As I have described in this series, clutter comes in different types, each with its own causes, effects, and management strategies. Clutter tends to fit into the following types:
This essay covers the Needed but Jumbled Items and ways you can begin to find clarity and order amid these items. This type of clutter is qualitatively different than most other types of clutter, for which the goal was to reduce the overall number of items and work toward a sweet spot of wanted and loved belongings.
Most of us, at one point or for long stretches, have experienced the stress of not being able to locate items we have and use. In feng shui, disorganization in physical spaces can create an experience of mental confusion; in turn, this confusion fuels the physical disarray, which causes increased agitation as time passes. The stress of not being able to find the belongings that support your life can affect you like a pesky mosquito or feel “in your face” like a loud barking dog.
The clutter of disorganization can happen for different reasons, including temporary life events (such as overstuffed schedules, illnesses, or family emergencies) or past trauma. It can also be caused by a long-term habit that arose because you didn’t learn how to organize belongings or you like to be able to see most of your possessions. It helps to have compassion for yourself and the people in your home who generate jumbled items. If having disorganized items in your home is unusual for you, it may calm you to trust that this is a temporary state and you will organize things once some stability returns in your life.
If you have experienced extreme trauma and stress, a state of jumbled disorganization may become your comfort zone. The haphazard items can function as a metaphor for your inner world, so the disorganization feels safe and familiar. Others in your home, however, may not feel the same way, and you still lose time in your efforts to put your hands on needed items. As an aside, other people cope with extreme trauma and stress by practicing rigorous organization, in an attempt to create calm on the outside as a safe “container” amid a more chaotic world of tangled thoughts. Both of these ways of dealing with trauma can be exhausting and stressful for everyone in the home.
Most of us struggle with some form of disorganization, including people who work hard to hide it. It helps to be gentle; you are doing the best you can. Rather than thinking of yourself as chaotic or a mess, ask yourself if these thoughts are actually true, and look for evidence that they are not. You likely have areas of your home and life where there is clarity and organization, which indicates that you can create order and calmness. As you shift your beliefs, you can translate these skills to the areas of disarray and confusion in your home and your life.
You might find that you create areas of disarray when you do not pay close attention to what you are doing or you have not created a place for things. For example, perhaps you know your keys could go in a drawer or on a special hook near the door, but you leave them in the door or in your jacket pocket without really thinking about it. You can address these issues fairly straightforwardly by bringing greater presence of mind to your actions, especially when you are coming or going, and by creating “homes” for belongings that often get lost.
Different people have different degrees of tolerance for jumbled items. You may not mind such messes; you work calmly, eventually find items, and enjoy the hunt for hidden treasures. Maybe you can live with some topsy-turvy belongings temporarily, but you quickly realize you need to restore order and some consistency. Or perhaps you enjoy tidiness in your home or office as a constant, and can tolerate only brief moments of not being able to locate what you need.
If you can live with some disorganization, consider that for you this might be an expression of your creativity rather than a negative trait. You may enjoy knowing that you have the materials all around you that you need for a project. Walking into a room and seeing everything there—including the paints, paper, easel, brushes, and water, for example—might inspire you into action. To another person, this may look like a lack of order, but for you it’s a painting in process. Creativity often involves a purposeful “mess.” If this works for you, you can acknowledge this and at the same time honor the needs of others who live with you. You can work with them to contain what for them feels like agitating clutter. You can also choose specific areas where you can contain these projects you enjoy, and avoid spilling your creative chaos into shared spaces, if possible.
Feng shui wisdom invites you to look for the metaphors in your specific spaces. With regard to disarray, it can be interesting to discover where yours shows up and consider whether this might have any deeper meaning.
Disorganization can occur in any room of a home, but most often it shows up in offices, kitchens, bedrooms, and sometimes bathrooms (where personal care items can easily get jumbled in drawers and cabinets). It can also show up in your basement and your garage, making the search for extra batteries, light bulbs, or tools a stressful process. As you think about where your disorganization is, you might notice it correlates with a related area of your life feeling confused or like a “jumbled mess.” Your work life could feel this way if your office is disorganized, or your intimate relationship might feel messy if your bedroom is disorganized. Feng shui encourages you to notice your spaces, your inner world, and your life and then take actions to transform these from the outside (your space) to the inside (your thoughts) to your life (your words and actions) in an ongoing growth process.
How much time do you spend each day looking for items that are in disarray? How do these searches affect your thoughts, your emotional state, and your schedule? What would you be doing with your life energy if you were no longer searching for items that are missing?
If you were to organize the more problematic jumbled items, maybe you wouldn’t keep others waiting, you’d have a less frazzled commute, or you’d have a few extra moments to read an article from a magazine you enjoy. Being able to find what you need also can free you in the ordinary flow of life, such as cooking a meal. If you can easily find all the supplies you need to create a delicious meal for yourself and perhaps your friends and family, you might find the time in your kitchen more enjoyable. Similarly, if you can easily find your keys, lunch, and important papers, you can get out the door for work in a calm and pleasant way, setting the stage for a better day. Clear-headedness and greater peace of mind can be your reward.
Here are some suggestions for bringing order to the jumbled items in your home or office:
Love your space, love your life!