Clutter is perhaps one of the most widespread lifestyle ailments of the twenty-first century. Of wealthy first-world countries such as the United States. Of the developing third-world nations of sub-Saharan Africa. Of cities and suburbs, of rural country towns, of classrooms and streets, of all communities and individuals alike. Our world is wrought with socioeconomic diversity, yet amidst it all, a dilemma permeates all these otherwise segregating boundaries.
What comes to mind when you think of clutter? A crowded desktop. Stacks upon stacks of books and papers. Heaps of clothing that have been hoarded for months, or even years. Oftentimes, these are the most common responses. They share a common root. They originate from the materialistic branch of clutter. A mere category. One type of clutter. One branch on the clutter tree. But perhaps the most well-known. In fact, it is the one most often attributed to the connotation that the word clutter has been granted. Therefore, it is crucial to understand.
Materialism. A philosophy founded on the significance of material possessions, driven by an anchoring belief that such material items are superior in ultimate importance to intangible items of spiritual or moral value. Simply put, it is the lifestyle that prioritizes material possession, ranks based on monetary value, and seeks out fulfillment from superficial, materialistic sources.
It is the individual who values his Lamborghini more than his relationships, the woman who refuses to leave the house without makeup and purchases only designer clothing. The wealthy businessman perched atop the corporate ladder of a company that he purchased for upwards of a million dollars. With high-rise luxury apartments in midtown Manhattan, or the Back Bay of Boston, or whichever sprawling city they choose to park their Mercedes in.
Not I, your defensive self rebuttals, I lead a life of substance. Of meaning. Of moral value. I am no materialist! My Mercedes is nice, but I certainly don’t need it.
Of course you don’t. I don’t doubt that, even for a second. Nobody needs a Mercedes, or a luxury apartment, or designer clothing, or an expensive vacation, or any vehicle for that matter. All we need is food, water, shelter, love, financial security, a sense of purpose in life, and access to basic resources such as healthcare and medicine. So, we actually need quite a bit.
In fact, I’d even argue that we need the Earth. Nature. The myriad flora and fauna of the natural world. Without it, carnivores and plant-eating vegans alike would lack basic sustenance. Whether you eat plants or animals, whether you give it a second thought or not, you depend on the natural world, our beautiful planet Earth, to survive.
Of course, one could argue that one day soon we will be producing synthetic, genetically-engineered food made entirely from non-natural substances. Right. Who wants to eat that?
But ultimately, it isn’t about whether we need that extra pair of shoes, or that golf club membership, or the gourmet dinners in the city every night. Perhaps that golf club membership provides an avenue for you to enhance your athletic skills while maintaining strong social connections and spending time in nature — all of which are extremely beneficial to our well-being. In that scenario, a golf club membership is an excellent investment that offers substantial immaterial value. It isn’t about picking apart each and every materialistic purchase and questioning its value — because as we have seen with the golf membership, oftentimes meaningful value is masked behind a materialistic purchase.
What really matters is the holistic clutter that accumulates in our lives. Not the luxury vehicle. Not the apartment that you live in. Not even the purchases that you make. When you examine the components of your life collectively—donning the sunglasses with the big-picture lens — what you see is what ultimately determines your quality of life. What matters far more than material possessions is the ultimate product you get when you put all those possessions — material and immaterial — together into a cohesive unit: a life. The clutter that infiltrates that life matters most of all.
The physical clutter crowding our desk at work and infiltrating our work space. The financial clutter when too many purchases outweigh too few deposits on our bank account statement. The social clutter that results from having too many acquaintances and too few friends. The psychological clutter when we suffer from anxiety, depression, psychosis, or whichever mental ailment impedes our peace of mind, diagnosed or not. The emotional clutter created by a toxic relationship. The cognitive clutter that results from attempting to do too much mentally challenging work — reading, writing, computing, creating. As the polar opposite of cognitive clutter, the physical clutter that manifests itself as exhaustion and muscle fatigue, when we work our bodies too hard. Thus, we have come full-circle — we arrive yet again at the physical manifestation of clutter. Perhaps the easiest to identify.
Because it is the easiest to see. Because it is tangible, palpable, it lies exposed right before our eyes. Clutter. Lying in our way. Creating superfluous obstacles. Unnecessary roadblocks. Excessive stress.
When you examine the myriad manifestations of clutter that have accumulated in your life, it is then that you have a candid view of your life. Your overall quality of life. Your chances of success. What preoccupies you, day-to-day.
It is time we broaden our perspectives and look beyond the heaps of crap in the basement. Clutter is far more than that. It is an epidemic, a stealthy tapeworm that wriggles its way into our lives and feeds off of us. It is a parasite. Draining us — physically, emotionally, and cognitively.
Forget what you learned in Student Success 101. Forget what your life coach taught you. Forget everything that you read about success. True success is achieved by those who have learned how to truly de-clutter their lives, for better or for worse.
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