Want to get a quick picture of the state of your life? Look your living space(s). Is it clean and neat and organized? Or is it a mess with clothes, books, and random bits of paper strung everywhere? Would an outsider be able to tell exactly where you’ve been in your car? Or do you regularly throw away the McDonald’s wrappers?
I believe that cleaning out your living space is also a way of cleaning out your heart and mind. It puts you in a position to focus on your work, feel at peace, and hear the ideas in your mind and the messages that God wants to give you more clearly. Remember that we cannot effect a change in our lives outwardly until we make changes inwardly.
Here are a few tips for decluttering and a case for making it a lifestyle.
Give everything a place – and then put it there. Every time.
When you’re busy and tired, it’s easy to just throw something on the desk or bed and say “I’ll deal with it later.” Be honest with yourself. Do you actually go back to it later?
Some people are better at this than others. They just seem to have an innate sense to put away everything and keep things tidy 100% of the time. I try to be that type of person. Then the busyness and stress set in, and the pile of things I’ll “get to later” just grows and grows because I keep forgetting or keep convincing myself I’m too tired to put them away. The more it grows, the more effort I know it will take to tidy things up, which makes me dread it more. And so the vicious cycle continues.
Avoid this cycle in the first place by making a conscious choice to put away items as soon as you’re done with them. If, however, you still find yourself facing some Mt-Everest-sized piles, tackle them bit by bit. Schedule it in your planner – for example, I will clear up one pile on Wednesday evening. Alternatively, you can plan to put away 1-2 things in each pile every day for a week.
Be especially diligent about maintaining an uncluttered space in difficult times
Usually this is when we least want to put extra effort into anything. In times of tests and trials, it can take an extraordinary amount of energy and motivation to do any task, even necessary ones. But it is precisely at these times that it is most important to keep your living space clean.
First of all, it may be that keeping your own space clean is one of the few things in your life under your control. It is easy to struggle with discouragement and depression when we feel like nothing is in our control. Don’t let your circumstances control you – you can do something to change your posture and attitude towards your circumstances. Take back your peace in any way you can, which begins with a comfortable living space.
But more importantly, to keep on “fighting the good fight of faith” in times of trial, you need to be strengthened in every way possible on all sides – mind, body, and spirit. You don’t need the stress of clutter slowly picking away at your strength and self-esteem – so just get rid of it.
This brings me to my next point. In case you are still wondering if decluttering is really worth it:
The Benefits of Keeping an Uncluttered Space
- I find that I sleep more peacefully and deeply when my room is clean. Having clutter everywhere seems to make me anxious and keeps me awake longer.
- I find that I have a more fulfilling prayer life when my room is uncluttered, especially my desk (which is where I pray). This is probably mostly because I don’t get tempted by distracting objects on my desk. But I also think that a clear physical space leads our minds to open up to hear God better.
- It’s easier to work with more focus and be more productive in an uncluttered space, for the same reasons as it is easier to pray in a clean room. There are fewer distractions nearby, and a clear desk gives you more working space and makes it easier to concentrate.
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, when I am not working, I often find that I am more creative when my room is clean. The open space helps my mind feel like it is free to wander and wonder “what if.” But when my desk is piled high with old paper drafts, Post-It note reminders, and books that I’ve been meaning to finish, it not only literally crowds the space on my desk, but seems to crowd all the creative thoughts out of my mind.
- It’s easy to find things you need. This one is pretty obvious but I think its importance is often undervalued. The last thing you need in an already busy lifestyle is the stress of “losing” things you really want and need. Often these items are not really lost for good; it’s just that weeks ago, you didn’t put them back in their proper place and now they could be anywhere.
- Overall, keeping a tidy living area sets you up to have a decreased baseline level of stress and anxiety. I think that a lot of the time, clutter is an indicator that you have a lot of “open circles” in your life. My grandmother Mima is always telling me to” close the circles,” or resolve and tie up issues, tasks, assignments, etc. in my life that often add stress on a subconscious level. Have you ever noticed that when you have a project with a long-term deadline, you tend to feel stressed constantly until the deadline has passed? This is the result of having lots of open circles. I dare to say that if you look at the clutter in your room, most of it is composed of open circles or things representing open circles: clothes piled up in the laundry bin, a journal representing the writing you’ve been wanting to work on, books for pleasure that you’ll read as soon as you’re done reading for classes. My advice? Either close the circles (just do the laundry already), or give up on that circle for now (“I will read for pleasure over spring break”). Do anything but leave them open.
Maintaining a lifestyle of being “uncluttered” in mind, body, and spirit may take some discipline and extra effort up front, but I believe that it will bring you peace and joy in the long run.
This is part 4 of a series on time management and productivity. Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, or here for part 3. And share your journey to be “uncluttered” with me on Twitter and Instagram.