March 22, 2016

Clutter-Busting in the Face of Bad News

I woke this morning to reports of bombings. Unknown assailants had killed 20 people on their way to work, along with more people in other locations. This kind of news can cast a shadow over a day, even one as sunny as today is in Pennsylvania. I have been telling myself for years in situations like this that the best response to death is for those of us who remain alive to live our lives the best we know how to. That sentiment doesn’t help as much as it might seem it should. It can be hard in the face of disaster to focus on all the tedious work that must be done. It is still better to do some work than to give in to despair (or morbid curiosity, poring over news that says the same thing it said an hour ago) and do no work at all. Whatever work you can do on day one makes day two seem that much lighter.

Everyone has a different reaction to the many varied forms of bad news that may come along, so there is no simple that will work for everyone who has a reason to attempt clutter-busting or similar detail-oriented problem-solving work in the shadow of bad news. You may be in a state in which you can’t proceed with your usual skill and energy at the specific work you had planned for yourself. The two general strategies are to find ways to improve your state, and to find useful work you can do in your current state.

A disaster elsewhere makes it easier to focus on some forms of clutter, clutter that could create a disaster in your own home. Some of the most flammable solvents and spray cans and some chemical poisons are materials that you are better off not having unless you will be using them in the near future. Some chemicals, especially cleaners, are good to have but should be stored with an eye to safety. Disaster news may be easier to take psychologically if you know you have taken steps to make your household safer.

A gloomy mood may make it easier to let go of some things, particularly stuff from the past that has lost most of its meaning over time anyway. This could be clothing you haven’t worn in years because the style is wrong or the leftover materials from a project you finished ages ago. Let go of that book you never managed to read and the souvenirs of a trip you barely remember. The low-energy mood makes letting-go decisions easier because you are less likely to interrupt yourself with pie-in-the-sky scenarios in which the stuff you’re looking at could become useful. Whatever kind of day it seems to be, it is still your day and a chance to see what you can make of it.

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