Zen and the Art of Moving Clutter

Here inMinnesota, we’ve had an especially mild winter.  After a string of days warm enough to melt the meager snow and ice we have, it’s easy to believe that spring is right around the corner. 

And who doesn’t love spring?  It’s an expansive season highlighted by new beginnings, getting outdoors, and starting your garden.  It is also a time of year that has traditionally heralded massive cleaning projects.  At the first whiff of warmth in the air, we are all moved to throw open the windows, sweep the road salt out of the mud room, and put our winter clothes away.

The urge to get outdoors and move your body is a way of getting physical energy flowing.  Similarly, the urge to clean is a way of opening up and getting the energy flowing back through your home.  For a number of people, however, clutter is an issue that makes a “clean sweep” difficult to accomplish.

Clutter is a buildup of unwanted or unneeded stuff that’s hard to unload.  Is this a bad thing?  Maybe not, but there are a number of benefits to cleaning up the mess.  For starters, it’s less stressful looking at a clean space than looking at a room full of stuff that you need to clean up and put away.  In addition, it’s more efficient when things are put away in places where you can find them.  Living and working in a space that’s free of clutter is visually pleasing, which translates into a more peaceful and attractive space.  When I’m in someone’s cluttered home, I feel distracted, uncomfortable, and can’t wait to leave.  Simply put, it’s bad Feng Shui.

In Chinese medicine, clutter is the same thing as stagnation.  By definition, stagnation is an accumulation of something that inhibits movement.  In your body, stagnation is the culprit behind pain, some headaches, depression, and a whole host of other ills.  So whether it’s accumulated stress plus tight muscles causing your stiff neck or a pile of dirty clothes blocking your way from the bedroom to the bathroom, stagnation hampers flow.  It’s hard to throw open the windows and feel the movement of spring outdoors when you first have to move piles of books and papers to do so.

So where do you start if clutter is weighing you down?  A few tips:

-Start small by beginning with one corner of one room, the kitchen table, or a two foot perimeter around the couch.

-Find a spot for incoming papers.  Mail and papers tend to be one of the worst sources of clutter.  Set up an inbox or basket for all your mail and papers until you have time to go through and pay bills, recycle, etc.

-Set aside 10 or 15 minutes each day for cleaning up clutter.  You’ll be surprised how much you can get done without feeling overwhelmed.

-Give it away.  Much of the stuff cluttering up your home can be used by someone else.  Whether you give books to your friends or take a bag of gently used clothing to Goodwill, you’ll be giving your stuff a new life and getting it out of your space. 

-Throw it away.  Nobody really wants those glitter socks with the holes in each heel or the cute little thingy with the top missing.  Not even you.  Throw that stuff out.  Take a deep breath, let go, take that junk to the trash, and drag the bin to the curb.

-For those things that you really want to keep, create storage systems. This is more than picking something up and shoving it into a drawer.  Put similar things in the same place.  For example put all your art supplies into a bin, all the articles you intend to read in a basket, and all your office supplies in an organizer on your desk.

-Follow the two year rule.  Get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past two years.  If you haven’t touched it in two years, you don’t need it. 

-Get some help.  If you’re really struggling to get organized, enlist the help of a trusted and gentle friend who can help you go through some of your stuff.  Their job is to ask whether you really need to keep that pink boa you wore for Halloween in 1995.

Similarly, if you’re really struggling with a health condition, get some help.  In Chinese medicine, using acupuncture to move stagnant energy, blood, heat, or phlegm tends to be easier than nourishing someone who is really run down.  Signs of stagnation include pain; from headaches to joint pain; depression, sinus infections, feeling hot and thirsty, irritability, painful periods, and even constipation.  Consider your acupuncturist a gentle friend who can help you move some of your physical clutter.


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