Watch out for broken windows!
Last week I was driving through my city, I noticed a lovely old building that sadly had become derelict. It had broken windows and lots of graffiti. The kind of place you imagine lots of needles inside and peeling paint, in stark contrast to the beauty of the building that it used to be. Now I quite like some graffiti, the colourful murals done by artists, or the Pete McKee art work that's dotted around my City Centre. Unfortunately this was not pretty colourful pictures, but awful ‘tags’ and paint just thrown at it in a random act of vandalism. It reminded me of the theory of the broken window, and how this could help you in your decluttering quest!
So when a building is first abandoned it is usually safe from vandalism until it gets *one* broken window. That first act of attack against it then starts a ball rolling that's very difficult to stop. One broken window leads to two, then before you know it, all the windows have been put through. Then it gets graffiti, once it has one ‘tag’ on it, others pile in to outdo each other, and before you know it the building is a total wreck. That's because the first person to break a window gives everyone else ‘permission’ to do the same. Once one person has done it, it's ok for everyone else to do it too. Once it's ruined, all the other broken windows and graffiti added on don’t seem to make much of a difference, they just blend in. It’s written off as a building no one cares for, there’s no repercussions, no security to stop it, and it's an unloved building ready to be obliterated.
Broken windows theory links to our homes too. If you look around your home, once you put just one thing on the dining room table, or one item on the stairs, before you know it, it has attracted other clutter. It becomes an ‘ok’ place to dump stuff. It soon gets fully cluttered, and then it becomes a big project for you to attempt to get it back to clear again. So what can you do to stop the broken window escalation?
First of all you need to identify your dumping grounds. What places do you want to keep clear that currently seem like a magnet for all types of clutter? Usual places will be kitchen sides, stairs and table surfaces.
The next thing is to make it a priority to clear them. Tell everyone in the house your expectation is to keep this place clear. Do not expect at this stage that it actually will keep clear though! Habits are hard to break, especially when you don’t yet have a strategy for how to make it happen. The next step is to look at what gets placed there and designate it a new permanent home. You also need to find out what the reason was why they were placed there in the first place. Was it too much effort to put them away? Why? What were the barriers stopping it from being put away?
Once everything has been rehomed and the barriers to putting away removed, you can then concentrate on keeping surfaces clear. To stay clear you have to be very vigilant to ensure nothing gets put there, as it's a slippery slope once one item is placed there it will become a free for all again. This all sounds like a lot of work, but the removing the barriers to putting away and designating new homes means that eventually you will get in the habit of putting things away, and you will get used to the clear surfaces. You will then instantly spot when one item gets put on there and it will feel awkward. You’ll quickly deal with it, and you’ll successfully manage to keep the broken windows at bay!
If you need help with your decluttering and organising I go live in my Facebook community (where we discussed broken window theory last week) every Monday at noon. You can get an hour of my support totally free and in a private and supportive group. You can join it by clicking here.