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Article :
Messing Around, Practical Suggestions
 Offer an Out from Clutter 

Beth Johnson sits among a mountain of items she persuaded people to discard at one of her de-clutter workshops.
Beth Johnson sits among a mountain of items she persuaded people to discard at one of her de-clutter workshops.
Photo Credit:
Photograph by Kristin Landgrebe, from Journal Inquirer article,
August 3, 2001, Manchester CT


Inquirer Article, August 3, 2001, Manchester CT.
Journal Inquirer Friday August 3, 2001 Manchester
By Julie Cotnoir 

Comedian George Carlin talked about stuff. A lot of us have stuff-- important stuff, sentimental stuff, stuff we can’t bear to be without. However, for many, having too much stuff changes their lives. A support group that meets regularly at The Arbors retirement community offers a place for people who have become over whelmed with a variety of items, including paperwork, newspapers, and clothing, to rid themselves of the materials and gain tips to change their lives.

Beth Johnson, who leads the support group and offers workshops for the chronically cluttered and organizationally challenged, first became aware of the problem when she had to go to a deceased relative’s home to pack it up.

"It was very sad,” Johnson says.

Johnson, the author of “Clutter Tips from A-Z,” has led support groups since 1995 and has been an instructor for her “de-clutter” workshop since 1998. A member of both the National and New England Associations of Professional Organizers, she also holds membership with the Greater Hartford Holistic Heath Association. In July, Johnson spoke on the subject of her support group at the National Conference of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation in Denver, Colo.

At a recent support group meeting, close to 20 participants came to share their stories and offer support for others trying to simplify their lives and homes. Those participating in the support group must first sign up for a de-clutter class. The five-hour class, split between two days, introduces participants to various “letting go” techniques as well as the many ways to find good homes for their treasures.

Members of the support group all have their own stories and explanations for why saving things has become a problem. Some can trace it back to their upbringing. Children of Depression-era parents were always taught to save, that nothing should be thrown out. Others have their own psychological demons, which make it hard to part with anything. At the meeting, the members, who many times grow to become friends, share their successes and difficulties with simplifying their homes and workplace.

Taking on different names at the meeting to preserve confidentially, the group in July shared their stories.

“Joan” speaks of how cleansing a joint tag sale the group held was for her.

"I released six cartons of things at the tag sale. That is more than I have given away in 20 years,” she says. “The object wasn’t how much we made, but how much we let go. Anything I let go is a miracle.”

“Suzy” arrives at the meeting with two grocery bags filled with unopened mail. She says she many times finds herself overwhelmed by everything and can’t even open her mail. She spends the entire two hours of the meeting, while others take turns sharing, opening her mail. She finds out her son had a detention a month ago, there are bills quickly coming due and she had some extra money she didn’t know about in an account.

The homes of many members have been overwhelmed by the problem. Boxes and boxes of papers, newspapers, and other household items have made it impossible to invite friends over. There is no room to sit, walk, or even eat dinner.

“Kathleen’s” home is the focus of a “Dateline NBC” story. Photographs show boxes and boxes of items piled to the ceiling, with her dining room chairs teetering from the top. A cleanup party produced an “after” picture with a clean room and the dining room chairs set up in another room with their matching table.

Members offer support by cross-coaching. Having someone to call or even help clear a room is an important part of the group. “It breaks isolation and shame and helps focus and motivate,” Johnson says.

Kathleen admits that, following the last support meeting, she had the motivation to go through and empty 16 boxes of items she had been saving. “Margaret,” a senior citizen preparing to eventually move into The Arbors, knew she had to rid her home of many items before moving to smaller living quarters. To many, she appears at this point to almost have graduated from the group and become a mentor.

Do you need it, and does it improve your life? These are two of the many questions Johnson has participants ask themselves.

“I’ve got it down now,” “Margaret” says, “I saved my wedding dress, that’s it.”

At the end of the meeting, people donate an item or throw something away. Johnson has found homes in the past for almost everything. Thrift shops, animal shelters, and libraries have gladly taken many items.

“Margaret” adds a leather toiletry bag that belonged to her late husband. She had filled the bag on every trip she had taken since he passed away. She realized she didn’t need to keep it to remember him and that it was not practical for her needs, so it became part of the donation pile.

“Suzy” leaves the meeting two bags lighter, having only a small stack of mail to bring back home. Sporting a smile, she asks, “Does anyone have an elastic they want to rid themselves of tonight?” She wraps the mail up in the elastic band.

A two-part program on de-cluttering will be held Wednesday August 8, and Wednesday August 15. Registration is required.

For more information on the workshops and support group, call Beth Johnson at (860) 232-3838 or email her at beth@clutterworkshop.com

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