PUBLISHED: 4:22 PM on Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Clear your personal space - clear your mind
Stuff. We all have it. At times our collection of "stuff" grows so large that it cannot be contained in one room. It spills out into other areas of our homes, sometimes resulting in a garage packed so deep there's no room for the car. Or, we elect to relocate our "stuff" to a storage unit where we pay rent and don't have to look at it - or deal with it. Yet, we can visit it occasionally - just to make certain it's still there.

Situations that involve hoarding, the overwhelming clutter that dominates our lives and living spaces, and individuals drowning in excess "stuff" is problematic in America. However, "stuff" is big business and industry has discovered that America's problem with clutter translates to big money.

Back in the 70s comedian George Carlin created an entire routine on "stuff." According to Carlin:

Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. (

Take for example the currently popular television program, "Clean Sweep." Every week a volunteer family goes through the process of having their lives "de-cluttered." The show's experts lead the family in dealing effectively and efficiently with their excess stuff. These lucky individuals reclaim power over their lives through an elimination process. (I've never seen a follow up on any of these episodes. I'd like to know whether the families revert back to their old habits. Could hoarding and clutter be a personality quirk?)

As one who has relocated quite a bit in the past 10 years, I'm very familiar with keeping my personal possessions to a minimum. I'm certain that our Coast Guard families can relate to this as well. For the majority of people, however, excess stuff is a problem.

Do you have too much "stuff?" Here's a quick exercise: Look around your personal space. No, not a sweeping glance. Give it a good look. Pretend you've never seen this room before. What impression do you have? Is it neat and orderly? Or, are the table, chair, and bed overflowing with piles of clutter?

If the latter is the case, you need to make peace with your things and keep only those items that you really love or really need. All the other things need to go - not on vacation, but for good.

The reason you want to ditch the clutter is that it holds you in place. Clutter prevents you from moving forward. This belief is based on the philosophy of feng shui, which is all about balance. Feng shui proposes that everything in this world is made up of vibrations and everything holds energy, or Chi (pronounced chee as in CHEEtos). This energy is inside you and all around you. When you improve your chi, you improve your life.

Improving your chi does take focus and intention. For example, when you need to study or complete projects, clear your desk. That's right. Remove everything. Wipe it down.

Now, put back only those things that are absolutely essential (and, no, your espresso machine is not an essential).

If you've got stuff draped over the back of your chair, put it away. This activity will give you a fresh start and a fresh perspective on your projects. Try it for a couple of weeks and see for yourself.

Here are more ideas for boosting your chi from Katherine Olaksen (2005), Dorm Room Feng Shi:

• Turn off the lights, the loud music and the TV. Get some deep, peaceful sleep.

• Eat like you understand the theory that good food and lots of water will give you great skin and strong bones.

• Get some exercise.

• Spend time with your family and friends.

• Read a book for pleasure.

• Surround yourself with colors you love.

Now that you've decided to take steps in reducing clutter and, thereby, improving your chi, you might want some ideas for recycling that clutter.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

• Bring your excess stuff to the local thrift shop.

• Get a digital camera and take photos of the stuff you want to get rid of. Post them on eBay and see what sells.

• Give your excess stuff to a local charity or church.

• Throw a gift exchange party after the holidays.

Find out how well clearing your space helps to clear your mind.

Dr. Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.