A Clutter-Free Life

Hands sticking up from pile of clothes

Closets stuffed with clothes, handbags, and shoes you haven’t worn in years.

Junk drawers filled with expired batteries, rubber bands, and dried-up pens. Half the time when you try to open those drawers, they get stuck!

Book shelves crammed with books behind piles of more books. Some are favorites, others you’ve read but will never read again, and more you haven’t read, but think you’ll read “someday.”

Boxes filled with your children’s drawings, letters from your grandmother, cards from your spouse, parents, and dear friends. Old toys, knick-knacks, and bank statements from 20 years ago.

There is an emotional weight to accumulated things.

There is a cost to having too much stuff. When things clutter your living and working areas, they also take up space in your mind and heart. Getting rid of stuff you don’t need or want makes room for what you do need and want. It gives you the space and perspective to see new possibilities. Room to breathe.

Multi-colored daisies in glass on table

I do keep my living spaces mostly free of clutter, and I love how they feel. But my office and spare room had become nothing more than storage areas. Even though I didn’t use those rooms much, the way I felt when I walked past, or went in to get something, weighed on me.

I look at my living space as a kind of mirror of my inner space. My creative space (my office) and my health space (room with the elliptical machine) were completely neglected. Guess which areas of my life I was not honoring?

Honoring your creative space is essential to supporting your creative work, whatever it may be.

And truthfully, the neglected rooms/parts of myself got that way during a series of very difficult times of my life, when it was all I could do to get the basics taken care of. My divorce, the loss of a family member, the death of my dog who was like a daughter to me, a toxic work situation. The lack of any substantive emotional support. All I had to do was look into those rooms and feel the overwhelm of the grief of those times.

Don’t get me wrong; some messes are wonderful. It’s not about living in a Pottery Barn ad! I love the way my table looks when I’ve been painting, with paper and brushes and watercolors and a muddy glass of water from rinsing blues and reds and yellows from my brushes. But when I’m finished and I put them away, it clears space for my next creative project.

Watercolor brushes

So the messes left over from fun, creative moments are beautiful in their own way. But the mess left over from putting everything else in my life ahead of my own body and spirit, not so much.

Go easy on yourself.

Because of the emotional weight of clutter, it can be very difficult to face and tackle on your own. If you let go of shame and embarrassment, treat yourself with compassion (really, you’re not the only person on the Earth with clutter), and nurture yourself by getting the support you need, you can de-clutter and open up the parts of your life you’ve been neglecting.

I hired a professional organizer to help me, and it’s made a world of difference. She comes once a week and helps me see through the chaos. My office and my workout room are taking shape back into usable space. It’s a process, one that I’ll be in for another month or so, but I see the light beneath the piles, so-to-speak.

Although going through my clothes, books, papers, and mementos is difficult—I’m facing lost dreams, evaluating what gives me joy and what feels like a burden, and learning to let go of what no longer serves me—I know it’s a spiritual process as much as a physical one. I know I need to do it, and the vision of how my living space—and my life—will feel when its done keeps me motivated.

How would discarding things you no longer want or need improve the space you live in?

How would that support your creativity?

Acts of Kindness

What you do—and who you are—matters more than you may realize. And seemingly small acts of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life. As Ian Maclaren reminds us:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I still remember a kindness from over thirty years ago, and have often thought of it as an example to live by. It had a profound affect on me because it was given so nonchalantly, in passing, yet it was deeply thoughtful.

Patch on my old YPSS hat

The patch on my old YPSS hat

The summer after my freshman year in college, I worked at the Fishing Bridge service station in Yellowstone National Park. I pumped gas, checked oil and air filters, patched tires, that sort of thing.

It was a fun job, working outside, playing hacky-sack during the slow times, hiking on days off.

Although I’d had a job before, I had never had to count back change. It’s a simple thing, but I wasn’t used to doing it.

One day early in the summer, a man who looked to be in his late 50s stopped at the gas station. I walked up to his window and his eyes lit up with surprise. I guess back then it wasn’t common for a woman to be pumping gas. While I checked his car’s oil and air filter, he kept going on and on about how he’d never had a woman pump gas for him. Needless to say, I found his giddy condescension quite irritating and was looking forward to sending him on his way.

When it came time to pay, we were standing outside his car. He handed me a 100 dollar bill and I shortchanged him by 50 dollars. Oops.

When he realized my mistake, his big smile evaporated into a frown. I felt bad about it, and I felt stupid. I also knew I’d reinforced his chauvinistic view of women, and that added to my embarrassment.

Just at that moment, Joe, one of the guys who worked at the station, walked by us, counting cash in his hand, and said “I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve done that.” It completely diffused the situation. And it made me feel better; I certainly was not the first person to accidentally shortchange someone.

Nickel coin

The man grumpily recounted his change, then got into his car and drove away.

That is still one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. For me. It was such a little comment, said in passing, but at that moment, when I felt so young and exposed and embarrassed, it was a huge act of kindness. And he didn’t have to say it.

Thanks, Joe.

When have you done or said something just to be kind?

What is an example of a kindness that you remember?