Chattering Mind

I’ve written two semi-humorous posts on basement and closet de-cluttering in the last week. Some of you took my tone seriously, others knew I was kidding somewhat.

A lot has been written on this subject. And yet, many of our cluttered messes are as vexing as they’ve ever been. Lord, how we all spin our wheels and procrastinate! That’s how I got to thinking about writing some “spiritual satire.” I was thinking, “How can we all have more fun with this dead serious task?”

So now, it’s day three. I hope to actually help you today. For this is the day to see your clutter for what it is!

1. Take a meditation cushion to your messy place. Sit on it and gaze at your things–try not to fret about what you need to do next. You may notice a neglected holiday decoration, a bag of clothes you meant to give away, a chair you wanted to paint, a box with a bizarre mix of letters, recipes, and books you’ll never read.

2. Take a big breath, and fill yourself with love and compassion for all these nutty things, for yourself, for your messy life, for the world and its squabbly people arguing over parking spaces. See your body next to the mess, then see yourself and your mess in an aerial picture from your roof, then from the trees, then from above your neighborhood, pulling focus farther and farther out until you are high above your city now, a city that encompasses many people surrounded by their own troubled closets and basements. From above the earth, you can’t see your mess any longer. Stay there for awhile. Just breathe.

3. Then with the intention of neither making your life perfect, nor ignoring what bothers you about it, stand up and put your hands on the nearest piece of your closet/basement chaos: it could be an old sweater that would look swell with new buttons, or a piece of sporting equipment given to a family member years ago.

4. Decide: Is this bundle of molecules, this bit of matter, nourishing me, or should I release it into another’s loving arms, or to the garbage and the earth?

5. Repeat step four, repeat step four, repeat step four.

There’s much less to laugh about at this point, which is why I thought I’d “fun up” my earlier posts. I find the task of not attaching myself to mislaid, odd belongings exceedingly difficult, so hard in fact, that messy basements and closets have tormented me all of my life. I make my situation even more complex by being a frustrated “junque” dealer, pulling in bits of sweetness and sentiment at flea markets which I then can’t organize. At present, I’ve actually got my chaos limited to a ten-foot-square area of our basement. Everything else in our house is in pretty good shape. But it’s taken about three years of decluttering to get it down to this stage. And the last hours of work seem hardest.

Holding on, feeling shackled by the chattering thoughts that clutter allows, is a spiritual problem–an agony for me–one we all must tackle with a regular decluttering practice. I like websites like, that teach people how to sensibly declutter with a regular habit of clearing out and filing for just a few minutes every day.

The thing is to start, and to stay on it. Let the past go, let some unrealistic hopes vanish with it. You can find the boxes, you can hire helpers, you can tear out magazines photos of closets and basements you like. But until you say, “I can move mountains, I am at peace with needing less, I am entitled to the freedom uncluttered space brings,” only then will you really get steamed, and launch your decluttering practice. Only then will you walk away from the resentment of things not being the way you want them to be. Only then will you step into the daylight unfettered, breathing free.

So today, realize that the scarf you wanted to knit with the yarn you’ve been saving may never come together, and forgive yourself for that. The universe will find a place for the yarn. Say goodbye to that coat you bought that never worked. In passing it on, you’ll find another coat to keep you warm.

Occasionally, you may find in your pile of junk things like these–the note I wrote the dean of undergraduate studies, asking for his permission to drop the Buddhist Thought course I was failing, as well as my oldest son’s cartoon history of Christianity (“Jesue loves me!” says Emperor Constantine.)

And then you’ll be reminded, as I was, why you didn’t burn your whole junky heap! You are careful. You are good to yourself. You know what is of value.

Thanks for listening to all this! Do you have anything to add?

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