February 29, 2008

When Larry Hitch lost his wife in 2004, after a six-year battle with cancer, he said he no longer enjoyed coming home. His life was filled with emotional clutter and everything at home reminded him of his life with his wife and the home they shared for more than 30 years.

“She was the home decorator; she was an artist and a very good homemaker,” Hitch said from his remodeled living room. “This room was like a museum; everything was white – the couches, the chairs, the rugs – it was more like a sitting room. It just seemed like my life had drastically changed, but living in this house made everything seem the same, even though my life was quite different.”

Hitch’s daughter heard about a program starting at the Boone and Campbell County Cooperative Extension Service offices called “Clutterbugs United.” She told her dad it might be a way to help him fix the clutter in his mind and in his house.

The first monthly meeting in a series of 12 was held in August 2007. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agents for Family and Consumer Sciences Diane Mason, Boone County, and Rhonda Rex, Campbell County, teamed up to lead the program because they believe clutter wastes time, energy, money and can be a hazard. They are trying to teach participants to take small steps to clear the clutter affecting their lives.

“We always have an activity and an educational program,” Mason said of the monthly meetings. “We have talked about consumable gift giving, paper and e-mail management, time management and clothing management. We’ve had some incredible stories of success such as Larry Hitch and several others. It’s not just clearing the house of clutter. A lot of it is mental clutter – trying to overcome things like depression and grief and just dealing with life.”

Rex stressed the importance of taking small steps to clear the clutter. Pick the utensil drawer and get that cleaned, she said. Then, move on to something else.

With his daughter’s help, Hitch said he started with the closet in the master bedroom. Then one day he and his daughter were sitting in the “museum” and she looked up at the border around the top of walls and asked her dad if he liked it. “Not really,” he told her. They both got up and proceeded to remove the border and thus began a chain of major changes in the house. The “museum” became what Hitch now refers to as his “cave.”

“Every man needs a cave,” he said. “That used to be in my basement, but now it’s here. We refinished the hardwood floors, added leather furniture, a large flat-screen television over the fireplace … everything is different. It changed my life and began a transformation. Now I enjoy coming home.”

Hitch said one thing led to another, and soon he adopted a motto of “It’s Good to Let Go,” which he has posted prominently in his kitchen. He and his daughter sold many antiques through an Internet classified ad site.

“I have a greater appreciation for homemakers now,” Hitch admitted. “At first, it was a little too much for me to manage. I wanted to make my life simpler, but that process can be painful so coming to the classes and being encouraged by Diane has helped me learn to celebrate the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future.”

Another part of the Clutterbugs United program is charitable giving. Each month, participants bring items that are cluttering their homes, and then Mason and Rex take the items to local charities.

“It’s not a swap meet,” Rex said. “They don’t get to take home things other people brought; we take it all to places like Active Day Adult Day Care. We just ask them to bring things they can’t use at home. Like at my house, I may go out and buy four or five things of toothpaste when I really only need one and maybe one on hand. To get rid of it and know it’s going to someone who can use them, it’s a good feeling.”

Rex said one month participants brought books they no longer needed to donate to libraries in smaller or more rural counties that don’t have the resources to buy a lot of books.

Other success stories include a woman who got a handle on her daily mail clutter by purchasing a shredder and dealing with mail each day as it comes in. She said she no longer has piles of paper to go through. Mason said she received a letter from a participant who said she went through all her Christmas ornaments and gave away six boxes of them, sold others on the Internet and kept only the ones most precious to her.

Mason and Rex plan to continue the monthly program through July, and if they are still seeing results, they’ll consider extending it.

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