Uncluttering your Mind

Dishes, Dishwasher, Dirty, Kitchen, Housework, Dish

My mother once said, “being rich won’t make you happy, but being poor can sure make you unhappy.”  I don’t have much to add to this succinct truth, except that I’m discovering it’s true for a lot of things besides money.  In my efforts at detachment and mental peace, I often tell myself that a clean house (or a better schedule, or a better organizing system, etc.) won’t really make me happier, and so it’s pointless to get anxious about them.  But what I’m finding out is that a clean house doesn’t make me happier, but it does take away a big occasion for me to be sad.  When I look around a cluttered or chaotic room, all the unfinished chores and things out of place automatically stress me out.  But when I look around a clean room, all I think is “what a nice room,” and I’m free to go on to other things.  Even the simple visual is important; things piled on top of each other in my house create metaphorical piles of worries in my mind, and an open and clean room clears my mind.

If you’re someone who’s prone to anxiety or depression, it’s okay to make your life easier.  You’re not necessarily trying to find happiness through making more money, or buying nice things for the house, or cleaning up; you’re just taking away things that make it easier for you to be sad.



Not my house.


In an effort to keep my 4 year old son from freaking out when one of his toys breaks, we’ve started saying things like “that’s too bad, honey, but good thing you have lots of other toys!” or “that’s too bad, but it’s just a toy.”  He learned his lesson so well that now, when he breaks something of mine, he will cheerfully say, “That’s okay, Mama!  Good thing you have plenty of other stuff” or “remember, Mama, flowers don’t last forever.”  Aargh.

For the last month or so I’ve been thinking a lot about detachment–detachment from unrealistic ideals, from expectations for the future, from the way I want things to be.  As petty as it sounds, my problem with detachment from worldly things probably surfaces the most when it comes to the kids breaking my possessions.  I’ve always considered myself fairly detached from material things already; it’s not like I cry when they chip my special china or something, and most of our stuff is from thrift stores anyway.  But when the very few things I do care about get broken too–my only nice artwork, a gift from my father, that the kids poked holes in with a pen, and my special icon triptych from my mother, which they ripped off its hinges–I lose it.  I discovered both these precious gifts while I was cleaning last week, and started ranting about how I was just fine at being detached from MOST things, but couldn’t I just have one thing that was clean and new and stylish and unbroken and modern and the right size and in the right place?  Just ONE?  Just how detached does God expect me to be?

File:Willard Leroy Metcalf - The White Veil (1909).jpg

The White Veil, by Willard Metcalf.


As soon as I said that, of course, God responded by sending me lots and lots of readings about detachment.  Every book I picked up, every meditation or quote in my daily Magnificat reading, was telling me how I would never get closer to God unless I learned detachment.  And I really, really didn’t want to hear this.  I have no idea what this means in my own state of life.  I think part of my problem is that I think detachment means not caring about anything but God, but that’s not true.  I’m starting to realize that what we’re really called to do (I think) is to love and enjoy the things of this world, without getting too attached.  It’s more of a balancing act than I realized.  After all, I need to appreciate the things that God has given me–material things, gifts, relationships, talents, and so on–and not despise them.  It’s not a black-and-white choice between (a) giving everything away and sitting in a cell praying all day and (b) caring about the things I have.  Instead, I think it’s a choice between appreciating the things I have as they are, broken or unbroken, and being attached to the things I have as I want them to be.  If I appreciate my house only when everything’s clean and unbroken, and lose my peace when things get messed up, I’m too attached to my house.  If I appreciate only the parts of my body that are to my liking, rather than appreciating the marvel that my body is right now, I’m too attached to my body.  God doesn’t want me to obsess over how awful my stretch marks are, but I don’t think he wants me to say “who cares about bodies?” either.  To have the proper distance from the gift that is my body, I can’t be too close (either by loving its perfections or loving its imaginary ideal) or too far (“a body is just a tool for living; who cares how it’s made or how it works or how it looks?”).  (I actually did know someone like that once; he thought it was unfortunate that we had to eat.  All this time we spend shoveling food into our bodies, we could be devoting to higher things, like philosophy!  He was a not a healthy person.)

Thanks for listening to me think out loud.  I’m obviously not sure about any of this; what do you think?  All I know is that God seems to be telling me to do something that I’m terribly uncomfortable with.  For the most part, I’m at peace with my stretch marks; but I’ve always been annoyed when people tell me to “embrace” them.  Why can’t I just tolerate them, or ignore them?  But I’m starting to get the feeling that God wants me to embrace quite a bit more.


image of monk’s cell

7QT: Self-deprecation Contest

1.  Here’s what my living room looks like, right now:


2. Every once in a while, I post a picture like this on facebook, and ask my friends to post pictures of their living rooms–not after they’ve been cleaned, or after the kids trashed it, but just as it looks right now.

3. The idea is to remind yourself that other people’s houses look a lot like yours.  Normally we only see people’s houses when they’ve cleaned up to take a picture, cleaned up for visitors, or cleaned and organized and decorated to display on Pinterest.  Some people find pictures of lovely houses inspiring–nothing wrong with that.  But it’s easy to forget that even those perfect houses look different when they’ve been lived in, and to think you’re the only one whose house looks like this.

4. A few years ago, I showed my husband an article from the Onion called “Female Friends Spend Raucous Night Validating the Living Sh** Out of Each Other.”  He half-jokingly asked me if that was what went on at my weekly Moms’ Group. I realized that actually it was kind of the opposite: one of us will confess something we’re struggling with, and the others will empathize and assure her that they are much worse.  “So…” said my husband, “it’s more like ‘You’re OK, I’m not OK?”  Hmm.  He’s on to something there.

5. When I originally started posting the pictures of my living room, I saw another example of how easy it is to get into this kind of self-deprecating contest, at least for me.  If someone confesses to me that they cheated and had extra dessert the other night, I’m likely to respond, “oh, that’s not so bad!  I had cake for breakfast today!”  And if someone posts a picture of a messy living room, I’m likely to jump right in and comment “hey, at least your chairs all have cushions on them and there’s not food all over your floor!  Look at MY house!”  I’m not sure how it happens, but somehow it turns into something you’re almost proud of: look at me, I’m the one who really deserves pity.  I’m the biggest slob!

6. So go ahead and leave your pictures in the comments! Just remember that it’s not about whose is worse, or who’s detached from worldly things enough to have a messy living room, or who spends enough time playing with her kids that she doesn’t have time left for cleaning.  You can even take a picture if you happen to have just cleaned!  It’s all about what a real, lived-in living room looks like–not an artificial Pinterest one.

7. Head over to Kelly’s at This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Seven Quick Takes!

seven quick takes friday 2