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Every day, thousands of people visit this blog and the vast majority of my readers have one thing in common: they are tired of living busy and cluttered lives.
They are tired of feeling exhausted at the end of the day, tired of feeling overwhelmed by the volume of stuff in their homes, and tired of never having enough time to do the things that make them come alive.
They come here looking for ideas that will help them declutter, help them slow down, and help them live with more intention in their everyday lives.
They come looking for solutions … but they rarely question why their lives are so busy and cluttered in the first place.
It’s akin to a doctor trying to treat a patient’s symptoms without knowing the real cause, don’t you think?
I actually took time last night to reflect on these questions for myself—why had my life been so busy and cluttered in the past, and where does the busyness is my life currently come from—and I had some pretty big revelations.
I thought I’d share them here with you with the hope that it encourages you to take a deeper look inwards. If you are tired of being tired, keep reading to find out why your life is busy and cluttered, and what to do about it.
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
Yesterday, on my walk home, I was listening to an audiobook and I heard a quote that resonated so deeply with me that I had to stop walking and write it down:
“Being busy and overwhelmed can be, paradoxically, at least a temporarily effective way to stay comfortable.” – David Allen (Getting Things Done – affiliate link)
I think the reason this struck such a chord with me is that it called me out on something that deep down, I already knew to be true.
Living a busy and cluttered life isn’t fun for anyone … but it’s the devil we know. After all, it feels like almost everyone exists in a constant state of overwhelm. (Try asking someone how they’re doing these days and I can almost guarantee you that 9 out of 10 times, they will respond “busy”!)
We’ve become experts as being busy; we know how to handle it because we’ve been doing it all our lives.
What many of us are not experts at is being vulnerable, admitting we’ve made mistakes, or finding the courage to face the unknown.
I don’t mean this as an insult or to make you feel bad about yourself (after all, I often fall into this camp!). I mention it only because I think that when we’re given the choice between the devil we know and the one we don’t, many of us choose busy and cluttered every time.
Here are a few personal examples.
BETTER BUSY THAN LONLEY
When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I worked a lot more than your average person. There are a few reasons for this.
First of all, my grandparents owned a Chinese restaurant where they worked 365 days a year and growing up, I spent a lot of my time there. Unsurprisingly, I learned from their example and by my sixteenth birthday I had two jobs.
I remember at one stage, in my early twenties, when I realised that I hadn’t had a weekend off from work in over a year. I regularly worked double shifts, easily pushing myself to work 60-70 hours a week, all the while going to school full-time too.
I was busy and I told myself that I didn’t have an option. I said yes to every shift that was offered to me because I “needed the money” and besides—I wasn’t the type of person to say no to work. (I didn’t really need the money, I needed to stop spending so much, but that’s not the point of this story.)
The real truth—one that I struggled to admit to myself at the time— is that I had very few friends. There was no one to meet for coffee, no one to go dancing with on Saturday nights, no one to study with for my exams.
It was easier to work every weekend and to applaud myself for being such a hard worker than to deal with the discomfort of sitting home alone on a Saturday night.
Or worse—the discomfort of putting myself out there and starting a conversation with a stranger.
I went to University for five years and I cannot remember having a single meaningful conversation with a classmate. I did get to know some of the people I worked with but there was rarely any depth to these relationships.
Time after time, I choose the comfort of being “busy” over the discomfort of being vulnerable.
CHOOSING CLUTTER OVER CONFLICT
This isn’t something I talk about online very often but I’m divorced.
My first husband and I were married for almost eight years. He’s a great person and I have nothing but nice things to say about him—but he wasn’t the right one for me.
I think that deep down I realised this not long after we got married but whenever the thought crossed my mind, I buried it. After all, no one wants to be that person who gets married and then divorced right away. I didn’t want to admit my mistake to myself and perhaps more importantly, I didn’t want to admit it to him.
I wasn’t brave enough to have a tough conversation so I found comfort in busy and cluttered instead.
For years, I buried myself in work and shopping. I told myself I hated my job—in fact, I complained about it ALL the time—but still, I worked unpaid overtime every night.
No one made me stay there and I wasn’t under pressure from my employer to work long hours. Instead, I made the choice every night to work later and later.
The devil you know—right?
Of course, I had to go home eventually, a home that was filled to the brim with clutter. At one stage, I owned over 100 pairs of shoes and I used a spare bedroom as a walk-in closet. I would spend an embarrassing amount of time trying on outfits, many of which I never actually wore out of the house.
Instead, I dressed for an imaginary life—one where I never had to face the consequences of my choices.
MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN
Maybe you can’t relate the stories I’ve shared so far but I think this next one is fairly universal.
Almost everyone I talk to about decluttering asks me how to deal with the pain of letting go of things you paid a lot of money for.
Expensive dresses with the tags still on them. That “must have” kitchen gadget you’ve never taken out of the box. Designer face cream you used once and then forgot about because it left your face feeling greasy.
For me, there are too many to name. I’ve literally spent thousands of dollars on things that were so insignificant that I can’t even remember the details.
We’ve all made mistakes and letting go can be painful—but the truth is it’s NOT because of the wasted money.
In all likelihood, that money was spent years ago and regardless, we spend money all the time on things we aren’t necessarily happy with. For example, have you ever eaten in a restaurant and been disappointed with your meal? It stings—no one likes spending money on things they don’t like—but odds are you got over it quickly and moved on.
So why can’t we declutter in the same way? Why are our physical possessions somehow different?
My theory is that it’s not the wasted money that really hurts; instead, it’s the sting of admitting you’ve made a poor decision.
I remember the first time I decluttered my closet, sitting on the floor surrounded by the clothes I never wore, and feeling completely awash with shame. I couldn’t believe that I’d made SO MANY bad choices, repeatedly.
The little voice in my head berated me. I was “supposedly” an intelligent woman—yet somehow I couldn’t carry out the simple task of buying clothes that I would actually wear.
My unworn clothes went back into the closet. It was easier to deal with the clutter than to face my shame head-on.
WHERE TO FROM HERE
These are just a few of the stories that came to me last night when I made time to reflect on why my life was busy and cluttered for so long.
You might recognise yourself in these stories, or maybe not— but regardless, I’m fairly confident that if you look long enough, you’ll find some sort of fear or discomfort that is holding you back.
If so, you might be wondering what’s the solution? Now that you know why your life is busy and cluttered, how can you find the courage to move forward?
I believe the answer lies in what’s on the other side of our discomfort.
- I was scared of being vulnerable and meeting new people; it was safer to stay busy and work every Saturday night … but this meant I was giving up on the possibility of meaningful and rewarding friendships.
- I was scared to admit that I’d made a mistake getting married; it was definitely easier to numb my feelings with another pair of designer shoes … but this meant I was giving up on the opportunity of meeting my true life partner.
- I was scared of facing the clutter in my home and the shame that came with it; it was easier to go on living with my stuff hidden in closets and under my bed … but this meant I was giving up on freedom and peace of mind.
For me, the key to moving forward was creating and committing to a vision of the life I wanted most.
As I thought about what I wanted out of life, I felt the balance shift. The fear of staying stuck became greater than my other fears and giving up became more uncomfortable than moving forward.
Over the years, my life has evolved and my vision has changed. I got married again and we have a young daughter, and my deep desire to be present in their lives drives me now.
Physical clutter is no longer the struggle it once was, but I still need to be mindful of the busyness in my life. I’m doing this by challenging some deeply held beliefs about hard work, self-worth and money.
Of course, we all take different paths through life but if you’re struggling to clear the clutter from yours, then I highly encourage you to ask what discomfort you’re avoiding. Give it a name—it will lessen the power it has over you—and then find your purpose.
Once you have a clear vision of the life you want most, it’s like a guiding light in the darkness, helping you find the courage you need to walk forward with confidence.
If you need help defining your vision, then I invite you to consider my signature online course— Values + Vision: Align Your Life With What Matters Most. In this course, I share everything I’ve learned about crafting a life with more of what matters and less of everything else.
Have you chosen busy and cluttered as a way of staying comfortable? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and as always, thank you for reading!