Is Clutter a fear of Intimacy?
Do our things make us falsely whole?
Let’s talk about clutter. Clutter is anything that creates and obstacle in your space. This includes physical, structural or emotional spaces. It’s often talked about as a predominantly Western problem, although it exists globally. Having clutter is often, and mistakenly blamed on busy schedules and space constraints. I’d like to offer another perspective about our clutter that requires us to do a deep dive into why we fear intimacy. I want to offer that clutter is the result of our not honoring our own boundaries and compromising our true spirituality or emotional state. Clutter keeps us from stating our true needs and keep us on a wheel of inadequacy.
I recently collaborated on a podcast where the non-American host asked me why in the West we are always “overbuying” and bringing more into our homes. She had briefly lived in the US, but was now living abroad and notably the much more simple lifestyle. Part of my answer was that we are certainly a culture of pursuit-we focus on our transparent desire of “improvement.” We are constantly running toward our new and better self. There is a perceived narrative that “one more thing” or an upgrade of things will lead to the promised land and solve all the problems. What we are really doing is continually not creating boundaries and running away from intimacy with our spaces and ultimately ourselves.
Author Deborah Adele reminds us that “anything we cling to causes a problem for us…” This includes thoughts, items, people, etc. that “clutter in our physical space blocks our ability to move physically, while clutter in our minds blocks our freedom to expand and have space for the next thing that life wants to bring us.” We get attached to things so we can safely ride in the wave of boredom. There’s no risk if we are surrounding ourselves with our “stuff” again and again. Clutter creates a careful barrier around the things or emotions we don’t want to look at. We fear the deepest darkest parts of ourselves. We protect ourselves from people, guilt, from resentment, from the truth of who we are, big and small. As we bring things into our spaces we abandon our own boundaries. Do you have a pile of things given by relatives or friends that you felt guilty saying NO to? That’s a boundary that wasn’t upheld. Are you hanging onto the “when I lose weight clothes”? That’s a deflection from living in this present. There’s nothing wrong with you wearing clothes in the size that you currently are-you don’t have to hold onto the “ideal” version of you body in your head. I once had a compulsive shopping habit because it allowed me to deflect from heavy emotional things that were going on in my life. My brain would rather feel the serotonin rush of buying new clothes than to intimately look at some angry and sad emotions. Are you buying new kitchen gadgets because you don’t want to express something to someone you love? Our buying or collecting-our attachment- takes the place of our voicing our true needs or boundary. How could you “pack” more lightly in your life? What could you release even though it makes you shake with fear?
Clutter keeps us from being present in the life we have. When clutter surrounds us, we are transported to the magical space we expect our purchased or collected things to bring us. Clutter is a constant false-reminder that we think we should be some place else: it uproots our gratitude for what we already have and makes us believe that we need to take everything with us to be whole. Adele writes, “A bird cannot hold it’s perch and fly. Neither can we grasp anything and be free.” We can be more intimate with our spaces and ourselves when we are free from clutter and attachment. Something to ask yourself is, am I fearing intimacy with something, someone, some idea, because I don’t feel good enough or because someone has criticized me? The things we don’t want to get close to are the things that burn the most and can be the darkest to unpack.