I’m having a really hard time writing this post.  Part of it is because my new writing space looks like this:

Cluttered Writing Space

I sit down to write and I am distracted by all the things around me.  I see the air conditioner filters waiting to be changed, a board I need to paint so I can hang towel hooks in the boys’ bathroom, an overflowing inbox of things I need to toss, file, respond to, or fix.  I have a huge desk to accommodate creativity – crafts and writing – but I come to “my space” and I want to walk away.  All my creativity is stifled.

It’s not the only place in my house that is out of control, though.  When I walk in the front door I see a buffet stacked with papers that need to get into that pile on my desk (but I won’t take them downstairs because the pile on my desk is already overwhelming), a box of things to give away, several bottles of sunscreen and bug spray, electronic cords needing repairs, and several bags of items I need to return to various stores that keep sitting there because I can’t even see them anymore as a reminder when I’m on my way to said stores…

At the back door there are shoes and coats and backpacks and papers and toys and throw rugs out of place and half-empty water bottles…

My closet floor has a pile of spring/summer clothes I pulled down from the top shelf a couple of weeks ago – I haven’t had time to clean/press/whatever to start wearing them.

I really need someone to come visit so that my fear of man takes over and motivates me to deal with all of this stuff. 🙂  Any takers?

Can you relate?

Do you walk into your house and breathe a sigh of relief and relax knowing you will find refreshment?  Or do you walk into your house and get slapped in the face with all the ways you are failing, all the unmade decisions, the piles, the work yet to be done?

A cluttered house is wearying.  And I get unmotivated when confronted with too much clutter.  And, by all accounts, I’m a fairly organized person.  It’s like being the skinny glutton – the girl with the ultra-high metabolism who can eat anything and remain thin – but gluttony is gluttony even if it doesn’t show up on your glutes, right?

A few years ago I read a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done.  It didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know about practical organizational tips, having already carved organization into my way of life, but he did open my eyes to the idea that clutter is the result of unmade decisions.

Sit there a minute.

Clutter is opressive

If we live crippled with fear that we will make the wrong decision, we put off deciding.  But it is important to remember that no decision is a decision.  Setting the mail on the counter “for now” is a decision in the moment that I will decide later.  And there is something in the back of my mind that knows I still need to make the decisions and it nags at me every time I see that mail sitting on the counter.

Clutter is exhausting because it sits on display as a constant reminder of something needing to be done.

Clear counters and tidy homes appear refreshing because there is nothing on display to highlight my guilt, hoarding, idolatry, or unwritten to-do list.

The thing is, more than half of the decisions in the piles around my house are easy ones – a lot of the mail is trash.  If I could just decide that one thing and throw the offending mail away, half my piles would be gone.  This is the wisdom behind the advice to have a trash can where you sort your mail.  The thought is, if you remove the barrier to getting to a trash can, you are more likely to go ahead and throw stuff away.  It’s a great practical tip, but before the by-the-door trash can will be effective, a person has to commit to making decisions about the mail in their hand when they walk in the door.  Without the internal change, the trashcan will just be another piece of clutter accusing you of not following through with the new plan.

If I take care of the “trash” component, I still have the other half of my piles, right?  Those are all decisions in waiting, too.  Making decisions is exhausting work – a lot of times decisions are emotionally taxing, too.  I think some of the fear in decluttering is the idea we may have to get rid of something we love or need because we can’t think of a rational reason to keep it.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.   –William Morris

That’s probably a fairly good rule of thumb.  It opens up the possibility of keeping things that aren’t useful.

Sometimes there are reasons to hold on to something that is completely useless.  Yep, I really just said that out loud (i.e. put that in writing).  🙂

I have a coin holder that belonged to my grandfather.  I also have his shaving brush.  And I have my grandmother’s typewriter.  I will never use any of these things.  But I like them.  They bring me joy.  I have warm memories of my grandmother’s notes, typed because her hands shook too much to write legibly, “Dear Ones,” she would always begin…  I am not likely to forget her notes even if I get rid of the typewriter.  I don’t think I am betraying her if I get rid of it.  But I like the way it looks – and I like writing – and it’s a little piece of history.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with keeping it.  It is not clutter, it is a decision made, a tangible memory, an ebeneezer of God’s faithfulness to my grandmother and to me through my grandmother.

There is nothing wrong with keeping something just because you like it, even if it serves no obvious useful purpose.  But you need to make an actual decision to do so and go ahead and decide where it will live – otherwise it just sits there begging to be decided every time you see it – and it drains you.  Taking the time to choose what you will keep frees you to enjoy keeping it.

Remember, clutter is oppressive because it is a constant reminder of the decisions you have not yet made.  If you officially decide to keep something, it is no longer clutter (unless you don’t put it away).

Sometimes processing why we are keeping something frees us to get rid of it – being able to acknowledge I still have a platter from my wedding I have not used (or liked) for FIFTEEN years… from someone I have not seen in THIRTY years… maybe, admitting I don’t like it and there is no opportunity to offend the giver, and there are people out there who would really enjoy a platter like this… maybe owning all those things frees me to decide to get rid of the stupid thing.

Maybe it’s not always so obvious.  But if your shelves are cluttered with relics from someone else’s past or from gifts others thought you would enjoy and you never did or don’t any more, it really is OK to get rid of it.  Whoever gave it to you loved you and wanted to bless you – if they thought it was causing you angst, they’d come take it back themselves, wouldn’t they?

And if you are still uncertain about the photo, figurine, set of books, chipped mug, vase, trinket, artwork, or antique mixer, may I suggest you pack it carefully away and put a list of items in the box on the lid and the date you are packing it away and hide that box in an attic or basement or somewhere you cannot see it.  Set a reminder on your calendar for two years and then pull out the box and see if your reasons for keeping it still hold.  You may find enjoying your house without the items is worth more to you than the items themselves.  You may find you missed something and have an affection for it you didn’t realize.  You may decide you don’t like it at all, but it has historical value and you’d like your kids to be able to decide if they want it when they are older – but please, let them decide – you don’t need to bequeath guilty clutter.  Guilty clutter is a bitter inheritance.