The Simplicity Series: Physical Clutter

15. August 2016

We’re a society of consumers. And my goodness, we are good at consuming! Not only are we able to fill our homes with stuff, we’re able to fill outside storage space with additional stuff – stuff that we don’t even have a purpose for anymore. (Renting storage space is one of the silliest things we can do with our money in my humble opinion, but that’s a rant for another day.)

I don’t think there’s anything innately wrong with being a consumer. I just think we’re doing it wrong. We’re obsessed with buying new things yet we refuse to get rid of the old. Most of us are hoarders. We generally escape this label because we’re not as extreme as the maniacs on that reality TV show. What’s it called – The Bachelor?

LOL. Kill ’em, Mark.

But let’s call a spade a spade. When we keep things that we don’t have a use for, that’s hoarding. We’re all guilty of it.

“But what if something comes up and we need a specific item just in case?”

Joshua Fields Milburn of The Minimalist’s considers “just in the case” as the most dangerous phrase in the English language. I personally think “let’s give Trump a chance” is more dangerous but Josh’s point is well-taken. He suggests instituting a 90-day rule when determining whether or not you should keep an item. In brief, if you haven’t used it in the previous ninety days, nor have a specific plan to use in the next ninety days, you shouldn’t keep that item (going three months in the future and past accounts for all weather so shut up about your damn snow pants).

How physical clutter affects our lives

Stock piling physical goods is problematic for a number of reasons. First off, most physical goods cost money to attain – money spent on these is money that is no longer working to make you rich. In addition, a lot of what we buy is produced in a way that doesn’t reflect our values (child labor, sweat shops, etc.) and is contributing to the ozone layer melting and polar bears floating away from their family on a piece of glacier (probably holding a Coke). These are sound reasons as to why we ought to be deliberate when purchasing physical things. However, this is The Simplicity Series and for that reason I’d like to focus on how physical clutter relates to living a simpler, more well-intentioned life.

Every home has what I’m going to refer to as a saturation level. The saturation level is the amount of stuff a home can hold until that stuff turns into clutter. Most of our homes have exceeded this saturation level and we’ve achieved clutter status. Clutter takes away from life’s natural flow. Clutter requires attention. It acquires cleaning and organizing. It’s makes moving more time consuming and expensive. But more than anything, it takes up our headspace. Our mental bandwidth. Our attention. Whatever you want to call it. Clutter distracts us from what’s important. Instead of focusing our mental energy on building relationships, finding a solution for a problem at work, or setting the optimal fantasy football lineup, we’re interrupted by the ceaseless annoyance of clutter.wood-hut-items-things-large

What’s more, clutter is a silent killer. We don’t realize how often its causing us to get distracted. We don’t realize how much of our energy and focus is being absorbed by the clutter. And won’t realize these things until we eliminate the clutter!

How to address physical clutter

The solution to clutter is obvious – only bring physical things into your home that provide real value. But if you’re looking for some actionable tips, I’ve had good results with the 90-day rule mentioned above, as well as the “replacement rule”. Simply, every time you bring something new  into your home, something old has to go. It works best if the items are roughly the same size. It also works well with cats.

In addition to removing non-value added items, there are steps that we can take to eliminate clutter that doesn’t involve getting rid of anything. Namely, when you’re done with a task, ensure all items are returned to the location/condition in which you found them.

  • When you’re through with a meal put your dishes in their designated location. Same goes for all leftover or unused ingredients. It works best if the designated location isn’t the kitchen table or shower. I’m not judging all you shower eaters out there.
  • Upon completing a project, put all tools away and make sure the area you worked on is clean.
  • Make your bed when you wake up.
  • Put make-up and toiletries items away when you’re done making yourself presentable.

These tasks are laughably simple and I totally felt like a pissy Mom as I was writing them, but I’m confident that adopting them into your routine will be transformative.

I cannot understate the adverse affects physical clutter has on your stress, energy levels, and ability to focus. I see examples of it all around me – in the workplace as well as with friends and family – individuals who have eliminated the physical clutter in their lives are better at their jobs, are healthier, are most pleasant to be around, and in general seem to have a greater quality of life. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Eliminating the physical clutter is a simple (don’t mistake simple for easy) way to optimize your life for what’s truly important to you.


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