“Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.” Thomas Merton
I like home décor and decorating television shows. An old favorite is “Clean House” on the Style channel. The premise of the show is simple. The “Clean House” team (organizer, designer, handyman and host) arrives at a home that is completely over-run with lots and lots of clutter. They use all sorts of tactics to pry the clutter loose from the grasp of the inhabitants and then sell the clutter in a huge yard sale and donate whatever is left to charity. The yard sale proceeds (plus a little extra) are used to make over the home into a functional and inviting space. When the homeowners play along, the transformations are really quite incredible.
As the team begins to sort the various items, identifying what should go, disagreements break out over who should let go of what. No one wants to give up their own stuff but everyone is quick to point out what the other family members should give up. This accumulation of stuff is literally rendering their homes unlivable. They know this is the truth but they are overwhelmed by the task of cleaning it up or sometimes, they don’t really want to get rid of the excess. They just don’t want to see it or have to step over it any more. Often it is clear that they really hope the clutter can be organized and stored, rather than gotten rid of.
There are mothers of teenagers who can’t let go of baby clothes and bassinets and young adults hanging on to a childhood’s worth of toys. There are piles of clothes, craft supplies, power tools, pots and pans, books, car parts, holiday décor and super-sized collections of every sort, ranging from velvet Jesus paintings to Viking helmets. Sometimes the things belonged to a beloved family member who has passed away. Sometimes it is left from a failed business venture.
As the home owners stand in the doorway, gazing upon an unusable room, they will explain to the team what the purpose of the room is supposed to be…dining room, living room, guest bedroom…and then they express what they would like to room to become... home office, nursery, craft room, or simply functional again. But when it comes down to letting go of all the clutter housed there in order to transform the room into what they say they want, most of them put up a big ole’ fight. I’m sure some of it is staged for the camera but clearly in many cases, the team hits a real nerve. These folks have seen the show, they know what kind of transformation lies ahead, they ASKED for this and still, it is an enormous struggle to part with these things. It’s humbling to be honest about the condition of their home. And it’s a big job to begin clearing the mess.
I’m sure you know where I am headed with this. About 20 years ago, I read a book called “Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston. At the time, I wasn’t all that sure about the feng shui part but I found the book very inspiring. Now, I wasn’t knee deep in clutter but I did have many, many things that just didn’t serve me any more….clothes that no longer fit but had cost “good money”, knick knacks that weren’t “me” but came from an expensive store or were a gift from a dear friend, books I read but would never read again, and so forth. In her book, Karen says that your outer state is a physical representation of your inner state. That really got my attention. That made me uncomfortable. That gave me something to think about.
I invite you to reflect on that. If it makes you uncomfortable, that's ok. The goal here is not to judge how you feel but simply to notice it and then to sit with it. What do you hold in your heart that you no longer need? A tendency to perfectionism? Anger? Resentment? Fear? Judgement? Like the homeowners on “Clean House,” we can choose to be very brave….we can choose to be very honest …and we can choose to dig deep, past the surface layer.
It can be very, very difficult to dig down deep. In spiritual direction practice, we have a saying..."a dragon guards the treasure." It can be very scary to confront that fire breathing dragon but truly that is what we must do if we are seeking transformation.
We have very good reasons for the emotions we carry with us. Life is not fair. We are human and we get hurt and we get angry and frustrated and defensive and self-righteous and we become fearful. Like the homeowner who cannot fathom giving up her only daughter’s out grown baby clothes, we cannot imagine giving up our perfectionism, our anger and our expectations and yet, that is exactly what we need to do in order to truly live. As physical clutter renders a home unlivable, emotional clutter keeps us trapped in the past; unable to live fully; unable to move forward; unable to claim the kingdom. We can choose to create space in our homes for living and we can choose to create space in our hearts for Divine Transformation.
Now, not many of us can claim clutter free homes any more than we can claim clutter free hearts. After reading my post, if you are beginning to judge yourself harshly, please stop. Harsh judgement of oneself is not Sacred. Allow yourself some Grace. Remember...
peace and all good,
(A version of this post originally appeared on The Bluevine Collective. I have been revisiting the issue of clutter, both the physical and emotional, in my own life and so I am revisiting this post. In the original post, which ran in September of 2010, I noticed that I said, "we must" and "we have to" and "we should." I have intentionally changed that wording to "we can choose to.")