Why Clutter is Bad for Your Well Being


My kids got out of school nearly three weeks ago and in those three weeks I have been avoiding going through their mountains of papers, art projects and grody notebooks like it's my job. (Side note:  I cannot, for the LIFE of me, figure out how my 10 year old can make a lovely, fresh, new three ring binder turn into a floppy, dog eared, hot MESS in less than one semesters time. Maybe he kicks it down the halls at school instead of carrying it?  Tell me I'm not alone in this.) Every time I walk through my dining room I have been frustrated to see my normally lovely and empty flat surfaces overflowing with stuff. And you know this rule:

Messes beget messes.

So instead of the piles staying the same, they've collected random art supplies, new art projects (my daughter is prolific), headphones, cds, toys, magazines and lots of other random junk.

Clutter grows if you aren't careful. Paper clutter, in particular, grows faster than a garden full of zucchini.

I was avoiding going through it for two reasons:

1) It's emotional for me to put the school year to rest and

2) I had figured it would take me most of an afternoon to get through it all.

I finally talked myself into going through it on Saturday. I geared myself up and got myself a tall, cold drink, put a podcast on my Ipod, popped on my headphones (a good visual "do not disturb" sign for the loved ones), grabbed a laundry basket for recycling and got to work. Do you know how long it took me to do this onerous, long avoided task?

23 minutes.

I had to laugh at myself when I looked at my watch. I mean, it wasn't even an hour, let alone my imagined half day chore. It turned out that this ginormous pile was mostly practice sheets, old tests and generally easily recycled items. It wasn't particularly emotional or even difficult to part with 98% of the stuff. There were some school supplies that I tossed in our craft cabinet and the rest of the stuff was just oddball items that had been added to the pile simply because it was there.

I had successfully psyched myself out and wasted mental energy thinking about this task that took 23 minutes to complete.

So much of our clutter and our messes are just like this. We think it will be too hard, it will take too much time and will require more of us than we want to give. We avoid it because humans prefer pleasure over pain. But truth be told, the trade off sucks.

Avoiding dealing with our clutter is a massive energy drain in our lives. We think we're pulling a fast one by averting our eyes or closing the door on our clutter, but our minds and our bodies keep track of everything.

Humor me and test my little theory. Close your eyes and mentally walk around a room in your home. Try to really feel what your space feels like. Does your mind immediately jump to a project that needs finishing? Does it easily drift around without judgement? Pay attention to the messages that pop up in your mind. Then open your eyes and feel what's in your body. Are you more tight and tense or serene and relaxed? Did your breath stick in your chest or did it flow easily? Our bodies are a beautifully sensitive to our surroundings. Listen to what your body is telling you. If it is feeling tense and unhappy, listen. Pay attention. Because even when we think we have a handle on our stuff, sometimes we really don't. And sometimes, it only takes 23 minutes to clear it up.

Let me know what your mental tour turned up. Are you happy in your space? Do you feel like you have some room for improvement? If you are motivated to tackle a project, time yourself and let us know in the comments below if it took you more or less time than you predicted. I'd love to know how you do!