Learn how to excise excess from your life
By JUDY STARK, Times Homes Editor
The start of a new year is traditionally a time when people decide to get organized, rid themselves of excess belongings and start fresh. This new year, coming after the events of Sept. 11, has underscored some people's desire to shed the meaningless and the excessive in their lives and focus on the important things.
The useful thing to do with "traumatic, tragic, life-shattering and life-altering events," uncluttering expert Michelle Passoff says, "is to use them as an opportunity to do what is wise to do all the time: to be deliberate about your immediate surroundings. Be conscious of our own lives and of our relationships with other people.
"We've been hit on a lot of different levels. It's knocked people off their block," said Passoff, the author of Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter (HarperCollins, $13). She will be in the Tampa Bay area Jan. 21-28 giving workshops and doing private clutter-clearing sessions. (See the box on Page 3F for details.)
A New Yorker, she described life these days in Manhattan: the acrid smells from ground zero, military personnel in the streets with M-16s, streets cordoned off, favorite shops and restaurants closed, extra time taken with shopkeepers and acquaintances to exchange stories, confirm that everyone is all right or learn with sorrow that someone is no longer here.
If the events of Sept. 11 taught one thing, Passoff says, "we got in touch with how great it is to be alive, how special it is to have our freedom and not take that for granted.
"But you don't need to wait for an emergency or a traumatic event to ground yourself, get yourself centered and focused, and have a vision of your future and work toward fulfillment," she said.
Passoff's theory is that getting rid of clutter opens up space for self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment. When we get rid of the unwanted objects that are taking up space in our homes -- books we don't read, hobbies we no longer enjoy, unneeded paperwork -- we eliminate barricades to new experiences and personal growth. We're also eliminating psychological barriers and sources of tension that hold us back from growth and change.
Clearing out a closet or a sock drawer or a filing cabinet is a way to find what you're looking for -- and what you're looking for in life, Passoff says. Making that phone call, even if it's confrontational, not only gets rid of the slip of paper with the phone number that cluttered your desk for months; it eliminates a drain on your spirit and mind.
She has spent the last several years conducting her clutter workshops all over the world, and she says people everywhere ask the same questions: They want to know what to do with papers, financial records, magazines and catalogs and books.
As for books, she says, "Live appropriately to the space you occupy. If you have a grand room with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, knock yourself out, have millions of books. But if you're keeping books boxed in a storage room or basement, you have too many of them."
Too much stuff has an effect on relationships with others, she says. "If it makes the wife unhappy that the husband has his office in the middle of the bedroom and it's a mess, that impacts the relationship. If the wife has doodads or knickknacks all over the place that aren't pleasing to the husband, he's ill at ease. They need to work together to bring harmony," she said. That's often the subtext of the questions people ask at her workshops.
"That's not a clutter problem, it's a relationship problem," she said. "In the wake of 9/11, people do want to be more closely related. That's a good thing that can come out of it: Do the work, take the time, open our hearts, do that more successfully."
Passoff turned her attention to seniors, who often find themselves with homes packed and jammed with a lifetime of stuff. "Acknowledge that there is a phase of life when you were into acquiring," she advised. "Acknowledge that you are in a different phase, one of letting go and wanting to be free."
Get rid of high-maintenance objects that need to be dusted, vacuumed and cleaned, she suggested. "That's good for your health too," she said.
Sorting, throwing out and organizing is also "the responsible thing to do," she said. Leaving behind 30 years of unsorted financial records is a cruel thing to do to a spouse or family members. "Instead of a legacy, you leave a burden. It's hard enough on people that you are gone."
Better to leave your affairs in order, "something you can do at age 30 as well as at age 80," she said. "You do this not because you're going to die but because you want to live well.
"You can have a successful retirement by freeing yourself of stuff," Passoff said. "You'll have more energy and be more vibrant when you're not weighed down. It's not about mortality, it's about vitality."
Fight that clutter
Decluttering expert Michelle Passoff will give her basic seminar, "Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter," from 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 21 at Baywinds adult learning center, 722 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa, and from 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Holiday Inn Clearwater, 20967 U.S. 19N (north of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard).
She will give her advanced clutter cleaning class (for those who have already taken the basic seminar) from 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 23 at Baywinds.
Cost of the basic and advanced seminars is $35 plus a $7 registration fee.
Passoff will be available for private consultations Jan. 21-28. Those sessions, most of them four hours in length, cost $100 per hour and may be scheduled mornings, afternoons or evenings.
To register or to schedule a private session, call Baywinds at (813) 977-0996 or toll-free at 1-800-300-6994. Visit the Web site at www.baywinds.net. Passoff maintains her own Web site at www.freefromclutter.com.
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