My gmail inbox has 1,902 messages in it. I’ve read them and just either not deleted or not filed them. Every so often, I attempt to clean out the inbox, but it always creeps back up, and I just try to pretend it’s not there.
To some, 1,902 messages wouldn’t be a lot. To others, it would be sickening. Personally, I don’t like it. It just feels like clutter, and I don’t like clutter of any variety–digital, physical, emotional, etc.
Clutter is bad for a few reasons:
- It makes you less efficient. The other night, I decided to finally update my phone’s operating system. But there wasn’t even enough space to download the updates. Photos and videos, mostly (hey, my kid is really cute). I got socked in. It became this whole complex process of backing up photos, etc, and it took hours, pushing me well-beyond my bedtime and sucking up my whole night.
- It negatively impacts your brain’s ability to handle new information. Citing scientific studies, Michael Cho of ooomf notes, “clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress,” impacting creativity as well.
- It can hold us back. I think that emotional clutter can weigh on our emotional health the way physical stuff can physically get in the way. When you hold onto negative emotions, or ideals that don’t jive with reality, it can keep you from living in the present and making the most out of what’s real in your life.
- It can even make us sad.
Despite despising clutter, I develop emotional attachments to items, and I enjoy surrounding myself with objects that I find beautiful or inspiring. I like to collect and group and have things to organize. And I dislike throwing things away. When I was starting kindergarden, I was afraid to leave the house for the day, fearing that my clutter-averse mother would cull my stuffed animal collection.
But I’m starting to feel overloaded with stuff. Between having a third (albeit tiny) person in the house, having moved multiple times on short notice in the last few years, and not having much time, we have accumulated too much stuff — crowding our closets, weighing down bookshelves, spilling out of spaces that shouldn’t have been occupied in the first place. The digital clutter is equally suffocating.
It’s time to declutter.
When I was growing up, I distinctly remember the days of spring cleaning–the curtains would come down and get put in the wash, the storm windows would get pulled out and stacked in the living room waiting for the Windex, the furniture would get pushed into the kitchen while the rug was shampooed. We’d play “spit” on the displaced kitchen table and polish the silver.
The annual ritual was always exciting. There was something thrilling about moving the couches, discovering things we’d lost and sweeping up the dust bunnies. We’d take away the living room rug for the warmer days to come, and the room felt so huge with its newly bare floor. The house would be clean and fresh, and it was a clear sign of the approaching summer.
As I think about traditions I want to build with our family, I know that spring cleaning is one I want to carry over from my own childhood. This year’s spring clean is going to be about decluttering.
Divide and conquer is my plan of attack — one room at a time (per day or weekend, whatever makes sense), so as not to get entirely overwhelmed. I’ll chose one digital project per week to manage–email, photos, music, etc. It might be ambitious, and it might take longer than one season! But I know that even accomplishing some decluttering will be freeing.
What is your relationship with clutter? What do you get hung up on, and how do you manage it? Do you spring clean?