What is Clutter Costing You?

Since I have always been a slob, I never thought much about the cost of clutter. I could handle a lot of mess, I thought. The chaos around me didn't bother me. I was like a rock in the river, steadfast and strong, while the mess circulated around me. I barely even noticed it.

But even a rock gets worn down.

(The dead flowers on my kitchen table. Just one example of my clutter.)

Clutter could be costing us quite a bit, perhaps much more than we realize. The cost of clutter might be monetary, spacial, ecological, emotional, psychological, physical, social, intellectual, and/or creative.

I've been hit hardest by my own clutter immediately after a vacation. Coming home after a pleasant (or tiring) interlude is like a punch in the gut. How could I leave my home in such a state? What would burglars think if they broke in? They'd probably turn tail and run, believing the place was already ransacked. (Hmmm. This might not be a downside...)

The financial cost of clutter has many layers. First, it's likely we are all purchasing many products we do not need. (NEED is the key word.) Then, owning all this stuff means we have to spend more money taking care of it. It has to be cleaned, dusted, maintained, polished, washed, dried, dry-cleaned, and maybe even repaired. Some of us buy bigger homes to store all our stuff. Or rent out storage units to store the stuff that doesn't fit inside our homes. How many millions of pounds of stuff end up in landfills each year? Or in the ocean? It's mind boggling.

Living in a chaotic, ugly mess can drag you down. Emotionally, it can feel like a huge weight hanging around your neck. Psychologically, it can feel hopelessly depressing. Like there is no way you will ever see the light. Attacking the mess can feel physically overwhelming, like you just can't find enough energy to deal with it. Because of the magnitude of the problem, it can be difficult to find a place to start. Anything you do feels like it's not enough, like you will never make a dent in the disaster. Everywhere you look, there is more junk, more dirt, more dust, more offensive crap. It can get to the point where navigating through your home is almost impossible, even dangerous.

The social cost of clutter is very real. If, like me, you feel embarrassed by your messy home, you can't invite your friends over. Even a simple thing like a cup of coffee or a casual lunch is impossible. Dinner party? Forget it! The amount of cleaning that would have to take place is beyond daunting. When you compare your atrocious mess to the spic-and-span homes of your friends, you feel ashamed. And bewildered! How on earth do they keep everything so clean???

The intellectual and creative costs of clutter are more subtle, less obvious. But how distracted are you on a daily or hourly or minute-by-minute basis? I always thought I was able to function perfectly well within my messy home, but lately I've been wondering if this is really true. Have I just been in denial? I currently have 5 novels written but I've never finished editing, polishing, and proofreading in order to put them out into the public domain. I could easily come up with a list of reasons (excuses) for why this is so. But how often have I been distracted or just depressed by my surroundings? I've heard our homes are a reflection of our inner states (our minds); if this is true, then I should be terrified.

Acknowledging the problem is always the first step toward finding solutions. I know I've built all kinds of defense mechanisms that help me ignore the mess. I need to tear those down and see my space with fresh eyes. The more I look, the more stuff I find I can get rid of. With patience and practice, I'll get better at this.

Here's to a clean slate in 2016!