My girlfriend was in from New York and stood in my bathroom convulsing in laughter, “You don’t have shampoo? Not any?” She sputtered.
“Well, no. You can use the kids’.” I said. For some reason this made her laugh even harder and she had to sit down on my mini-glass-tiled tub surround. “I get my hair blow-dried twice a week, and I don’t see why I should clutter my cabinets with hundreds of hair products I never use. I just threw everything out.” It seemed perfectly reasonable to me when I did it. Maybe not so much right now.
I was at the end of a month-long de-cluttering bender, and my house looked like one of those model homes – no piles of anything, anywhere. Even my closet was color-coded and everything was hung on new, dark-brown wooden hangers. I may have gone a little crazy there – they cost a fortune – but they looked really cool. And organized! I had always wanted to be organized but never seemed to quite get there. Life constantly put something in my way that was more important than organizing. And so the clutter grew. Kitchen drawers so full of junk we could never find a pen; candles, vases, bowls and frames we had been given were crowded on every surface; magazines I’d already read but had to save were piled by every sofa and my bed, and the pantry didn’t have room for a box of jello because it was filled with important things like cans of tuna from 1979.
I had a break between projects – also known as being unemployed – and I decided this was my chance to finally get rid of the clutter around me, which tended to make me nervous and down. I was running out of steam by the time I got to my office, and I have to admit, right now, that I never got to my t-shirt and jeans drawers, but no one’s perfect.
I was so proud of my new Zen-empty house that I insisted my book club meet at my place. My club is made up of my old friend Carol from school and mostly newer friends. I got my children and husband out of the house for the evening and actually considered baking a cake – but that passed. I mean, there’s a perfectly good bakery right down the street.
Some of the women were late, and my friend Carol, who showed up first, didn’t even notice how I’d de-cluttered the place. When I told her, she hardly reacted; except to open a kitchen drawer and tell me it’s too bad I didn’t get to the drawers, too. Carol was starting to bug me a little lately. She only called when she needed something, which was often, and she relished in any bad news I had to share. Good news not so much. I offered her a piece of coffee-cake, but she declined – too fattening. She did say I should have some.
Two women didn’t show at all, so we decided to get started. The book was Eat, Pray, Love, which I hated (okay, I’m ready for the hate mail), and everybody else loved it – such a wonderful experience to share with the author; an amazing soul-searching and self-discovering trip through the world; blah, blah, blah. Carol loved it more than anyone. After about ten minutes of discussing the book, the meeting turned into a gripe session about husbands and kids. I tried to get us back on track, at least to pick the next book, but it was impossible.
I was relieved when they left. I realized that my friendship with Carol had changed in the last couple of years, and now it seemed like she took much more energy from me than she gave back. Being around her was bringing me down and making me uneasy, a lot like the clutter in my house did. I suddenly recognized that I had to de-clutter my life, too. Just as we spend extra time and energy working in the cluttered environments we create in our homes and our work spaces, many of us waste our precious free time and energy on people that no longer make our lives better; in fact, they may diminish the quality of our lives.
De-cluttering our lives means cutting out the people that we keep around us out of habit, but who actually bring us down. And putting those piles of old magazines we’ll never look at again in the recycling bin helps, too.
Gigi Vorgan is co-author with Dr. Gary Small of “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind” (HarperCollins, October, 2008) as well as several other books. Visit http://www.DrGarySmall.com for more information.
This post can also be viewed at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-simple-life/200906/de-clutter-your-life