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Clutter and Mess and Stress, Oh My!

January 21, 2015

The new year is upon us and spring is coming soon. For me, that means it’s time to de-clutter my world by organizing my workspaces to get ready for the year, deep cleaning my house and clearing out closets. I’m always searching for better systems of organization and ways to make my life run more smoothly. But it’s a constant battle. There’s so much stuff in this world!

I’ve come to realize that for me, clutter causes stress. I always feel better when I know where things are, when everything is organized, and above all, clean. I know that some people are much more comfortable with a bit of clutter or can even thrive with a little chaos. But in general, less mess = less stress. And this is especially important for museums.

Psychology Today has a great post, Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies, noting why clutter makes us uncomfortable. Essentially, clutter draws our focus away from the important things, overwhelms our senses and makes it difficult to relax, inhibits productivity and doesn’t allow us to find things easily.

In museums, we want our visitors to be able to find things easily, be comfortable in our public spaces, and see the important objects in our collections, but clutter can hinder all of this. In an exhibit case, too many items make it difficult to see any one thing as important. The story is lost in the noise. If our visitors can’t figure out where to go or how to proceed through the museum, it can make them uneasy or even become overwhelming. Even in our back rooms, it is important to keep spaces uncluttered so that collections storage, administration and all aspects of the museum run smoothly. And of course dust can wreak havoc on collections.

It isn’t always easy, and sometimes life gets crazy and things just get out of hand (on my desk is a haphazard pile of papers and sticky notes that I really need to deal with). The article noted above offers some easy tips for dealing with clutter (and also seeTheresa Koenigsknecht’s blog post on Getting Our Collections in Shape). We can tackle it as a team effort, create designated spaces and make it fun. For me, I always have to just take it one step at a time, knowing that the end goal is to be able to focus on the really important things, like being able to find my lunch (I know it’s around here somewhere)!


Jeannette Rooney is the coordinator for Local History Services at IHS. She travels the state with her LHS team members to assist local history organizations. Why? Because history rocks (and we get to make lots of ice cream stops)!

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