Matt Baier on “Is There Such a Thing as Organized Clutter?”


A couple of weeks ago, professional organizer Matt Baier agreed to respond to a few of my questions concerning the task of organizing. Well, holy moly! Matt’s insights were so wonderfully thorough and helpful that I believe each response deserves its own post on the Shoplet blog.

And so, every Tuesday for the next five weeks, in a series titled “Advice From Organizing Pro Matt Baier,”  we will be featuring one of Matt’s impressive responses to a unique question regarding the task of organizing. We hope you enjoy what he has to say as much as the Shoplet team did!

But first…a lil’ bit about Matt Baier:

After his promotion to Head of Design Services at the Jim Henson Company, home of the Muppets, Matt was responsible for managing half the staff and working in half the space, with 25% more work in demand.  To combat the challenge ahead, Matt engaged his organizing expertise, increasing the company’s production rate tenfold.

Today, Matt owns and heads Matt Baier Organization, where his organizing team uses the Matt Baier Organizing approach to declutter and organize homes & offices all across the Fairfield County and Westchester County areas.

And so, without further ado, Mr. Baier responds to our first question.

1) “Is There Such a Thing as Organized Clutter?”

The short answer is “yes,” but that answer will make no sense without an explanation. There seems to be two different understandings of what clutter is and neither of them are quite right. One understanding is that clutter is all the stuff you own and the other understanding is that clutter is all the junk you need to get rid of.

Part of the explanation for the misunderstandings is in the inadequacy of the dictionary definition: “a collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.” There’s no acknowledgement of whether these “things” are valuable or not. What’s far more useful is the word’s origin. It’s from the Middle English word clotter, which means “to clot.”

That’s a great analogy. Blood needs to flow freely through our veins, but when it clots, it forms a sticky mass and the flow is slowed down.

Perhaps the biggest motivating reason to get organized is to increase productivity. Whether it is in the home or the office, we know if we make things simpler, faster, and more focused, we will get more done. None of this, is helped by having too much clutter.  Productivity needs to flow as freely as blood in our veins.

We don’t benefit by having a blood clot in our veins, therefore it represents an excess, that doesn’t serve us well. Like a clot, clutter needs to be broken up and eliminated. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Why?

Clutter is not a simple challenge of keep or toss, black or white. It’s a lot of grey. Remember, it’s neither the valuable stuff you use all the time nor the garbage. It’s the excess and the excess is somewhere in between. You may have a perfectly good easy chair, but if it is always getting in the way in your living room, then it’s clutter and you would be better served, by selling it or donating it. If on the other hand, you have old archives that you are only keeping just in case, that can be considered clutter too, but you may need to keep it for a few years before you pitch them.

This is why I answered “yes” to the idea of  “organized clutter.” While it would be a waste of time to organize your excess stuff alongside your most valuable items, it does make sense to establish organizing systems to filter out your clutter.  Usually we are really good at bringing in new stuff into our homes and offices, but we don’t have a good plan in place for getting rid of the excess. Staying organized requires systems to toss, recycle, donate, and sell. Circulation prevents accumulation.

How do you know when you have excess stuff? Perhaps my favorite definition of clutter is Barbara Hemphill’s “postponed decisions.” Think about it. Whenever you say, “leave it there for now,” “I’ll get to it later,” or “just stick it in the garage,” that’s all clutter. It’s excess stuff that piles up and doesn’t move.

Sometimes we recognize clutter instantly. Got another credit card offer in the mail? Toss now. Some clutter, however, takes longer to recognize and requires a filtration plan. The archive files, I mentioned earlier, would be one example.  Another would be an old computer. Maybe, your first idea is to sell it. Then you realize that you can never find the time to sell it, so you get it out of your office and into the garage to donate. My advice is to set limits. Label the computer with a date. If in a year, your computer is still taking up space in your garage, pull out the hard drive, destroy it, and drop your old computer off with the e-waste at your local recycling center.

When you get right down to it, getting organized is not about sorting out your stuff, your time, or your space. It’s about sorting out your priorities.  The truly UNimportant stuff and the important stuff are both pretty easy to deal with. The challenge is recognizing the LESS important stuff.  That’s what clutter is and our efforts to filter it out can be organized.

  • This is a great article! I especially like this tip: “My advice is to set limits. Label the computer with a date. If in a year, your computer is still taking up space in your garage, pull out the hard drive, destroy it, and drop your old computer off with the e-waste at your local recycling center.”

    • Diana

      I loved that tip too, Alix! Because there’s so much data stowed in them, computers are so tricky to dispose of. Matt’s approach definitely enlightened me to a clearer way of perceiving hefty, yet unnecessary things.

  • JudyO

    Matt’s answer helped me so very much to make a good start at my clutter mountain range. I live with lots of grey clutter that change to black or white at times.
    Thanks Shoplet for the great decision to share Matt’s insight with me. I think I may find additional room for more office products now.

  • Gee – ‘Leave it there for now’ is my go-to response! Thanks for pointing out a better way.

  • Great explanation of ‘grey’ clutter! Now I need to go sort out my priorities!

  • Matt knows his stuff! His organizing blog is top notch – great pick up for your site!

    • Diana

      Thanks, Michael! Check out Matt’s other posts on our blog as well– all of his insights, in the most sympathetic way possible, address our natural proclivity to make a big mess of our things.