Clutter is holding onto the past; fearing the future

Ah, Leo.  You are hitting the nail right on the head yet again.  In his post, “Decluttering as Zen Meditation,” Leo Babauta could have been talking directly to me.  Luckily, enough friends have told me they face the same battles that I don’t feel alone in this.  He writes:

Why do we have clutter in the first place? Maybe we think we need it — for two reasons:

1. We don’t want to let go of the past. Often clutter comes in the form of emotional attachment to objects that have significance to us. They might remind us of a loved one, or a vacation, or a special event like a birthday, funeral, graduation, etc. It might be a gift from someone. All of this is living in the past. I’m not saying we should forget about the past, but letting go of these objects (and they’re only objects, they’re not the events or loved ones themselves) … it is a way of releasing our hold on the past. It’s a way of living more in the present. I never forget the past, but it’s not a place I try to dwell.

2. We’re afraid of the future. Clutter might be things we think we might need sometime in the future. We hold on to them just in case. Over-packing for a trip is a good example — we bring more than we really need, just in case we need them. It’s the same in our houses — we have a ton of things we don’t really need or use, just in case. We’re afraid of being unprepared for the future, but the truth is we can never be totally prepared. We can’t control the outcome of the future, and trying to do so means that we’re never really living in the present moment. We’re always preparing for what might (or might not) come.

Sadly, he says that books fall into this too.  “We hold onto books we’ve already read, as trophies of our reading accomplishments. We hold onto books we might read in the future (but probably won’t), with the optimism that our future selves are going to be more amazing readers than we’ve ever been in the past. In truth, you only need three or four books — the ones you might read in the next month. Then after you’ve read those, donate those books to charity, and check out a few books from the library.”

Dear sister of mine, are you out there saying “told you so?” After the first time my husband helped me move umpteen boxes of HEAVY books, he said never again would he help me move so many.  I’ve scaled back quite significantly, which I guess is hard for most people to notice.  I have been buying fewer books though and going to the library often.

So Leo, I guess holding onto that one chip and dip bowl we’ve had for 10 years (and not used once) hoping to use it for a future party would be pointless?


7 thoughts on “Clutter is holding onto the past; fearing the future

  1. Have a party and use the chip and dip bowl. You will have fun and so will your guests. Not enough people have casual get-togethers anymore and they are really missing out.

    • Thanks for writing. I guess… But I am one of those people who put off enjoyable experiences because they don’t want to have to clean up afterwards. 🙂 but yes, you are right. 🙂

  2. Such a timely piece for me, Naomi. I’ve been tripping over clutter in our house and dreaming about giving away so much of what we have. I’ve got clothes that I haven’t worn in years, books that I’m likely to never read again, and all kinds of extra dishes, etc. in the kitchen. I have made a vow to spend part of this summer getting rid of the things we don’t need. I’m sure I’ll still hold on to a lot that isn’t necessary, but I will feel much better about my house (and will be able to find things so much easier!) when I get rid of the clutter!

  3. Yikes I see myself all over this. Our new apartment is cluttered with davids and my old stuff and the new stuff from the wedding. And we have so many books. He wants to get rid of them because he has an e reader and I’ve been so mad because I like books…even though I won’t read them. Sigh. It’s time to clean

  4. It’s all so true. I say when you’re in your new place it’s a great chance to get rid of a whole ton of stuff you’ve had in storage. Think of how good it will feel?! We just got rid of a ton of stuff, just because, and it was liberating. The books however? Eeeeek, I’m with you. For the very reason he says – it’s like I want to show off my accomplished reading list! I say keep those 🙂

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