Losing Each Other in the Clutter
Clutter eliminates opportunities to connect with each other.
I used to meet with a client in New Jersey whose house was so hoarded that her children refused to bring her grandchildren over to play; the house was dangerous. My client felt that her children, the parents, were being a little silly… But after seeing the house myself, I had to agree with them. There were “goat paths” (actual term used for narrow walkways in a hoarded home) throughout the house, and I had to be very careful as I moved through- things had a tendency to avalanche. The children and grandkids stayed at a hotel when they were in town. I felt that this was an incredibly powerful motivation to get rid of things, and I felt so optimistic: I was a beginning organizer, and I had seen a few episodes of Hoarders when the client goes into what I have come to call a “f*ck it mode”, and suddenly wakes up and says “OH MY GOD, if I do not take advantage of this incredibly helpful and generous cleaning crew, therapist and organizer being here, I will [not get my kids back/get evacuated/die alone]”- and then the real purging begins!! Welp, my client didn’t make it to f*ck it mode, and eventually snapped at me for suggesting that we “let some of these [whatever they were] go, to make room for playing with the grandkids.”
I was a novice, and was in over my head. I’m sure I phrased it in a way that could have been truckloads more sensitive and empathic. But I also knew that this was a lost cause- I was not the best fit for this woman. So we stopped working together.
*I’d like to clarify that no matter HOW messy a home is, it doesn’t phase me much. I am more concerned with a potential client’s willingness to let go of the old clutter- attitude is everything. I’m better now at attracting the jobs where people want to release, instead of people who simply want me to rearrange their clutter and make it look nice.*
That’s a pretty extreme story. But if you are not a clinical hoarder, clutter can still usurp your time and energy that could belong to your peeps. Even a little dining room/living room clutter can make some folks feel too ashamed to entertain.
How about Joshua Becker’s famous story of how he became a minimalist? He decided to spend his entire day off cleaning out the garage; meanwhile his son was disappointed that they couldn’t play together instead.
Or… If we clutter up the entire back of the car in bumper stickers that shout what kind of person we are (and where we stand on every issue, and how intimate we are with our cats), and somebody reads all of it and decides that they don’t really need to get to know us, because they can already tell exactly who we are from our car…. Well… That’s kind of a missed opportunity to connect, right? Maybe that sounds like a weird example, but I think it’s relevant: We use our possessions in a way that might work against our desire to connect to each other.
What do you own that is stealing your time? We seldom pay for our stuff once: We pay in time and money to buy it, accessorize it, store it, insure it and maintain it.
The ironic thing is that so much of the stuff that we buy is with the intention of connecting to others– do you know how many dusty picnic baskets I’ve come across in basements? How much unused hobby equipment? How many arts and crafts kits that parents buy because they want to spend time with their children, but they never get used because they get eclipsed by all of the toys and videogames? So much of what I have spent organizing, labeling and alphabetizing never gets used.
Oh and I’m not innocent, by the way… I don’t have a lot of distracting possessions, true, but I have my share of distracting behaviors: Netflix after a bad day, instead of snuggling with my dog (why not do both? Because Petri is weirdly smart and highly sensitive, and will not come snuggle with me unless my laptop is closed and my phone is not within reach. I’m serious). Or, overdoing the eating thing when I feel anxious. While not material, these habits are just another form of clutter: And we use clutter to distract ourselves. Our American culture often feels like a culture of distractions, whether our favorite type of numbing is stuff, Netflix, excessive food, drinking, sex, gossiping, being on our phones, or social media (hello).
I fall into the numbing pit too (what up, Netflix n’ food!), but I do push myself to remove distractions and connect with my favorite people. I go to the dog park twice a week, I invite my favorite peeps when I go (unless I want me time), and I leave my phone in the car. I don’t have a TV by choice (while this doesn’t prevent an occasional Netflix binge, it is so nice to reduce my exposure to advertisements), nor do I listen to radio with ads. I want my apartment to be cozy and beautiful, but totally boring: It gets me outside. When I do have people over, it’s to enjoy the pool/hot tub at my apartment complex, play with Petri, or have a cooking/puzzle night. That’s kind of all I can do in my little space. The more distracting your home is, the easier it is to stay in and disconnect from face to face interactions. I’m not talking about healthy decompression/introvert time in your home- I’m talking about when you are in a social mood but don’t go out because there’s too much to do/mess with at home. I also have zero games on my phone, and I deleted the Facebook app. When I’m bored in the waiting room and all my texts/emails have been purged or responded to, I have two choices: read on my Kindle app, or put the phone down and notice my surroundings.
As much as you can, put the clutter down and go enjoy each other.