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.