A chat with Peter Walsh

    Peter Walsh is widely known throughout North America as a decluttering and organization expert. You may remember Peter Walsh from the hit TLC show, Clean Sweep.  You may have seen him on the Oprah Winfrey Show helping people deal with their messy homes and lives.  Perhaps you’ve read one of his best-selling books about clutter and organization. In many ways, Peter Walsh has established himself as an authority on organization in our personal and professional lives. We are thrilled he has taken the time to share some of his thoughts with our readers today.

The common denominator in the professional organization and junk removal industries is “stuff”.  Some of it is clutter; some of it is junk. Some we need; some we don’t. The business of “stuff” has become really big. Why are North Americans so in love with “stuff”? 

Our society sends really confusing messages.  We’re led to believe that more is better, that the kid with the most toys rules the sandbox and that the more you have the happier you’ll be.  Worst of all, we think that if we just buy the right stuff and own the right things then we can somehow acquire the life we want.  These are all illusions. Because stuff is cheap and credit relatively easy to get (until recently at least!), clutter has the potential to creep into all aspects of our lives, whether it is personal, family or business.  If we’re not mindful about what we buy and what we bring into our homes, then our lives can easily become more about the quantity of our stuff than the quality of our lives and relationships.  When ‘the stuff’ takes over we have a real problem and it’s time to do something about it. We all waste too much time looking for lost items around the home. It’s been reported that four in ten people feel anxiety, guilt and depression due to the amount of clutter in their lives and I am not surprised at all by that figure. Organization is freedom, and it’s important for the mind, body and soul to be clear and uncluttered.

Some people would say that back in the day products were made to last. If your appliance broke, you’d call in the repairman. Nowadays, with the “big box” specials and a new version/model always up-and-coming, people don’t bother fixing. They replace. Has this trend fuelled your industry?

I think we live in a world that says, “More is better” – what I call the ‘super-size’ it mentality.  If one is good, then two must be great – right?  Also we are all led to believe that the better off we are, the more we should buy.  Also – things are relatively cheap and credit is pretty easy to come by.  Combined, these things encourage people to buy more and more and so homes are full of more stuff than ever.  When you toss busy lives into the mix it seems that being organized takes a low priority.  This is a huge mistake, as being organized actually makes our lives less stressed and more efficient.


Peter Walsh on some days...

What surprises you about people when it comes to organizing their stuff?

The single biggest problem with organization is that people think it’s all about ‘the stuff’ when, in fact, it’s almost never about ‘the stuff’.  If you focus on the stuff you will never get organized – wierd but true!  The very first step in getting organized is to ask yourself: “What is the life I want to be living?”  And from this question there are others: “What does that life look like?”; “What do I want from my home – what mood, what experience?”  It’s only after you have answered these questions that you can start looking at your stuff and get organized by asking (of each item), “Does this thing move me closer or farther away from the life I want?”  That’s the criteria for what stays and what goes. Other factors are that people simply buy too much.  Recreational shopping is a killer!

What is the single, best advice for people who need to organize?

The word ‘organize’ and the word ‘organic’ come from the same source.  To be organic is to be fully whole, complete, one, human.  That’s what organization does in our lives and that why it’s a goal to aspire to.  Without exception I have seen that getting organized has transformed people’s lives and that it is possible for everyone to achieve it.  Here are some tips for different rooms in the home that if followed will help determine what should stay and what should go.

BEDROOM: Reverse Clothes Hanger trick. Turn all of the clothes hanging in your closet so that the hangers face back-to-front. For the next six months, if you wear an item of clothing, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the correct way. No cheating. If you try it on but decide not to wear it, make sure you put it back with the hanger turned backwards. Be prepared for a shock. Because after six months you’re going to look at which clothes are on hangers that are still facing in reverse. These are the clothes you have not worn. You should seriously consider getting rid of them all.

KITCHEN: One month cardboard box test.  Not sure what you use and what you don’t in your kitchen? Here is a tried and true way to find out. Empty the contents of your kitchen utensil drawers into a cardboard box. For one month only put a utensil back into the drawer if you take it out of the box to use it. At the end of the month seriously consider discarding everything that’s still in the cardboard box. Face it. If it’s still in the box after four weeks – you don’t need it.  Pass it on to charity.

KIDS ROOM: Maintain limits. Kids outgrow everything quickly, including their interest in toys. It’s important to regularly sort toys with your kids to discard and pass on everything that they have outgrown,  no longer play with, or is damaged.

HOME OFFICE: Go low-tech.  Many people are uncomfortable with shredding or discarding paid bills. If you want to keep paid bills and/or receipts you need to keep the paperwork under control. Start by purchasing a 12-month expanding file. When you pay bills for, say, June, place them in June section of the file. You’ll come back to June 12 months later. If you haven’t needed to look at the bills in that time, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever need them again. Shred them.

For more tips on decluttering and organizing every room in your home, view my recently released DVD version of It’s All Too Much, which can be found at http://www.peterwalshdesign.com/books.php.

Congratulations on your new show, Enough Already! on the Oprah Network.  Can you give us a peek into what we can expect on the show?

My new show Enough Already! with Peter Walsh premieres  Monday, January 3 at 8:30pm on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.  The show helps people deal with the emotional and mental clutter in their lives by decluttering their homes and physical spaces.  The stuff we own affects the lives we live and Enough Already! looks closely at the relationship between our ‘homes, heads, hearts and hips’ and the things that we hold onto. 

For more information about Peter’s new show go to www.oprah.com/own and for more information about Peter Walsh visit www.peterwalshdesign.com.

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