When Control Becomes Clutter

This is a question from one of my blog readers:

"I don't know if you have covered this or not, but can you talk about the correlation between clutter issues and control issues? Do people that feel like they are not in control of their lives more prone to clutter? It's interesting. I believe a life of simplicity is a life of freedom, and we begin to let go of things, people, materials that are no longer holding onto us."

Clutter seems to happen to all kinds of people. Everyone has some clutter in his or her life. I don’t think that people who feel like they are not in control of their lives have any more clutter than those who feel like they are in control. I’ve worked with some clients who attempted to control much of their life and they turned out to have plenty of clutter.

Control is interesting. Sometimes we hang onto things because it gives us a feeling that things aren’t changing. This is a way to get a sense of security that we think will give us peace of mind. But it’s false control because life is changing in and around us all the time. It actually ends up making us feel unstable because we are trying to pretend that things are other than they actually are.

I don’t like to use the word “issues” because it often makes people feel at fault. There’s a feeling of blame in the word. I think a better word is confusion. At the heart of a clutter situation is a feeling of uncertainty and personal chaos. “I want to feel good in my home, but I don’t. I tried letting go of things, but I can’t make myself do it. I feel I should be able to control this, but I can’t. My things have a strong hold over me. I feel stuck in my own home. I don’t know what to do!!”

We can look for control as the culprit, but the interesting thing is, the desire to control is natural. We need to take care of ourselves. A lot of control is good: driving our car on the right side of the road, preparing and cooking our food, paying our bills on time, getting regular exercise. These are all efforts that we can usually control. But when the control extends to trying to create the exact outcome we want, or control everything that happens to us, and to a greater extent, trying to control the universe, we suffer.

One of my clients told me that once when he was standing next to his car while the engine was running, the car slipped from neutral into drive and started moving forward. He put his hands and shoulder onto the windshield and the side of the car to try and stop the car and dislocated his shoulder. Sometimes we put our shoulders into life's car and we think we can control its momentum.

That’s the control confusion. We may get so mixed up in it that we try even harder to control, or maybe the experience fries us and we give up altogether. But hopefully we start to see the limits of control. Through our experiences we might start to see we aren’t separate from the rest of life. Life does what it wants, regardless of how we try and control it. “It’s not my fault after all. Maybe if I start to see things for what they are, I can take care of the things I’m capable of.”

That’s a life of simplicity. It puts us in touch with our natural strengths and vulnerabilities. We do what we can with what life is presenting us. It reduces things down to what is. There’s peace of mind in living that way.