1 July 2014

A Cautionary Tale Of Clutter And Broken Things

I’m not a Feng Shui expert, but I do agree completely with some of its precepts, two of which are:

  1. a beautiful, calm and uncluttered environment gives us a sense of peace and wellbeing, quite aside from increased effectiveness and efficiency
  2. we lose energy on both a physical and a psychic level if we have broken or damaged things in our environment

A recent experience has made me even more convinced of the importance of these two principles to easy and effective living.

I’d received an invitation to visit a new friend. As she walked me through her small apartment I wondered why I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. It certainly wasn’t her personally – she’s a lovely lady and very hospitable.

Then I began to take more notice of my environment.  Although the house was clean, almost every inch of the place was crowded, most of it with things she rarely uses.

For example:

  • Multiple collections of teapots and condiment sets decorate many of the kitchen shelves – not just high shelves but also easy-to-reach ones that you’d expect to hold regularly used kitchen equipment or food items.
  • The available working space beside the kitchen sink is no more than a few inches – ‘stuff’ crowds the rest of the small space.
  • Only two of the elements on the stove top can be used without shifting several piles of other utensils. (They are clean, at least!)
  • It is a nuisance to use the oven – first you have to clear it of a pile of casserole dishes and other crockery, presumably stored there because there is no more cupboard space.
  • The small dining/kitchen table has just enough room for two to sit at. The rest of the table carries a random selection of books, papers and magazines.
  • In the bathroom are multiples of all the normal paraphernalia – and it’s not for anyone else. She lives alone.
  • ‘Is it possible to borrow your iron?’ I asked on Sunday morning. We were about to head out for a relaxed luncheon with friends and I wanted to wear the new white cotton dress I’d bought in Southern Italy. For a moment she looked a bit bothered but then said, ‘Hang on, I’ll get it.’ The next four minutes were spent pulling out a plethora of seldom-used things from a hard-to-reach cupboard so she could reach a box containing the iron. (I did say ‘don’t worry’ but once she started she was unstoppable.)

What I noticed was a complete lack of logic in placement of commonly used items, and maybe a compulsion to acquire ‘stuff’. (We didn’t discuss it but the environment indicated this possibility. Some hoarders have an acquisition addiction.)

But it was more than clutter – I quickly discovered that many items in the house didn’t function properly.

  • Some of the cupboard doors are very difficult to shut – when I went to help with something in the kitchen I was warned not to open them or we’d never get them shut. Too bad if you want any of the many items in that particular cupboard.
  • The washing machine is hidden underneath piles of kitchen clutter and never used. Instead she does most of her laundry by hand and when she has a large amount of linen she uses a friend’s machine.
  • Most of the windows can’t be opened properly – there are too many things on the window sills.
  • It was hot so I turned on my bedroom fan when I went to bed. It ran for fifteen minutes and then started making an excruciatingly loud noise. Result: no ventilation on a very hot night.
  • Half the light switches don’t work – or maybe bulbs need replacing?
  • ‘Be very careful not to touch that mirror’, she said as we crowded past a tall mirror on the wall. ‘It will fall down if you do.’
  • Even the front door can’t be fully opened due to things piled up behind it – we slid in sideways.

Result: underneath the kindness and very genuine hospitality she often displayed an aura of frustration and low-level stress, sometimes triggered by seemingly small and unrelated issues.

It’s certainly not for anyone to say how much ‘stuff’ is right for another – we all have different standards and comfort levels. But I do know that my friend would improve the quality of her life and greatly diminish her stress levels if she could clear some of her clutter and also develop a habit of fixing broken things as soon as they become a problem. If we attend to a niggling issue as soon as it surfaces we keep our energy high. However, if we allow things to build up, the job of fixing everything begins to feel like a mountain of problems. Stress at multiple levels, a diminishment of energy, and compounding inefficiency is the result.

Is there anything in your life that could profitably be decluttered or fixed?  Follow the frustration path and you’ll have your answers.

And if you’d like tips and a clear process on how to clear any clutter that may have sneaked in when you weren’t looking, you’ll get all the help you need with the e-book version of ‘Getting A Grip On The Paper War’ 

10 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale Of Clutter And Broken Things”

  1. Julia Hubbel says:

    Hi dear lady,

    Here again we have something to talk about. The long and short of it: I used to see ads for those programs about hoarders. I was horrified. However, I owned a five bedroom, two bath house (I’m single mind you) with eight wardrobes of clothing- oodles of cabinets of makeup- operative word HAD- until I recently decided to sell. But didn’t. The process forced me to wholesale clean house, clean up and ditch. Now that I have lived for a while in a show house (read, nearly empty) after getting rid of all that clothing (consignment, ebay, Goodwill) the clutter, the makeup, the density of STUFF, I feel light as a feather. LIving rooms full of boxes came back from storage, got eyeballed and promptly went right back out the door before they could be mindlessly unpacked and put right back on the shelves.
    Air moves freely through the house now- and around ME.
    To your point precisely. The last five years of my life has been a steady letting go, clearing out and releasing, and the end product has been less stress, clearer thinking and greater joy. I have literally gone around the house and either fixed all those niggling little broken things that needed fixing or hired someone to do them. DONE. A big gorgeous faerie that couldn’t be fixed was THROWN OUT.

    The end products ( among many) closest that used to hold scads of clothing for a live I never lived now hold kayaking gear, scuba gear, hiking gear, biking gear, riding equipment, saddles, boots, all of which I DO use, and which support the active, lively, adventurous live I DO live. By getting rid of nearly 250 shoes and boots, I made room for the collection of riding hats from Argentina, Australia, Peru, all over the world which I DO wear. Clutter causes confusion, anger, and mental constipation.

    God cannot serve dessert when your plate still has dinner on it. Feed it to the dog, put it in the trash, put it down the bloody disposal, whatever it takes, but get rid of it.

    1. Robyn Pearce says:

      Well done, Julia! Great word picture you paint!

  2. Annie says:

    This is timely! I’m just trying to get started, nibbling away at the corners, or perhaps the easier bits. But every little bit done is an achievement, and better for me by far than spending days playing jigsaws, solitaire or word games online!

    1. Robyn Pearce says:

      Good on you, Annie.

      I can understand the issue of time-consuming alternatives. For a few months I got almost addicted to playing a form of Scrabble online – it was a shock when I realised how much time it consumed and what I didn’t get done while I pondered my next move.

      Have you tried setting a target for one area every day, even if it’s only one cupboard or even a shelf? Personally I find it easier to set aside a Saturday or Sunday and just immerse myself in it, but I realise that doesn’t work for everyone. Whichever method you use, take time each day to pat yourself on the back with what you have achieved. Success becomes its own reward and you find you can’t stop until the whole house is done.

  3. Inez Romanos says:

    If you’re in New Zealand, you probably know that the weather over Christmas/New Year was ghastly – endless heavy rain. I had three weeks off so I put my head down and de-cluttered. When I went back to work, I found many other people had done the same thing. Wow, what a great feeling! And a silver lining to the stormclouds.

  4. Veronica Bennett says:

    Annie – good on you for getting started, I’m sure you’ve read more of Robyn’s great stuff and I’d also recommend Karen Kingston’s Clear your Clutter which integrates Feng Shui as well as exploring ‘why’ you have clutter, it then becomes very obvious why you need to get rid of it! (Robyn, your new friend might be ready to read it someday?)

    I keep two copies and lend one out (when I get a hint they are ready), plus re-read it when I notice it sneaking back in – which it can do when I’ve being experiencing stressful times
    thanks for sharing this story Robyn, I’m also enjoying The Minimalists website that you shared last time.

  5. Yvonne says:

    Fantastic Robyn very timely reminder that the clutter clouds my life ,I am one of those unfortunate people that attatches memories to “things “and after finding myself in a very sad position for 5years found comfort in op shop shopping I gathered and gathered cupboards crammed I now have to down size out of our once family home and am having difficulty culling caught in procrastination mode the days tick by .it is hugely trumatic for me ,letting go.i work full time and just shut off and camp in the middle of it all. I do really enjoy your e articles read and absorb them all .i have been to your presentation in Masterton at bubbles and Inspiration and purchased many of your self help books on that evening .I wouldike you to know how much of your knowledge I took on board but having difficulty putting my net Quired knowledge in to action .i think when peoples lives are happy it’s easy but in a sad place it is not .i have had friends offer to help …but I just can’t let them loose in my house this causes more stress ,I am searching for a way forward abut hVent found the trick yet .i would like to thank you for your energy and inspiration you are brilliant .regards yvonne

    1. Robyn Pearce says:

      Dear Yvonne,
      I hear your pain, and you’ve actually identified one possible answer. Can I suggest you bite the bullet and pick a supportive friend, one who won’t criticise your situation but also won’t let you duck the decisions that you need to make. And, that person needs to have a good logical mind and a well-ordered home themselves. If you’ve got ‘Getting A Grip On The Paper War’, you might like re-read it. And in case you haven’t, below are the questions I suggest on p.182 as prompts for throwing out.

      There is one other possibility – that you’re also experiencing some depression. Have you talked to your doctor about this? I have seen dramatic shifts in depression-type symptoms with the right medical help.

      Those questions I promised:
       Why do I not release these obsolete things?
       What’s the worst thing that can happen if I remove them from my environment?
       What’s the benefit of clearing them out?
       Will I ever need it?
       Has someone else kept a copy, and can they find it?
       Do I need all of this, or just a part?
       What’s the worst thing that will happen if I throw this away?
       Who else can get value from my ‘junk’? For instance, educational organisations with low budgets would love your obsolete computers and programs; kindergartens take just about any ‘junk’ and recycle it into wonderful works of art; charity organisations struggle to run on a pittance and are grateful
      for any assistance; refugee groups constantly seek help for escapees from situations you can only imagine.

      By invoking the Law of Release the amazing thing is that as you free yourself on a physical level, your energy lifts and you find you’re less tired and able to work harder, faster and more effectively.

      All the very best (and thank you for the very kind comments you made as well :-)

  6. Jasmine says:

    What a vivid picture Robyn – and wonderful reminder to be vigilant. A mixed bag at my place… mostly ok – but some areas definitely attract more stuff than needed.

    Need the ruthless gene!

    Blessings on your trip and thank you for the practical advice.


  7. Kate says:

    Last Easter my sister and I had to clear out our elderly father and his wife’s villa with help from her two daughters as well. Both our respective parents have Alzheimers/Dementia had finally reached the point where they went into care. The slow decline leading to this point had led to mess, clutter and disorder. The same hoarding of broken items even. It was both distressing and empowering to have to clear it all out. The questions Robyn suggests for decluttering are pretty much those we applied to the ‘stuff’. eg I had to often remind my sister that photocopies from books our Dad had made may have been important to him but could always be found again somewhere in an library – even easier now with the internet.
    I vowed that I will not leave my house like that for my children as it is not something someone else should have to do for you. Waiting for the next NZ summer to really have a good clear out of our basement/workshop but will continue to chip away at bits of the house in the meantime.

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