Cluttered Life

SF Giant's Stadium

I’ve seen a commercial recently that has a guy playing a baseball video game, alone, in his nice urban living room.  The narrator begins to talk about how when you used to play video games it meant sitting in your mom’s basement for hours, missing out on friends gatherings, but now you don’t have to choose.  The guy then gets up, the game is now on his handheld device, and he is walking outside.  The tag line is,  “You never have to choose again.”

Recently, there has been a lot of critiquing about people who, because of the mobility of devices, the availability of wifi, and data plans, seem glued to screens. The common critique is that they are missing the life right around them, are losing the ability to be present in a situation, and to have actual relationships.  While I agree with some of what critics are saying, a new thought occurred to me as I watched this commercial.

If hoarders are suffocated by their inability to choose to throw things away, then what about people who can’t stop doing.  I would say its more than just playing video games while walking down the street. I’m talking about people who are loaded by the number of online and offline activities that they have said yes to.

In our striving to be both pleasing and to never let an opportunity go by, perhaps yes has lost its true power, its true value. Its a word meant to affirm approval (of my time, my thoughts, my actions).  Not something done to placate someone. When we are talking about your time, your attention, your energy, what are you saying yes to?  What are you allowing to take your time?  What are you making time for?

Its like the common argument about the phrase “I love you.” If you say, “I love Justin Beiber,” “I love chocolate,” “I love you.” What is the true value of love? (A favorite musician AGAPE talks about this at every concert/worship service.)

I recently tried to stop saying, “I just didn’t have time.” I instead replaced the phrase with “I didn’t make time.”  In reality its the truth.  Everyone has the same amount of time, it is our responsibility to choose what we do with that time.  We will always have to choose.  If we just say yes to everything and don’t de-select the things that no longer fulfill us, we end up with a hoarded life. A life that has become cluttered with things we used to do, but can’t see giving up because we have been doing it for so long.  We can’t imagine our time without that activity, but in reality we wish we didn’t have to spend more time there.  Remember, when a hoarder can’t give something up, it is because they can’t let go.  They are paralyzed by the inability to choose, by their inability to imagine a life without that item.

So when a marketing company tries to tell me that I don’t have to choose, that I can do everything. I tell just shake my head because I am glad to choose to just walk, just enjoy the birds, and just enjoy the fresh air without wondering if I should move my outfielders in for the next batter.

Clutter and a Clean Space Theory

In December I visited a friend in Washington, D.C..  She and I have been friends for 6 years and in every place she has lived I have seen a living space that is cluttered with newspapers, magazines, printouts, and the debris of a busy life.  Her living space had grown so cluttered that in recent years no one was allowed to visit except close family and select friends.

I had offered my help before but her insistence to keep the piles of newspapers and magazines, left the apartment undone.  This December she admitted that the situation had grown out of control and she was ready for help.

Now my friend is not a hoarder, but de-cluttering her space was about more than recycling the months of papers, it was about asking questions and confronting why she kept things.

The piles of papers began to represent the undone tasks and the ever lengthening list of to-do’s.  As the piles grew larger the feeling of control began to slip away.

A 2008 article in the NY Times highlights the health effects of clutter on the brain and the well being of people living in chronic clutter.

While hoarders are a minority, many psychologists and organization experts say the rest of us can learn from them. The spectrum from cleanliness to messiness includes large numbers of people who are chronically disorganized and suffering either emotionally, physically or socially.

Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and the author of “Fit to Live,” finds that for many of her patients its more than just about the need to clean out their garage.  “It was about uncluttering at multiple levels of [their] life.”

At the time of my visit, my friend was also in the process of finding a new, less hectic job, and making new space for her life.  She was ready to actually live in her apartment using it not just to sleep and change clothes.  Clutter and the inability to address the growing pile of papers was likely the symptom of a cluttered life and the need to create space, for a new life.

The article points out that clutter is often blamed on insufficient space, when it is more frequently caused by an inability to use the space effectively and an inability to decide whether things should stay or go.

When I think about space and a cluttered life I think about how I use my life effectively.  I can’t move into a bigger life, I only have this one. So, how can I use the space of my life better.

It took probing questions about why my friend was keeping the years of receipts, newspapers and magazines. It took humor about the 6 black umbrellas we found, it took patience and it took compassion.  Compassion not just from me for her, but from her for her own life.  We must give ourselves some love when we finally decide to reorganize our space because it’s no small job.  Whether it be our homes or our lives, its going to take some work.