From Chaos to Comfort:
Unclutter Your Home, Your Head and Your
It wasn't always clutter.
Once upon a time (maybe just last year?) it seemed like
good stuff. It may have been fun to dream about, shop for, or
receive as a gift. It may have been delightful to use, lovely
to look at, or both. But that was then.
Now it's all just...too...much.
Clutter is like guests that become pests: overstaying their
welcome, taking up room in your life while contributing
nothing but complications and chaos. But the objects clogging
your home aren't clutter's only manifestations, just the most
visible ones. There are also the clutter intangibles: stuff
that overwhelms your mind, weighs down your heart, and
suffocates your spirit.
If you've been yearning to lighten your load, here are some
simple steps to get you started--and keep you going.
Start With Your Heart
"The world is rumbling and
erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions,
conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us
all…But just how far can we implement this planetal
awareness? …My life cannot implement in action the demands
of all the people to whom my heart responds."
Morrow Lindbergh, A Gift From the Sea (1955)
You don't have to be clinically depressed or grief-stricken
to experience a malaise born of sadness, stress, or
sensitivity to the suffering of others. When you're weighed
down by a heavy heart, moving forward can seem like a colossal
In any year, life hands us events that can fill our hearts
to breaking. Personal misfortune can be compounded by local
and universal tragedies. For example, the events of September
11 still echo in our hearts. "People who didn't lose
loved ones still feel as though they lost someone or
something," says Dr. Robert J. Gottlieb, a San
Diego-based clinical psychologist. "The feeling of
'things will never be the same' is common."
For sensitive souls, it is hard not to think about the
families of the victims, and the men and women in our armed
forces overseas. At the same time, we really don't want to
forget their sacrifices; and we do want to remember some of
the many extraordinary acts of kindness that have followed
So, how can you leave behind the heaviness while keeping
the fullness of feeling? That is the challenge. A few ideas to
help lighten your heart:
Don't set unrealistic goals. Eliminate one
source of guilt: for example, if you have a habit of breaking
your new year's resolutions, either don't make any new ones or
"only make resolutions consisting of a small step or
steps towards your goal," suggests Dr. Gottlieb.
Otherwise you may be setting yourself up for failure.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and giving. A
grateful and generous heart has space for peace. By making a
conscious effort to count your blessings on a daily basis and
to help others, you may feel your heart lifting as the weight
of last year's heartbreak slips away.
If you can't forgive, at least forget. The
conventional wisdom is that forgiveness is necessary for inner
peace. But that's not always true. If you are weighed down by
a burden of anger that flares up when you think of forgiving
its source, perhaps it's time to learn "forgetness"
instead. This isn't to say you should completely forget--after
all, "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat
it"; it just means you can choose not to let grudges and
grievances color your outlook or intrude on your thoughts.
A Load Off Your Mind
"There are worse things than
having a poor memory--like remembering stuff that should have
been forgotten long ago."
When your mind is overloaded, overwhelm becomes a chronic
condition. There are two main contributors to mental clutter:
stuff to remember (to-do's and information) and stuff to
forget (worries and annoyances). If you keep remembering the
stuff you should forget, you'll keep forgetting the stuff you
want to remember. After all, there's only a limited amount of
space on your mental hard drive. Letting go of mental clutter
gives you room for creative thinking--and peace of mind.
You don't have to take up meditation (or medication) to
achieve an uncluttered mind. One of the simplest ways to clear
your muddled head is to download your thoughts onto a page.
Stuff to remember belongs on lists (to-do's) or in systems
(information); stuff to forget can be safely jettisoned by way
of journals or less structured repositories, such as scrap
Writing things down is not only a method for managing
mental clutter--it's also a healthy habit. Studies have shown
that "cathartic writing" can lower blood pressure
and increase the level of disease-fighting lymphocytes in the
Lists, notes and/or journals can be discarded whenever
you're ready to let go of them. Until then, you can designate
a place to keep them so that they don't add to your tangible
From Clutter to Clarity
"In times of stress, order and
serenity in our homes becomes even more important. We cannot
control world events but we can take care of things around the
--Sandra Felton, Founder of Messies
Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply wave farewell to
your clutter guests and watch them vanish? Good-bye, piles of
paper! Adios, stacks of videos and books! Ciao, mounds of
useless gifts and mountains of memorabilia!
Unfortunately, letting go of clutter usually isn't so
painless. But it can be less painful--and even
1. Recognize clutter for what it is. Tangible
clutter is anything that currently creates stress for you
because of its appearance, condition, location, arrangement,
and/or quantity. Having too much of a good thing can create
just as much clutter as keeping lots of not-so-good things.
2. Remind yourself that most things are replaceable,
but time isn't. In most cases, once you've let go of
something you won't miss it--contrary to the popular belief
that "as soon as I get rid of something I'll need
it." If you do end up regretting getting rid of anything,
don't worry--you'll likely get over it. However, if you often
find yourself grieving over the loss of something that was
never alive to begin with, seek counseling.
3. Deal with paper clutter and non-paper clutter
separately. Going through piles of paper often
requires more focus than what's needed for dealing with other
kinds of clutter. (Note: The IRS offers guidelines on how long
certain records must be kept. Visit www.irs.gov or call
1-703-487-4608 and request Publication 552. ) Group similar
items together (e.g., paid bills, receipts, and statements;
toys and games; office supplies and stationery, etc.) to help
you see how much of each type you've accumulated; then tackle
each category separately.
4. Make it easy to discard or donate. Before
you start plowing through your stuff, get some roomy boxes to
use for donations and discards (be sure to label them). It’s
easier--and quicker--to toss stuff into boxes than to struggle
with floppy bags or tiny wastebaskets.
5. Deadline it. Clutter will usually stay put
until one of two things occurs: you're finally ready to deal
with it because you just can't stand it anymore, or you have a
real deadline--houseguests; a party; moving. Generally
speaking, a deadline is more likely to generate action than
Uncluttering your life goes beyond just getting rid of
excess stuff. It's really about letting go of whatever is
weighing you down and keeping you from soaring towards your
dreams. If you let go of what you can do without, you may be
amazed at what you can find within.
"Do everything with a mind that
lets go. Do not expect any praise or reward. If you let go a
little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you
will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will
know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world
will have come to an end."
--Achaan Chah (quoted in A
Grateful Heart by M.J. Ryan)
Copyright © 2002 Harriet Schechter.
All Rights Reserved.
of Clutter" Retreat
To help women who
are seeking to transform their lives from chaos to comfort,
Harriet is now offering one-on-one, customized "Let Go of
Clutter" retreats at her home in the beautiful seaside
village of Santa Barbara, California. For details, please
SoulfulLiving souls can receive
a $50 discount off the retreat tuition simply by mentioning
SoulfulLiving when you contact Harriet (offer valid through
November 30, 2002).
Harriet Schechter (a.k.a.
"The Miracle Worker") is an internationally
acclaimed organizing and time management expert, author,
and speaker. Dispensing equal doses of help, hope and
humor, she specializes in providing effective and
realistic options for anyone juggling too much stuff, too
many decisions, and too little time. Since 1986 Harriet
has helped thousands of people conquer chaos and clutter
through her San Diego-based company, The Miracle Worker
Organizing Service. She is the author of three books,
including Let Go of Clutter (McGraw-Hill, 2001),
which is based on the popular "Letting Go of
Clutter" workshop series she has taught regularly
since 1988 for the Learning Annex. She has appeared on
numerous radio and television programs, including Good
Morning America and CNN, and has been featured and quoted
in dozens of publications such as the New York Times, the
Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Ladies Home
Journal, Family Circle, Woman's Day, and many others.
Harriet writes an online
advice column and offers helpful tips and resources through
her main web site, www.MiracleOrganizing.com,
where you can also find information on her books and
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