Using Mindfulness to Tackle Clutter
Just as mindfulness helps us clear our minds, it can also help us clear a path through the house.
When my house gets really out of control—as it often does, because I have two small children—my husband will say, “We have a bad case of The Heaps.” It’s a dreaded disease, The Heaps, involving mountains of clean laundry, piles of toys and hills of papers. The rolling home landscape starts to feel insurmountable, and I find myself becoming cranky and sluggish.
According to mindfulness experts, that makes sense. “When we operate on autopilot in our lives, we cease to be aware of what is happening right now,” writes Erin Dolan, on the blog Unclutterer. “A significant amount of clutter in our homes could be eliminated simply by being more mindful in the present.” Mindfulness can help us have awareness of our issues, our emotional “stuff” but it can also help us become aware of our literal stuff and our surroundings.
So start with the big picture. “Where are you going? Why are you on this planet? Why do you live and breathe? … Create your space to support that,” said professional organizer Star Hansen, during an appearance on OWN TV. “What do you want to fill your life with? The other stuff falls away.”
When you touch an object, ask, “Does it lift me up, or bring me down?” It’s a lot like the company we keep: You want to surround yourself with people who make you feel good, rather than people who complain or enable bad habits, so surround yourself with belongings that you need and love. Here’s a room-by-room guide for using mindfulness to streamline your home.
Practice honesty. Holidays only come once a year, so move anything seasonal (turkey baster, Fourth of July cake mold) out of the kitchen into deeper storage. Those items can be brought out when the time is right, rather than lurking around all year. Next, let go of any objects that relate to fantasies you may be harboring. “I should use this waffle maker/try the kimchi starter set/make jelly.” If you don’t make your own preserves, that is fine. Relish—pardon the pun—the self you are now, not who you may or may not become.
Practice compassion. Pare down your drawers and crock jar, saving only the kitchen tools that you really use. Take the rest to a woman’s shelter. People who are starting their whole lives over need basic supplies, so donate the kitchenware to them, and send tidings of safety and nourishment.
Practice releasing emotion. Living rooms tend to accumulate sentimental clutter—Grandma’s teacup, a vase from Mom. Ask yourself if you really, truly love an object, or the person. Perhaps you can take a photo or write a story about the object, then release it. Maybe there’s another family member who would enjoy it and who has more space. You can also sell an item and donate the funds to Grandma’s favorite charity.
If there are heavy emotions attached to an object—let’s say it was a wedding gift for a marriage that has since soured—and you want to get rid of it but feel immobilized, consider having a “funeral” for it. Gather a few friends, say a poem, and let them take it from your home for you.
Practice daily. Bedrooms are notorious for two types of clutter: papers and clothing. For clothing, spend a few minutes at the end of the day to put away your outfit. Think about how much more relaxed you’ll be in a bedroom humming with subtle energy, rather than “stuck” with clots of jeans and socks. Professional organizers note that one reason clothing piles up is our drawers and closets are too full to make putting clean laundry in. We need to either get rid of some clothes, or invest in more storage, such as another dresser.
For paper, create a system of paper management that suits your lifestyle. Perhaps you have a lot of receipts for work, so get a scanner. Kids’ artwork? A bin, labeled with each child’s name, that can now live in their closet, not on your desk. Bills and financial papers will be happy in a filing cabinet or even inside a vintage trunk.
Bedrooms can easily get overwhelming, because we tend to clean “public” areas of the home, like the kitchen, more often and shove everything we don’t want to deal with into our bedrooms. If you’re feeling completely paralyzed by a room, try this: Every time you enter the room, stop, take a deep breath, put one object away, then get on with whatever it was you were doing.
Practice discipline. Use the mantra, “One In, Two Out.” Anything that comes into your home needs to be balanced by two objects leaving. Does this mean you have to throw things out? Of course not. Recycle whatever you can. Earth 911 has a handy guide to recycling just about everything, even the tricky stuff, like paint, medications and CFL lightbulbs.
Practice acceptance. Take everything out of the cramped, stuffed cabinets, wipe the shelves clean, and then as you place each object back, examine it and think about whether you really need it in your life. Expired sunscreen? Lipstick that is slightly the wrong shade? Bath salts from 2003? Let them go, and save room for what is either a necessity or a thing of true beauty.
The Present Moment
Decluttering takes a little energy to get started, but once you begin flowing, you’ll find it’s a form of moving meditation. Mindfulness teaches us to be in the present moment—not the past and not the future—so as you clean, move steadily from one small area to another, giving each your complete attention. You might even choose a mantra, like, “As I declutter, I free myself up to live in the present.”
Kathryn Drury Wagner is a freelance editor and writer in Los Angeles. She blogs about vintage style at The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything.