Having fun with the Clutter Games.

At LightBox Collaborative we like to have fun, with a purpose. Our games-based facilitation helps clients think differently about their goals. And we counsel clients that the fun doesn’t have to stop once the strategy’s been formed—play can be a great way to engage stakeholders and supporters in your work as well.

Eight weeks ago, with these words ringing in my ears, I set about tackling one of the toughest campaigns of my life. It’s a multi-year campaign, one that had previously proceeded in fits and starts, achieving some progress and facing some setbacks. As I sat down to plot my next move, I thought of the advice we give clients. In this spirit of fun, I introduced, to friends and family near and far, the Clutter Games.

The goal of the Clutter Games was simple: to live a calmer and more tranquil life by reducing the clutter around us. The strategy: make de-cluttering fun by rewarding effort and drawing inspiration from community. The tactic: use social media—specifically, Facebook. Celebrate our victories, share our frustrations, and use fun to get the job done.

I created a point system: one point for every grocery-size bag you dispose of in the trash or recycling. I offered more points for any time you had to make an extra effort to get something out of the house, be it through Craigslist, Freecycle, taking it to a donation center like Goodwill, or giving it to a friend. I offered even more bonus points for getting rid of hazardous waste or e-waste.

And importantly, because I wanted to be inspired by my fellow participants, I offered a point for every photo of clutter leaving the house.

Right from the start, these were tactical choices that mapped back to my goal and strategy. I wanted to reward effort and encourage participation, so I gave points for each. And remember my ultimate goal: to reduce clutter. If my goal had been to reduce consumption (another very worthy goal!), I could have given points for reusing items participants already had in their house. But based on knowing my own habits, I knew that particular tactical choice could easily lead to saving every item because I would surely use it “someday.” Not this campaign.

The reward for the winner was a) feeling virtuous and b) gingerbread cookies. I plopped this all up on Facebook as an “event,” invited a good ratio of my Facebook friends, and got busy de-cluttering and posting.

Within days, I had 30-plus Clutter Games participants from all over the country (the 20-point bonus for cold-climate participants might have helped). Folks posted photos of motorcycles, baby clothes, canning jars, old laptops, and every manner of just plain junk they were de-cluttering.

We weren’t afraid to make fun of ourselves a bit—one of my favorite posts was from the participant who admitted she had tried to stash a bunch of old clothes in a broken-down clothes dryer in her basement, only to find that other members of her household had already stored toys, books, dead electrical cords and toys inside.

The Clutter Games winner was someone who, to this California wimp, faced nearly insurmountable odds – my cousin-in-law Tina, who racked up 81 points in the dead of a Vermont winter. Said Tina in her victory post:

 I’d say my “lessons” would be 1) perseverance–when I’d given up, clutter felt insurmountable, so why try? When these Games (and the Team boost) kept me able to look at it and say, hey, just keep chipping away at it, I finally could see enough progress to keep going. 2) Do at least a little each day, to keep seeing what is there (rather than turning a blind eye). 3) Enjoy the chance to have the house work better, look better, be less distracting. 4) Smell the cookies.

My assessment at this stage of the Games: hurray! I tackled corners of my house and basement that had not been touched in years. I finally made it to Bananas to donate baby gear and to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse to donate bags of stuff I felt sure that “someone” will “someday” make into art. So the strategy was a success. That is, as far as it got me.

Next post – what the Clutter Games reveal about the importance of a Theory of Change.

For more strategies to build community, reduce consumption and achieve “more of what matters,” check out our client Center for a New American Dream.

Image courtesy of Isobel’s cousin Tina.

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Isobel White is a LightBox collaborator who loves strategy more than she hates clutter.