Ten Things I Think About Clutter
Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.
— Albert Einstein

1. I Think Clutter Is More Than Junk On The Floor

a. Clutter, in my opinion, is a way of life. So, in order to de-clutter you must do more than simply "clean up." You must establish a vision of life. 

b. When we prepared to move to England, we were forced to re-evaluate our reasons why we had so much stuff. I like to call this a philosophy of simplicity. Some even like to think of it as a theology of space, which I always think sounds funny and belongs on HGTV. 

c. So, what is your reason, your vision for ordering "things?" Do you have a specific way you want to run your home? Do you have a certain belief pertaining to the use of toys? Television? Quiet time? Outside play? Establish all that first, and then de-clutter accordingly. 

d. For us, we had to get rid of junk because it wouldn't all fit into our storage unit. So we were lucky, we were forced to develop our philosophy of "stuff" and re-order our lives. It's a great way to start over for sure.

When we moved to Georgia, we owned a car and some "things." That's it. When we packed up for England we owned a house, two cars, and had grown into a family of five.

Do yourself a favor and give yourself permission to reboot every two years. 

2. I Think These Are The Essentials For Household Order

a. A good sound system

b. Salsa El Mariachi 29er

c. A beautiful coffee mug

d. A clean kitchen

e. Routine quiet time (spiritual, mental, and physical)

f. Musical Instruments

3. I Think A Healthy Desire To Be Outside Helps Keep Clutter Away

a. I want my girls to "do things." I don't want them to sit around and numb their minds on flickering rectangles. A lifestyle of "doing" emphasizes experience rather than objects.

So, my wife and I try to emphasize objects that contribute to our family's well-being rather than the accumulation of stuff just to have stuff. 

b. Some "objects" are good and encourage community and learning, like instruments. You can never have enough guitars and amps! But think about the difference between a game on an iPad and singing songs around the fire pit. 

c. My girls see me using my bike to pick up groceries, play in the mountains and splash in mud puddles. In Georgie our house included a garage, so I would spend time organizing the garage around my bike gear and other activity related stuff. Imaginative agency is fueled by an active lifestyle. 

d. Sure, I've seen garages littered with active junk. And that is sad. It's one thing to buy junk that you want to use. It's another thing to buy things you need in order to do the things you love.

And, as the parent, I am in charge of that, yeah? Just like on the indoor sedentary things, we have to curb our desire to consume a thing just because it's cool and makes us look like we're outdoorsy.

In England, it was rather simple for us. I had my bike, that was it. 

Bikes are like guitars, everyone can participate in some way. We also own one soccer ball. We didn't buy a fancy goal; we just used the fence as a goal. We have loads of fun kicking that ball against the fence! Simple.

4. I Think You Must Determine What You Value Most In Life

a. Chris, my wife, and I sat down and very simply asked, "What "things" matter most to us?" Pretty easy answer: books, bikes (and outdoor fun), music and fire pit fun (there was more, but you get the picture).

b. Our library is one of our most precious, prized possessions. We add to it regularly and are ok doing so. We're trying to build a culture of reading and learning and imagination and beauty in our house. So we emphasize books and everything that goes along with books: coffee, tea, a good chair, chunky book cases, hobbits, faeries, etc. 

c. See how answering one question leads to and informs others? 

5. I Think An Ordered Kitchen Breathes Life Into Your Family

a. Trust me, I'm all for "getting by" when you have little ones. Sometimes doing dishes and cleaning up doesn't need to be in the cards. Which leads me to "B."

b. Maybe this is for the gentleman out there. I'm a world-class cleaner--ask my wife (or my brother-in-law Jeff--I've cleaned up many a work site for him). I am fast and good and I've found it's one thing I can do for Chris that breathes life into her whole week.

Come on fellas, it costs you nothing to do the dishes, and sweep the floor. Light a candle, make some coffee and clean. 

c. Chris does an outstanding job keeping the whole house ordered, but I know that if I want to serve her well, then a huge blessing to her is cleaning the kitchen. Both of us love when the counters shine and the candles burn. Our pixies love it too, and often offer to help! 

We love to sit at our table and chat over tea after the kids are asleep, which is almost never. Don't underestimate the value of a clean kitchen. 

d. I know there are thousands of mommy-bloggers out there who will wrinkle their noses at me. And, I really don't care. I've already conceded that it's fine to let things go. I hereby give all households permission to leave it a mess. 

e. I am, however, not conceding the freedom and absolute glory a clean kitchen brings to the family.

Just yesterday I walked downstairs around lunchtime. The kitchen had literally blown up: half-full French press, egg carton(s), soft tacos, mixing bowls and three trays of fresh baked cookies. It was, indeed, a beautiful mess! 

Chris hammered it later on and cleaned up most of it, then made supper. Another mini-blow-up. She left for book club and then I went to town. Clean as a whistle. It helped my wife, establishes a nice ordered hub for the family and sometimes pays "other" dividends (but that is another post!).

6. I Think A Lack Of Clutter Helps You Think Better

a. Here, what I'm really talking about is just plain order. Many people throughout my life have categorized me as a "creative." I was in a band, write poetry, write books, wear my hair long(ish), and so on.

I suppose I play right into their stereotype. I'm okay with that, but what some don't realize is I value order in so much of what I do. 

b. Take this dissertation, for example. A fair amount of my discussions with my supervisor have revolved around organization. But my supervisor also stresses the importance of creativity in thought, imaginative approaches to theological issues, a "new" way. I love it!

So often people relegate the academic world to this stagnate arena of pencil pushers and weirdos. A dissertation is highly imaginative, but it also needs to be highly ordered. Clarity of thought expresses itself in an elegance of order. 

I find the dissertation process immensely creative as well as an exercise in simplicity of thought, ordered arguments, and beauty of expression. 

c. A tip for writers. Give yourself an hour and write as much as your mind will allow. Then, go back and look for that moment of clarity within the passage you just wrote. Begin there, and trash the rest. 

7. I Think Toys Are The Bane Of My Existence

a. Another area we observed when packing for England was our children's toy consumption and use. We discovered the girls played better with less. 

b. Before packing we had an entire shelving system that housed the toys. It was jammed packed. Toys that were broken and fragmented, mixed up toys, toys from another planet--Woody and Buzz would have scolded us for our chaotic toy collection. 

c. But, when the packing began, so did the yard sales. We got rid of so many junky toys. We then evaluated the toys and games to which the girls gravitated.

We also established our own philosophy of what kind of toys we wanted for them. Wooden toys, like the Tegu toy sets, and so on. We narrowed it for them. We dictated their choices and they thrived!

d. When we arrived in London the girls possessed only what they could pack in their Camelback "packpacks." They played for hours a day with little Lego sets and Lalaloopsies. That's it! 

e. It's a truth: too many toys clutter play performance.  

8. I Think Clothing Is Overrated

a. No, I'm not a nudist. Before we moved I reduced my wardrobe three different times, months apart. Each time I ended up with a garbage bag of goodies for Goodwill. 

b. We can justify keeping anything, especially clothing. 

c. I forced myself to be honest. "What do I actually wear all the time?" The answer was literally a handful of items. I mean, I kept old dress shoes for the "one occasion." But that occasion hadn't come in a decade! Get rid of it! 

d. The result of my wardrobe dialogue with myself? I arrived here in Oxford with one large suitcase that contained everything, from my clothing, to toiletries, to biking garb, to a winter coat. I felt like a viking!

For the last six months I've only owned one pair of shoes, a solid pair of Doc Martens (when in Rome!). I just bought a new pair of boots for hiking around the hills. Freedom! 

e. The point here is, when I finally got real with myself and evaluated what I needed as opposed to what I thought I needed and what my ego wanted, I was left with the few items that I really love and don't mind wearing all the time.

I mean, I wear the same hoody everyday. But that's just me. 

9. I Think A Noisy Life Equals A Cluttered Life

a. How much time do you spend running errands, listening to music or the radio, watching television, surfing the web and by surfing I mean using social media and watching YouTube videos?

If you really parse it out, it can get embarrassing how much of our day is spent saturated with noise. 

b. I think a fast and noisy life lends itself to the collection of things we don't need. I don't have scientific evidence to support this claim, but do I really need it? 

c. Take time to reflect on the junk in your life that you can't stand, that you want to throw away. Now evaluate your schedule. Find a correlation?

We were forced to slow down because we were moving to a new country. We were entering a very new and different and focused era for our family. Thus far it's been a revelation for us. 

Is it worth forcing yourself to slow down a bit and evaluate? I think so. Reflect just for one moment on the decisions you make regarding your consumptive habits. Do you make them quickly-willy-nilly? 

"Just get it and let's go." Sound familiar? 

"I don't care. If it's on sale pick up a few of them and come on." Maybe this one? 

10. I Think A Theology Of Space Really Needs To Be Just "Solid" Theology. 

a. What do you and I think of God? 

b. I love this definition of theology: thinking God's thoughts after him. 

c. What does God think of order? Of clutter? Of Space? Of thinking? 

d. Perhaps the best thing we can order is our spiritual world. if we don't have a philosophy of order and clutter it's probably because we haven't taken the time to sit and think about it, to discern our buying habits, to establish a home order.

If we haven't done that, what are the chances we've thought about what God thinks about it all?

e. How do I order my spiritual world?

Buy a journal. Dust off your Bible. Build an exquisite worship playlist. Pour some tea into aforementioned mug (see #2). And get down to business.  

Stop, and think. Strip away, and rebuild. Give yourself permission to reboot. Think God's thoughts about it all. 

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Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.