Last Updated: April 2nd, 2019

The idea of simplifying pulls at me all the time lately. I’m tempted to clear my schedule and devote the remainder of the week to dealing with the disorder all at once. I’ve been down that path too many times, though, and I know that method of dealing with these things only produces short-term results.

I’ve had lots of false starts: weekends spent cleaning and organizing; days devoted to getting our family’s finances in order; months dedicated solely to getting caught up. But there’s still the massive pile of laundry on the floor, the dish-filled sink begging for someone to wash dishes, the unpaid bills waiting for me to find the cheque book. Disarray always seems to creep back in.

I’m beginning to realize that the clutter isn’t just around me: it’s inside me. This mess is a manifestation of my inner state, and the secret to clearing it is not to rent a dumpster and simply dispose of it all, or even to binge clean and organize it over the next few days or weeks.

This mess is a result of all the unresolved issues I haven’t yet faced. Those unwashed dishes, the dirty clothes, the scattered paperwork, the decorative clutter designed to attract attention from all the mess—the chaos is symbolic for areas where I need to grow. But just as I can’t pull on budding spring flowers to speed their growth, dealing with this mess too quickly won’t address the real issues.

When I think about it, I see that each problem area has its own lesson attached. The clothes reflect my recent disregard for the body; the dishes symbolize my careless eating habits; the paperwork illustrates my persistently cluttered mind; the unpaid bills reveal my irrational fear of the future. Binge-cleaning what’s around me won’t make a dent in this internal mess. Of course, the external must be dealt with. Eventually.

But first, I need to wake up. I need to let go of judgment and renew my commitment to being mindful and aware, moment by moment, because mindlessly going through the motions of daily living is how this happens. I know because I’ve been here before.

This clutter is a picture of anxiety and depression that comes into focus suddenly, though it’s been accumulating for quite some time. Something finally clicks, and I notice what I’ve been persistently filtering out and ignoring. The mess now bothers me because something inside me is shifting.

I’m aware of my own tendency to complicate things and even simplicity is not immune to extremes. Dealing with the external with too much force will only make it possible to forget these lessons I need to internalize. Focusing only on the outward goal misses the mark: the change has to come from within.

So today, I approach each task mindfully. I give my full attention to what I’m doing while I’m doing it; I do what is necessary and then I stop. I know the way, and I know it’s not a way I can go at all. It’s a way of being.

Over time, as I recommit myself to the practice of mindfulness, the chaos will give way to order, and the process of creating order will make it possible to simplify. As I develop the habit of persistently returning to the moment when I drift off to mindlessness, the external will continue to match the internal. It always does.

A complicated system for simplifying works against the real goal. An imbalance in either direction leads to the same unstable results. There’s no need to increase my resolve to deal with external when dealing with the internal will produce more fruitful results.

A home, at any given moment, provides a snapshot of the way its inhabitants tend to interact with the world. Choosing to interact with it mindfully produces sustainable results. Trying to overcompensate for past neglect does not.

As I write these words, I realize my own tendency to overdo things after long periods of not doing what is necessary. I feel the temptation already, to not just wash the dishes, but to also organize all the cabinets; to not just wash a load of clothes, but to keep laundry going all day long; to not just pay the bills that are approaching their due dates, but to pay all the bills at once.

Instead of doing that, as I have often done in the past, today I will focus on only doing what is necessary. However, as I approach what is necessary with mindfulness, each task will be accomplished using a higher level of consciousness than I’ve been using lately. And just as day by day, the flowers push their way through the ground almost imperceptibly, a renewed commitment to being mindful will produce similar results.

As I return to a consistently higher state of mindfulness, simplicity will be a natural result. Instead of turning simplicity into a misguided attempt at fixing the internal, today I choose mindfulness. That’s what really simplifies things. And over time, the external will reflect that progress.

by Angela Woods
image: Illustration of a Disorganized Room via Shutterstock