I used to credit clutter in my life to an artistic temperament. In fact artists and creative people need more than anyone to eliminate clutter and achieve more productivity.
Despite what people with cluttered desks or workspaces might insist, clutter undermines real productivity. Some people seem obstinately attached to their clutter, as if it were an expression of some form of mental depth. Instead, clutter typically reflects an emotional state of internal conflict over what is important in life.
Having worked in the newspaper industry for years, I saw many journalists whose entire life’s work seemed to be piled around their desks. Some seemed to regard their messy workspace as a matter of pride. Stacks of old newspapers, books and source materials heaped up around them. A fight would ensue with anyone–even managers–who attempted to get them to clean up their workspace.
“I am organized,” they would inevitably protest. “I know where everything is in that stack.”
But their argument made no sense. Ultimately to find a needed news clip or source material required them to move everything else in order to find it. The entertainment reporter kept tippling stacks of old videotapes from shows long cancelled by the networks. A food editor stored old cookbooks in piles around her desk. And who knows what goodies the Outdoors writer kept in his filing cabinets. Probably fishing tackle and dead animals.
For these people clutter seemed to be some sort of security blanket. But finally the poor mental health of people attached to clutter is coming to light. The A&E television show “Hoarders” has forever put to rest the idea that storing junk is a sign of good mental health. Our attachment to material objects–no matter how useful they might seem to some–should never be permitted to dominate our existence. The old saying “you can’t take it with you when you die” should be motivation to realize that you cannot work through clutter while you’re alive.
So let’s face facts: Clutter is a sign that some portion of our lives is out of control. If you have no time to put things properly away, then you are not making decisions about what material objects are most important to you. You can’t come to grips with real priorities in that mental state.
It’s a sad truth that those who struggle with clutter are simply avoiding the need to make decisions about other things in life. But is it really easier to let stuff pile up around us than address the inner emotion driving the inability to make decisions?
Anxiety and depression can drive the habit of letting clutter gather in our lives by robbing us of healthy motivations to make decisions. Unresolved personal issues such as lost loves, anger and grief can also drag us down and steal the will to live a better life.
Clutter is an ironic defense against insecurity, however. Having all our goods in plain sight may seem comforting in some ways. But that form of material security is just another version of that old story (false, by the way) about an ostrich sticking its head in the sand to avoid danger. Some perverse side of human nature assumes that by covering up our problems they might go away. But they don’t. So you need to act.
To begin curing your clutter problems, start small. Choose a favorite workspace such as a desk where you do the bills or keep your journal. Select some favorite items you want to keep in the workspace and remove all others. In fact it is best to remove everything from a desk or workspace altogether. Place everything in a box and then restore only that which you absolutely want or need to make your space more inspirational or productive. Work at maintaining that workspace in pristine condition for at least a week. If unneeded paper or junk starts to build up on the desk, throw it in the box nearby or make a decision then and there. Decide whether you need to keep or recycle or dispose of the item. Through this process you begin establishing a template for the proper space you need for mental health.
Reducing clutter is a question of building the discipline to make healthy decisions about what you need and want to keep around you. However long it takes to learn the process of decision-making is worth it. Those decisions will begin to permeate other areas of your life. Suddenly a light bulb goes on in your head and your bedroom closet becomes easier to manage. Then your desk at work. Even your car and garage. Pretty soon instead of stumbling over piles of useless crap everywhere you go, your life begins to feel as if it were designed for your success. Then you’re on your road to recovery from a cluttered life.
When you have built up a healthy resistance to clutter you will need to maintain that commitment to keep it that way. It takes work. Make notes to yourself in a journal about how good you feel having everything easy to find and usefully organized. But be extra careful when life throws you for the inevitable loop, because things can collapse quickly into old habits. Then it’s easy to let down and clutter takes over again.
There are plenty of products on the market that can help you organize your life. But you need to look at them as a tool, not the solution to reducing clutter. The change and commitment to reduce clutter needs to come from within you. Then the tools that can help you organize material goods will make more sense.
In my case the simple addition of a hanging clothes bin in my bedroom closet has made it easier to store frequently used items like pajamas and tee shirts. But first I had to go through and throw out old pajama bottoms and ratty tee shirts that were no longer needed. Clothes that were still useful but seldom worn we donated to Vietnam Veterans and Amvets organizations. Talk about a double benefit! My closets were less cluttered and the clothes went to a good cause. By the way, the hanging clothes bin I found at Target cost only 8 bucks. So you can reduce clutter with very little expense as well.
There are plenty of resources and products to teach you how to eliminate clutter and organize yourself for success. A Google search on “how to reduce clutter in your home” turned up 542,000 results! You can go that route for sure, but the most important step in reducing clutter is recognizing that clutter is more a mental than a physical problem. If you do not address the habits of mental laziness or unresolved emotions that may be producing a cluttered lifestyle, you may address the symptoms without curing the problem. Clutter is a product of the unholy side of human nature, a problem of the preoccupied or stressed mind.
Find a trusted friend or counselor to help you work through the clutter issue. Start out by saying, “I’m having trouble keeping organized and I think it may be that I’m dealing with emotional issues that I don’t know how to handle.” That should get the ball rolling and you’ll likely find that your friend or counselor sees things in you that may be important to address. Just be prepared that some of that process may be painful to hear. So don’t enter that phase when you’re at a low point emotionally. If you don’t have those types of resources available, the world’s religions are all a great source of inspiration to let go of material attractions and simplify your existence.
As an artist and writer I often find myself dreaming up ideas for paintings or articles. But when I arrive at a studio or desk that is jammed with clutter from a previous creative session my motivation falls to the floor with all the other junk. So first you have to clean up all that mess to being working at all! You must come to grips with the fact that clutter undermines true productivity, and that is true in every profession. Clutter is the enemy.
Cure the problem by looking at the big picture. You can save yourself a load of problems if you initially go through the process of writing down your life goals and priorities. Then you an identify what types of problems; finances, family, work schedule, etc. might be preventing you from living an organized, clutter-free life.
Just remember: You can’t make your life a work of art if you see the canvas to begin the painting.