Some Ways Around Being Overwhelmed

I got an email about a particular clutter situation that I think a lot of people can relate to. Here's what she had to say:

"I have plenty of "buried clutter" that I am trying to deal with over period of time (closets, basement, etc.), but amidst that there is the daily "surface clutter" which I would consider to be the everyday visible, high traffic areas of my home. The surface clutter is what is really getting to me right now. I am really struggling with maintaining these areas, even after a good decluttering. I have observed that I can keep an area looking nice for a few days, or even a couple of weeks sometimes (feeling like THIS TIME things will be different!), but then it seems to pile up quickly and I feel so down and discouraged... I feel like if I were just more self-disciplined I wouldn't keep struggling with this yo-yo effect...I just need to be an adult here and clean up after myself and stop whining. I'd love to get your thoughts on how to deal with (and break!) this discouragement and this feeling of being trapped in a yo-yo cycle."

(My direct response to her)

Thanks for sharing your clutter situation. There's nothing wrong with you. Surface clutter appears normally for everyone. We get caught up in other things and stuff starts to pile up again. It's like raking leaves in the fall. You do a really good job, and then later in the day there are a bunch of leaves on the lawn again! It sounds like you might be exhausted. Discouragement has that effect. Life can be very tiring at times. When we get over tired, things appear bigger than they are. That doesn't mean they aren't a pain in the butt at times. But when we start to get down on ourselves, it often means we are beat and don't even know it. I don't mean this in a blaming way. We all get tired and we're not as effective at that time.

Maybe a way of breaking this cycle is when the clutter appears on the surfaces again, instead of blaming yourself for not being self-disciplined, you could say, "Oh, well, it looks like there's some stuff here. It's kind of like there's some spilled soup on the floor, but instead it's spilled clutter on the counters. I don't like that it's all over. But it makes me soooo tired to blame myself for this, so instead I'm just going to clean things up the best I can. It actually feels better to take care of what needs to be done. See the job. Do the job. Stay out of the misery." Sometimes seeing things as they actually are, without thinking they should be otherwise, or feeling that something is wrong with the situation and ourselves, makes it easier to do something positive about it. It alleviates the self-pressure so we can think more clearly and intuitively, and do what we need to do.

It's hard for me to say exactly what to do without seeing your place and your exact reaction to the things in your place. Maybe you need some times where you take it easy in your home and rest and relax. Even for a half hour. You can take a bath or a nap or go for a walk outside. Taking a short break in a nice way allows in new perspectives.

Plus, I think it's worth considering the "buried" clutter a little more. That may be contributing more to your exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed. Often times when I work in people's homes, they have lots of surface clutter. But once we get through that, there's a lot of old stuff underneath. The surface clutter was there to cover up the old unresolved clutter. The older things can make us feel a lot of emotional attachment. Rather than look at it, we may just want to cover it up with other stuff. It intimidates us in that way. But taking care of those things, stopping and asking each one of these older things, "Do I need this anymore, or can I let it go?" starts to give us back our energy and peace of mind.

This doesn't have to be done all at once. But it's worth delving into and investigating. This situation is making you feel a lot of pain. You are worth feeling better. You don't have to live under the thumb of clutter. It's your home and I think it's very possible and doable to feel good in our homes. It's calling into question the things that have temporarily taken over. It's your home, not your stuffs' home.