I once heard that the condition of a person’s living space is a reflection of their mind. Simply put, it means that if a person’s apartment or bedroom is hopelessly cluttered, the chances are that the person’s mind is in a similar condition. Now, me, personally, my spaces are most often quite tidy—though I sometimes go through periods of clutter and lingering dirty laundry that test the definition of procrastination. But, in the mindfulness of this philosophy which depicts living space as a reflecting mirror of the mind, it had occurred to me that, indeed, the opposite effect was also possible: that in clearing one’s room of clutter, and making organization out of chaos, one could affectively bring peace and order to the mind. Actually, for all intents and purposes, it’s quite a nifty psychological trick if you’re ever in the midst of crisis, or, perhaps, an existential meltdown. Cleaning—who knew?
But the fact of the matter is: we’re not so great at removing the clutter from our houses, let alone our minds. Much like how the mind insists on holding on to images, conventions, and assumptions about the inherent worth of material gains, we often have trouble understanding how to properly throw out the physical matter that crowds our living spaces. In this relationship, because the two can have an effect on one another, if one cannot attack the clutter of the mind directly, perhaps an indirect approach will work just fine: clean your living space.
I have zero tolerance for clutter. Not to the OCD extreme where I might experience psychic torture, but, really, it gets the hell on my nerves. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve entered the living spaces of friends, family, colleagues, or even complete strangers and just wanted to spend five minutes tidying up. What I see most often is that people have these ideas about the value of things. But, not even the things you might expect—like pictures or nostalgic relics that connect us to an identity we’ve built over the years. It’s the more mundane, and so obviously superfluous, things that people hold on to that baffle me.
In a household of three, my aunt has over 35 bowls, 20 tea cups, and 100 utensils in her kitchen. Drop to one knee and check the cabinets below, where you’ll find an additional 35+ pots and pans, and over 20 plastic shopping bags from various stores over the past few months. Why not take a little jog upstairs and throw open the closets? You’ll find clothes, wall to wall, dating from the 1950’s to the 1990’s—and every single one of them: absolutely useless. And, I don’t mean that from a dogmatic point of view. Literally, no one wears them. Empirically, they are serving no function whatsoever. Silliness.
Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity. Henry David Thoreau was screaming this at the top of his lungs on the shoreline of Walden pond, where no one could hear him (and then later inside of a jail cell). But, the guy had a point. Each of us is only allotted a small amount of space in which to live—and often times—share with others. Insisting that more “stuff” than is necessary should share that space with us is not only absurd, it’s downright dumb.
You get the picture right? So let’s get to it. I’m going to show you how to throw away your life in one day by understanding this simple guideline.
That glittery tube-top you wore to that skanky bachelorette party two years ago, or those jeans that shrunk a bit, cutting off the circulation to your balls?—you know the ones I mean. If you haven’t worn it in the past year, get rid of it. If you’re not crazy about the style anymore, trash it. People tend to stick to their favorite shirts and pants, often mixing and matching a few articles of clothing regularly. If you don’t like to wear them, and they don’t get much body time, donate or toss ’em; they’re just taking up space.
How many times have we heard this? So many I want to kill myself. While it’s true that certain things can retain value for a perceived future use, ultimately, if you weren’t looking for that thing in the first place, you don’t need it anymore. People sometimes go into doomsday mode over this crap, where they perceive that everything has potential. That’s a mind game. Don’t play it. Some things are just junk.
Times change and people change. What used to have the spotlight before, doesn’t anymore. Nearly everything in my living space serves a valid function that is current. If you’ve outgrown the usefulness or other innate value of something, it’s time to let it retire. You don’t have to have 10 seasons of DVD’s you’ve already watched and have no further interest in. There’s no excuse for keeping that hairbrush, vacuum, lamp, or pocket-rocket vibrating dildo if it’s past its prime. Give it to someone else to enjoy. On to greener pastures.
You have a brain, people. It’s pretty good at making memories, and, you can remember them (sometimes). Look, I know people think they need to document their lives with camera phones because they don’t trust memory, but honestly, when’s the last time you actually sat down and reviewed all of your pictures and videos? I’ll bet almost never. So, we have people documenting their lives under the assumed fear that they may someday be disappointed if they can’t remember something. But here’s my question: If you can’t remember, what’s the problem?
I know someone who currently has a box of all the love letters they’ve ever received in their life. Sigh. Okay, that’s cute and all, but again, this idea of saving everything verges on absolute lunacy. I understand if someone saves something for a few years that was near and dear to them, but at some point, it’s just a piece of paper and a dead rose. These items no longer serve a meaningful function in your life, let them go.
There’s something to be said about being practical and recognizing the value of common sense. If you have less clothes, then you have more room and less laundry to do. If you have only the songs you like to listen to, you have more space on your iPod and never have to listen to crap songs. But less stuff doesn’t only mean more space; less stuff also means having less stuff to worry about.
I want you to take a minute right now and think about all of the things you own. If you had to move this very second, what kind of vehicle would you need to take everything? How much would it cost to move your things? How worried would you be about your things getting damaged? And so, you see, that our tendency to love our things actually creates problems for us. We grasp and hope to save things, we scramble to be prepared against the precariousness of an unknown future; we tell ourselves,“if I can just have these things, I’ll safe, I’ll be okay.”
The mind and our living spaces are truly connected. The attachment we feel towards objects is a reflection of our grasping mind, our inability to let go, let things be, and not allow our thinking to become compromised by illusions of comfort from possessions. But, it’s a struggle. People can’t do it. They can’t let go of conventional thinking; they don’t know how to give up their value of material gain, wealth, and status. It becomes much like a game: when they get something, they want to get more of it. It feels like they are really gaining something over the world and over others. When things are lost or broken, people cry and worry about how to get replace them.
And so, when we invite clutter into our lives, we also invite more than just the loss of physical space; we invite a burden on our minds. And then, we insist on more and more of it, and we wonder how we can keep it all. We rent storage spaces and look for bigger apartments so we can live with all of it. If you let a large stone lie on side of the road, where is the heaviness then? If you have all that is necessary, where is the need for more space? Where is the worry? And so, we must understand our needs and do away with waste, for, if we cannot become master’s of our living space, there is no hope for our minds.