The other day my son picked up a glass Buddha statue and fiddled with it, then set it down on another shelf with all my old photographs. When I pointed out that he’d misplaced it, he laughed. “Mom, even your clutter has designated spots,” he said.
When I got over feeling hurt, I took a good look around and saw that my son was right. (And I had to laugh, too.) I love all the knick-knacks and collectibles that I’ve brought into my home, but I have too many of them. They’ve become organized clutter.
This is particularly poignant to me right now because my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, will be published next month. The book includes an entire chapter about clearing clutter and making space. I know a little bit about clutter, and I’ve let it creep up on me, anyway.
Clutter—especially when it’s perfectly organized—is stealthy, and it’s a burden. As Bill Adler points out in Outwitting Clutter, its very presence creates a paralysis that renders us incapable of doing anything about it. “One of the dearest signals that something healthy is afoot is the impulse to weed out, sort through and discard old clothes, papers, and belongings,” Julia Cameron writes in one of my favorite books, The Artist’s Way. “By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable.”
In The Zen of Organizing, Regina Leeds points out that an orderly mental and physical environment frees our souls to seek the highest level of creativity. Clearing space is a reflection of self-love and self-esteem—our willingness to give ourselves room to explore. The purpose of decluttering, says Michelle Passoff, author of Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter, is to “harness the power of the physical universe—to bring your physical world in line with whoever you are or want to be.”
The task in front of me is ridiculously simple: eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. I need to pare down the number of items on each surface to three or less and say good bye to things that can’t find good homes. I need to remind myself that my stuff doesn’t define me and stop thinking like a kid reacting against Mom’s admonishments to clean my room. I need to see and feel the peace that comes with space.
Anyone want a glass Buddha?
In this straw bale home in Vermont, architect Joseph Cincotta tucked the dresser into the wall, eliminating the temptation to clutter up its horizontal surface. Photo by Michael Shopenn