Inside: Clutter is any excess in life or emotional baggage 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.
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.
The unexamined life is not worth living, but the unlived life is not worth examining.Andrew Klavan
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.
7 Reasons Your Life is Cluttered
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. I’ve offered 7 possibilities for why you struggle with a cluttered life – there are many more. Chronic mental or physical pain or illness, doing your best to put food on the table, navigating trauma or crisis, for instance, in which case clutter is definitely not a priority.
Real life is messy! Wherever and however we meet ourselves on the journey, berating ourselves is never helpful. What is helpful and empowering is to exchange judgment for curiosity, shame for self-compassion, and fear for agency. And from this resourced place we’re able to find our forward.
1. You are living more on autopilot than on purpose
You regularly neglect your basic needs, leaving yourself at risk of making poor, unfiltered decisions. You restrict your eating to the point that your stomach hurts and your brain feels foggy and energy too low to make values-aligned choices. You desire healthy friendships but that feels too vulnerable and you’re exhausted from staying up late for alone time after the kids are in bed and don’t know when you’d even make time. You ignore the cues of hunger, thirst, or even needing a bathroom break and it’s easier to shove your feelings down than to admit them to yourself. You feel like you’re living more on autopilot than on purpose.
2. You are numbing and running
You refuse to face your grief about burying your dad and end up online shopping at midnight again with the credit card bills to prove it. 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. Of course, the pain is exacerbated when the credit card bill arrives. That closet full of trendy clothes that you don’t even like does not make you feel better about your messy (and beautiful) life. And when you avoid seeking help for your pain and stuff it down, eventually the dam bursts wide and you spill rage all over your family. This isn’t working and 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 truly feels like home.
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 are beauty and provision and opportunities yet to come. And you can learn to live in a more empowered state.
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 favourite 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 the city. 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 anyway. 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 a 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 paradox and learn the practice of “all or something.”
LIFE VISIONING WILL HELP YOU DECLUTTER YOUR LIFE
Once you’ve identified that your life feels cluttered and get honest about some of the 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.
Whether you’re navigating a hard life transition and need to re-orient and find your footing, you’re finally releasing trying to keep up and measure up, or you’re committed to honouring your wiring and your values in a noisy world, my Life Visioning Workbook will help you come home to yourself and craft an honest and joyful vision for your brave and beautiful life.
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
TWO simple EXERCISES TO HELP YOU start decluttering your life
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. Remember to stay grounded in self-compassion as you do the work to release what no longer serves so that you feel safe, at home, and joyful in your body and your life.
P.S. If you’re looking for regular encouragement for living with purpose, health and joy, sign up below to receive the HOPE MAP – my mostly-weekly invitation to pause & consider.