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From Chaos To Comfort

Friday, January 11, 2008

From Chaos to Comfort:
Unclutter Your Home, Your Head and Your Heart
by Harriet Schechter

It wasn't always clutter.

Once upon a time (maybe just last year?) it seemed like good stuff. It may have been fun to dream about, shop for, or receive as a gift. It may have been delightful to use, lovely to look at, or both. But that was then.

Now it's all just...too...much.

Clutter is like guests that become pests: overstaying their welcome, taking up room in your life while contributing nothing but complications and chaos. But the objects clogging your home aren't clutter's only manifestations, just the most visible ones. There are also the clutter intangibles: stuff that overwhelms your mind, weighs down your heart, and suffocates your spirit.

If you've been yearning to lighten your load, here are some simple steps to get you started--and keep you going.

,Start With Your Heart

"The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all…But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? …My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds."
-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, A Gift From the Sea (1955)

You don't have to be clinically depressed or grief-stricken to experience a malaise born of sadness, stress, or sensitivity to the suffering of others. When you're weighed down by a heavy heart, moving forward can seem like a colossal effort.

In any year, life hands us events that can fill our hearts to breaking. Personal misfortune can be compounded by local and universal tragedies. For example, the events of September 11 still echo in our hearts. "People who didn't lose loved ones still feel as though they lost someone or something," says Dr. Robert J. Gottlieb, a San Diego-based clinical psychologist. "The feeling of 'things will never be the same' is common."

For sensitive souls, it is hard not to think about the families of the victims, and the men and women in our armed forces overseas. At the same time, we really don't want to forget their sacrifices; and we do want to remember some of the many extraordinary acts of kindness that have followed them.

So, how can you leave behind the heaviness while keeping the fullness of feeling? That is the challenge. A few ideas to help lighten your heart:

Don't set unrealistic goals. Eliminate one source of guilt: for example, if you have a habit of breaking your new year's resolutions, either don't make any new ones or "only make resolutions consisting of a small step or steps towards your goal," suggests Dr. Gottlieb. Otherwise you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and giving. A grateful and generous heart has space for peace. By making a conscious effort to count your blessings on a daily basis and to help others, you may feel your heart lifting as the weight of last year's heartbreak slips away.

If you can't forgive, at least forget. The conventional wisdom is that forgiveness is necessary for inner peace. But that's not always true. If you are weighed down by a burden of anger that flares up when you think of forgiving its source, perhaps it's time to learn "forgetness" instead. This isn't to say you should completely forget--after all, "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it"; it just means you can choose not to let grudges and grievances color your outlook or intrude on your thoughts.

A Load Off Your Mind

"There are worse things than having a poor memory--like remembering stuff that should have been forgotten long ago."

When your mind is overloaded, overwhelm becomes a chronic condition. There are two main contributors to mental clutter: stuff to remember (to-do's and information) and stuff to forget (worries and annoyances). If you keep remembering the stuff you should forget, you'll keep forgetting the stuff you want to remember. After all, there's only a limited amount of space on your mental hard drive. Letting go of mental clutter gives you room for creative thinking--and peace of mind.

You don't have to take up meditation (or medication) to achieve an uncluttered mind. One of the simplest ways to clear your muddled head is to download your thoughts onto a page. Stuff to remember belongs on lists (to-do's) or in systems (information); stuff to forget can be safely jettisoned by way of journals or less structured repositories, such as scrap paper.

Writing things down is not only a method for managing mental clutter--it's also a healthy habit. Studies have shown that "cathartic writing" can lower blood pressure and increase the level of disease-fighting lymphocytes in the bloodstream.

Lists, notes and/or journals can be discarded whenever you're ready to let go of them. Until then, you can designate a place to keep them so that they don't add to your tangible clutter.

From Clutter to Clarity

"In times of stress, order and serenity in our homes becomes even more important. We cannot control world events but we can take care of things around the house."
--Sandra Felton, Founder of Messies Anonymous

Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply wave farewell to your clutter guests and watch them vanish? Good-bye, piles of paper! Adios, stacks of videos and books! Ciao, mounds of useless gifts and mountains of memorabilia!

Unfortunately, letting go of clutter usually isn't so painless. But it can be less painful--and even exhilarating--if you:

1. Recognize clutter for what it is. Tangible clutter is anything that currently creates stress for you because of its appearance, condition, location, arrangement, and/or quantity. Having too much of a good thing can create just as much clutter as keeping lots of not-so-good things.

2. Remind yourself that most things are replaceable, but time isn't. In most cases, once you've let go of something you won't miss it--contrary to the popular belief that "as soon as I get rid of something I'll need it." If you do end up regretting getting rid of anything, don't worry--you'll likely get over it. However, if you often find yourself grieving over the loss of something that was never alive to begin with, seek counseling.

3. Deal with paper clutter and non-paper clutter separately. Going through piles of paper often requires more focus than what's needed for dealing with other kinds of clutter. (Note: The IRS offers guidelines on how long certain records must be kept. Visit www.irs.gov or call 1-703-487-4608 and request Publication 552. ) Group similar items together (e.g., paid bills, receipts, and statements; toys and games; office supplies and stationery, etc.) to help you see how much of each type you've accumulated; then tackle each category separately.

4. Make it easy to discard or donate. Before you start plowing through your stuff, get some roomy boxes to use for donations and discards (be sure to label them). It’s easier--and quicker--to toss stuff into boxes than to struggle with floppy bags or tiny wastebaskets.

5. Deadline it. Clutter will usually stay put until one of two things occurs: you're finally ready to deal with it because you just can't stand it anymore, or you have a real deadline--houseguests; a party; moving. Generally speaking, a deadline is more likely to generate action than anything else.

Uncluttering your life goes beyond just getting rid of excess stuff. It's really about letting go of whatever is weighing you down and keeping you from soaring towards your dreams. If you let go of what you can do without, you may be amazed at what you can find within.

"Do everything with a mind that lets go. Do not expect any praise or reward. If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end."
--Achaan Chah (quoted in A Grateful Heart by M.J. Ryan)

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