How you ever felt physically uncomfortable walking into someone else's cluttered space (regardless of what may be going on in yours)? Sometimes when I'm speaking to a group, I will ask them to look at pictures of different rooms (with varying amounts of clutter) and check in with how they physically feel. These spaces, of course, are not their own, and they are better able to objectively note the feelings that arise. The messy office desk stirs up emotions like distaste, even revulsion (and perhaps a few chuckles or snorts of disbelief). The picture of the orderly supply cabinet generally inspires relaxation or peacefulness. Some attendees have reported unclenching their jaws, or relaxing the muscles around their eyes or shoulders when they view photos of uncluttered, calm spaces.
Is it possible that general over-accumulation - you know, "just" our consuming, one-clicking, saving- everything-just-in-case kind of lives - makes us sick? I have been in a lot of environments lately, where certainly sickness of spirit is dragging a client down. They often don't even realize it (or perhaps don't want to realize it). Aside from a lot of sneezing from the dust, or tripping over things, the sickness lies deeper in their psyche, and manifests as overwhelm, feelings of powerlessness or despair, shame, and anger. Where did all of it come from, they marvel? How did I end up with SO much?
Dis-Ease In Our Spaces
Looking at our own spaces is different from glancing at stock photos. We become desensitized to the chaos that surrounds us, but that doesn't mean it isn't still affecting us. It's like when I visit New York City and can't sleep the first night because of all of the noise I'm not accustomed to. After a a day or two, I don't notice it. But does that mean I'm not hearing it? Research tells us that noise pollution does indeed have effects on things like hypertension, hearing loss and heart disease. My gut tells me that when someone is surrounded by 1000s of questionable objects that they are choosing to ignore, it's affecting much more than the aesthetic. It's stuff pollution.
So What To Do?
I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know it takes some shifting. We seem to all be searching for the quick fixes, the hacks, the "7 Easy Ways To Clear Your Clutter - Forever!". Why do we always think faster is better? Are lasting answers quick? Maybe, sometimes. We all have a story or two about a specific question or trick that made all the difference in the way we handle stuff and tasks. But maybe those kinds of solutions get the most attention because they promise something we all hope will be true. Who wants to be uncomfortable for longer than a few minutes? Still, there's a lot to be said for chipping away at the chaos persistently, a little at a time. Choosing to let go some here, purge a little there, work a new habit through until it sticks. And like a treatment for a chronic or life-threatening illness, it takes time. I repeat so often to clients: "It didn't take three hours to get into this mess, so it's certainly not going to take three hours to get out of it." Most of them get that intellectually, but the bridge between accepting and doing can be unsettling and intimidating.
Intimidating, and hard to accept. So much so that it's tempting to just keep ignoring the problem, buy the latest self-help book, and think about getting organized. You know, someday, when you can make time for it. A doctor once told me that most people would rather die than make any significant change to their lifestyle. I think there was some sad wisdom there. It sounds harsh, but of course the doctor was speaking of the seemingly benign little choices people make each day that add up to overall poor health. I'm not suggesting that anyone out there is going to die from their clutter, but maybe...they could live a little freer and easier?
Take a look around - how healthy are your surroundings?
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?