How to Understand the Causes of Clutter in Your Life

The causes of clutter vary by individual. Kerry Thomas, founder of Conquer the Chaos professional organizers, has advice for conquering the clutter in your life. This extends beyond just the physical clutter, though, and into some surprising areas that may be holding you back. Check out her TEDx Talk from April 2017 below:

Clutter: It’s Not Just Our Stuff

Most people hear the word “clutter” and immediately think of piles of paper or junk drawers in the kitchen. According to Thomas, though, there’s more to clutter than just our physical stuff. In fact, she identifies the following five areas where we as individuals often let collected clutter hold us back:

  • Physical—Typical things like clothes that no longer fit, old files, junk mail, etc.
  • Digital—This could be the thousands of unopened emails languishing in your inbox, or hundreds of files on your desktop without meaningful naming conventions.
  • Mental—These include voices constantly in your mind, whether it’s bad news on the TV, fears, anxieties, etc.
  • Emotional—This type of clutter stems from negative patterns or behaviours you might not even realize you have. It could include guilt, shame, or any other type of behaviour that is not serving you positively.
  • Spiritual—This could include a lack of forgiveness, either of yourself or others, and a lack of peace.

In other words, clutter can be anything that keeps you from living the life that you want to lead. The first step in removing this clutter from your life is identifying where it exists. We can’t fix what we can’t see (Scott Dinsmore’s philosophy), so take a few moments to list these different types of clutter. Pinpoint any areas of your life that need a little extra attention. Once you’ve identified the areas of your life that need some work, you can begin to tackle them one by one and clear out the blockages.

Clutter is A Postponed Decision

Thomas says that all types of clutter have one thing in common: they stem from postponed decisions.

When you look at the list you created, does the root of each item stem from indecision? In the case of emotional clutter, this could be not dealing with self-defeating thoughts until eventually they overcome and paralyze you. Spiritually, you could be holding a grudge against a person who doesn’t even know you’re angry. Maybe you know instinctively that you need to forgive and move on, but haven’t chosen to have that difficult conversation and clear the air.

Physically, it could be a pile of clothes on your closet shelf that you’re putting off deciding about. The piles represent the decisions you haven’t yet made: Am I really going to put forth the effort to lose weight and fit into these again? Am I actually going to take these pants to the dry cleaners for mending? Am I going to put these winter clothes in their proper box and store them away until next winter?

Adopt the One-Touch Anti-Clutter Rule

Do you check the mail when you get home from work, put the pile on the table, only to move it on the counter when you need the table for dinner, and then move it from the counter back to the table when it’s time to wash dishes? If this sounds like you, consider adopting the One-Touch Rule, which mandates that you make a concrete decision on each item of paper the moment it touches your hands. When you get the mail, sort it immediately and make a decision on each piece. Put junk in the recycling bin. Add important dates to your calendar. Place action items on your desk; then sit down and act on them.

The same One-Touch Rule applies to other areas of clutter. The moment you feel a negative thought creep into your mind, you can practice doing what you do with junk mail. Process the information, decide whether it adds value to your life, and either act on it or discard it as needed.

This immediate decision-making is simple, but not necessarily easy. That’s because we are so used to putting off these small decisions. However, as with all habits, practicing decision-making builds muscle memory and soon it becomes second nature. Then, instead of saving up hundreds of decisions to deal with (or be overwhelmed by) all at once, you’ll be able to devote just a few minutes of each day to the unpleasant tasks.

Make a Decision

The One-Touch Rule is simple but so rewarding because it creates momentum. Making one decision, even a tiny one, and acting on that decision, empowers you to make more. One small change will snowball into many, and eventually you’ll break through the clutter and find your intentional life.

About The Author

Camille Fairbanks

Camille Fairbanks was born and raised in Arizona and now resides in Lethbridge, AB. She received her BA in English from the University of Lethbridge; she now raises her children and her garden full time, and enjoys writing about minimalism and the Zero Waste lifestyle on her blog, The Non-Waster.