Take a deep breath and look around the room in which you are reading this article. What do you see? Neat, clean surfaces and floors or piles of stuff? Is there space to walk safely, or do you need to move things out of the away to create a path? Is there, as someone in my life has described it, ‘organized clutter’?
Over the years, I have heard folks say that they know where everything is and if they organized their home, work area or car, they wouldn’t be able to find anything. While there may be a grain of truth to that, it can also be an excuse not to clean or remove objects that take up unnecessary space. We are an acquisitive species that loves collecting stuff. I laugh when I remember the George Carlin routine about ‘stuff’. (A bit too edgy to place here, but feel free to check it out on Youtube.) The gist of it is that we are addicted to consumerism and that what we own begins to own us after a while and that our homes are storage facilities for everything we have accumulated over the years.
Much of what takes up space in my home has been collected over the years, some I have purchased, many others were gifts from loving friends and family members. I value these items, in part because I treasure the people who gave them to me and the memories they evoke.
When I am in an environment that is messy or cluttered, I feel uneasy. It was a challenge when I worked as a home care social worker. There were times when some patients’ homes were a safety hazard and I was reluctant to sit on the furniture. Piles of newspapers, stacks of note paper, boxes of books, dirty dishes in the sink were common sights. I chalked some of it up to physical debilitation that made it challenging to clean. I also considered that many had a long term hoarding problem that I wasn’t going to rectify.
I used to tell my then teenaged son that the way we treat our environment reflects how we feel about ourselves. He would protest mightily, since he didn’t want to clean his room, because “it will only get messy again.” I reminded him numerous times that it didn’t get messy without his help. Fortunately, as an adult, his environment mirrors the rest of his life. The home that he shares with his wife is far neater than our home was when he lived here, and it isn’t simply because she is doing the cleaning. He has become more disciplined, structured and organized internally and externally.
What prompted this article was a video that described what organized people do in their homes. They range from making your bed every day, to cleaning the kitchen as you go, from taking what you brought into a room with you when you leave, to taking your shoes off at the door. I do all of those things, as well as taking trash out of my car, emptying the dishwasher after it cools off and folding clothes as soon as I can. That and washing dishes are Zen activities for me that bring about a feeling of serenity which is welcome, particularly after a long day of helping my clients find their own peaceful center.
I admit that I have some serious closet cleaning to do, since many clothing items have long since stopped delighting me. That ties in with the KonMari Method™, which encourages that we only hold on to items that spark joy. How many collections of rubber ducks, rubber bands and rubber balls are required for happiness? I have a friend who likely had 100 of the former and over the years had begun giving them away. I was the recipient of two of them. She also had numerous Beanie Babies that have found new homes as well.
Is a cluttered space indicative of a cluttered mind? My home is not ‘white glove’ clean, but there is some semblance of order in what I think of as a creatively eclectic environment. I find that when I feel a sense of structure, in my living and working environment, I am able to think more clearly. As someone with undiagnosed ADHD, I am certain that clutter=distraction=dysfunction. When I leave my office at the end of my work day, I put the charts away, clear off the surface of the desk, make sure that the toys (I have a corner space where young clients can play) are put away and the pillows are straightened on the love seat. I then push the red and white EASY button to close out the day and remind myself that in the midst of the chaos and clutter that may exist in the lives of my clients, I can still find inner harmony.
When I asked friends about their experiences around creating order in their spaces, it elicited a predictable response and aligned with my own.
“Yes! I remember Louise Hay saying, ‘A cluttered house indicates a cluttered mind.’ For me that rang true. I strive for minimalism and it feels great when I live simply. I’ve gone through another big purge and I notice that each time I let go of attachments, I feel more free.”
“I have found for myself that my house reflects how I feel on the inside and perhaps the other way around as well. When I feel like a mess and I focus on my house I feel better as the house gets better. I think this is why minimalism is such a powerful movement, because when we make space in our homes, we make space in ourselves and amazing things and people come to fill those spaces. “
“Visual clutter makes me feel frazzled. I find that I need to do the tidying up in order to be able to truly relax. In September, we moved from our home of 9 years. That was the longest I had lived anywhere. Life presented me with opportunities to purge and sort. Once we had been in our house for a few years, I found I had to make more of an effort. I also found it helpful as a very nostalgic person, to simply store the things I couldn’t consider parting with and then revisit those totes in the attic in a year or two and see what I could then let go of. It was helpful to move it out of the living space without having to let it go entirely. But I need things to be tidy and organized.”
“Definitely I believe the way you handle the environment day to day can make all the difference as compared to doing a major clean every week or two weeks or monthly.”
“Our house was full. Art projects, instruments and books everywhere. It was a mess, but a beautiful mess. Then, after Sophie’s diagnosis, one of the things the social worker at CHOP said was reducing stress by reducing visual clutter. Her rheumatic condition is aggravated by stress. So, we purged. I was afraid I would feel less creative without all of my stimuli, but I actually feel more creative! I will say that boring, ‘container store’ type storage did not work for me. I needed funky baskets, old chests, bright colors and eclectic containers. If you enjoy putting the things away in a container that sparks joy, then you’re more likely to take the time to put them away.”
“I was lucky to be raised by a grandmother and mother who were very good, instinctual, cooks and kitchen managers. They taught me — if you’re done with something, clean it. Don’t waste the time waiting for something to get warm or come to the boil — tidy up. Clean and dry that pot and put it away. Don’t throw stuff into the sink, in the hope that you or someone else will clean it later. Get it done. Clean up behind yourself. We did big meals — I did later. Both at home, and on tall ships, on wood-fired ranges, with no water-heaters or anything else. Feed a crew of 60. Coq au vin? If you’re leaning in the kitchen, resting, ask yourself, “Is there anything I could get done, right now?” Some people find that stressful. I don’t. What I find stressful is to look at a mess at 11PM.”