Last spring, I had the impulse to buy the book Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer, a book about the emotional healing that comes from clearing out the unnecessary physical items from our spaces and creating a more open space full of possibility and clarity.
The main purpose of this practice, Palmer emphasizes, is not necessarily actually about the physical items, but rather it is to “reconnect with ourselves.”
When I read this book, I could understand a lot of my own life through it. I know that I am not alone in saying that I have unnecessary things, from old papers to obsolete chargers to clothes that don’t fit me anymore. I have kept these things based on the simple logic: well, I might need it at some point in the future. While this logic applies to pragmatic items—for example, I’m not going to throw out all of my light bulbs because I don’t need one right now—it also gets applied to a lot of junk. And that junk fills up our closets and drawers and under our beds, and it weighs on us. Especially when we use things as a way of disconnecting, excess can be very heavy on our selves and on others.
This book also focuses on more abstract versions of “junk.” This quote, which addresses this concept, is one that really stands out for me:
“Things that make us smarter, more beautiful, more powerful, more spiritual, or more prosperous are not bad in and of themselves, but when we use them as armor for our gentle selves, we end up losing the connection with the part of ourselves that is crucial for our peace of mind and happiness.”
American culture promotes individualism, and the idea that we can and should embody power, intelligence, spirituality, beauty, and success. I think that Palmer is right when he says that these things alone are not necessarily bad. When they do become toxic, though, is when we compare ourselves to others, and when we almost inevitably find that we are not the “most,” we bore into ourselves. We become convinced that we are not worthy or loveable and we become determined to be better than. But this thought process creates a huge disconnect. If we are always thinking of what we are not, how can we be in touch with who we are and what we want? If we are always seeing other human beings as competition, how can we embrace others?
The physical spaces that we inhabit are also, of course, interlaced with our emotional spaces. For me, when I am in poor mental health, it is obvious just from looking at my room. Clothes will be strewn everywhere, the bed will be a mess. This book connects these two concepts, and makes it clear that clearing the “junk” from our lives, emotional, physical, spiritual, is all a process of self-care and love.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK.