entry waiting to be unpacked. People are paying me to get rid of stuff, but they just bought more stuff.
We no longer need to take time out of our busy schedules to physically go shopping. Nor do we need to exert ourselves lugging our purchases home on the subway or into and out of the car. We feel we’re being responsible by restocking before we run out of something. And we’re obviously getting the best prices on everything because of our promo codes and cash back and the streamlined supply chain an online retailer is able to achieve. We don’t even need to open our wallets.
In a single click, or just a tap on a mobile device, purchases are magically en route, in some cases, arriving within hours. We come home from work, juggling laptops and toddlers, texting our partners about what to order for dinner, to find humongous brown boxes smiling at us from our doorsteps, boxes that contain 60 rolls of Charmin, a brick of AAA batteries, a case of Goldfish crackers, and a collector’s edition officially-licensed replica Kylo Ren mask because it was the Deal of the Day.
Don’t pretend this doesn’t happen to you. A similar humongous box arrives at least — AT LEAST — twice a week. Since we’re ordering one item, might as well get another if it all comes in one box. How often do we order a new something because we aren’t sure where our something is (hello, charging cables!)? If spending another $17 gets us free shipping, doing so becomes a moral imperative. Twice a week, non-essential impulse items come into our homes along with well-intentioned orders of Swiffer cloths. That’s 104 humongous, smiling boxes a year.
Let’s not forget about the oh-so-handy monthly subscription services that send us maker kits for our elementary schoolers’ enrichment, eco-friendly toys and treats for our beloved and deserving pets, diapers in the size our baby just outgrew, and organic healthy snacks from around the world for the whole family.
The packaging alone is more clutter than one person can handle. If we don’t have time to go to the store, we don’t have time to unbox and put all this crap away. Especially if it entails going through the crap you got last week to make room for the new crap.
Enter baskets, boxes, bins, and organizational problem solvers. We can’t find space to put all our stuff, so we throw money at the problem. Custom closets, Elfa systems, attractive woven baskets, clear stacking boxes with lids, super-slim hangers, label makers… and yes, professional organizers.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I really ought to tell clients who hire me for organization to STOP SHOPPING ONLINE.
I should just say :
Make a list of what you need. Go to Target and look at how much space 60 rolls of toilet paper takes up. Compare that to the size of the space you have to store toilet paper, and you’ll buy 12 rolls. Bring the kids and see if you have 90 seconds to look at Star Wars collectibles before someone has to pee, and you won’t buy Star Wars anything. Walk around with Goldfish in your cart but swap them for fresh grapes because you realize your cart is full of salty carbs. After a few months of this, you also won’t buy a brick of AAA batteries because you won’t have bought more battery-operated Deals of the Day that you never needed in the first place. You’ll also cancel the automatic subscription once you see that you already have 4 sealed bottles of plant-based, cruelty-free cleaning products.
There is mindfulness to be discovered in planning a shopping trip. Taking inventory of the consumables in your home will help you plan meals and save money by not ordering take-out. The life-changing magic of making a list of the things you need and buying them will mean you can stop reading books about what sparks joy.
And please, bring your kids to the store with you. I agree that shopping with kids is one of life’s most trying experiences. Bring a friend if you’re scared — I’d go with you.
Like all life skills, if our kids don’t see us do it, they won’t learn how.