What’s wrong with me? / Intro to this thing

My unspoken perception (my first voice*) is as follows.  I am not saying this is correct, and in most of this it certainly is not, but here it is.  

There’s this thing.  People who have overcome this have always struck me as… more adult than me.  They seem more mature, more developed.  But also perhaps more anal retentive?   They overcame it—this thing—probably at an early age.  They come from better stock, are more educated, more refined.  They were taught this by better parents, or at Yale or something.   

Of course my interaction with them never proved any of this correct but I continued to have this inner belief.

So then, why didn’t I overcome it and strive to be like them?  Well, there’s a block preventing that:

If I overcome this thing two things might happen:

  1. I will be less me.  I’ll be giving up parts and pieces that remind me of my humanity, of what it means to be uniquely me.  This manifests itself in all the little baubles I hang on to, with stuff from my past, pics of the kids, old girlfriends, stuff from projects I worked on, or items that I one day may need.  
  2. I’ll be less laid back, less comfortable, less easy to be around.  I’ll be more “on” and “professional” at all times, and would even be uncomfortable when I’m alone, because I’ll be this new way.  Meaning, if everything’s in its place and perfect then my house is less of a home.  I can’t relax because everything is pristine like some sort of loner from a movie.  Good people you can trust have messes, and flaws and are human, right?  

Those two things are literally the opposite of reality.

I’ve been afraid of tackling this—not just on a case by case basis—but on the whole… as part of my personality.  If I fix this I’m fixing me in a way that’s scary.  Because what if it leaves ol’ lovable Mark behind?

I suppose this is an innate fear for anyone wanting to make a big change.  We seek out that comfort and want to stay there.

But the paradox is that by fixing this you have MORE comfort, not less.  You have less stress, not more, and you realistically can be more ‘laid back.’

This is in line with Alchemy for Life, the coaching and podcast I started years ago.

So what is this thing?

It’s clutter.

You might think it’s a joke—this anticlimactic answer to what you thought was mental click bait—but it’s not.

It’s serious, it’s prevalent, life long, and it’s ingrained in your psyche like a bee sting in your flesh.  Any attempts to dig it out fail and the poison remains forever.

So now you know my mental blocks for avoiding it.  The clutter isn’t so bad.  Everyone has a “junk drawer’ anyway, right?  So what if there’s also a junk closet, a junk pantry, a junk dresser top, a junk office area, a junk floor made of grey clothing, etc…

“Just put it away”

The problem is that, just like saying “no to drugs” there’s more to the issue.  You can’t just “put it where it belongs” for more than one reason—the most obvious being that it might not actually have a place.  This is due to it being new, a one of a kind, or something that you just haven’t made space for yet.

You may do this because out of sight/out of mind has worked well enough for you.  Or—and this is self-worth related—you may think you (and therefore it) is not important enough to warrant the time to make a special space for it.

Even if you live alone you still may fear carving out a space “just for that stuff.”  A perfect example is a craft area.  Sure the kitchen gets proper space, and the bathroom, and all the supplies that go along with those rooms.  But a craft room, or a work area might feel sort of selfish.

And that is exactly what my knee-jerk reaction to some craft rooms has been.  When I’d see someone with a really nice craft room, and all sorts of organization, I would sometimes think just how selfish they must be to put all that effort into that… just for themselves!  The nerve of them.  They should be solving world hunger, or making dinner, not having an epicly laid out room with all their tools and stuff at their fingertips.

And at the same time I envied them.  But then they were more adult than me.  They figured it out.  And being in a relationship with someone like that would be scary.  Imagine the expectations!

This craft area idea also extends to the kitchen and the bathroom and other mundane utilitarian areas. 

Three reasons for why you create clutter

So I found there were really three things that generated the clutter.  In other words there were three reasons that you would not have everything in its place.

Lazy.  As you would expect one reason is that you just fail to do it.  You have a place, all neat and tidy, but you just leave it out, on the counter, or you just shove a bunch into a big area (the classic “junk drawer”)

There’s no place like home.  The second reason is that you actually haven’t made a place for it.  But why wouldn’t you?

  1. Because it’s a one-off or it’s a new thing.  You only just started buying/collecting/creating these.  It’s too new.
  2. You didn’t think these things needed a place.  You could always just throw them in with other stuff, thus creating clutter you have to sort through.
  3. I dunno.  You might be unsure of what to do.  Do these go near where they are used?  Or do they go in a place that best suits them?

Sorting into minutia

Do not take all of this to mean that we are sorting down into infinity.  That’s not what this is about.  A jar of change is perfectly fine, we needn’t make a little tray for pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, etc etc.   Yes, sorting is the base of much of this, but it can be taken too far.  The difference between non-clutter and clutter is the difference between a tray for pens and pencils, and a drawer filled with random office supplies.  You don’t have to separate the pencils from the pens if you don’t want to.  And in fact, if you almost never use office supplies, then a drawer full of random office supplies may not even be clutter for you.  That may make the average person uncomfortable, but if you are a grandma that has an epic knitting supply you just might have a teeny drawer with three pens, two pencils, a few binder clips and a couple paperclips.

It’s all about what is in sync with your life.

Distance and proximity to head

You don’t store your forks in the bathroom.  You don’t keep your socks in the garage.  The WD40 is not in your top dresser drawer.  Duh and double duh, right?  We know how to store things by room and purpose… mainly.  But we run into problems sometimes because of that.  We rely too heavily on it and just stop there.  As long as all our bedroom crap is in the bedroom that is enough.

And then the clutter occurs.

So we separate socks, undies, workout clothing, shirts, etc.  Drawer, drawer drawer.

We should put things we use most in the easiest reach and/or near our head.  Our head is the sensor pod that has the eyes and the ears.  We design things so we don’t have to go shove our heads into the top shelf for something we use every day.

You’re not going to bend all the way down or get on your knees to open the bottom dresser drawer for your daily underwear.  You want that right up top.

It’s that procedure, simply put, that allows us to organize best.

And you will find that if you are plagued with clutter there are a number of areas that you have done exactly the opposite for yourself.  And at the same time it is the keeping important things within reach concept that has allowed you to comfortably forget about everything else—until you need something.  Then you discover the nest, and start complaining to no one and everyone about not being able to find it.

Meaningful, purposeful clutter

Let’s define the clutter we are not talking about here.  We are not talking about what I call meaningful purposeful clutter.   Meaningful in that it has a meaning, there is a reason for it.  Purposeful in that it has a purpose—it is there for a very good reason.  Meaningful, purposeful clutter only exists temporarily while the task that creates them is being completed.

Examples of this are when you are working on your car and now your garage is taken over with tools and parts.  Things are laying all over the garage floor as if the car literally exploded.  

When you are cooking there are cooking implements—spoons, ladles, a colander—lying all over the counter.  There are mixing bowls, pans and measuring cups.  Some are oozing ingredients onto the countertop.  There’s flour and chopped items everywhere.  It’s a mess.  It’s temporary, and it has a purpose and a meaning.   In a couple hours the kitchen will be back to normal—less perhaps the giant pile of pans in the sink.  That too is temporary.

This is not the clutter we are talking about.

We are talking about the one without purpose, without meaning (well there is one in a way) and it has permanence.


You’re not decluttering if you are doing this  

If you are moving things to another place/room that just clutters that up (and isn’t the actual place it belongs) then you are just adding to clutter to declutter, and that’s not decluttering.  That’s exactly what created clutter in the first place—the uncertainty of narrowing it down and just dumping it into an area.

Psychological blocks

Clearly there is something that prevents us from just having meaningful clutter (see above).  Something is causing us to have the clutter that haunts us, annoys us, and plagues us. 

It’s something beyond just being lazy, or “messy” or “disorganized” or “not having the time.” 

Spoiler: it’s psychological.   What follows is an introspective examination of why it affected me.  You may relate to this.

Overwhelmed by the task

So you start decluttering and sorting in good faith, and start to create piles of things and then… you stop.  You’re overwhelmed.  You start running into the other room, or reading old books, looking at old pictures, find interest in something you haven’t looked at in a decade.  Oh, and you should continue this after you eat.  Yeah, low blood sugar and all that.

You’re overwhelmed.

Decluttering is overwhelming because you get to a point of permutation that you can’t hold in your brain’s workspace processing area.

Meaning, when you take something out that doesn’t belong, and think there may have to be a new place for that there are only three options.  When you take more things out there are three options, and so forth and that can all multiply.  This goes here but oh I don’t have a space and is this thing like this thing and how many of these do I even have!  Oh I can’t throw all of this out.  Dang I wish my house would just burn down and I could start from scratch.

Don’t wish for a house fire.  The solution is easy enough.

Listen to next week’s podcast for the solution. If you are a subscriber you’ll automatically get the pdf(s) that contain the roadmap and checklist that takes the emotion out of decluttering.

*Three Voices. My latest experimental psychology, explains that we have three voices and how we use them to communicate. While you’re at all this great fixing, why not pick up a copy. Just $9.99