Do you suffer from CHAOS (Can’t Have Anybody Over Syndrome, a term from Marla Cilley, the FlyLady)? Does your clutter or housekeeping prevent you from entertaining? Are you afraid to have people over because of what they might think of you when they see your home? You aren’t alone. 

CHAOS is a term I learned at the clutter control website: from Marla Cilley who is also the author of a book called Sink Reflections (Bantam, 2007). I don’t rave about many websites. The FlyLady’s website is different. It is full of house cleaning and organizing tips. And, it is humorous and motivational. I especially enjoy the free cheerful daily e-mail reminders that you can sign up for to motivate you and to help you stay on track. The FlyLady takes you through every step of the way, every day, as you form many new small habits to clean and organize your home. She calls them baby steps.

I would also like to suggest that CHAOS comes in two forms—real and perceived. Real CHAOS is physical. It is the kind you trip over or see stacked up in piles on every available surface. FlyLady’s website can help with that. Perceived CHAOS, though, is a mental state that comes from living in modern America.

I worry about perceived CHAOS. “We can’t have anyone over until the new furniture comes.” “I’ll invite you over after we get the deck built.” “We’ll try to get together later this summer after we get the landscaping whipped into shape.” “My house has exploded. I can’t have you over until I put it back together.” I have heard comments like this from many people.

Here are other comments that may not be said out loud but contribute to this perceived CHAOS: “If I buy this, my house will be more acceptable.” “I need to run to the mall and get this before our company comes over this weekend.” “I’ll get the house cleaned and then it will be okay if they come over.”

If you think about it, isn’t that sad? I think less entertaining happens now than twenty years ago because of this perception, this perceived CHAOS. Do you really care if someone’s house is perfect when you are invited over, or, are you just happy to get the invitation? I am really more comfortable with people in homes that aren’t perfect but, instead, the people are relaxed about their home and just happy to see me. Since they are relaxed and their house is relaxed, I can be relaxed there too.

When I invite people over, I am asking them to come spend time with me. I am not asking them to take a bath in my not-perfectly-scrubbed-out bathtub or to look for dust bunnies under my furniture. Yet, many of us hesitate to get together with each other if things aren’t “perfect.”

Maybe we just need to get over it. Isn’t it more important to stay connected with people rather than to entertain in a perfect home? Practice. Try inviting someone over and not cleaning your house. Try it again a week later with another friend…and again…. You get the idea.

By the way, the “Fly” in “FlyLady” stands for “Finally Loving Yourself,” a term coined by one of her appreciative fans. Maybe that is what it really is about: We can learn to love ourselves enough to trust that others will too, whether our home is “perfect” or not.

Do you still want less clutter in your home? If so, there is another way to let someone in without it being a guest. Try finding the right friend and asking them to be a clutter buddy.

What is a clutter buddy? It is swapping clutter help with another person. I am inspired by a great experience I heard about from two people who tried it. Swapping clutter help is less expensive than hiring a professional organizer and, possibly, more fun!

“Let’s start at your house first,” No, that’s okay, let’s start at your place.” After getting over a little initial fear and embarrassment, the clutter buddies I spoke to reported that working with a partner to get rid of clutter made the job a lot more fun. Because someone was with them, it was easier to get and maintain a sense of humor throughout the clutter clearing tasks.

The clutter buddies also said there really weren’t any rules. They dealt with everything from moving furniture, flipping mattresses, sorting papers, and weeding out junk mail and magazines. They didn’t perform exactly the same tasks at each other’s home, but they made a similar time commitment to each home.

The clutter buddies found that working with someone kept them on task for a longer time than a person can usually sort clutter on his/her own. Does anyone else besides me get tired, stiff, and lonely after a couple of hours hunched over paper piles on the floor?

Getting help from a buddy also eliminated guilt. This wasn’t wasting someone else’s time. It was an even exchange of time and effort. The clutter buddies reported it was easier to work on someone else’s clutter rather than their own. They didn’t have an emotional investment in each other’s stuff, so they were able to help each other objectively. What a gift!

The clutter buddies also made it fun. They took breaks and rewarded themselves. At one home, they shared homemade soup, and at another, they went out to eat before coming back to finish up. All in all, they spent over twelve hours at each home. Two people working for twelve hours is twenty-four hours of clutter control. That is a lot longer than my usual hour or two at home alone. The clutter buddies got a lot done!

You can try a two-pronged approach to your household clutter: Change your perception about having people come to your home, and consider getting help from a clutter buddy!

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.

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