“Creativity lies beyond the clutter of everyday life.”
Clutter in our lives, in its wide-stretching ways of existing, can harm our relationships, social life, health, financial security, success at work, and nearly everything under the umbrella of each of these arenas in our daily lives. In other words, our quality of life reflects our ability to limit the clutter or be limited by the clutter we may have unconsciously accepted as ‘normal’.
Typically, when the term declutter is mentioned, it refers to physical cleaning, organizing and tidying up; however, that is not what we’re talking about today. We’re going deeper, and exploring where ‘clutter’ more conceptually can be hidden that we either don’t realize or don’t want to explore because we don’t physically see it. While some of the ideas shared below are tangible, we are diving deeper into why the clutter causes stress and addressing it in a way that is not temporary, so we won’t be tending to the ‘tidying up’ again, but instead doing something different enabling different results to materialize.
Often it is difficult to understand or see the ‘clutter’ we are talking about today because we have either become accustomed to it, or it has been normalized by society and even applauded, so to refrain from living in such a way may seem antithetical to living well and even social suicide as we no longer will be seen as ‘fitting in’.
When we have clarity about ourselves (know thyself, a topic regularly discussed here on TSLL), we become more savvy about what would clutter our lives and thus reduce the quality of our everyday experience versus what we need to enhance and nurture a life of quality.
I recently heard the quote I share above during a meditation session, and while seemingly simple in theory, to go beyond the clutter first begins with us recognizing where the clutter is and what is causing the clutter. It is the job of our lives to know what clutters or prevents the life we wish to live and experience from materializing, and what may thwart your life from reaching this state versus what may thwart my life could be entirely different, so it is important that we don’t pass judgement on anyone else’s choice of what we consider ‘clutter’. “One artist’s source of inspiration may be another artist’s source of distraction.”
January tends to be a month of setting straight, re-organizing, clearing out and clarifying just about everything that makes my everydays run well, and in an effort to apply the lessons of the previous year, my clarity deepens regarding what is needed, what needs sharpening and what can be eliminated. So today, I want to share 13 unexpected or overlooked forms of clutter that may be thwarting you from enjoying your everyday life with deep satisfaction and joy. Let’s take a look.
1.Too much ‘doing’, not enough ‘being’
“Managing your schedule and day habits well is a necessary component to free up the practice and creative capacity to make great art.” —Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being
The other day someone asked me, “What are you doing this weekend?” Seemingly a benign question, and intended as such from the speaker, but as someone who in the introduction of my recent book The Road to Le Papillon talks about the importance of embracing the reality that we are ‘human beings’ not ‘human doings’ I bristled a bit, but didn’t say anything as the question was innocent. However, this idea of needing to be ‘doing’ something to feel at peace is often what clutters our lives and contrary to how we find peace.
Mind Owl spotlights the key difference between ‘doing’ versus ‘being’. “Doing mode is when we are living in our heads, thinking about the present, the future, and the past, making plans, and completing tasks. Being mode is when we are living in the moment, experiencing things directly. Both forms of mental state are necessary at different times . . . “; however, when ‘doing’ is prioritize over ‘being’ as it is in our current American culture, we not only become unbalanced regarding how we spend our time and how well we care for ourselves, we can lose the ability to just be, which we need to do regularly and often.
The reason I included the quote from Rick Rubin for this point is that if we are always ‘doing’ we are not creating space to savor life, to be open to what may present itself, and instead we are always seeking, chasing, denying, demanding, attempting to control and thus limiting the quality of our life experience. Whether we are traditional artists or not, we are each the artists of our own lives, and leaving our days open to breathe, to just be, on a regular basis enables us to become more grounded and retain clarity ensuring the life we are living is a life we want to live. If we are always ‘doing’ we are distracting ourselves from important discoveries that will bring peace of mind and contentment.
I will be referring often to quotes I found in Rick Rubin’s new book The Creative Act: A Way of Being (released January 17, 2023). I am only halfway through the book, and as I shared this past Friday on the This & That post, discipling myself to read through it slowly and thoughtfully as I am finding it a wonderful and thought provoking read.
2. Too much inconsistency
“Consider establishing a consistent framework around your creative process. It is often the case that the more set in your personal regimen, the more freedom you have within that structure to express yourself.” —Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being
Last week, there was a simple and expected change to my work schedule. As I shared on Instagram and here on the blog, the built-in bookshelves were going to be installed in my office which would greatly reduce the literal clutter in my house as piles of books spread on the floor not only in the office but tucked away in all sorts of places throughout the home would now have a permanent and more organized place to reside. This was a most welcome project, so I was excited for them to be installed.
As a result, I tweaked my regular weekly blog writing and podcast production schedule, and for two days worked outside of the office. All went well with the install, but by the end of the week I was more exhausted than I realized, and a few out-of-character disruptions and mistakes occurred (for example: it took me two days to realize there was a glitch in the podcast episode upload). I quickly acknowledged the power of having a regular structure to my work week, limited interactions while I am writing and working in environment that is constructive to working well.
While there will be times when we have to adjust our work and life schedule temporarily, understanding why a consistent framework is necessary eliminates the clutter of distractions, of anything that will inhibit you from doing your best work, whatever your work may be. And knowing what that consistent framework is for each of us makes it easier to return as quickly as possible to said framework.
~EXPLORE FURTHER: In 2018 I shared a detailed post that includes tips and ideas for cultivating a productive, engaging and enjoyable working environment for a variety of work spaces. Click here to explore.
3. Too many bills to manage/juggle
“The more you reduce your daily life-maintenance tasks, the greater the bandwidth available for creative decisions.”
Over the past two years when the majority of my home customizations were taking place, staying on top of the temporary bills along with my regularly schedule bills caused a bit more stress than I preferred, even though I knew it was a necessity to achieve the results. However, it is in such moments when you observe yourself and acknowledge what is causing stress, and you start to become a bit more ruthless and a lot more aware of what you need and don’t need to live well.
The question I often ask myself when I am considering taking on a new regular monthly bill – no matter how small or large – is Does what I am paying for off-set at the very least and hopefully exceed what I am exchanging with my payment? In other words, does the enjoyment and relaxation of watching BritBox (for example) exceed the exchange of paying $7/mo to watch it? In my case, the enjoyment is well worth the $7/month payment, so I subscribe. On the other hand, does paying $70/month for YouTubeTV that enables me to watch essentially whatever I want when I want have the same effect? For me, that is an easy ‘nope’, and so I don’t subscribe to the latter monthly streaming service. It is less about the amount and more about the examination of the benefit you receive. And this again is where knowing yourself is essential.
4. Too many unfinished projects
When too many projects, large or small, have begun, but they are each unfinished for a variety of reasons – time, money, clarity about direction, etc. – their being in limbo can be clutter that is not helping you to relax, and thus causes stress. I am not suggesting you should abandoned the projects that are currently in progress, but moving forward, first, assess how you feel when each project is complete (likely relieved, stress largely alleviated, but equally much joy that the project adds what you had hoped to your life). Keep all of these feelings in mind, and next time, proceed one project at a time.
Admittedly, sometimes, if we are working with others, we don’t always have control over when when projects occur and for how long, and strangely enough, sometimes multiple projects that involve others seem to occur all at the same time which is never helpful; again, know thyself, be clear in what you can handle, and don’t be afraid to say no, or put a pause on what you are doing until you are able to give it your full attention and resources.
5. Too many possibilities for distraction and not knowing how to use distractions constructively
“Sometimes disengaging is the best way to engage.” —Rick Rubin
Distractions arrive in my forms, but this is where we have to be active rather than passive and shut the door to distractions that are not constructive to living well. Beginning with the notifications on our phones or tech devices. You have control over these. Set the notifications to what would work best for you. As I have shared before, I turn the ringer of my phone (texts too) entirely off, so I determine when I will let my phone interrupt me – i.e. when I choose to check my phone.
Some distractions, as Rubin points out above, can be constructive and in fact we need to engage in certain distractions to clear our mind and get out of our head bringing ourselves back to the present for this is when solutions can arise, this is when we find our calm, this is when we have the opportunity to recalibrate and gain a better perspective about what is really important. For example, in the middle of the work day, it may actually be more constructive to stop working and step outside to take a walk letting nature distract you from what is befuddling you in the office. My dogs provide a wonderful distraction of ensuring I am in the present moment and remind me to play regularly, a practice that whether we are outside taking a hike or simply pottering about in the garden has sparked more ideas than sitting inside staring at my computer screen.
6. Lack of organization and clarity of your filing systems for insurance, savings/investing, budget, taxes, etc.
I share this one because again, as I mentioned above, January is a deep-dive organizational time for me in my office – personally and professionally. Largely because I am preparing for tax season, and knowing everything is in order, where it needs to be, reduces my stress immensely. Just this past weekend, I edited my files, organized my receipts for the year and prepared for the new year. Knowing where everything is, discarding anything I no longer need and is taking up space, these tasks ease my mind and put me in control of knowing exactly where everything is should either my accountant or for my own purposes, I need to access a particular piece of information.
As each year passes, where our money is invested, spent and saved changes, and therefore our filing systems needs to as well (digital or hard copy), or at least be updated. Knowing how the system we have works and knowing we can easily access certain documents when needed to is a peace of mind we can give ourselves prior to the need ever arising.
7. Too many options or not enough good options in your wardrobe for the life you live
“Limit your practical choices to free your creative imagination.”
From Albert Einstein, Giorgio Armani, Anna Wintour, Barack Obama, Ines de la Fressage, Carolina Herrera, the truth is, decision fatigue is real. And while we may not want to dress like others who are well-known for their work uniform (many tech CEOs), there is a form of clutter that enters our lives when we don’t have the clothes we need to do our jobs with our entire focus and feel confident and comfortable in our skin.
As I shared in this post last year, Finding Your Personal Style Will Free you from Worrying not only About Seasonal Trends, but liberate you to enjoy your life and work far more as you don’t spend as much thought on what you are wearing and simply choose with habitual trust what you will wear will work.
8. The tools/objects/ideas that bring you joy are unkempt
In other words, how you nurture yourself has not been well tended to which means you have likely not been able to care for yourself well.
Whether you like to read, so have oodles of books and reading material strewn about or not in a permanent home so you don’t know where to find what you want or need, or your desk where you work on your favorite hobby is cluttered and unorganized, or your work room or atelier is no longer inviting inspiration because too much is without a designated space, even though it may be a hobby or a pastime, these nurture you, so when we tend to the space where this can happen, we reduce stress rather than create more.
Over the past three days beginning on Thursday and running into the weekend, I organized my new bookshelf in the office, but also reorganized my two existing bookshelves (living room and kitchen), and what I didn’t realize until I did this was that the two latter shelves were more unorganized than I wanted to admit, and when they were finally situated in such a way that made sense for how I use the books, my mind was far more at ease and relaxed. A simple task, something to a non-reader might sound silly, but for me, someone who finds comfort and even companionship knowing I have books all around me, knowing what I have and can quickly access it, grounds me more than I realized was helpful as I move through my days whether I have a book in hand or not. It is the knowing what brings us calm is readily accessible that brings us peace of mind.
~updated upon request to share the titles to many of the cookbook seen in the above pic:
10 Favorite French Cookbooks for Your Kitchen Library~
9. You have confused what others want you to do with what you know is best for your life journey
Far more complex conceptually than some of the other items on today’s list, when we are unclear about why we are living the life we are living, why we are pursuing the ideals or dreams we are pursuing, that creates an abundance of clutter that drastically limits our clarity and thus our ability to make sound decisions that will bring us peace and contentment.
This is a weightier ‘de-cluttering’ to tackle, but arguably the most important on today’s list. Again, I return to, know thyself. Do the hard work (read TSLL’s 2nd book for tips and ideas of where to start), and begin to courageously live a life that aligns with your true self. When you clear away the fog and separate put-upon ideas from your own curiosity and intuition, each decision will begin to build a daily life you love living each day.
10. Making delicious, simple as well as healthy food choices is not easy
Being able to have the necessary ingredients to make a meal we want to eat and that is good for us, neither depriving nor decadent, but definitely satiating, is the sweet spot as it pertains to everyday eating well and with the seasons (as much as possible.
I shared in this post and in even more detail in TSLL’s 2nd book what to have stocked in your épicerie (pantry) for the necessary ingredients to make just about anything, and recently shared with a reader that I cook or make 95% of the meals I eat which for me reduces much stress and because having taken the time to assess what I need and plan a weekly menu (simple, but helpful), I know that I have the fresh ingredients stocked so I can step into the kitchen at the end of my work day and cook a good meal. I choose to do this not necessarily because it is cheaper (it is), and while yes, often healthier (but not always), I do so because I genuinely enjoy stepping into my kitchen, and have made my kitchen (which is small) as highly functional (and removed unnecessary clutter) for how I cook as possible (a list of the 15 essentials utensils I recommend).
Whether you live alone as I do or with others, if you are the person who does the cooking or one-part of the people who cook in your household, work on clearing out the clutter that gets in the way of eating well and satisfying your appetite (food and utensils), so that you will know what you need to enhance this daily ritual of savoring deliciousness.
34 Must-Have Items for Your Home Épicerie, episode #109
11. Being surrounded by voices and ideas sharing limited, ignorant or surface thinking
As our awareness deepens through strengthening our mindfulness, it will become easier to discern constructive voices, distracting voices, draining voices and thus each of these are unnecessary voices in your life. From individual people – friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc., to media sources – television programs, social media personalities, etc., such voices are clutter that you would benefit from their removal.
When you clear away such voices and ideas, you free up space in your mind for creativity to enter and dance about instead of being plagued with worry and angst about ideas or ways of thinking unconstructive to a life of fulfillment and contentment.
12. Holding on to the habit that you have to hold an opinion about anything discussed or on the ‘top news of the day’
“Formulating an opinion is not listening.” —Rick Rubin
One of the simplest things we can do to reduce stress and to thus uncluttered our daily lives is to refrain from having opinions about [the latest top new story]. Unless it affects us directly or we need to construct an argument on the topic for work as it is part of your work description, there really is no reason to hold an opinion on said topic.
Part of the reason we want to have an opinion lies in the errant belief that if we don’t, we look ignorant, but in fact, as Carl Jung reminds, “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” In other words, when we hold an opinion and voice it, we are placing judgment, and when our opinion isn’t necessary, we create stress for ourselves (and maybe others we are talking with as well), and in so doing, often reveal that we need to exercise ability to think more critically. And if the topic doesn’t directly affect us, as mentioned above, most of us are not going to exercise critical thinking as it is a mental exercise that requires energy that would be better utilized elsewhere. However, if a topic is of interest, why not deepen the conversation by asking questions, what is unknown, why did this happen, who was there, what prompted it, what is the full context? instead of declaring your opinion. Questions are helpful to begin the process of exploration rather cementing ourselves into a spot we may later find is not where we want to be (i.e. burdened with more stress).
13. Your inability to remain present throughout your day
“Breath itself is a potent vehicle to calm our thoughts, create space, and tune in.” —Rick Rubin
Quieting the mind, strengthening our mindfulness practice through meditation gives us a priceless tool to reduce the clutter of unnecessary thoughts, and when we aren’t thinking about what just happened (past) or what might happen (future), we are able to be present. And when we are present, we clear away the fog and begin to see and understand more clearly all that surrounds us at any given moment. Another way of saying this is our awareness strengthens.
I look forward to talking more about the power of being present in a future podcast episode, but quickly, when we are able to see with more clarity, when we have a strengthened awareness, we make better decisions, and our lives have no choice but to begin to improve and we thus find a deeper contentment and joy of living in our everyday lives. Why? It all begins with removing the clutter accumulated by living in the past and future rather than in the present.
Perhaps you don’t consider yourself an ‘artist’ as the quote that began today’s post suggests when referencing creativity, but I would argue that in fact, you are an artist. We each are artists. We are artists of our one and only lives, and in order to find what brings us peace, in order to make the best decisions for our unique life journey, we must get beyond the clutter. And the good news is that we each have the power to do this.
As the new year continues to unfold, explore where the clutter in your life resides and upon identifying it, choose to tend to it, let it go or remove it so that you can live more peacefully and more fulfilled in your everyday life.
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