defining clutter

There is a push and pull relationship between zero waste and minimalism – for me anyway. I started this post back in January, when everyone was watching Tidying Up and I was feeling the itch to tackle the stuff that is everywhere…again. I struggle with competing feelings of wanting to let go of items I am no longer using (minimalism) and holding on to items that are still useful and could be repurposed (zero waste). I plan to continue digging into different aspects of these themes in future posts, but five months after realizing how damn emotional I am about it, I will put this out there first.

There are a lot of types of clutter. From all the blog reading I have been doing, the number of ways you can categorize clutter becomes overwhelming itself. So, that’s clutter too, I suppose. The definition of clutter depends on the guru or “lifestyle personality” or whomever. I am neither a guru nor a personality. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing here. I’m just doing this out loud because I think maybe I am not the only one who feels at a bit of a loss.

My inability to get control of my living environment, my emotional paralysis to deal with it, and the anxiety and guilt surrounding it are “that bad” to me.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed about all the stuff in my home, and how it makes me feel. That I will never get control of my house. That yes, I could just clean it because it is “not that bad” but what is the point because it will just be there tomorrow. That there is just so much STUFF that I cannot ever get out in front of it. That everything in this house owns ME. My husband asks me what I think is “clutter” and I just can’t say. I just know that I feel it.

Bedroom Mirror.JPG
One time I did completely tidy our bedroom, take a photo, and run it through a million filters.

Years ago I posted photos on social media (not the one above) of areas that bother me and was immediately met with many comments of “That’s not so bad! You should see my house!” I can appreciate that they were made in jest, or as a compliment, or both. I really do, and I understand what was meant by the comments. I usually go in for that sort of thing. My posts were even funny-ish! It surprised me then, how invalidating it felt, how upset and defensive I got. No one is more surprised that I am in how those comments made me feel.

In talking with my husband about it, the floodgates of the EMOTIONS tied up in all of this have opened. My inability to get control of my living environment, my emotional paralysis to deal with it, and the cycle of anxiety and guilt surrounding it are “that bad” to me. I think it has tapped into a pretty raw nerve in how I feel about a lack of control not just in my environment, but in my wider place in the world.

Clutter is relative – to you, to your home, to your circumstances.

It is physical, mental, emotional.

I am an anxious person, sometimes to my great detriment. I struggle greatly with anxiety and have sought different forms of medication and therapy for it my entire adult life. I feel a tremendous amount of anxiety about the sheer quantity of things I own and the associated guilt of both keeping AND tossing them. I know my environment will never be perfect, but it can be better.  The only thing that ever really quieted the anxiety was mindful meditation – simplifying, quieting the mind, and being present. I have spun so far away from this that I am fighting upstream to get back. Intentionally creating a sense of peace and calm in my home will help to cultivate this simplicity in my heart.

The purpose of our shift into a low waste lifestyle is to cultivate a simpler, more sustainable life. I want our home to feel like home. That intangible something that makes your shoulders relax when you cross the threshold. I am doing this because I recognize a critical need to simplify my environment for a sense of peace and calm in my home, which I believe will pay dividends into how at home I feel in my own skin.

In essence, my clutter is not your clutter. It is not what someone else says it is. Clutter is relative – to you, to your home, to your circumstances. It is physical, mental, emotional. It is piles of crap on the counter, junk drawers, cluttered inboxes, held grudges, clothes that don’t fit, old birthday cards, and receipts for gum. It is boxes you mean to go through, books you don’t read, empty paint cans, too many mugs, and out of control toys. It is “just in case”, and “someday”, and a gift, and inherited, and “maybe”. It is exhausting.

It is whatever you think it is.

What do you think it is? (Please note that mason jars are forever exempt from the definition of clutter.)

2 thoughts on “defining clutter

  1. Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing this post. It resonated with me more than I would like to admit. I too am attempting to live a more mindful, minimal, and waste-free life with my husband and 2 young kids. And damnit, it’s hard! There are days when I just look at it all and cry, knowing I want to start reducing things somewhere – anywhere – but don’t know where to even begin. This is made even more difficult by my own emotional & mental state. Like yourself, I also suffer from anxiety and many days the sheer idea of taking the first step gets me so worked up I have to lay in bed for hours until I can calm down. It’s debilitating. I find comfort knowing that each day is a new opportunity to make the changes I do desperately crave in our home, and that losing time here and there (whatever the reason) does not mean I’m failing or have failed; they’re just little speed bumps along this oftentimes difficult, yet worthwhile and necessary journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes yes yes! Just nodding my head along over here…. i also feel the conflict of decluttering to serenity and keeping potentially useful items. For me i pretty much just had to decide that the serenity was more important for my mental state. I try really hard to make sure stuff goes somewhere they have the potential to be used again, but sometimes it does mean trash. I just take it as a lesson on not acquiring in the first place and (try) to let it go.

    It was interesting to me what you said about control as i recently identified that when my anxiety flares up i am driven to declutter and clean and simplify because my little environment is the only thing i can control, not the big world, and not my own emotions. Unfortunately for me (kinda sorta not really) i have pretty much reached the end of my decluttering journey (7 moves will extra motivate you) so unless i want to go extreme minimalist and get rid of items that do “spark joy” cause it is just stuff in the end… i need to learn a new coping skill. Although lets be honest. My apartment could always use a cleaning but thats not as fun…

    Liked by 1 person

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