Breaking the Clutter Habit
If you had thirty minutes notice for unexpected company, how ready would your home be? Would you have to conceal an embarrassing amount of clutter? I’m familiar with the mad clutter dash. I sweep the papers from the dining table into a laundry basket and stash it in any of four or five hiding places I would rather not reveal to my readers just in case any of you might be future house guests of mine. Several days later when it’s time to pay the electric bill, I spread all the papers back out on the table in search of the yellow envelope, already having upturned three other stashed laundry baskets hoping it might be in there.
I doubt I’m alone in my constant battle with the clutter habit. Getting rid of the surplus that litters our lives is a multifaceted process. It isn’t as simple as dealing with stuff. For those of us who are clutter challenged, we usually experience it in all areas of our lives—our homes, our minds, and our bodies.
First, creating new habits that minimize clutter in the home requires a massive purge of junk. I start with sorting the things that are immediately troublesome and later move to sorting closets and storage areas. For me, the mail is a big source of trouble so I start there. As you sort and throw away (yes, I mean throw away), ask yourself these questions: Do I use this anymore? Do I have duplicates of things? Am I saving garbage? Do I have an emotional attachment to things even if they are broken?
Once you deal with the clutter that is in sight, begin sorting your storage areas. If you have a hard time parting with things, ask a friend to help you be ruthless in your purging. Once you establish some order, create new habits. Put things away when you use them; your mother knew what she was talking about! Do daily maintenance before bed every night and deal with the junk mail on the day it arrives.
Next, we need to look at mind clutter. When our schedule is full, commitments, to-do lists, and responsibilities choke out any possibility of relaxing and undermine our housekeeping efforts.
Media such as television and radio over stimulate our brains while noise pollution from traffic and machines add to the overload. We clutter our heads with worry, self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness, and stress. These usurp the energy we need for managing our habits.
Combating mind clutter requires clearing the schedule enough to allow time to relax and rest. Jesus understood the importance of getting away from the hectic crush of life. In Mark 6, he recognized that his disciples hadn’t had time to eat and he called them to come away with him “to a quiet place and get some rest” (vs. 31).
Perhaps God beckons you to come away to where He can speak to you and you can rest. You won’t hear him through the clutter. You will have to make the time. Unlike the junk mail and paper garbage that we have to sort on our own, God doesn’t expect us to deal with our emotional baggage all alone. He says we can give Him our worries because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:8).
Many of us who deal with any kind of clutter also have excess weight on our bodies. Frustration, depression, mental pain, and low self-esteem lead to emotional eating, which breeds more depression and mental pain. Overloaded schedules leave little time for planning healthy meals or for physical exercise.
Shedding those extra pounds requires a change in habits. Start with something small that will motivate you to continue to create new habits. Go for a walk during lunch hour instead of reading a book; or put away the chip bowl and sort junk mail while watching television.
Whether you struggle with clutter in all three areas—home, mind, and body—or in just one area, victory begins with new habits. We grapple with disorder in our homes, fight the ever-growing quicksand of schedule confusion, and saddle our bodies with excess pounds accumulated by years of self-neglect. But if we never make any changes, we’ll never know the sweet joy of living clutter free.
I guess I’ve got some laundry baskets to sort.
Reprinted from Michelle's August 2007 Wisconsin Christian News column.