What is Clutter?
Updated: Feb 12
If you walked up to a random person on the street and asked them to define clutter, they'd probably start talking about the miscellaneous objects, which they never got round to sorting.
The kitchen drawer full of un-sorted odds and ends that really ought to be thrown away. The dresser in the dining room full of ornaments that have seen better days. The boxes of old paperwork that you have been meaning to go through for years.
However, clutter isn't just a collection of untidy objects, bric-a-brac and unsorted paperwork. It is much more than that.
Clutter is anything in your life that you do not love, need, want or use.
Clutter is anything that weighs you down, distracts you, takes up your time or depletes you of energy, whether it's a physical object or otherwise.
Clutter is anything that makes you feel overwhelmed or anxious. It is any commitment or behaviour that does not enhance your life or lead you to be where you want to be.
It is anything you hold onto that is now obsolete. That drags you back into the past, distracts you or blocks you from living the life you want to live.
"Clutter is not just the stuff on the floor - it's anything that stands between you and the life that you want to be living" ~ Peter Walsh
Some types of clutter are obvious, but like everything in your space, clutter isn't merely physical.
Typically, clutter can be divided into two main categories: physical and mental;
Physical clutter is what most of us associate with this term, and it's the most obvious. It includes all the 'stuff' in your space.
Physical clutter is easy to identify (compared to mental clutter), so it's a good start point for those who wish to edit and simplify their lives.
It's all the things in your home that do not fulfil a purpose; that does not bring joy; that do not add value to your life. It is anything that is no longer used or useful - broken, worn out, don't fit, no longer played with or doesn't suit your lifestyle anymore.
Physical clutter accumulates over time, and it grows in size, like a snowball topping down a hill. Physical clutter collects every time that you buy an object and feel the need to keep it (even though you don't use it). Clutter is every gift purchased by a relative that is not to your taste, but you feel duty-bound to keep. Clutter is every item of clothing in your wardrobe that you are saving for the 'right occasion' (which never arrives).
It is the project piles that you need to physically do, but can never be bothered. The unsorted change that you've left on the cabinet, to the random objects you put in the cupboard six months ago and haven't looked at since. It's basically a bunch of things that you're procrastinating on - it's postponed decisions.
Where are reading this now? If you are at home, take a second to scan the room and really look at the objects surrounding you. Pick one thing and ask yourself the following questions;
When did you last use the object?
Do you have feelings towards it?
Is it relevant, adding value or bringing joy to your life?
Would I miss this item if I threw it away, or donated it to charity?
The answers to questions like these, not the nature, or the number of items, define whether the object is 'clutter'.
Clutter is tangiable evidence of many things: poor or misguided habits, chronic lack of organisation, the inability to say 'no', too many sentimental attachments, hoarding disorder and even just sheer laziness.
It is also worth pointing out that clutter is not interchangeable with messiness. Even some of the tidiest homes can suffer from clutter overload (just because you keep ALL of those 20-year old utility bills neatly filed away doesn't mean that they are not clutter).
The second kind of clutter is more personal and a little more abstract to explain, but it certainly plays a negative role in your life.
Mental clutter is everything that spins around in your head or vies for your attention. It's those annoying, nagging thoughts that keep you up at night. It's the random to-do's continually popping into your head during the day, disrupting your flow. It's that invisible flock of birds which circle your head and continually peck, peck, peck at your brain.
Mental clutter is the thought having to deal with all of your physical clutter, an overflowing inbox, an explosion of papers or a disorganised calendar. It's information overload and indecision.
Busy lifestyles contribute to mental clutter. In addition, mental clutter is caused by our increasingly digital and connected lifestyles and the continual ping of social media notifications and emails.
Mental clutter prevents you from thinking clearly, saps your energy, stops you from sleeping at night, and is usually linked to stress and anxiety.
Like physical clutter, mental clutter can be alleviated with a little planning and organisation, self-care and mindfulness.
If you have a busy lifestyle, you need to make space for self-care. When you have no time to clear the clutter from your mind, it can build up and become overwhelming.
Both physical and mental clutter will sap your energy and time, and leave you feeling overwhelmed, chaotic and disorganised.
What does clutter mean to you?
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