March 13, 2010

“It’s Never About the Clutter”

A few days ago I had the chance to pick up and look at a book purporting to use ideas from personal organization to help people lose weight. This was a book that was released to great fanfare a few years ago, but it never caught on, and flipping through the pages, it was easy to see why.

People these days are in a hurry. They want their problems simplified, and are rightly skeptical when someone suggests making a problem more complicated than it is already. Here was a book that encourages you, if you want to lose weight, to first get all the clutter out of your house before you try to lose weight — but even that wasn’t the starting point. “It’s never about the clutter,” the author said. Don’t even look at the clutter, he was saying, because first you need to discover the underlying issues that created the clutter.

Fortunately, there is no need to make life so complicated. If anyone needs to lose weight and get rid of clutter, I have good news: decluttering can be good exercise. In general, as soon as you realize what is important to you in life, go right to it. You don’t have to make a plan or write it in your schedule. Just get started. Maybe you’ll find that you do need to uncover the issues that led to the clutter in your life, but if so, the simplest way to find them is in the clutter itself. If your issue is, “It’s so hard for me to decide what to do with this stuff from college,” or something like that, you’ll never figure that out by sitting in a chair and thinking, but you’ll discover it quickly if you start going through the clutter piece by piece.

The big issues in your life, the places where you are stuck in some way, are all represented in your personal possessions. In that sense, it is more accurate to say, “It’s never not about the clutter.” You can’t change your clutter without changing your life at the same time, so if you have clutter, and it bothers you, you don’t have to look for a way to approach the problem. The place to start is with the clutter.

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