The Black Hole

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

Black hole – In astronomy- an object so massive that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitation.  In modern usage – a place where things get lost; a place or thing into which objects disappear and are not expected to be seen again.

Do you have a black hole in your house? I bet you do. Maybe it’s the kitchen or dining room table, the chair in your bedroom, your desk, or the bench by the front door. It’s the place in your home that attracts everything that comes into your house and once there is difficult, if not impossible, to re-home.

I have a friend who believes that every single counter or shelf in a house is a black hole, waiting to happen. His ideal house (so he thinks) includes no horizontal surfaces. I guess he’s going to store his underwear in a pile on the floor. For the rest of us, we have counters and shelves and probably appreciate their utility, even if we don’t always appreciate their tendency to attract clutter.

We have a bench by the front door that is the first line of defence against clutter. It stays remarkably clear, holding only the girls’ backpacks and string instruments. I think it doesn’t get cluttered because once the backpacks and instruments are on the bench, there’s not even room for a dust bunny to hide.

But what makes it past the bench to the island in the kitchen, well cue the scary music. We have a big island, a beautiful island, a cluttered island. When I wrote this post it contained the following items, only a few of which actually belong on it: folder, ball of yarn, small pile of papers, clean wine glass that belongs to my Mom, jar of cat treats, watch with broken wrist band, bowl of fruit, bowl of decorative little pumpkins, spray bottle of water (neatly labeled “hair drawer”), two bags of Halloween candy, hair brush, diabetes kit, laptop and power cord (in use), 3 prizes from Halloween party, 4 pieces of mail received today, a bracelet. Yikes! (Note: This column was written in October. The Halloween stuff isn’t still there in February; there’s new clutter instead.)

At our house, we combat the black hole that is the kitchen island by re-homing objects once or twice a week. I quickly pile everything up according to owner and in a scramble, it’s all whisked away, although I would prefer it didn’t land on the island in the first place.

How can we avoid black holes? The bench seems to offer one clue. If the surface is just the right size for our purposes, then extra doesn’t have a place to hide. But since our goals and desires change frequently, and we can’t buy a new piece of furniture to exactly accommodate each change, right-sizing is probably not a realistic solution to most clutter problems. However, if a new furniture purchase is in your future, consider your needs when selecting the new table or shelf. Bigger may not be better.

My friend Julia suggests putting a large plant or other object on the problematic surface. I think this would only work if the black hole was small enough to be mostly covered by the plant; otherwise, I fear you’d just be adding a plant to all your other clutter. But if your black hole is a small one, a large decorative item might help.

I think the solution with the greatest likelihood of success is this one: A place for everything and everything in its place. You walk in and drop the mail, your purse, keys, and sunglasses on the table because that’s their home, even if you don’t want it to be. Find another home. Get a key hook for the door, reassign your purse to your bedroom and put your sunglasses inside. The mail needs a place on your desk. When you shop, put your purchases away, promptly. If they don’t have a home, should you have bought them? If yes, then make a home. Now, before the table becomes their home.

Still feeling the pull of the black hole? Desperate times call for desperate measures: Can you cover the table with a cloth or crumpled newspapers – anything to remind yourself “Danger! Black Hole Ahead!” Perhaps you could lay the table on its side until the gravitational force dies out? If the black hole is a chair, can you get rid of it or move it to another room until your break your black hole habit? And if the black hole is a table in the dining room that you don’t use except to store clutter, is this the best use for this room? Maybe you should get rid of the table all together and add something to the room that you really will use and enjoy. It’s your house. Just because the real estate brochure said it was a dining room doesn’t mean you have to use it that way.

Where is your black hole, and how will you be fixing it?

Written by:- Cindy Bogard

Today’s decluttered Item

And the items just keep on coming. This socket set is excess to our needs and was sold on ebay for $10.50.

Socket Set 2FEB2011

5 Things I am grateful for today

  • Google Calendar – Life can get very organised with this little internet tool.
  • I am finally getting ahead with my blog posts – hopefully I will need to scramble less in future and not make so many typos etc.
  • That none of my readers point out my bad spelling, typos, grammar, and bad sentence structure – Thank you lovely readers.
  • That I am not employed outdoors – The temperature reached 43°C today that is 109.4°F my friends. Youch!
  • T-Bone roast for dinner – This is a T-Bone  steak cut at about 2 inches thick and roasted for one hour on 200°C with potatoes, sweat potato, pumpkin, carrot and onion in the same pan. Yum! How outrageous Sunday dinner on Tuesday night. 😆
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  1. Okay, the not-so-secret secret is out. We have a beautiful front hall table we bought in South Korea. On top of that table are 3 beautiful Korean keepsake boxes, all different in size. I was hoping these boxes would keep the table from getting cluttered. How naive was I? The boxes are now full, and so is the table surface. In fact, my entire front hall is so cluttered that I was embarrassed when my husband’s friend stopped by – even though I know deep down he couldn’t care less about the state of my home.

    • Hi Marnie,
      I am going to go one step further than Cindy on this. Let all the members of the family know that you don’t want this area used as a dumping ground. If the problem keeps occurring empty off the table placing each person’s junk in the middle of their bed. Now move the hall table out into the garage cover it with a sheet and leave it there for 21days until there has been a good chance for this bad habit to be broken and the message to get across. Move it back into it’s rightful place after the time is up and hope for the best.

  2. The friend doesn’t care, Marnie, but you do. I’m going to be bold and hand out a mini-mission of my own: everytime you walk into the front hallway, grab one thing and put it in its proper place, either elsewhere in the house or into the donation bag. Slow and steady wins the race and will make you more mindful of the things that land there. Good luck!

  3. One of our black holes is behind our bathtub, lol. Our cat found a little hole which she used to crawl inside and behind the tub (she opened the cabinet door under the sink, closed it behind her, and crawled through the hole connecting to the bathtub. Crafty cat). She stole and dragged all sorts of trinkets, socks, hair ties and toys in there. We have since blocked it all up since kitty passed away and we can’t reach back there to get any of the stuff out.

    Aside from that, the “junk drawer” in the kitchen is another big one. That drawer is scary.

    • Colleen – Note to self… Add kitchen junk drawer to next week’s mini mission list in order to help Ginger with one of her trouble spots. Check. 😉

  4. Oh no! You literally have a black hole. Cats are funny creatures. I think you should just let that be an archeological discovery for yourself or some future homeowner when the bathtub has a serious plumbing issue.

    As for the junk drawer. They’re junky, aren’t they? Mine needs attention too. Sounds like a mini-mission for next week!

  5. Hi Cindy,
    I can honestly say that I don’t have what I would consider a black hole in my house. At least not one that just collects all and sundry waiting to be put away. Liam has a habit of leaving shoes lying all over the place even though there is a perfectly good shoe cupboard right at the front door but aside from that everyone is pretty good at putting their stuff away.
    I do however have a spot where things are put on a temporary basis because they need to be dealt with soon. These items are usually awaiting departure from the house and we don’t want them forgotten. At the moment this area has on it a set of Xray films, some jewellery that I have to take to a friends shop, an etching that is going to the frame shop and a pair of sunglasses that needs to be put back in the car. Most of this stuff was only put there yesterday and are going out today so I consider this more of a staging area or maybe departure lounge than a black hole.
    You are probably laughing at me now and thinking I am deluding myself but I can be very forgetful at times. I put this stuff where it annoys me to see it with the express purpose of making sure I don’t forget it when I go out to run these errands.

  6. Hi guys–my black hole used to be the big island between the kitchen and dining room, pics of which I’ve posted in my blogs. Now it is kept clear of everything unless it is being used to prep food or to sit around and have coffee at.

    Sometimes the dining room table gets a few things on it in the course of the day, but I make a point of dealing with it before bedtime. A place for everything, etc., is the only way to conquer black holes. And the only way to have a place for everything is to not have too much stuff in the first place. It’s a wonderful state of being.

  7. This is my black hole and so this might be a good place to ask my nagging question: if you don’t have an office or a desk, just a kitchen counter, how would you go about setting up an area of that counter for paperwork (bill-paying, notes, to-do list, business and personal correspondence, etc)? The telephone is accessible at the location I have in mind. I have yet to come up with a way to have an inbox, an outbox, and still store the mail, chequebook, and pile of papers that I have in progression at any one time. Any and all suggestions would be welcome – this has been a problem as long as I can remember.

    • Hi Jo,
      interesting question. I am going to answer this from my point of view in a blog post I think because it requires a multifaceted solution. Thanks for giving me something to write about as I am trying to get a few weeks in advance with blog posts.

  8. I’ve found the best way to counteract the black hole(s) – tiny table by the front door, and edge of kitchen bench – is to have a container just the right size to fit stuff that needs to go there. I keep my car keys and sunglasses in a little glass bowl by the front door, and I’ve just moved a small wicker bowl to the kitchen bench as that is where my husband prefers to keep his car keys, phone and wallet. Actually, he just STREWS his stuff all over the kitchen bench when he arrives home, the bowl is for ME to chuck his stuff into (and I really must bite my tongue and not nag him about it, because otherwise he’s a very neat person!)

    • Ah Ha! Now that didn’t take long did it. You extra credit mission for the week is to figure out a tactful way to ask your husband to stop chucking his stuff all over the kitchen bench. If you do that but he fails to comply hide it from him so he has to ask you where it went. He will get the message eventually.
      I’ll be breaking out the leather strap next. 😆 👿

  9. I do have a black hole….I just can’t find it! It is the place where my stuff goes to when I know I have something but can’t locate it. Is it in the closet? Is it in the junk drawer? The basement? LOL I do have other black holes (most notably my kitchen island ) but this was the first thing I thought of when I read Cindy’s post. Many thanks to you and Cindy for inspiring me to get rid of all the extra stuff that I don’t need so that I can find the things that I do need! Your posts inspire me to get up and get moving 🙂

    • My first thought was “I don’t have a solution to that problem” but I do: a place for everything and everything in its place, If you know whre it belongs and you put it there, that’s where it will be. I was so proud when a friend wanted to borrow a very infrequently used dog item – the sort you usually mutter “Well, I have one of those, if I could just rememebr where I put it.” Instead, I went right to the basket of dog stuff, and there it was. Glad you’re inspired to get moving. It’s great!

    • Hi Melissa,
      you sure do have a complicated black hole situation going on at your home. You are so right about the ease of finding what you do need once you eliminate the stuff you don’t. I am glad 365lessthings is helping you to achieve that goal.

  10. True confession here: I have several black holes. The main one is the elevated counter in the kitchen that could be used as an eating area if hubby’s desk wasn’t in the way (HIS black hole). I keep a large fruitbowl there but it still attracts everything that comes in the back door. Sometimes I just get tired of dealing with it when his desk junk spills up there.

    The other main black hole is my school desk (the desk I use for prepping for classes). I see that it’s time to really think this black hole elimination business. You’re correct: everything has a place and everything in its place.

    • Willow you surprise me I thought with all the nagging I have been doing over the last 13 months – and you have been with me for nearly all of those – that your house would be spotless by now. I’ll blame hubby OK because I just know it isn’t your fault. 😉

  11. Go Willow Go, or Colleen will assign a mini mission of “If you have an elevated kitchen counter that is often covered in work junk, today is the day to clean it up.” LOL!

  12. David | Listen Feel Breathe

    “A place for everything and everything in its place”

    That’s one of my favourite quotes. I try to walk around my home and recite that to myself when I get discouraged by mess and clutter. Find a home for it or get rid of it.

    Your idea of the “black hole” is very clever. It reminds me of a comment that I hear ladies say from time to time- I bought a bigger handbag and it’s still not big enough.
    We seem to have an unconscious need to fill space with something. Just like when there is silence- some people have to fill it with talk.
    Sometimes space is just nice as “space”

    • Hi David,
      My three favourite saying are…
      1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
      2. A job worth doing is worth doing well.
      3. A place for everything and everything in it’s place.
      You are right about space sometimes it is nice just to know it is there and not fill it with anything. Just so you know I carry a small handbag for the very reason you mentioned – The bigger it is the more crap we put in it. Best to eliminate the possibility by keeping it small.

      • I think I will make a guest post soon with my favourite fives of your comments. THIS one is exceptional. true. excellent. Love it!

  13. Oh!!! To confess about the black hole…how embarrassing! Mine is the glove box in the car (it is AMAZING how much I can put in that little space!). Good husband (GH) likes the spaces behind his clothing on shelves in the closet. For the kiddies, life revolves around what might end up at the bottom of my (designer, sorry, but I love it!) hand bag (although I call it my ‘suitcase’). If ever the kids are missing something and tell me they’ve ‘looked everywhere MOM’ (ha), I replly with “did you look in my hand bag?” Seriously, it is usually in there. I do keep the darn thing cleaned out (ok, maybe not daily). Usually if it is just sort of ‘too heavy’ I have a look to see what has accumulated/grown/taken over. I dump said suitcase contents onto my desk and start to whittle away at cleaning and putting stuff where it belongs (mostly, which is the rounder under my desk!). I can hear all you out there saying, WELL WHY DO YOU LET STUFF GET IN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE? Well, good question. Will someone answer that for me?

    I think we need a ‘clean hand bag’ mini-mission, like twice/month!

    • I can’t stand it when my bag gets too heavy. I can feel each new thing that goes into it. Are your kids old enough that when they hand you their junk, you don’t take it? Instead, you look at them and say sweetly, “That’s not mine, honey.” Resist the urge to reach out for whatever they’re handing you!

      Maybe you should incorporate cleaning your bag into your regular routine; for example, a quick clean up while you’re waiting in the car pool line or each evening when you watch the news.

      And BTW, no need to apologize about your suitcase-sized, designer purse. If you love it, it’s not clutter, and just because it’s an extravagance doesn’t mean it’s bad. (Although it might be bad if it keeps being a portable black hole.)

    • Hi Annabelle,
      being honest is one of your strong points I have to say. 🙂 I admire a person who knows their faults and doesn’t waste their time trying to deny them. Good for you. I have some readers that I know are minimalism handbag carriers but if we are to be honest I think most of us do let the handbag get out of control at times. Like I said to David yesterday I carry a small bag specifically to avoid this problem. Stuff still builds up in there though, mostly receipts. The best way to keep your hand bag tidy is just the same as your house – keep only what you need in there and have a place for everything and everything in its place. Even allocate a space for the extra stuff that doesn’t belong permanently and clean it out each time you get home.
      I think you are right about the mini missions there are a few areas that need repeating on a regular basis.

  14. Cindy, Oh I adore your line, “That’s not mine, honey!” Yup – I’m putting that to good use! Also, “Oh honey, is that trash you are trying to give me? No thanks. Go find a trash can!”


    • Awesome Annabelle. I can’t wait to here how this works. I had one more thought: When the kids hand me trash (yes, of course it still happens) and there’s no can around, I stick it in my pocket. It makes a noticeable lump, so I don’t forget to empty my pocket when I get home. Probably better than tossing it into your purse where it will sink to the bottom and live happily forever more.

  15. What has helped me the most in eliminating (nearly) “black holes” is a superficial study of feng shui. I say superficial not in a disdainful manner, but because I confess that I “study” it only a bit. But in that system of analysis, each section of the house is an area that oversees ones fate or fortune in particular ways. There is a section for relationships, another for children & creativity, another for travel & helpful friends, etc. In our home, we have a pretty large oval kitchen table smack dab in the middle, which in feng shui happens to be the “health” area. That table was my primary “black hole”, the place where mail coming in and going out, all manner of projects, even placemats & napkins from the previous meal happened to land. Even though I am a neatnik, I justified this table situation internally by choosing to view it all as dynamic and creative, in process. But then I realized my health of late had been far from what I wanted, and decided it was worth an experiment to keep the table clear and clean all the time to see if it would make a difference. My health was highly motivating, and for the past several weeks the table has been amazingly clear. My husband has been really cooperative about this, and we have both noticed how much better we feel having the center of our home restful and beautiful. Only time will tell on the health. (nothing dramatic, just usual mid-life stuff) But I mention this because thinking in feng shui terms can be powerful motivation for keeping areas clutter-free. Just think: the entryway–helpful friends and travel! Who would want to impede that flow?

    • Hi Gail,
      for a first comment that was a ripper. First of all I would like to say welcome to 365lessthings and I hope we get more great comments like that from you in the future. I have been thinking lately about delving into a little feng shui study myself as I feel its teachings could be very useful. Now that my home is at a point where it has the space to be arranged with the best flow possible it would be interesting to use a little feng shui to fine tune it to its highest potential. I think the first thing to improve my dining area would be to introduce a living plant as the centre feature of the dining table. I really feel it needs that and it would be interesting to see if I am correct by feng shui terms. Thank you for that little nudge I will look into it soon and let you know how it worked out.

      • I used to tease the guys at work and tell them Feng Shui was chinese for ‘Tidy Up’.

        I must dig out some info on it again – have rather neglected it over the past 3 years, maybe time to check up again.

        • Hi OBC,
          I think it would be interesting to see how many of the feng shui rules we naturally apply just because it feels right. You day I would love to have a home that was planned correctly in the first place to make the most of the weather conditions and position that it is build in. Maybe in the future that type of design will become commonplace in order to conserve power and be kinder to the environment.