Recently I received a copy of Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health by Drs. Brad and Ted Klontz. If you’re familiar with Suze Orman, then the basic tenet that we’re all influenced by money lessons, or money scripts, that we learn as children will be familiar. The doctors identity several common types of scripts and provide exercises for overcoming them.

Part 1: The Big Lie
Part one details all of the forces that influence our relationship to money. The primary force is simply our animal nature. The human brain still carries some reptilian and simian aspects that make it difficult for us to have a purely rational relationship to money. Instead, we react emotionally, and that can lead us to make bad choices. In addition, our human penchant for mimicry, which is how we initially learn to speak, leads us to internalize our parents’ negative money scripts, often to our own detriment.

The doctors explain not only how that wreaks havoc on our own lives, but on the lives of others and our financial system. This book was written in midst of the financial collapse, and some of their conclusions are quite fitting to our current economic state.

Part 2: Money Disorders
The meat of the book is part two, which outlines several money disorders that may strike all of us. Some of them may seem to be beneficial, but they can be harmful when carried to an extreme. If you’re deeply afraid of financial risk, excessively frugal, or the reverse: always taking excessive risk or overspending, you may have a money disorder, but these aren’t the only types of disorders.

Money-Avoidance Disorders include: financial denial, financial rejection, underspending, and excessive risk aversion.

Money-Worshipping Disorders include: hoarding, taking unreasonable risks/gambling addiction, workaholism, overspending/shopping addiction.

Relational Money Disorders include: financial infidelity, financial incest, financial enabling, financial dependency.

As you read through the book, you’ll probably recognize some of these traits in yourself. Although we don’t all have severe disorders, we probably each battle some unhealthy money attitudes. Or, you and your spouse could have opposing disorders or attitudes that wreak havoc on the marriage and family finances.

The Relational Money Disorders were the most interesting to me. Financial infidelity is probably one the most common – that’s hiding money or spending from your spouse or partner. Financial incest is when parents use money to control their children. Financial enabling is a compulsive need to give money to others, even when it’s not in their best interest. Financial dependency is becoming dependent on another person to give you money or manage your finances, which is common among women of older generations.

If you buy the book, you can access a quiz on their website that identifies your likely financial disorders. Mine indicated a potential for hoarding and a potential for financial infidelity, although I felt I was more likely to be an underspender than anything else.

Part 3: Beating Your Money Disorders
In part three, the doctors provide exercises and tools to help you overcome your money disorders and repair your relationship to money. They don’t promise that it’s easy, but they do promise you’ll be better off for it.

Overall Opinion
Overall, I thought this was a great book for anyone suffering from repeated money problems. It’s one thing to fall on hard times once or twice, that happens to many of us, but if it seems to happen again and again, or if shame, fear, or compulsion drive your financial habits, then this is a great start on the road to recovery.

A few months ago I checked out gardening books to settle on those that are best for my local area. Now it’s time to buy a home maintenance book to help solve those simple problems without having to call Dad, search the internet for a reliable solution, or call a handyman. I borrowed five potential books from the library. Here are my reviews for all of them.

Home Maintenance for Dummies
Just about everyone I know owns at least one Dummies book. They really are well-written and informative, despite the title. This book is no different. It’s quite comprehensive and includes both pretty big fixes that you can DIY as well as tips for annual maintenance and inspections that will help you avoid costly repair bills. It includes EVERYTHING in your home, from the foundation to the roof and everything in between. However, I do wish it had more step-by-step instructions and illustrations. It’s very text-heavy.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Simple Home Repair
This competitor to the Dummies series is equally well-written. It has more illustrations and step-by-step instructions, but it’s not quite as comprehensive. It also covers from foundation to ceiling, but I couldn’t find some small to medium fix-it issues that I found in the Dummies guide. For example, I have a draft in my French door sidelights. The Dummies guide told me how to fix door drafts, but the Idiots guide doesn’t. On the other hand, the Idiot’s guide shows how to fix a bent track of a sliding door, but the Dummies guide doesn’t even mention it.

The Reader’s Digest Do-It-Yourself Guide to Preventing Costly Home Repairs
Like the title implies, this book is geared towards saving you money. It tells you just how much you can expect to save by making simple home repairs or maintenance. It was published last year, so the figures are still fairly accurate. You could walk through your house with this book and check everything listed using the Care and Maintenance tips. It also provides quick fixes, but most of the items are relatively minor. There aren’t any mid-size or large jobs in this book. For example, it simply recommends installing weather-stripping, but doesn’t offer details.

Knack Home Repair and Maintenance
This book is organized into projects, like repairing a chipped finish or installing a pet door. It has very detailed pictures and instructions for most of the projects you might attempt around your house, including in your yard. Most projects get a two-page spread with 3-4 pictures and tips. The weather-stripping section is the most detailed of all the books.

The First-Time Homeowner’s Survival Guide
This book covers some repairs, but it’s mostly geared toward helping new homeowners figure out how things work. It provides advice for planning renovations, hiring contractors, paying taxes, and buying insurance. In some ways, it feels written for flippers rather than long-term owners.

If I were only buying one book, I’d personally get the Dummies guide, but the Idiot’s guide and Knack book are strong runners-up. I’d recommend checking all three out of your library and choosing the one that’s best for your home and needs. I like the Reader’s Digest book, but I want something more detailed and more hands-on for my home repair manual.

I don’t yet have a child, but I’ve been a child, so I think I’m qualified to review “Munny Journey: Keepsake Journal for Baby’s First Money” by financial advisor Brad Dugdale. Given last week’s announcement that it now costs $300,000 to raise a child from birth to 18, this book would make a great gift for young or financially naïve new parents.

Munny Journey Sections
The journal starts like a regular baby book. It has places for letters to the baby from parents or grandparents, but the letters focus on financial goals rather than personal goals.

Baby Firsts
The next section includes some financial firsts, such as a first piggy bank, state quarters and birth year coins, first dollar, the financial page from the date of birth, and a record of initial financial gifts. When I was a kid, I loved finding coins minted in my birth year, so I think this is where kids will really engage with the journal when they’re old enough to use it themselves.

Financial Instruments
The later sections are more for the parents than the children, at least at an early age. This section holds a record of the accounts, initial deposits, etc. It also explains how each financial instrument works and how parents can invest in them on behalf of their children. He includes savings accounts, savings bonds, bonds, stocks, and mutual funds. Although he doesn’t get into great detail about how each instrument works, he covers the important basics of risks and returns for each without talking down to the reader.

Financial Toolkit
This last section is more complicated, so many parents won’t use it, but the book is designed to suit all financial levels. He starts by explaining how to interview a financial advisor and track investments.

Finally, we get to the most important part of the book, especially for parents who are trying to decide whether they should start saving for their child and how much to save. He explains how money multiplies over time and how much additional gain a child will have if money is invested in year 0 vs. year 10 or 20 or later. He presents different savings options with real numbers (assuming a 9% return). He also includes a chart that indicates how prices rise over time using real-life examples of postage stamps, college tuition, etc.

In addition to making the case for saving now instead of waiting, he busts several money myths and explains common money mistakes that may keep some parents from investing or lead them to make poor financial choices.

College
Most parents worry about how they’ll pay for college, so he quickly reviews the current savings options for parents.

Munny Mountain
The book contains a cute chart parents can hang next to their child’s growth chart to track investment growth over time. Children are visual, so seeing amounts increase on a chart may help motivate them to save rather than spend their allowance and other money they receive. Following the chart, he includes pages to record baby’s net worth for the first several years.

Responsibility
A book by a financial advisor would not be complete without a quick primer on good financial responsibility. It’s basic, but it’s an important last reminder for parents and a lesson to children once they’re old enough to work through the book with their parents.

Audio CD
The book also includes an audio CD that offers additional financial advice for parents. It’s simple, but more detailed than the text in the book. It has an NPR feel to it, which is nice.

Downside of the Book
I could only think of one downside of the book: spelling. I’m a stickler for spelling, so “munny” annoyed me. But that’s me. Other people like cutesy names for baby items. I also hate kars, lite, and other brand terms that are cute misspellings of common words.

Will parents use it?
My mom filled out my baby book for about a year, then it was forgotten. My sister’s baby book last just a few months. I think new parents will dive into Munny Journey the same way they’d dive into a traditional baby book, but it will probably be one of those things that will be forgotten after a year. Fortunately, it can also be used by children as they get older, so it has potential to be useful much longer than a traditional baby book.

If I were looking for a gift for young parents or parents who weren’t financially literate, I would definitely consider this book. It offers great lessons for parents, but under the guise of giving a gift for a child. When I was five, my dad took me to the bank to open my first bank account. It was thrilling, but I wonder how many parents today do the same thing. If you know someone who’s unlikely to think about something like that, give them this book.

Financial literacy month takes place in April of every year. First I’m going to share a little story about the power of financial literacy, then I’m going to share some resources to get you started on observing the month.

The Concert of a Lifetime
Monday, I went to the concert of a lifetime. Elton John and Billy Joel on the same stage. Our seats were about $215 each (after TicketMaster fees), but we sat in row S about 300 yards from the stage with a perfect view. We sat in what I like to call the “financially comfortable, middle-aged” section. And it was fantastic! 3.5 hours of nonstop music – all our favorites.

Was it the most frugal choice? No, of course not. It was cheaper than going to see Sir Elton in Vegas, but not cheap. However, we were completely comfortable spending that much money because of the performers. We were also able to pay for the tickets without creating credit card debt or delaying other financial goals.

A few years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to attend the concert without incurring credit card debt. Now that the debt is gone, we’re free to manage our money wisely, and still make room for the occasional splurge. Are you motivated to learn to manage your money yet?

What Is Financial Literacy?
Financial literacy isn’t knowing how to count money or knowing what a checking account is. It’s knowing how to manage money and taking control of your spending. This month, look to two resources for most of the information you need to take control of your money again.

The official Financial Literacy Month website features a fantastic 30-step process to teach you everything you need to know about managing your money. If you work through one simple step each day, you’ll be on your way to a lifetime of wise money choices. They also have an informative blog and you can sign a pledge to become financially literate – whether that means learning to budget or learning how hedge funds work.

The FTC launched a new website called Money Matters.  This is your one-stop resource for important financial information like how to watch out for employment or housing scams, how to manage credit cards, and how to deal with debt. The FTC is here to protect you, the consumer.

If you want more resources, check out my list of recommended books and websites.

My pledge for this month is to learn more about the home-buying process because I’m in the process right now. I’ll be sharing everything I learned after I close on the house.

What do you pledge to do for Financial Literacy Month?

I created an initial list of important books in September, right after the start of the financial collapse. With the economy still moving in reverse, it’s time to update this list with a few more nuggets to help you understand how we got here, figure out how to deal with it, and be a part of the new way forward we can all create. (I’m an optimist. I have to see the silver lining.)

Understanding What Went Wrong
One book returns from the previous list, but I’m also adding a movie and a blog.

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown – It’s a brief (very brief) and easy to read exploration about the recent history of the financial markets. Charles Morris explains how recent deregulation allowed the big investment banks and mortgage companies to spin out of control. It was released about a year ago now and his once dire predictions are actually spot-on.

IOUSA – I reviewed the movie in full about a month ago after it aired on CNN. If you can find a local screening, go see it. If not, watch the 30-minute recap on YouTube. Then gather up your pitchforks and meet me at the halls of Congress to kick some butt.

Planet Money – The fine folks at NPR created this blog that reports news and analysis of the financial collapse, and all related issues. It’s award-winning, easy-to-understand, and fear-inducing.

Dealing with the Aftermath
Frugality is back in style now. Living within your means is back in style, too. If you already live the frugal life, good for you, but it never hurts to get a few more tips. If you need to learn to control your expenses and get your financial house in order, read these books.

The Total Money Makeover – If you’re deep in debt, this is a good place to start. I don’t totally agree with some of his claims and suggestions, but millions of people have followed his advice to baby step their way out of consumer debt. Use that part, and ignore his mortgage advice.

Your Money or Your Life – At this point, this book should be required reading for anyone in credit counseling or anyone at risk of foreclosure or bankruptcy. It should probably be required reading for the whole country. It doesn’t tell you that you can’t spend money. It does teach you how to reconcile your personal values with your personal spending, and to value yourself over your stuff.

Simplify Your Life – If you need to cut back on expenses but a total overhaul of your spending habits isn’t necessary, check out this book for simple tips for reducing your expenses here and there.

Building a New Way Forward
Even though I sometimes drive home thinking that the bad news on the radio is a dream and that we’ll all snap out of it, I know that’s not true. Instead of wishing it away, we can instead see this as an opportunity to rectify our wasteful ways. We can fix our environment and our economy at the same time. Ultimately, the economy will only collapse again if the climate spirals out of control and we return start living beyond our means again.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded – Thomas Friedman looks at how our overspending and overpolluting ways kicked off the global climate crisis. The rest of the world now wants what we have, but getting it the way we did would destroy the planet. He offers careful analysis and suggestions for changing our own ways while we lead the world by example.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver spent a year living off her own farm. We can’t all own farms, but her story of self-sufficiency can inspire the rest of us to be more conscious and frugal in our food choices.

Economics for Dummies – Not only do we all need a basic refresher in economics before we get to the business of fixing our economy, but I think Congress does, too. Like all Dummies books, this is well-researched, well-written, and easy to understand.

These seven books, one blog, and one movie should keep you busy for a while. At worst, you’ll have lots of information to get you through small-talk at cocktail parties. Oh, you don’t go to cocktail parties anymore?

I read about “IOUSA” a few weeks ago in Money Magazine, but it’s not yet on DVD. Then I happened to see that CNN would be airing it January 10 and 11. On went my DVR. A few hours later, I sat down to watch it. Up went my heartrate. If you want to watch a truly scary movie, this is the film for you.

IOUSA Premise
The movie is a documentary about America’s love affair with debt. Although it does reference individual debt as one of the problems of our overall economy, the primary focus is on our national debt and national deficit. The deficit is the difference between what we spend and what we collect in revenue. The debt is the amount we’ve borrowed to pay for spending not covered by the revenue. The projected deficit for 2009 is $438 billion. The current national debt is almost $11 trillion. The movie explains the history of our debt and the policies that led to this giant number. It also lays out the problems that will arise if we continue our current spending habits, both as individuals and a nation.

The Presentation
The movie bounces between clips from policy hearings and briefings, enlightening graphics, and discussions from economic experts like former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Warren Buffett, and members of the Concord Coalition. Finally, there are the man-on-the-street interviews that make the average American look uninformed. I’m not a big fan of those gotcha moments, but the rest is excellent.

The Scary Numbers
One fact particularly galled me: our debt has only been at 122% of GDP one time – during World War II. At that time, the debt was owed to Americans who had purchased savings bonds. The debts were also quickly paid down to below 33% of GDP. Now our debt is near 70% of GDP. More than 50% of that is owed to foreign entities.

Another scary fact: George W. Bush has doubled the national debt in just 6 years.

A third scary fact: Although Clinton bragged about achieving surpluses, those surpluses were partially a result of borrowing against the Social Security trust. If you exclude that borrowing, we’ve only had a surplus for one year out of the last forty (during Clinton’s era.)

The almost scariest fact of all: If we were to add up our current debt, our Social Security obligations, and our Medicare obligations, we would need to invest $53 trillion dollars today to cover them. We have $0.

The truly scariest fact: If we continue spending at our current levels, our national debt will total 245% of GDP by 2040. There’s simply no way we could ever repay that debt, or even continue to service the debt via interest payments.

So who’s going to get stuck with all of these bills? It’s not George Bush. It’s not any of the people who chose to spend so recklessly. It’s our grandchildren and their grandchildren. We have saddled future generations with monstrous debt.

The only solution is to start paying it down now. We have to control America’s spending, break this habit of consumerism, and encourage everyone to save money for the future. People keep saying that we need to solve the climate issues now to protect the earth for future generations. I agree, we do. But we also need to tackle this debt crisis now, otherwise our children will be begging for food and clothes on a gorgeous green earth.

Visit the movie website to find showtimes and events near you, or watch the 30-minute version on Youtube. You’ll also find bonus clips from the full version on the IOUSA website. It’s scary, but this is a movie you need to see. There’s also a companion book if you want to get deeper into the numbers. Prepare to be very, very scared and very, very angry.

As a final note: this movie was released in August 2008, before the financial collapse and subsequent bail-out, so the situation is even worse than it was when the movie was made.

I first read about Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James at Zen Habits. I instantly ordered a copy from the library (in keeping with the theme.) I expected a heavy tome, but it came it at a mere 238 pages. It’s also only about 5 x 5, so it really is a small, simple book. It does contain some big ideas, though.

Good Ideas for Simplifying Your Life
This book is written from the perspective of a woman who once lived a very hectic, over-charged, big-city life. One day she and her husband realized it was all too much and decided to simplify. The core message is that you don’t have to keep up with the Jones, the Smiths, or anyone else. You only have to live a life that satisfies you.

The book is a mixed bag of ideas. Among my favorites:
Get rid of the clutter in your life - I’m looking forward to moving later this year so I can do a really deep purge of my outmoded stuff.
Buy in bulk – saves time and money, if you have the storage space.
Plant a garden – it’s relaxing and saves money, but again requires the space.
Run errands in one place – if you can do this, it’s a simple but effective strategy
Replace your lawn with ground cover – this is especially appropriate if you live in a drought-prone area where traditional grass is not a native plant. When we do have land, we intend to replace the water-guzzling lawn with a lawn-like ground covering that uses ¼ the water.
Move to a smaller house – We’ll be going a little bigger for our house, but we know people with a huge house who only live in half of it. Even if it was a great price, that’s a waste. Fortunately or unfortunately, houses in Los Angeles are small. Built in the 1920s small.
Stop junk mail  – done and I love it.
Get out of debt – ditto.
Live on half of what you earn – a great idea if you can manage it.
Stop being a slave to your Day Runner – or PDA to update the suggestion. I lost my PDA a few years ago. I’m much happier with a notepad and paper calendar.

Not So Great Ideas
Or, more specifically, ideas that aren’t really applicable or workable for many people”
Bow out of the holidays – good luck with that!
Get rid of your car phone – these days, you’re better off ditching the home phone and having only a cell phone
Sell the boat – I don’t know anyone who owns a boat. True, a boat is a very expensive thing that rarely gets used, but it’s not an issue for the average person.
Build a simple wardrobe – men already have it pretty easy, but she suggests women pick one basic style and stick with it. I only have about two weeks worth of work shirts, but even I get bored with them after a while. There’s only so much simplifying one can do.
Pay off your mortgage – Several statistics have shown that the average person is better off keeping a mortgage and investing the rest. Even with our market in a tailspin, stocks are likely to be the better option over the long-term.
Rent rather than own – As a current renter, I think this is terrible advice. I hate being at the mercy of a landlord, waiting for them to get around to fixing something, and having to deal with idiot neighbors. Yes, homeowners have idiot neighbors, too, but they’re not usually living on top of you or throwing watermelons off your roof.

The real key to this book isn’t so much the specific suggestions, as the ideas it will produce. Once you start thinking about which of her ideas work for you, you’ll probably think of others that will work even better. You might even be motivated to get off the couch and do something about it right now. If you want to simplify your life (and by extension, your finances), this book is a great way to start. And a really quick read.

If the recent news of financial disasters leaves you wondering how this happened, or makes you want to crawl into a fallout shelter for the next 50 years, you should read these six books right now. Some will inform you on how we got here, and some will help you ensure that your life doesn’t collapse along with the financial markets.

Finance Books to Explain How the Financial Crisis Happened
If you want to know more about how this happened, read these two books. They don’t offer a lot of solutions, but at least you’ll understand we got here.

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown – It’s a brief (very brief) and easy to read exploration about the recent history of the financial markets. Charles Morris explains how even more recent deregulation allowed the big investment banks and mortgage companies to spin out of control. His predictions are dire, but given the bloodbath we’re currently witnessing, he doesn’t seem that far out of reach.

Supercapitalism – Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains how lobbying and corporate power have resulted in a decline of regulation and an increase in the risk we all face due to corporate shenanigans. He doesn’t offer many solutions, but it’s a sobering look at the how our political and business systems became so broken.

Books to Help You Recover Your Finances
There’s nothing you can do to stop a bank or investment firm from collapsing (unless you’ve got a few million dollars to spare), but you can take steps now to ensure that your personal finances don’t collapse, too.

The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom – If you’re not in debt, but don’t yet have your financial house in order, read this one. Suze Orman explains the basics about affordable mortgages, retirement accounts, wills and trusts, and insurance.

The Total Money Makeover – If you’re deep in debt and can’t seem to find your way out if it, read Dave Ramsey’s book to get on the path to debt freedom. His step-by-step instructions are hard work, but simply explained. In this economy, getting out of debt is the best thing you can do to secure your future.

Your Money or Your Life – Read this book if you’re not yet in debt, but are trying to maintain a lifestyle you can no longer truly afford, are wondering where all your money went, or are in debt due to overspending on consumer goods. Although it does offer debt relief advice, the true value of the book is the way it helps you figure out how you value money, and how that’s reflected in your spending.

A Book to Teach You Frugality
Getting out of debt and living within your means usually leads people to embrace frugality. Here’s my favorite book to help you discover how to be more frugal.

America’s Cheapest Family – Despite the name, I don’t consider this family to be overly cheap. What they are is frugal. You don’t have to adopt all of their advice, but they do have some great tips that will help you find ways to cut back on your own spending without suffering.

I could list more books, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. The news does enough of that, already. Although the first two books will scare and depress you, the other four will inspire you to do what you can to rescue yourself from financial collapse. It’s never too late to start.

What are you favorite personal finance reads?

In the last few days, I’ve seen several lists of personal finance books floating around the blogosphere. That got me to thinking: which four books and which four blogs would I most recommend to someone new to personal finance? If you haven’t already read them, I highly recommend you add them to your summer reading list or blog reader.

Top Four Personal Finance Books
You’ll notice that I don’t have many personal finance book reviews on the site yet. Of those I do have, here are my top picks as basic reading for everyone interested in personal finance:

The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. As I said in my review, this was my first personal finance book. It’s a broad overview of a number of topics related to personal finance, including debt, real estate, retirement planning, and estate planning. Despite the name, it’s not really a workbook, but it will enlighten you about your financial philosophy or spur you to get your affairs in order.

Your Money or Your Life. As I said in my review, most of the advice doesn’t apply to me, but it’s a great book for anyone who tends to overspend or doesn’t understand the role or value of money in their lives.

America’s Cheapest Family. If you’re starting your frugal kick, this is my top choice for learning to make frugal choices. The book is well-organized and contains great little nuggets of advice. It’s also not quite as extreme as some other guides to frugality.

The Total Money Makeover. This book is best if you have serious debt and don’t know how even start getting out of it. Ramsey’s step-by-step guide is part inspirational, part solid advice. Although I disagree with some of his advice, it’s a great tool for the truly desperate.

Top Four Personal Finance Blogs
If you don’t have time to read personal finance books (or, perish the thought, hate reading books), then add these four personal finance blogs to your feedreader promptly. Even if you have time to read books, add these four feeds to your reader. These are the blogs I always make a point to read.

The Simple Dollar. Trent has quickly grown his blog into one of the best of the bunch. Although I don’t always agree with his advice or point-of-view, he has an interesting perspective on frugality and personal finance.

Get Rich Slowly. Like Trent, JD Roth also worked his way out of debt and became one of the powerhouse PF bloggers in the process. The blog’s tone is more journalistic than some of the other blogs, but it’s always interesting. I tend to agree with his advice more often.

The Digerati Life. Like me, SVB lives in a big metropolitan area and is familiar with those specific challenges. This blog features in-depth analyses of various PF topics and solid advice for people at all levels.

Mrs. Micah. Also like me, Mrs. Micah is new to the PF blogging world. She’s one of the youngest of the bloggers, which gives her an interesting perspective on all things related to being young and frugal.

The spring TV season is nearly over, which means you’ll have plenty of time to read. In between the fun fiction you plan to read, add these books and blogs to your schedule. You might find a tip or two that can help you save money or spend better. At the very least, you’ll learn something.

What are your favorite personal finance books? Tell me in the comments.

It’s All Too Much Cover

Peter Walsh is the organization expert on TLC’s Clean Sweep and Oprah. Rather than writing another book that lists various organizational methods for different types of stuff, It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Rich Life gets into the psychology of stuff so you can part with it permanently, and then teaches you how to do it.

Clutter Problem: The Psychology of Stuff
If you’ve seen Peter Walsh on TV, then you know that he’s very concerned with the reasons we create clutter. Getting rid of it once is easy, but learning to part with it permanently is hard. His basic theory is that we create clutter because it either represents something we value, or represents our idea of who we are. As you read through the first section, he challenges the excuses you’re already making in your head. He helps you see the error of your ways through quizzes and the stories of other clients facing serious clutter problems.

For example, Walsh relates the story of the woman who wanted to create scrapbooks for her three children, but she had so much scrapbooking stuff that it was overwhelming. Rather than make the books, she avoided that area of the room. At the same time, she couldn’t part with the stuff because she needed it to make the scrapbooks. He helped her see how she was blocking herself from being who she truly was, but he also didn’t make her throw it all out. Instead he honored her desire to make the scrapbooks by placing limits on the amount of supplies she could have and creating an organized space in which to work.

Putting Clutter in Its Place
The next section focuses on learning to control the clutter. Walsh first asks if the stuff belongs to you. Many people have clutter that belongs to friends, neighbors, ex-spouses, or middle-aged children!

Next he asks you to find the true purpose of each room. To do this, you and your family members write down how you think each room should be used. If one of you wants to use the dining room to eat and the other wants to use it to make model airplanes, that’s a pretty big conflict of desires that’s creating clutter. Once you understand the true purpose of a room, it’s easier to clear the clutter.

If a room must have multiple uses, then Walsh recommends creating zones for each use, and limiting the activity storage to that space. He doesn’t say you shouldn’t buy storage boxes; he says you should reduce the stuff, and then buy boxes to fit the remainder and prevent it from outgrowing the boxes.

The Clutter Weekend
Walsh tells you how to recreate the Clean Sweep experience by designating a weekend to clear out the clutter and then get rid of it immediately via a garage sale or donation. Once the major work is done, you can slowly remove the rest of the clutter bit-by-bit.

Room-by-Room Clutter Clearing
Finally, Walsh gives a review of each room. He explains how clutter develops in each room and then provides strategies for discovering what you really need to keep and what you should part with.

The book is part inspirational, part hands-on advice. Walsh never makes you feel guilty about the clutter, but he does make you want to get rid of it. I read this book after cleaning out our office closet, and well after my clutter purge, but the book helped me realize the effect that had on me. Now that there’s less stuff in there, I don’t want to just toss stuff into it anymore. I always take a few more steps to put it back in its place. I also think carefully before adding new stuff to it.

Final Thoughts
This isn’t the book for you if you simply want another organization system. If you’re ready to truly tackle not only the clutter, but the psychology that causes you to create clutter, then this is an excellent start.

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