Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beyond Boxes and Bins

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
-William Morris

A wanderer on a lonely road came upon a torrential stream that had washed out the bridge. He couldn’t swim and was afraid to wade across, so he had to spend several days cutting down trees and vines with his small knife to build a raft. The raft he built was solid, and the heavy raft carried him safely across the flood. On the other side of the bank he though, “This is a good raft—if there’s another stream ahead, I can use it.” And so, he carried the raft for the rest of his life.

I believe that this Zen parable reflects the attitudes of many people who are struggling with a messy house. In the aftermath of the holiday season, we are especially prone to hang onto things that were given to us as gifts. (Are you really going to use that handy digital coin sorter?) Or, even worse, we tend to keep old, worn out things that we’ve already replaced. For example, I just barely threw away my worn out running shoes. My husband had to convince me that I would never use them again, even though I hadn’t really looked at them in three years, and I had recently purchased a new pair of running shoes. My response? “But I just MIGHT need them someday!”

A brand new year is upon us, and we’re all suffering from the effects of a major economic downturn. Your first reaction to the recession might be to cling onto your clutter for dear life—there’s no way you can get rid of anything that has potential utility, right? On the contrary, now is the perfect time to change our messy habits, purge the junk, and organize our homes! While a quick trip to IKEA or Bed Bath & Beyond might provide some temporary relief from the clutter, I hope to make some suggestions that will be more long-lasting than a shiny new Rubbermaid container.

What is “clutter”?

Understanding what “clutter” is can help you in your quest for organization. According to Merriam-Webster, “to clutter” means “to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.” Generally speaking, “clutter” can also mean anything that holds you back from achieving your goals, like holding onto emotional baggage, taking on other people’s responsibilities, or putting off major changes that you’ve been intending to make for a long time. This “emotional clutter” often manifests itself in the form of junk because we are too distracted to attend to housework, or to throw away the accumulating trash.

Why de-clutter?

The Lord has told us to be organized! In Doctrine and Covenants 109:8, we are told to “organize [ourselves]” and to “prepare every needful thing.” I mentioned earlier that a recession plays a major role in hoarding tendencies, when in reality we should be avoiding hoarding at all costs. We have been taught in the scriptures that material possessions are fleeting, especially in times of financial distress. Samuel the Lamanite taught in Helaman 13:31 that “the time cometh that [the Lord] curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.” Instead of focusing on saving potential “junk” items, focus on saving money and practicing wise spending habits.

What is holding me back?

I’ve provided plenty of good reasons to have a clutter-free home. So why do most of us still struggle with clutter? Have you recently experienced a major life change, such as the birth of a child, a marriage, or a divorce? Are you too busy at work or in school? Do you have kids at home that create a messy environment? These are all legitimate reasons for having some disorder at home, which in some cases just takes a trip to DI and a vacuum to fix. But if you find yourself unable to function because of the mess in your home, you might want to consider seeing a specialist who can help you overcome some of these problems.

Where do I start?

Asking yourself these four general questions can help you find a good starting place to get rid of clutter:
  1. Am I going to use this item? Start with this simple question and then narrow down your answers.
  2. What is this item for? Is it a seasonal item? An item that you use daily? Does it need to be readily accessible, or can you put it away in storage?
  3. Is this item a “want” or a “need”? You might need a set or two of pajamas to sleep in, but you don’t “need” 15 sets. The same goes for holiday socks, old food containers that have been recycled to be Tupperware, etc.
  4. Will I be seriously inconvenienced if I throw this item away? Try not to think too hard about this question, because a simple “yes” or “no” will make your de-cluttering venture much easier.

The bottom line:

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). By focusing on “treasures in heaven” rather than our temporary earthly belongings, we can become more in tune with ourselves, strengthen relationships with others, and draw closer to God.

Contributing: Hannah Hammill
Photo: Jyn Meyer


  1. Thanks. I'm encouraged to finish getting my home clean.

  2. Kristy. Good luck with your cleaning!

  3. Throw out your old running shoes when they are replaced, but remember the 3 R's.

    Reduce the amount of clutter you that you buy and accept in the first place.

    Reuse wisely: Try good organization in a closet for a limited amount of packaging, paper, etc. If you have space, intended use and you're liable to use it in the next year go ahead and keep it. Even a couple sets of old clothing are useful for painting, service and other dirty jobs.

    Recycle: Find out what recycling resources are in your communtity. Make used paper bins and include a recycling run into your routine every couple of months if there are local resources available.

    The challenges of clutter and trash can be seen through the lenses of good stewardship just as much as the lenses of treasure.

  4. SpecK, those are great suggestions. And yes, sadly I have more pairs of running shoes than I need...

  5. This is a great post. My wife and I have been trying to declutter before our upcoming move across the country. It's difficult to get rid of things that just might one day be useful. But it's worth it! Especially to the Elders Quorum who helps with your move.


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