MUSEUM OF MODERN JUNK: Zen-Sweeping: Self-soothing with Sweeping. Putting a Hold on Recycling and Composting.

Click on this link: Sound of Sweeping Close your eyes.  How do you feel?

There is a reason that the act of Sweeping figures prominently in art, it is such a soothing and familiar image.  Think about sweeping for a moment.  What does this image do for you?

Look at these images by clicking on these links:  Japanese mythology Woman Sweeping, oil on panel by Édouard Vuillard, c. 1892; in the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Intimist.

When I was in high-school it seemed like everyone was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. by Robert M. Pirsig. It seemed that everyone was carrying that pink-purple paperback around at school. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but this book is about life and the way we live it. You can read about it by clicking here and here.

So how does this apply to us? We are going to start practicing some new behaviors today! We are going to try deep focus on sweeping. This deep focus is restful and pleasantly t distracting; and in the case of a clutter-bug, it also helps with the clean up.  Take the broom and the mighty dust-bin. It will be hard work but as you sweep do not think. Every time a thought comes into your mind, sweep it away, concentrate on the sound the broom makes as it moves across the floor, see the amount of sand, dust, and dog fluff. Do not assign feelings to this. Just see. Feel your hands on the broom. Feel the strength in your muscles and feel the movement in your body as you sweep. Notice the outer boundaries of the swept area (at this point it is just a tiny area and that is OK). Move along as much as you can even if you have to crawl over stuff to get to another spot clear enough for sweeping. Do this every morning and every night. I am going to go do my morning sweeping now and then we can talk about it.

OK.  I just did my sweeping. Apply the scientific process of observation to the dust bin! Have a trash container and recycling container next to you.  I don’t recommend trash containers in every room yet unless you have a clear path to the trash containers.  For now, just have an easily recognizable bag labeled TRASH (with a trusty marker) and your lawn and leaf bag labeled RECYCLE (single stream).

Before we document what we swept up…Did I talk about taking a break from some forms of recycling?

I give us all permission, until the house is a home to:

Stop mulching or composting!  In most areas compostables can go in a paper bag in the green waste can.  If you feel overwhelmed, give yourself permission to throw this stuff in your regular trash container.  Trust me, you will be back to your environmental-saving and protecting ways soon!  Why do I recommend this if we are all concerned with saving the planet?  Saving yourself and your home and family is the goal now.  Compostables can pile up, smell, and attract critters.  This is just not the right time. Don’t have the time and energy to compost now?  Don’t have energy to garden?  These beautiful activities will be waiting for the future.  Take a break and get the house clean!

Stop taking cans and bottles to recycling center for money.   You do not have time for this.   Put all of your recycling in a single stream container.  If you do not have curbside trash removal get it.  It comes with free recycling and green waste pick up in most areas.   Many companies will let you have two blue recycling bins and two green waste bins for free.   If you cannot afford trash pick up ask for help.   I will assume that you have trash pick up for now (…to be continued).  Many clutter-bugs have a defective system for dealing with trash.  Since you have already stopped spending money on non-essentials because you have prohibited any visits to stores,  it is imperative (super-important) to have proper waste-management.   Call the company, get a trash bin and two recycle bins and two green bins.  Ask about the least expensive plan, but get a plan!

Applying science to sweeping.  I have my trash bag, my recycle bag, and an empty top of a box to use as a sorter.  We are recording what is in the sweep so we can learn.  I pick out the things I know will go in the trash or recycling and I have picked out the things I think might need saving and I put them in the sorting tray (don’t worry friends and family, we are working toward skipping this step in the future).  I immediately throw the rest in the trash (dust, sand, dog hair, chewed up ? from the pets).

When I was still married, I used to sweep up and then leave the little pile of swept up debris in a corner with the broom next to it.  I didn’t know that I had a problem with throwing away little objects (OCD).  My husband would come along and we both thought I had just become distracted.  He would sweep it up and throw it away.  I think he did pick out any coins because he had jars of coins everywhere!

Here is my list from the sorting tray:

  1. fluff from a pillow the dog chewed up — possibly could go into single stream recycling (cloth) but since I am not sure, trash
  2. 3 socks — two thrown away and one to wash.  It is possible that the socks could go in single-stream recycling, but when it is not clear…trash
  3. a money belt — into my suitcase so I know where to find it.  If you can’t find the suitcase, toss it.
  4. 4 coins — three went into my wallet (which I always keep in the same place next to the keys.  One went in the trash on purpose!
  5. one rubber band animals bracelet (very big in elementary schools a few years ago) — trash!
  6. Small pieces of paper –recycle?  No, trash!
  7. beans and seeds — trash!

So how did it feel to read through this?

Were you uncomfortable?   In support groups for OCD or for anxiety, it helps to rank your feelings:  1= very calm and at peace  5 = very uncomfortable, can’t take it.

Now wait a few minutes and see if your discomfort decreases.  I bet it does.

People with clutter often are very thrifty and love to recycle.  So why did we throw out money, beads, and recyclable items?  We are practicing DESENSITIZATION, (click here to read more).

Desensitization is part of the process.   We are practicing throwing away perfectly good things and being present while we do it.   We feel the discomfort, but then we slowly stop feeling the discomfort.

The battle against clutter requires desensitization to perfection.  Comfort with doing an O.K. job is key.  Good enough is GOOD ENOUGH!

Homework:  Sweep even one small area everyday.  Focus on the sound and feeling of sweeping.  When you finish, sort through the dust bin.  Separate out seemingly important stuff such as coins, crafting supplies (embroidery thread, beads, cool little bits of stuff for collages, small bottles of paint), pills, buttons, etc.   Throw the dust and obvious trash away immediately.  Now try to throw away as many of the so-called precious items you have saved.  Yes, even coins!  Desensitize yourself to the need to save and find a purpose for everything.

Take the time to do this everyday until you can throw away almost everything that you sweep up.   Keep one container for all the bits that you couldn’t throw away.  Now look at even this with your newly trained eyes.  Can you throw it away now?

Tips:  If you have large quantities of the following, start a lawn and leaf bag for them and dispose of them properly:  Medicine and Batteries: hardware stores have pill recycle bins and battery recycling.  Find a local site for this.  Arts & crafts:  when you are ready, have a friend take your whole giant leaf and yard waste bag to the nearest youth center, thrift store, or even craft recycling center such as Legacy (click here) or Scrap (click here).  Do not drop stuff off yourself! Stay away from shopping or acquiring more stuff!  Most friends or acquaintances will help out by picking up stuff and dropping it off for a good cause.  They can get a receipt for tax purposes.


Now you have learned to sweep away your cares and you can do this as often as you would like when you need soothing.   Self-soothing with sweeping is lovely.  Try to do it at least once a day.  Teach your children and your dog to self-sooth with sweeping too!



MUSEUM OF MODERN JUNK: Diagram the Clutter: Little Project to Get Started!


I sporadically attend a Makers group. Makers make things out of stuff they see laying about.  Don’t do this yet but perhaps give them a call and see what they are doing and what kinds of donations they could use.

Start a Bulletin Board now.  If your house is in bad shape and it doesn’t matter, just start taking this information to the wall so you don’t lose it.  This is where you can put all those lists that come to you like the annual holiday wish lists that come from non-profits, the do’s and don’ts of recycling (what can go in the single stream bucket), and other useful tidbits related to cutting clutter out of your life.  Many clutter-prone folk are recyclers.  Put this talent to work!

Map it!  Back to the Makers.  One cool thing that they did was use a 3-D printer to print out a topographical model based on a map.   I thought we could do something like this.   Draw on any old piece of paper or draw on the wall if your house = disaster.    We will make a diagram or a map of the mess in one room.  It will be a side-view for many of you who can’t get up high enough to look down at the rivers and lakes and mountains of your mess.  So let’s change that to a line diagram.  Here is an example from Forest Gardens (Wikipedia, retrieved November 19, 2014).  Below that you will see a diagram of a fox-hole.  My father had a book of these diagrams from WWII and I don’t know who the author was.  They were a type of political cartoon circulated among the troops.  They are also diagrams of a setting.  What we are going to do now is draw a picture of the clutter in one room.  It does not matter if you are not a talented artist.  As I learned from the Professors Janulaw in my class “Teaching Science in Elementary School” (at Sonoma State University), the first step in developing a scientific eye is to draw the thing you are studying.  This is an observational skill.   “Clutter Blindness” is a common barrier to removing clutter.   We draw the clutter so that we can see it.  We draw to motivate further study.  We draw it so when we read and learn we are visually intimate with the mess.  Our drawing can also help with the game-plan.  If you are intimately familiar with your mess, you will know it and see it, and then you can get rid of it!  We learned that by carefully drawing our observations, we can analyze and learn more.  We can notice things we didn’t notice.

Forest Garden from Wikipedia, retrieved 18-November 2014

Forest Garden from Wikipedia, retrieved 18-November 2014

When my dad was in the army he showed me some cartoons like this.  They look like observations of real things but they are actually parodies of life.  The author had to really be noticing what he/she saw around and then modified it to bring humor to the image.  I used to love to look at this type of mapping of reality in the drawings of Rube Goldberg and in the cartoons in Mad Magazine.

The advantage of sketching out your problem area is that you can label items, you can feel how patterns develop as you document (are you mostly drawing papers, or clothing, or a mish-mosh?  Our  semblance of order is laking somehow (clothes here, clean clothes there)?  Another advantage is that you can draw as wide-angle and imaginative as you choose.  You can capture parts of the room that no camera can.  You can focus on some details that seem important or gloss them over.   Looking at a photograph of your mess might result in the same clutter-blindness as looking at the real thing.  As we learned in Science, if you draw a bug you learn a lot more about the bug that when you look at a drawing of a bug!

DSC_1535                                                                                                                                                               So now that I have made my point, we can diagram our mess:


This cartoon of a bedroom seems ready for clutter-blindness right away, but since I drew it and labeled it, I have a unique perspective and I started noticing a few things right away.

  • The Hello Kitty migrated from my daughter’s room because she no longer wanted it there, and when it showed up out of her room, I couldn’t bear to give it up because it was “my little girl’s lamp”.  Do you know what that means?  Take a picture of it in her room with her standing by it looking sweet.  Then put it safely and gently into the donate or sell box
  • See that map of Ireland to the right of the bed?  How about the pop-art dress kimono hanging from the curtain rod.  These two items, presented this way, they  are not art (at least night in the setting of clutter.  Take them down and put them away.  Visual clutter noisy and clutter) do not help when you are trying to make sense of it all.  They can come back when you get to the chapters on tableau, still life, staging (the part when you get to PLAY!)
  • There were lots of books that I was planning to read, but keeping in mind my new goal of only reading one book at a time, I put my school books away on my school-book shelf.  I put the young-adult books on my daughter’s bookshelf, and I put magazines and books I am not currently reading away on the bookshelf.  I do not believe in touch it once.  I believe in sort it and see.   So the next step is:
  • Noticing what is most numerous.  In this room it became painfully obvious that clothes had taken over the bedroom.  I knew this as soon as I started drawing (studying) the room.  So this is a great place to talk about sorting.

I am admitting right here that I do not believe in the “touch it once” philosophy and I feel this type of processing is almost impossible for people with curated collections and museums of stuff.  So don’t do it.  My way is scientific and works.

The curate your collections like you won the “MUSEUM OF MODERN MESS”!  It works. After all, curators at museums have to sort, repair, organize, select and display their beautiful pieces (and send some things for restoration and repair (trash and donate for us).


  • Label the bags something like this:
  • Take the big paper leaf and lawn bags (recyclable, made from recycled matter, and stand up on there own and are reusable).
  • Because so many people who collect things have an attachment to items that to others may have no value, we recognize this, NO WE EMBRACE IT and the collector’s artist heart.  The goal is not to throw anything away right now.  Difficult at this stage?  We can’t throw stuff away, so we skip it.
  • Sort by value and attachment as well as sellable items and representative and non-representative collections.  If something is in great need of repair or restoration, put aside (for us they most likely won’t be fixed, but that comes later.)
  • Prioritize main collections and sort them into usable blocks (see how I am building in a natural distance between you and the items?)
  • Sort by genre (books, clothing, etc.)  Still no give aways so you can relax and not feel any pressure.  You are in control.  You are just doing a sorting and inventory.  That can be fun.  See, that doesn’t hurt anyone!
  • Inventory (that is what we did with the quick sketch).
  • Now is the time to put the bags to work.  In this case we are focusing on the clothing/ linens as they are taking up the most visual space.

    Make fun labels:

  • Clothes I hate
  • Clothes I love and have an abnormal or sentimental attachment with (baby clothes)
  • Clothes I love but never wear
  • Clothes that are in good condition but don’t fit
  • Clothing that is so out of date it could be used for a costume
  • Collectors items, heirlooms, etc.

Why no bag for KEEP?  Because these clothes will be hung immediately in your closet.  Check to make sure they are clean, use your laundry basket by your side, and start a load while you are doing you other work.

All items that are staying are hung up NOW (even T’s and tank tops).   OK, you can put folded P.J.s, underwear, stockings and shorts in drawers.  Make sure your drawers aren’t hiding anything that belongs in the bags.   Put your stuff hanging in the closet if you really want to use it.  If you find you don’t have enough space or hangers I guess it is time to search out a few more items to go in the bags.  Nothing to be thrown out, just sorting.  Now fold down the top and put them somewhere.  If your house is a mess you might not have anywhere to put them so line them up behind your bed like some type of neo-post-apocalypic headboard.  Now take a look around at the dust and the sand, the trash and the beads, coins and dog hair.  Instead of having a good cry, have a good zenatative sweep.  Visualize a mantra, listen to each sweep of the broom, gently guide the dust and sand into the Made-in-USA stand up dust bin that works so incredibly well.   Stop and check for coins and beads, kid toys and secret messages.  Really this OCD stuff is easy to work on later.  Enjoy yourself.  Pick through it as you may.  Remember you did not invite any haters to THIS party.  So pick through that dirt and feel confident that the dust that you throw into your trash bag is really refuse.

Use your old fashion broom which such a lovely sound and meditate on that soothing sweeping sound, the metaphor of your life and quest.  To dream the impossible dream!

Feel how good it feels to not see dog hair, dust bunnies and sand all over the place.  You just passed GO!  Lay down on your foam back roller on that tiny clean patch of floor and relax…Oh, geez, just look at the dust under the bed, Edith!

See you tomorrow because we ain’t done with this room and we are going to work an hour a day on this room until it merely a  bunch of stand up recyclable leaf and lawn bags to deal with in one fell swoop.   Think of this a sorting.  We are taking inventory.  We are not throwing away.  But we are doing something very helpful.  We are detaching the grip this stuff has on you and helping you fall in love with the beauty of the floor  below you and the ability to sleep on your bed, walk into your room, even lay on the floor and read a book.  Donate every moment that you used to drink excessive coffee. smoke a joint, or cigarette, tomar una cerveza or obsessively work or exercise.  Donate this time to YOU.  You can go back to your crazy life after you home is a sanctuary and you come home.



MUSEUM OF MODERN JUNK: The science of Awareness. Can you see the need for change?

Seems like I am harping on this issue over and over again.  I won’t be long this time.  I just want to know if you feel a desperate need to change and get this Museum of Modern Junk closed!  Are you ready to apply more science to clutter?

Anyone who is contemplating change needs:

  • support
  • energy
  • ability
  • knowledge

Support:  If you do not have patient, delightful, humorous friends and relatives around you, get some!

  • Beware of the Bullies.   If you watch the shows about hoarders, most of the ones produced in the USA have gruesome, demoralizing, and frankly abusive family members throwing fits and threatening their supposed loved one with abandonment, violence (psychological or otherwise), aggressively waving their arms around, shouting, name calling, and even physically threatening with small gestures such as poking, jabbing, nudging, or throwing things.   I have written to these shows that this is abuse and should not be tolerated.  Eventually the interventionist (shows experts) stop the abuse, but usually it goes on long enough to be really upsetting.   Warning:  do not let those people into your home.  Do not call them.  Do not ask them for help!
  • Be thrifty.  If you can find people who are willing to help you without berating and making noise, find them.   Start by trying to do this with just friends. Most people who curate their own personal Museum of Modern Junk in their homes are also tight with money and they have reason to be.  It is a hard time to survive.  Shopping addictions (even thrifting) can lead to a seriously leaky budget.  Close that leak now and put a moratorium on out flow of money.

Energy:  This is the time to go to bed at the same time every night.  Get up every morning at the same time.  Take a shower and dress for a battle.  Clean comfortable clothing (find some in that pile!).  Energizing music.  Get that sleep apnea C-Pap near your bedside and USE it.  Keep it in a zip lock bag during the day to keep it clear of dust and fluff.  Make sure you have taken care of yourself physically before you even start.  Energizing music has been shown to improve exercise intensity and time.  Put that music on because we are going to be exercising your brain and body!  We will also be talking about friendly DELEGATION.

Ability:  Set some limits.   This is critical.   If you have been curating and hoarding for a while, you have to relearn new habits.  Fatigue and feeling overwhelmed are enemies.  Pick a small area and get to work.  Work alone everyday for 15 minutes.  Call in the troops when you have studied your problem and begun to chip away at it by yourself.  This is testing ability.  This is learning to be in control.  This is feeling like it is your decision!  Our job here is to help you feel ABLE. There are a few things that immediately sabotage ability (and energy).  You must deal with these things:

  • PETS.  If you can afford to ship your animals to a friends for a while, do it!  If you can afford boarding them, do it.  If you have more than 2-3 pets, you will probably be unable to attack your clutter.  This is the reality.  The energy you spend cleaning up after even one pet is enormous.  If you are truly giving them a good home and feeding them twice a day, healthy amounts, and giving them a clean place to stay, then you are doing a great job.  If not, it is time to make tough decisions and re-home pets.   Many people are interested in fostering (to see if they can be good pet owners).   Several rescue programs will help a person out if they have health problems and will relocate or adopt out animals or even care for them.  You can put up signs at places of worship.  This is a good job to delegate to someone you know who loves animals.
  • Physical and mental limitations.  If you are fragile, unable to move freely, nursing a fracture, in a brace or splint or cast, battling cancer, super depressed or anxious, you will need help.  We will talk more about that.

Knowledge:  Remember in a previous entry I talked about learning about birds or music, and suddenly the world opens up and you hear and see things in a new way?  Knowledge can lead to reawakening.  Next entry will have more about this.  First step, read about the problem (do I need to remind you one book at a time so you don’t get fines for “library book hoarding?”   The brain needs re-training if it is going to be helpful and not a hindrance.  Let’s get started!

Remember:  Don’t watch TV about the problem.  This is part of the problem at times.  Leave that for later when you have guidance as to What to Read and What to Watch.  Coming soon!

Book to read:  Have you finished Stuff?


MUSEUM OF MODERN JUNK: What style of junk artist are you?… heaped vs. spread, churned vs. sorted, dirty vs. clean, wet vs. dry, stinky vs. fresh, dark vs. light, closed vs. open, ugly vs. lovely, needs fixing vs. all fixed up!

Immersion leads to intimacy leads to seeing.   What is clutter style?  Take this quick quiz first to find out.

  • Is the mess heaped up or spread?
  • Any areas of floor visible?
  • Is the floor covered in ruined carpet that needs to be pulled up?
  • Is it grimy?
  • Large areas of damaged walls, cupboards or flooring, wallpaper damaged by watery “stuff”, termites, dry-rot?
  • Is the clutter sorted into neat boxes and bins or churned (all different types of stuff mixed in together)?
  • Does it smell like lemons and flowers, fresh air and lollipops?  or does it smell like animals, mold, must, and worse?
  • Are things dry and clean or slimy and grimy?
  • Windows closed and covered? Lightbulbs burned out or not working?  Is your place dingy and dark or are the windows clear and sunlight pouring into your home?
  • Do you have lots of beautiful objects laying about.  Click here to see.
  • Lots of stuff needs repair, refinishing and repainting?
  • Fire or flood happened or at risk?

Dealing with a churned, dark, stinky, broken mess?

If so, call in reinforcements now and “suit up!” a la Barney in HIMYM.

face masks


protective suits

lots of heavy-duty plastic garbage bags


cleaning supplies

Now give them instructions on what you want saved (if salvageable) and instructions to photograph damaged items and send them for approval before disposing.

Then run!  Take a communication device (tablet, phone, computer) and get out of their and let them clear it.  Overwhelmed, dangerous, gross, dirty, grimy, filthy…get out and come back when it is time to scrub and clean.