Left to my natural inclinations, this house fills up with dirty dishes, unpacked bags, and piles of clothes. For the sake of having clean garments and food serving apparatuses, I do laundry and wash dishes a few times a week. Without Eric, I would probably let the dishes slide to maybe once a week which would make the ultimate job far more overwhelming.
Then, time comes for company. Whether a couple is coming over for games and dessert, or a friend is spending the weekend, my mind goes into overdrive thinking of everything which needs to be cleaned and put away before their arrival. This laid-back girl cranks it up to ten cleaning like her life depends on it, knowing she will be sore and nursing a heating pad later than night.
When the job is nearly complete, I can expect two comments from Eric as he emerges from his work den. First, he will say, “I am really loving all this clean!” (He not so secretly wishes I was much more naturally tidy) and, then he reminds me, “You know, if you kept it clean, you would not have to do this major cleaning every time we have company.” Even though my teeth clench and my inner puppy growls as I glare at him from the vacuum cleaner, my rational self knows he is not wrong.
Staying on top of the clutter, which aids in staying on top of the cleaning, would make tidying up for company no big deal.
Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire. — Wendell Berry
The above quote made me chuckle. Though I do not wish to see my home go up in flames, I have had fantasies about getting rid of large portions of our stuff. A couple years ago, we had a new roof put on our home, and the company ordered a large dumpster for the project. It was an opportunity to rid our home of some junk, and we did just that!
At the time, I was out of town, and Eric and I had to coordinate what we wanted to throw away via FaceTime and text; but, had I been home, you might have witnessed a mad woman sneaking piles of old clothes, old blankets, old pillows, old papers, and decorations out to the dumpster in the middle of the night.
Even with all this unorganized accumulation in our home, I still feel the urge to buy items – relatively useless items – when I go shopping (which is rare). Oh, that is so cute! Aw, how adorable is this? That teddy bear is begging to come home with me! Then, I think of our basement and the numerous times we have worked to declutter it. I think of our computer room which houses boxes of stuff we need to organize. Then, think of the guest bed downstairs, one of the upstairs beds, and the back of our couch – all covered in stuffed animals. That visual helps me appreciate the cuteness of the item… and then leave it right where it sits.
Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fueled by procrastination. — Christina Scalise
This quote popped off the page at me when I was scrolling a few weeks ago. Christina Scalise and I are not acquainted, but she might as well have come through the screen, grabbed my shoulders, and shaken me. The clutter which plagues me (and millions just like me) is a symptom of something deeper. The plethora of decisions I need to make overwhelms me and avoidance through procrastination is my unsuccessful attempt to deal with everything I need to face in my life.
Physical clutter is exhausting, but it is often a sign of something deeper. The “stuff” is the tip of the iceberg. What else do we have hiding beneath the surface? What else do we need to “throw away”?
Types of Clutter
- Physical Clutter: The clutter we most commonly refer to are the piles of stuff we acquire over our lives – the old books we will never read (even if they are good – or classics), the mail we have yet to organize, and the semi-sentimental stuff we feel guilty throwing away. My Dad worked for the Hatteras Yacht company for thirty years, and I felt compelled to call and ask his blessing before throwing away an old Hatteras mug. He was more than okay with me tossing it, but it felt wrong – as if I was supposed to hold onto it for sentimental reasons. The older I get, the more I appreciate the saying “collect moments, not things.” If you want to preserve a memory without adding items to your home, write the memory down in a book where you can always retrieve it. If the item is already in your home, take a digital picture to capture the memory and then toss the item.
- Emotional Clutter: This clutter comes from all directions and can be difficult memories, betrayals, and broken hearts. Many of us go through pain which causes us to seal off our hearts. When I was a foolish fourteen-year-old, I asked my much older boyfriend, “What will you do if I break up with you?” He simply replied, “I’ll build another wall around my heart.” To this day that comment grips my heart and makes me sad. When we stuff our emotions inside, they do not disappear. They remain strewn around the floors of our heart. They trip us. They keep us from finding what we need. They distance us from people because we do not want to let them in to see our mess (or to potentially add to our mess).
- Relationship Clutter: This is a specific form of emotional clutter. Few of us make it to marriage without some relationship baggage. After I got married, I still heard my ex-boyfriend’s disapproving insults about my appearance every time I looked in the mirror. Though he did nothing to cause the clutter, Eric had to pay the price for someone else’s unkindness because I had not cleared the clutter before engagement or marriage. Being a confident and generally unflappable guy, he was up for the task; but, former hurts and games I learned to play along the path to love still strained our relationship.
- Family Clutter: Whether we want to believe it or not, we are absolutely influenced by our families. Some of our deepest pleasures and deepest sorrows are connected to our family of origin. How we parent our children is engrained in us from how our parents raised us – unless we specifically work to change course. Sometimes, I make comments and hear my Mom or Dad in them. Even childhood interactions with my cousins occasionally rise to the surface and sting. Family shapes us for better or for worse in so many ways. They profoundly influence how we see ourselves. Sometimes dispelling the lies we have come to believe about ourselves because of family requires patience and hard work.
- Psychological/Manipulation Clutter: Do you have someone in your life who manipulates you or makes you question your own sanity (gaslighting)? These people get into our minds and make us question what is true and what is false. What is normal and what is abnormal. Even after we get away from these folks, their mind game residue remains. If you have been in a relationship, friendship, or kinship with someone like this, there is no shame whatsoever in working through the aftermath with a seasoned, Biblical counselor.
- Sexual Clutter: Former sexual relationships and unhealthy sexual lessons create clutter in us. As author Kevin Leman says, there are often many people in your marriage bed with you. Physically, it is only you and your spouse there, but other voices barge in and distract what is meant to be a gift from God to married couples.
- Spiritual/Church Clutter: A former co-worker returned to her church after being away for some years, and a well-meaning (but crazy) lady smacked her in the arm with the Bible. “I hit you with the Word!” I guess she thought that was somehow helpful. (Spoiler alert: it was not.) Church hurt is real and valid. Sometimes we grow up, read the Bible for ourselves, and discover we were taught theology which, turns out, is not actually biblical. If there is spiritual hurt or resentment there cluttering up your heart, do not ignore it because it seems trivial. Spiritual clutter will affect your marriage too.
- Perfection Clutter: There is a saying which goes “a clean desktop is a sign of a messy desk drawer.” If your home is immaculate and must be always, what is driving that behavior? If the goal is freedom, we are seeking both freedom from being buried alive by useless things, and freedom from finding worth and peace in perfection. Freedom is a deep breath between the two extremes.
Marriage Exposes the Clutter
Until we get married, it is easier to conceal the mess we have accumulated – physically and emotionally. Then, another person enters our world in a way no one else has and he or she is able to mirror back to us what we thought was hidden. Perhaps even what we forgot that we had hidden (even on purpose). Though no one can sift through every speck of dust in their hearts before marriage, couples can take steps to expose and work though their clutter before bringing it into the marriage. It is hard work, but it is so worth it. Consider giving that gift to your future spouse.
Decluttering can be therapeutic if we embrace the journey.
In the process of decluttering things in my life, I was peeling off the layers of my past that no longer mattered to my present life. But as I did that shedding, memories and emotions arose. I sometimes felt sadness as I removed reminders of a failed marriage or the loss of a loved one. I grieved lost dreams and deceased people and pets. If I looked for it, I also experienced gratitude for the good times and the love that once was. Eventually, I felt lighter after I worked my way through a particular emotional zone that exposed remnants of unhealed parts of my life. — Lisa J. Shultz, Lighter Living: Declutter. Organize. Simplify.
You need to distinguish between what honestly moves you and what the world is telling you should melt your heart. If something doesn’t reach you on a personal level, let it go. It’s hard enough dealing with everything that does. — Judi Culbertson
Keep breaking free!
Which types of clutter are overwhelming you and affecting your relationships?