When the mountain of paperwork and other clutter on her desk approached Mt. Everest proportions, Amelia would “organize” by sweeping it all into paper bags and boxes that she stashed in closets and under tables.
George didn’t even bother stashing his clutter. The obstacle course from his front door to the rest of the house meant friends and others generally just didn’t come over, and he grew increasingly isolated.
Kathleen kept her house pretty clutter-free, but her garage was loaded top to bottom with boxes of things she hadn’t used or read in years, including a box marked “RIP” filled with “mementos” of her divorce 20 years earlier.
Fortunately, all three individuals managed to regain control of the clutter in their lives by enlisting a few friends to help and by examining what drove their clutter habit. And one by one, miraculous things began to happen:
Sorting through papers, Amelia ran across the name of a colleague whom she hadn’t spoken with for years. The following week, the colleague called out of the blue and offered her an irresistible business opportunity. George fell in love within a few months of clearing his clutter and later married. Kathleen found herself suddenly presented with numerous opportunities for international travel, something she hadn’t done in several decades.
Miraculous or not, clearing away physical clutter often has the unexpected effect of clearing away emotional clutter, too, that may be holding us back from our heart’s desire.
In fact, organizing your life is one of the kindest acts of self-care there is.
Think about it: When things are organized, we spend less time looking for things, set a good example for our children, reduce overwhelm, do more with less time, make better use of our talents and skills, increase our self-confidence, feel more in control and make more/spend less money.
There is no shortage of ideas and books on how to organize. Julie Morgenstern, in her book Organizing from the Inside Out, takes the “how to” a step further and suggests that to arrive at any kind of a sustaining system, we need to understand and work with or around our psychological obstacles to a clutter-free environment. Do you see yourself in any of these obstacles?
Need for accumulation. People who need to keep a lot of everything around them may be filled with anxiety and dread at the idea of getting rid of things.
Don’t know what your goals and priorities are. Organizing is about defining what’s important and setting up a system to reflect that.
Fear of success/fear of failure. Disorganization may be a convenient way to hold back.
Need to retreat. Clutter can be a protective shield to keep others at a safe distance.
Fear of losing creativity. A common myth is that creative, “right-brained” people need to work in chaos to produce high-quality work. Pshaw!
Need for distraction. Clutter can provide a convenient excuse to avoid uncomfortable issues or unwanted tasks.
There is a sentimental attachment. Infusing objects with personality, emotions and meaning (“That vase will be sad if I throw it out.”) usually results in living with an enormous amount of clutter.
Need for perfection. Often, people won’t deal with clutter until it can be done perfectly. Translation: It will never get done. Remember; strive for excellence, not perfection because perfection will kill you.
Identifying these obstacles can help us create an effective, lasting solution to clutter and free us from energy-sapping self-criticism.