Why You Fill Your House With Clutter
Clutter is a Product of Fear
Every family with young children has to deal with the reality of clutter. Floors disappear under toys and laundry; closets start bursting at their seams from punishing loads of sports gear and seasonal decorations. At times, it’s really easy for me to lose sight of where clutter actually comes from in our house. Sometimes I start thinking it’s the kids’ fault for being sloppy, or it’s the house’s fault for being too small, or it’s our relatives’ fault for continually buying clutter to satisfy birthday and holiday demands. The most insidious rationale I come up with at times is that the clutter is my wife's fault, due to her lack of organizational skills. I know I’m full of baloney, even as these thoughts cross my mind. I’m just irritable about the Lego I crunched underfoot.
Clutter is a normal result of having kids and a life, and it's possible that your priorities don't involve doing much about it. Many days, it's just not important enough for us to sort out. Assuming that you do want to do something about it, however, it's important to understand that clutter is the product of fear and fear alone.
You Won't Need It Later
One prevalent fear resulting in clutter around the house is the "I'll need it later" rationale. You’re afraid that an unexpected moment will arise when you suddenly will need that extra Dell monitor in the back closet. If you throw away that old blanket or that box of blank VHS tapes, you’ll need them soon enough, right?
Well, no. You haven’t needed the shoebox that came with a pair of loafers you purchased fifteen years ago, yet the empty box still sits on a shelf in the closet to this day. How is it that some of us could ever be afraid that we might need a shoebox and not have one? How funny does that sound out loud? Even in the event that you one day need a shoebox, it would only serve as a place to put more clutter. If you haven’t needed something for a year, you don't need it. It’s not the shoebox you want, anyway, it’s a sense of security, and shoeboxes and unused Christmas decorations and essays you wrote for college and that pullover you keep to “work on the car” won’t keep you secure. Chuck the lot of it.
No One Else Will Need it, Either
Along the same lines as worrying we'll need our clutter later, oftentimes we fear that someone else might need our clutter. In my house, this is particularly true with my wife, though I'm not at all convinced that it's gender-related. She thinks perhaps a friend or a relative might need her extra sauce pan or unwanted wrapping paper or once-used breadmaker, so these things populate our basement. I suppose we all want to be able to provide that sense of security for people we care about; we fear that our loved ones will have to go without if we aren't diligent about keeping clutter.
Well, wrong again. No one else needs your clutter. Everyone is too busy filling up their own houses with clutter. Even if someone does want your extra set of commemorative plates from Bermuda, don’t you have a moral
responsibility not to add to their mess? Get rid of them. If you haven’t used them in a year, no else has, either. A charity out there might
love to use your clutter now.
As in right now. Your family, on the other hand, has avoided taking on your clutter to this point, and that's unlikely to change any time soon.
What's Not Clutter?
A third fear resulting in clutter is the unspoken worry that removing your clutter won’t leave
much else. Face it: this is at the heart of much of your
fear. If you start picking and choosing what qualifies as clutter
in your home and in your life, what will be left standing? What’s not
clutter? Remember, clutter is in your
head as much as it’s in your closet. People fill their minds with clutter to distract
themselves from what really matters, and the
same can be said for the clutter in our homes. All that junk is distracting you from
thinking clearly about the home and family you want to create. It needs to go. If eliminating it means that
you’ll have to start over, either in your
house or in your mind, then you didn't have much of substance to begin with. If you're going to fill your house, fill it with meaningful and useful items.
Decluttering Your Choices
Most of the DIY shows I’ve seen fail to acknowledge that the answer to most clutter isn’t in improving your organization. If your house is full of clutter now, building that shelf unit won’t solve your problem for more than a week or two. The clutter will simply have a new starting point from which to spread. Accept that the clutter in your house is a result of fear: if your kids have chaotic rooms or your basement is overflowing with knick-knacks, fear has confused your priorities. First, don’t be afraid to figure out what you truly need, as opposed to what you want; second, don’t be afraid to decide if what you want lends itself to the ideal life you envision. If it doesn’t, then what's it doing in your house?