What your clutter says about you

Have you ever noticed that your clutter is tied to how you feel inside?

I notice that when I’m not feeling settled, or I’m anxious about something or in some way feeling scattered, I tend to let stuff pile up more than when I’m feeling calm.

Clutter is such a graphic manifestation of our inner world, isn’t it?

To bring this home, I just received an email from a reader who said she was going through a huge life transition with her youngest child off to college, she was in a luke-warm marriage, and she’d been a homemaker and wanted to find her passion, but didn’t know where to start. Her whole email was about how unsettled, lost and dissatisfied she felt.

And then she talked about how her home office was disorganized and she wasn’t managing her paper very well. She wrote:

“I believe my hidden clutter is symptomatic of what I feel welling up inside of me – CHAOS!”

Hear hear. She hit the nail on the head.

Clutter doesn’t just come from nowhere. It doesn’t manifest by itself. We create it. We buy too much stuff. We don’t put things away where they belong, we say we don’t have time to organize everything and we feel too overwhelmed to figure out where things should go. Here’s the dictionary definition of clutter: a large amount things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way – a crowded or disordered collection of things.

We create our own clutter, but why and how?

Because clutter is so closely tied to our inner turmoil, it often doesn’t do a lot of good to hire someone to swoop in and clean it all up. They can make it look great and organized, but unless we take a look at what’s going on inside, we’ll create the clutter all over again. Getting organized – in many cases – is more about our psychology than our stuff.

First – calm your brain

There is no question that clutter is the result of an unsettled brain. So the first step is to have tools in your brain-calming toolbox that will calm it down. My two favorites are a regular practice of meditating, and my 5-5-5 walk. I’ll explain.

When I’m really feeling overwhelmed and squirrelly, it can be hard to sit and meditate. That’s when I go for my 5-5-5 walk. Here’s how:

I go for a walk and in order to calm my brain, I purposely pay attention to my senses so that my mind isn’t going off in a million directions. By doing this, I have to focus on the “now,” which is calming. Anxiety and restlessness set in when our brains start ruminating, planning and thinking. So to calm the brain, focus on what’s happening right now. The 5-5-5 walk is a great tool for that. 

First, I find five things that I see, and I’ll label them to myself, such as dark green tree, pink flower, mailbox, blue car, puddle on the road – whatever comes into my vision as I’m walking along. Then I move on to five things I hear. Examples are different bird sounds, airplane flying overhead, car whizzing by, my coat swishing and so on. The last five things are my sense of touch. I label five things I feel, such as my feet on the pavement or dirt, my finger, the wind on my face.

After I label five things I start over with four things, and then three, two and one. I can repeat this for the whole walk if I want. It’s a great way to get out of my head and stay grounded.

The point is to do something to center yourself. Obviously, one 5-5-5 walk or one period of meditating won’t calm your chaotic brain, so you’ll want to start doing these things regularly. Then you’ll have tools in your pocket for when you do feel overwhelmed.

I’ve given instructions and videos for meditating in lots of blog posts, including this one.

Use your clutter as your therapist

Calming your busy brain is the first step. But the second step is equally important – use your clutter as your therapist. You can really get to know yourself through your clutter. Here’s how:

Walk around your house and stop in each room. Ask yourself what your clutter is saying about you. What’s going on? What does this mess say about your emotional state right now? Are you feeling restless? Why?

Are you feeling dissatisfied? Why? Are you wanting something more out of your life but you don’t know what that is? Is the unknown making you feel anxious? Do you have too much on your plate? Why? Do you buy too much stuff because you’re missing something in your life?

If you’d like, you can take a journal around the rooms with you and take some time to write down what your clutter is trying to tell you in each room. Every single piece of clutter says something. What’s going on?

If you have way too much stuff, why? What does all of this stuff represent to you? What’s missing in your life that you feel the need to hang on to so much stuff?

Is it guilt or grief? Are these things from someone you care about, or cared about so you’re hanging on out of guilt? How is that making you feel? Are you hanging on to stuff because of memories? Why are you living in the past?

Write answers to these kinds of questions as you stand in the first room. You’ll be surprised how much your clutter can tell you about what’s going on. Take a look at each and every item in the room that isn’t in it’s proper place. Ask each thing what it means.

When it’s time to get help

If you feel that you have a chronic clutter problem that’s weighing you down, if you live in a constant state of chaos, or if anyone has suggested to you that you might be a hoarder, then look even deeper at what’s going on. Do you have a psychological issue that needs to be addressed by a competent, licensed mental health professional? Serious clutter problems most often are a symptom of underlying psychological issues. Are you a habitual procrastinator? Do you get anxious and overwhelmed by change? Do you have low self-esteem and an inability to make decisions?

Perhaps you have an obsessive disorder or you’re depressed and you feel immobilized. Or have you considered the idea that you may have attention deficit disorder?

If you feel that one of these things are causing your clutter, then please make an appointment to seek help for these underlying issues. Because until you address these issues, you’ll never get on top of your clutter.

If, on the other hand, your clutter is not a chronic problem, or if it’s the result of poor time management, then no need to seek professional help. You can manage it yourself by getting into a habit of calming your brain regularly, as I describe above, and by journaling or simply becoming aware of why you have clutter piling up. If these tips don’t help, you can check out my class, From Chaos to Clutter Free in 21 Days. You’ll feel so much better once you begin to address the root cause of your clutter. 

3 comments

  1. Interesting post! I have noticed how clutter is tied to how I feel inside, but thought it was the clutter that made me feel that way rather than clutter being a reflection of how I’m already feeling. Perhaps it’s a cycle: overwhelmed> clutter> more overwhelmed.

  2. Thanks Janet for posting this helpful information. I am a hoarder and hate it but don’t know now bro handle it. I’ve tried the psychological help but no one seems to know what hoarding is and the horrible impacts it has one the hoarder and their life.
    Your articals give hope.
    Pls keep posting new found information on this subject. I can keep you posted on what happens regarding this in my life

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