Inside: clutter is any excess in life or emotional baggage we haul around that weighs us down, distracts from our purpose, or robs us of joy and mind-body-spirit health. 7 reasons your life is cluttered and what to do about it.
My husband and I moved 9 times in the first 11 years that we were married. We became experts at taking apart our flat-pack IKEA furniture and often hauled load after load in laundry baskets rather than packing tidily in boxes. It was quicker this way. We were broke students or repaying student loans in this season of life which, along with the frequent moves, and living in small spaces, prevented us from cluttering our lives with too much stuff.
Since then, despite my husband’s struggle to get rid of anything, and my children’s freedom (within boundaries) to decide for themselves what is valuable and deserves space in their lives, I am a chronic declutterer so have managed to keep our home fairly organized and streamlined.
But clutter does not only come in piles of paper or heaps of unfolded clothing. It does not only show up in too many toys or an overabundance of kitchen gadgets.
And clutter is in the eye of the beholder. If your dusty floor-to-ceiling book collection, the hodgepodge of eclectic art adorning your walls, or your second wardrobe of vintage clothing brings you joy and aligns with your bigger life vision, then I’d argue it’s not truly clutter at all. No matter what someone else thinks.
I believe that clutter is any excess in life or emotional baggage we haul around that weighs us down, distracts from our purpose, or robs us of joy and mind-body-spirit health.
Over the years, as we settled in to raise our family and put down roots in our community, my life got full. Maybe even overstuffed at some points. With comparison and perfectionism and trying to keep up. With pain and fear, trying to be a good girl, and neglecting my need for rest.
I have needed to do a lot of hard, messy work to heal and let go of the emotional or mental clutter that kept me bound.
There is a lot of talk online these days around how to and the benefits of shedding the excess to live with more intention. And I love it all. But if you do not examine the underlying motivation that drew you to a life of too much in the first place, chances are you will find yourself right back in that space all over again.
The unexamined life is not worth living, but the unlived life is not worth examining. -Andrew Klavan
Let’s really live, shall we? If you desire an uncluttered life, step one is admitting that your life is full to the brim or overflowing. Step two is getting honest about WHY.
7 Reasons Your Life is Cluttered
1. You are hungry or lonely
You regularly neglect your basic needs, leaving yourself at risk of making poor, unfiltered decisions. You refuse to deal with the grief about burying your dad and end up online shopping at midnight again with the credit card bills to prove it. You restrict your eating to the point that your stomach hurts and compensate by buying more furniture that you cannot afford. What you really need is to make the effort to build some good friendships but that feels hard and scary so instead you cuddle up with Netflix and 5 kinds of Haagen Dazs and eat until you feel sick and heavy with shame. All forms of excess or clutter.
2. You are numbing and running
You are in pain or in fear but not yet ready to deal with it so you run and numb. Drugs, sex, alcohol, hiding out with TV or social media, over exercising, obsessive cleaning, shopping, binge eating… you’ve tried them all. Is the credit card debt worth it? Does that closet full of trendy clothes that you don’t even like that much make you feel better about your life, for real? Does your family life feel calm and loving when instead of seeking help for your pain and addiction you stuff it down until the dam bursts wide and you spill rage all over your family? It’s time to stare fear in the face.
Fear of missing out has you signing up for one more class, buying one more book or course, scrolling for yet another hour instead of going for that walk and getting into bed. It is a bondage that whispers to you that everyone else’s life is better, more exciting or refined. That you cannot rest or you will fall behind. If you don’t stay constantly watchful you will miss the next big thing and be left out of all the excitement. Or you could just decide to opt out and craft a life that shifts you from mere surviving to joyful thriving. (I’m still working through this one!)
4. You are too busy or comfortable with the familiar
Your busyness can be another form of running and numbing (see point 2); getting honest about what is and is no longer serving you and committing to change requires you to slow down for a bit and do some hard work. You are comfortable with the familiar and the thought of slowing down and creating physical and emotional white space in your life feels terrifying. You justify your unhealthy choices because they are normal – all your friends live like this. But “normal” has robbed you of joy so jump off that hamster wheel as though your life depends on it. It does.
5. You fear the future
You have known struggle and lack and have a hard time letting go of stuff or living within moderate boundaries; you might need it again. There might not be enough tomorrow. Even when something is broken or ragged you cannot let it go. You dream of freedom and a life of creativity but stagnate as you hold on tight to who you used to be. You hide instead of risking, pull back instead of reaching out. Life is scary and you don’t really trust people because, after all, you’ve been hurt before. You need to release what was to make space for what will be. There is beauty and provision and opportunity yet to come.
6. You live in the land of comparison and always find yourself lacking
You look outside yourself for validation and constantly compare yourself to others. You always come up short. You see the cute coffee mug and tea towels in your favorite Instagram feed and end up spending way too much money at Anthropologie. You read a new popular book about a blogger/homesteader and all of a sudden you’re googling how you can raise chickens in the middle of Montréal. You were content in your home and life until your cousin came to visit and your eyes opened up to all that is shabby and wanting in your life. You never speak up to share your ideas at work because they’re probably ridiculous anyways. But you are not meant to be a replica of anyone else; just show up and be imperfect but amazing and beautiful you.
7. You have not learned the power of “enough”
You deep-down believe that you need to perform, perfect or acquire to be worthy of love and acceptance. You are stuck in black and white, all or nothing thinking. 90% well done is not enough, it is failure. Your kids are amazing but have some struggles; you suck as a mom. You work your butt off loving your family and serving your community but still you can never keep up or please everyone; you are not enough and never will be. You are adopting healthier eating habits but went on a weekend binge; you always fail so why bother trying again. All lies! You will never truly live an unshackled life until you make peace with enough and “all or something.”
So now that you’ve identified that your life feels cluttered and we’ve discussed 7 possible reasons WHY you’re carrying around unwanted emotional or physical clutter, let’s turn to step three: HOW you can release it and keep it from creeping back in.
Over a year ago I put together a PDF for you to help you think about WHY you carry around emotional and physical clutter and some ideas for HOW to take steps to get rid of it once and for all. This simple PDF includes my Shift Your Thoughts worksheet with examples – one of the most important tools I believe I could possibly offer you. (1:1 support to do this work is often beneficial)
Extra reading to help you move from cluttered to calm
- 4 Ways to Combat Mental Clutter, No Sidebar
- Exactly How I Reduced the Mental Load, Simple Families
- 10 Clutter-Clearing Strategies that Will Gradually Make Your Life 100 Times Easier, The Life on Purpose Movement
- 5 Simple Mindsets Changes for a Happy Clutter-Free Life, Becoming Unbusy
- 15 Clutter Busting Routines For Any Family, Becoming Minimalist
- 7 Tips to Help Your Kids Let Go of Their Excess Clutter, Raising Simple
- Declutter Your Home in 10 Minutes, Abundant Life with Less
- Some lessons on decluttering and simplifying mindfully, Simple Slow Lovely
- Having Less Stuff So You Can Give More, The Minimalist Mom
- The Holiday Decluttering Guide to make room for more Comfort and Joy, Be More With Less
P.S. If you’re looking for regular encouragement for living with purpose, health and joy, sign up below to receive my weekly email.