Self-Improvement

ONE SMALL STEP INTO A LIFETIME FREE OF CLUTTER

My entire life I have had a superpower – to emit a field of clutter that would populate any open space with piles of papers, boxes, clothes, and any other clutterable item worth forgetting about. It’s amazing how clutter piles can sit there so long that they collect a proper layer of dust and pet hair. Which I then clean off… and leave the pile.

It seems simple: don’t do that! But it’s not that simple, is it? For those of us that live a cluttered lifestyle, we understand each other’s proclivity to operating amid a collection of everyday objects layered in a way that an archaeologist could use to determine the last three years of our life, quite accurately, just by going through the layers.

Receipts, bills, books… probably a forgotten piece of candy somewhere.

This has been a growing concern through my adult life as I have come to understand that living this way eats up a lot of my time and attention – time because it takes longer to operate your home with crap everywhere, and attention because, well, there’s crap everywhere! Everything is vying for focus and it takes skill to learn to ignore all these distractions.

That is not a handy skill when it comes to keeping a house. No part of your everyday life should just be ignored! This is not a healthy approach. So, when I came across a book by Marie Kondo the other week, I was intrigued enough to buy it.

Kondo’s book is “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” A bold and alluring title. I have always wished for some kind of magic to allow me to actually run a tidy home, no surprise that the results can be magical as well.

The claim is that tidying up your home will bring your life together in unprecedented and powerful ways. She claims that people regularly make significant changes to their life – something they had been putting off or thinking about – after she visits and walks them through her process.

Some long-procrastinated life change that they had been putting off seems to have been trapped within the layers of stagnant and ignored possessions. Sorting everything out and getting rid of the chaff seems to have brought these desires out of the woodwork and given them life.

So… clean our house and live our dreams? I’m willing to find out.

I have had a lifelong problem with keeping things around me cluttered. This has always been something I would like to change, but it’s particularly in the last year that it’s become an unignorable problem. Last year I shifted gears in myself and started working towards the big ambitions I’ve always felt within me but never truly pursued.

It’s taking an unbelievable amount of work and it feels like I’m still just spinning my wheels.

The clutter in my life is easily one of the most obvious obstacles to me being able to keep consistent and focused effort towards bringing new things into my life. For one, I wasting time each day having to look for this or that, or rearrange things at my desk just to have a place to write or put my tea.

For another, however, the biggest problem with it is in the wording itself: “bringing new things into my life.” It is quite difficult to bring new, desired, and productive things into my life when it’s already pretty full of all the old things. Mostly obsolete old things. Vestiges of projects never completed, papers never sorted, and things that I thought were just “cool.”

Something I have come to realize for myself: if I have something and it serves no purpose then, no matter how it looks or what it’s supposed to be, it is not cool. And something that simply has potential for utility does not count. Sure it’s great that I have a whole bunch of retro electronics – it would be cool to repurpose them and make some nifty circuit-bent art project or an old-school computer with a processor from the seventies.

But I haven’t. And chances are I’m not going to.

And even if I did, what would I do with a computer running a processor from 1978? There are many people in the world, nerds like me, that would see this as a worthwhile project. It’s those people from whom I drew inspiration to collect these things and dream about making cool stuff with it.

But it was the dream I loved and not the process. I wanted to be someone that got things done and had something to show for it. I know electronics, so I thought these hoarded items would scratch that itch.

But no. All it did was line a bunch of shelves in my workshop. And every time I look at them I tell myself that I’ll get around to it. I’ll build these cool things.

How many years have to go by before I start to question that conviction?

I am, or was, at least, a functional hoarder. I never got to the extreme end of it that you’ve probably seen on television, but I did collect things with intention that was never realized and it lined my home with physical representations of procrastination and misunderstood ambition.

It’s funny when I talk to people about this. Most people reassure me that my home isn’t really very messy and they also have a problem keeping clutter down. It’s such a normal thing to have too much crap around us and it’s common to truly believe we need it all and there’s no way to get rid of a life of clutter altogether.

I do not agree with this. It’s not a matter of whether or not it’s possible, it’s just a question of how. Just like any of our other conundrums in life: if we understood our problem completely we would have already solved it.

I mean, this is such a common thing to accept that storage lockers have become a good business to get into because everybody has too much stuff. Rather than really look at what matters and figure out how to get the waste out of their lives, people are willing to pay money and drive a bunch of crap to some locker somewhere. In case they might want it. Someday.

So here I am with a whole bunch of junk from the past lying around. It’s all in layers, like I was building an onion out of clutter. Over the years I have definitely improved at how I keep my living space, but I still seem chained to the tendency to grow clutter. The top of the microwave is a popular one – it gets covered with tools, rolls of tape, keys, dust… whatever needs to be put down while I’m walking by.

I used to think that when I got a house I would keep it so tidy. It would be mine! And there would be so much room. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Noooo. Nope. So much more room for junk.

Buried in my own mess, it seems as if it’ll take me until old age to finally figure out how to keep my space dirty. But last week I walked into the local bookstore and was immediately drawn to the table of books on special right in front of the entrance. Sure enough, there’s Marie Kondo’s book! I’d heard of her work before and it struck a chord with me that it’s worth reading so I pick it up.

Well, she has the wonderful audacity to state that not only can you clean everything up in one short burst, but you should do it that way. She claims that there’s no relapse to a cleaning binge and that once you get it done properly it will be natural to keep it that way.

Not only that, she’s got sequences of what to do first. She even explains how to fold clothes in a way that is congruent with a peaceful, tidy home. For a guy that’s only seen this as an impossible uphill battle, lady, you’re singing a very sweet tune.

Now that I have not only a goal in mind but in front of me is entire book written about the plan of attack, I get to work. She does state that a home should be cleaned in one fell swoop, but also says that swoop may be months. We all have a lot of stuff to go through and her method ensures that you go through every item one by one. Following her method properly, however, this is not as daunting as it sounds.

This is only a progress report on my part. She says to start with clothing and I have indeed completed this part of the process. Now, this means that I still have piles of paper in the living room… and kitchen… and spare room…. and, well, you get the idea. But holy guacamole, the amount of clothing I sent to the donation bin was enormous.

Once I was finished and I now possessed only clothing that I actually wanted; that I would actually wear, I walked into my room and felt refreshed. The closet was clean. So was the dresser. But not only that, it felt clean – even with everything closed and the newly optimized space out of view. I knew every single item that I kept and I could picture it all sitting in its place, waiting for its turn to be worn.

What I have always thought the priority was regarding my desire to become tidy is the adage that our living space is a reflection of our mental state and vice-versa. I knew that my cluttered home was parallel to an equally over-encumbered mind.

There is a lightness that I now experience in my home in the closet, dresser, front entrance… everywhere that I have any item of clothing is now populated only by consciously chosen and cared for articles that are used on the regular. It’s not just the uncluttered appearance, it’s the life that exists within everything having a regular use – there is no longer anything waiting around “in case it comes in handy.” It’s all handy. Every day.

It now feels as if the clutter from the other parts of my household are out of place. I can now see my clothing clearly in my mind – there is no hesitation as I wonder what I may have that I’ve forgotten about over the years, and it feels almost as if the rest of my possessions are waiting for their turn to be put in their rightful place and are glowing with anticipation.

As I have been working towards my bigger ambitions I felt as if I couldn’t get out of my own way. I knew that a big part of this was physical – I had put all of this clutter throughout my home and so I was literally in my own way.

I’m also aware that all of us carry our own set of emotional baggage and it tends to trip us up in ways that we don’t understand – nobody has true objectivity when it comes to their own problems and our baggage makes up some of the trees through which we can’t see the forest.

So it was no surprise to me when the book stated that the process of tidying up may be emotional, and perhaps enough so that it produces physical symptoms. She told of cases of people breaking out or having digestive issues swell up for two or three days after the tidying and then disappearing.

This is something like any illness we have – when we put the mechanisms in place to cure it, we typically get worse before we get better. It’s a little overwhelming when the body, and the mind, finally let something go and we get to work it the rest of the way out of us.

So I’m only the first stage into this. As I said, I’ve only gone through the clothing part. It’s not even the bad part and it took me two days!

But even through that process I went on a bit of a roller coaster ride. I came across things that I had forgotten about: items of clothing that I had forgotten I’d tucked away, or didn’t remember owning at all! But when I saw them and tried some of them on, it was a trip down some kind of memory lane.

It was more emotional than I would have suspected, but I believe that wringing these old feelings out is what is behind my feeling of lightness. I can’t wait to see the bittersweet ride through hell that will be cleaning the rest of my house.

So, I’ll be back to tell you more about it as I go. I’m excited that after so many years of feeling like I’ll never get control of my living space there is finally a light on the horizon.

Keep looking for your Brightest Side, my friends. I’ll see you there.

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