What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You: Uncover the Message in the Mess and Reclaim Your Life by Kerri Richardson
What does your clutter say about you? It all depends on where you hide your hoard, says an intriguing new book by Kerri Richardson. This new book suggests how gaining control of mess can help to reclaim life. It also suggests that wardrobe clutter often means you’re holding on to a fantasy self, whilst attic clutter suggests that you feel like your betraying your loved ones!
What is clutter
Let’s start with what is clutter. If you use it on regular basis and it makes you smile when you see it, it’s not clutter. For example, your mementoes have been sitting in a box for the last five years, they can’t mean much to you. Re-evaluate their worth and either say goodbye or make them a daily part of your life.
Emotional issue: nostalgia
What this means: Wardrobe clutter often means you’re holding on to a fantasy self — one that was more youthful, thinner, or happier. Maybe your old dresses remind you of a time when you felt as if anything was possible. Struggling to get rid of them is more about your desire to feel that way again than actually wanting to wear those dresses.
When you look at your skinny jeans, they may remind you of your ideal weight, or times when you and your friends would go out and have fun.
The real question is, how can you have the same fulfilment in your current life that those old clothes represent?
What to do about it: See if you can find five items you haven’t worn for six months. Now ask yourself why you keep each piece of clothing. Is it a just-in-case item? Do you still love it? Maybe you can throw out the jeans but plan a girls’ night out, or a romantic dinner with your partner, to recapture the feelings stirred up by the clothes.
Emotional issue: procrastination
What this means: Piles of paper and bills may be an excuse to avoid moving on. Every time you ignore the piles, you’re holding off dealing with difficult issues. If anything about starting a new project feels scary or overwhelming, not dealing with the clutter is a great way to stall. The pressure of the expectations alone is enough to keep the clutter on your desk.
The simplest solution is to stop letting the clutter build in the first place — that way you have no excuses.
What to do about it: Sort your mail as soon as you get it. Put the junk mail straight into the recycling bin. Once you’ve identified the mail that’s useful, open envelopes and recycle any unnecessary papers. Keep only those things that you need to follow up on. Once your surfaces are clear, your path ahead will feel much clearer, too.
Emotional issue: no boundaries
What this means: Letting clutter pile up in your car means that no space is left for yourself, however personal — you’re letting things and people encroach on every area of your life. Clutter in the car is often the first sign of feeling overwhelmed because this should be your own space, not a dumping ground. Ask yourself: are you keeping your calendar full so you can tell yourself you’re too busy to make changes in your life?
Maybe occupying your time in this way protects you from taking some risks. If you feel compelled to say yes to everyone who asks a favour, ask yourself why. Learning to sit with the discomfort that may come with disappointing people is crucial to your happiness.
What to do about it: Practise setting boundaries by saying ‘no’ in lower-risk relationships; a co-worker rather than a family member, or a stranger instead of your boss. Working on boundary clutter leads to cleaner relationships, less stress, and deeper connections with the people in your life.
Emotional issue: avoidance
What this means: Leaving boxes of possessions and unfinished projects to stack up means you’re lacking the mental energy to face difficult tasks. Avoiding it lets you pretend it’s not there — but it won’t go away. Items in your garage quickly become part of the background scenery, so this area can almost always feel like a non-priority.
However, each time you leave or return home, the mess before you saps your energy. Maybe you still have unpacked boxes from when you moved. Chances are you don’t need what’s in there, but you can’t imagine how you’re ever going to do it all, so you freeze.
What to do about it: Use the Pomodoro Technique. This time-management approach uses a timer to break work down into manageable chunks. Remove all distractions and set a timer for 25 minutes. Work consistently until the timer rings. Take a five-minute break. After four Pomodoro rounds, take a longer break. Remember, if you haven’t looked in the boxes since you moved home, you don’t need what’s in there.
Stop letting the clutter build in the first place.
Emotional issue: guilt
What this means: Family heirlooms, old cards and unwanted gifts are no longer of use — but you feel by getting rid of them, you’re betraying your loved ones. Your attic can contain the most ties to the past — but when you keep things out of guilt, you’re keeping a lot of emotional baggage. Family heirlooms often have a lot of obligations, memories, joy, sadness and regret attached to them. Your grandmother’s locket, photo albums, your mother’s best crockery — items like these, even when not cherished, can still be nearly impossible to pass on. I guarantee Grandma is not looking down and thinking: ‘I’m so glad she still has that locket even though she doesn’t like it.’
Keep it if you cherish it, but if you don’t love items enough to use or display them, they’re clutter.
What to do about it: If something makes you smile when you see it, it’s not cluttered. If your mementoes have been sitting in a box for the last five years, they can’t mean much to you. Re-evaluate their worth and either say goodbye or make them a daily part of your life.
Smart people are messy
It will be difficult to actually convince your mum, but research confirms that if you’re messy it might mean that you’re actually smart. Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a study that explained that if you are not tidy, it simply means that your brain is occupied with more important matters. As if that was not enough, the conclusion of the scientists is that a somewhat messy environment inspires greater creativity.
If you like clutter and want to feel good about it read the summary of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder-How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place By Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman