Do you have a place in your home where clutter seems to grow? I do. It’s my kitchen counter. It’s like a petri dish for extraneous stuff. Sometimes just an hour after cleaning, you can no longer even decipher the color of my countertops because they are so riddled with unopened mail, dead batteries, flashlights, permission slips, party invitations, screwdrivers, magazines, homework, toys, cooking utensils, phones, chargers, iPads and shopping bags. Why does all this stuff end up there? What does all this stuff have in common?
As any home organizer could tell you, the common denominator in this stuff is that it is homeless. If something doesn’t have a home, it ends up as clutter. Those dead batteries end up there because there’s no specific place to put them – they need a designated recycling container in the garage, perhaps. The party invitations take up space because they haven’t been responded to, but maybe they could go into an envelope next to the calendar, or better yet, they could actually be responded to.
If everything had a designated place, then everything wouldn’t hang out in kitchen-counter-purgatory for weeks until something was done with it. Stuff needs a place to live, or a place to be disposed of, in order to ensure a clean and efficient household.
I was thinking about this the other day, as I made a recycling container for those pesky dead batteries. Not all clutter is tangible. In fact, the most damaging clutter of all cannot be seen, though it is extremely powerful and damaging.
Most of the clutter in my own life is emotional clutter. It’s the stuff that clutters up my brain, not my countertops, that I’m most desperately in need of removing. So how can I make a drawer for my anger? Where’s the box I can put my resentment in?
For most of my life, I’ve used one tactic to deal with my ugliest emotions: ignore it, and hope it will go away. While it certainly works sometimes, at least just to keep the discomfort at bay, ignoring problems does nothing to actually help them go away. Just like closing my eyes to the piles of chaos on my countertops, there always – always! – comes a time when the madness becomes unmanageable. And what then? Maybe I lash out in anger at The Professor’s tiniest infraction, just because I’ve built up all this un-dealt-with anger. Or maybe I burst into tears because I spill a drop of coffee on my shirt. (This happens a lot. I’m coffee-drinking-challenged.).
We can choose to ignore the clutter on our countertops, and we can ignore the discomfort of our emotions, and we can hope they will go away. Or, we can choose to accept that everything needs a home, and find a place to actually deal with it.
In our world, where appearances seem to matter a great deal, it often seems more important to look like we have everything together than to actually have everything together. Therefore, it follows that we cover up our ugly emotions with a pretty smile and bury our resentment, sadness, anger or fear under a sweet but somewhat false image. When I have stopped to look at the ways I deal with fear in my life, I have discovered something kind of crazy. I don’t actually have any ways to deal with fear. I don’t have any drawers to stuff it into. I’ve never actually made a plan for managing my many of my emotions.
I haven’t always been derelict with dealing with my emotions, though. In my 20’s I went through a lot of break-ups. Heartbreak hurts, but with practice, I got pretty good at mending my heart. I had a whole plan: the guy would break up with me, I’d call a friend and sob, I’d go rent some chick flicks where the girl doesn’t end up with the guy (think My Best Friend’s Wedding), I’d buy some ice cream, I’d hole myself up in my apartment for a few days and I’d listen to Sarah McLachlan on repeat until I had cried every tear my eyes could manage to squeeze out. Then I’d call my girlfriends and we’d go out and drink. Worked every time.
I don’t have the luxury of watching chick flicks for 72 hours straight any more. Even more to the point, the challenges in my life are a little more complicated than simply having one more guy tell me he just wanted to be my friend. Where was my plan when I lost a loved one to cancer? What was I supposed to do when I had such a bad fight with my husband that I couldn’t breathe? Where was my checklist of healing when my boss reprimanded me for a poor work performance?
I didn’t have a plan for those situations, so I defaulted to “Ignore.” And that has always, always made things worse, not better.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time clearing out my home over the past year, and now it’s time to work on something much harder but more rewarding – my own inner self. I need to find ways to deal with anger and resentment. I need a Self Care checklist just as much as – or perhaps more – than I need a grocery checklist. This emotional chaos is unmanageable at times because I’ve failed to find ways to deal with it. The responsibility to clear out this clutter is mine.
I’m looking forward to the day when my heart, and my kitchen counter, are clear.