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The clutter you can’t see

Last month, a whole herd of us spent two weeks spring cleaning our homes, a few hours a day, using my e-book as a guide. One of the biggest focuses was decluttering–getting rid of all the stuff taking residence in our homes that we just don’t need.

I define clutter as anything you don’t love or need that takes up space, taking cues from one of my favorite quotes:

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

Now, “beautiful” is subjective–your daughter’s My Little Pony, your son’s rock collection, and your husband’s college t-shirt he wears to bed all may be considered beautiful.

“Useful” is subjective as well, though I’d argue many of us assume an item is useful by predicting its future usefulness. As in, “I don’t want to get rid of this–what if I need it one day?”

And as I always say, if you haven’t used it in the past year, the odds of you needing it are very slim–too slim to honor it with valuable square footage in your living space.

These guidelines–while sometimes challenging and even emotional–are pretty cut-and-dry for a physical space holding physical items. Like our homes.

But what about our lives? What clutter–the kind you can’t see–is taking up precious space in our lives? In ourselves?

If we remember the definition of clutter being anything you don’t love or need that takes up space, I guarantee you many of us have non-material clutter in our lives. And because we’re holding on to these things we don’t need, we’re not allowing room for those things we truly do find beautiful or useful.

Here are just a few examples of life clutter.

1. Relationship clutter

Are you holding on to something unkind your mother-in-law said to you over the holidays? Do you want to reconnect with your college roommate, but feel guilty every time you think of her because it’s been so long since you’ve called? Do you keep saying ‘yes’ to the mom with the extremely difficult child that your own kid doesn’t even like, because you feel sorry that no one else will play with him?

There are plenty of ways we can have relationship clutter. I’m not saying every relationship in our life has to be free of conflict, packed with meaningful conversation, or even be one that isn’t more of a ministry that a two-sided friendship.

But there are times when we are holding on to things in relationships that aren’t useful or beautiful to us–they’re robbing us of joy, and they’re depleting our resources for the relationships that do matter, like with our spouse and kids.

What to do:

Forgive. Confront in love. Bite the bullet and initiate. Be honest. And don’t let secondary relationships interfere with your primary ones, the ones you know are the most important in your life.

2. Time clutter

Photo by Lindsey T

Are you running your kids all over town to extracurriculars, leaving no time to have a family dinner together? Is your calendar so full for the next two weeks that you’re not sure you’ll see your spouse awake and out of bed? Or are you waking up later than your kids, not providing enough time to get ready for the day and have much-needed adult time by yourself? In general, do you feel like your calendar and routine owns you, instead of the other way around?

We all go through seasons of busyness, and many times, those are unavoidable. But to live in a perpetual state of panic, rush, and urgency leaves no time to enjoy life and the things that truly matter to you.

Likewise, when we passively move through life, not developing healthy habits that will help us get more out of life–like making time to pray and journal, get enough sleep, and work diligently on taking care of our home–we’re depriving ourselves and our families of valuable time.

What to do:

Sit down with your spouse and mutually agree on how many squares in your calendar will have something planned for the family’s evening each week. And then stick to it. Keep track of how you use your time for a few days, and use your results to make some changes. Call a spade a spade, and do what you can to make your use of time align with your priorities.

3. Body clutter

Are you consistently running on four hours of sleep a night (and you don’t have a baby in the house)? Does most of your fuel come from a box or wrapped in cellophane, bought from the center aisles of the grocery store? Are you going out of your way to make sure your kids eat their daily allotment of veggies–but not bothering to watch your own? Are you spending most of your day in a sedentary position?

What to do:

Treat your body as the temple it was created to be. Set an example for your kids and move, even just 20 minutes per day. Make sure 80 percent of your diet comes from something that grows in the ground or once ate the ground. And get enough sleep–we all know how important this is, but we’re far more diligent about getting our kids to bed on time than we are ourselves.

4. Mind clutter

Photo by Ian MacKenzie

Are you reading a book most of the time? Would you say most of the information you gather online is directly helpful to your real life? Do you truly enjoy everything you watch on TV, and can you count the number of evenings per week when it’s not even turned on? And if you’re a follower of Jesus, like me, do you take Philippians 4:8 to heart, and dwell on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?

What to do:

Think of a book you’ve wanted to read for awhile, and check it out at the library. Keep it by your night stand, and diligently read a chapter each night before bed. Go through your feed reader, and keep only those blogs you truly find useful or beautiful. Try to not turn on the TV for a week, and see what else you do with your time. And perhaps find a fellow mom to touch base with weekly (even just on the phone), and keep each other accountable about what your mind dwells on.

The takeaway

I don’t mean for this post to be a bummer. But I do truly believe that when Mom is doing well, the whole family thrives. We all know how easy it is to put us last on the list–and it’s also easy to brush off those things we can’t see in favor of those things right in front of us, like the bills and dinner. Important stuff, I know.

But so are our relationships. And our mental energy. And all those things that contribute to our health and our family’s well-being. Don’t forget about the clutter you can’t see.

Remember, when you get rid of clutter, you’re making room for things you truly love. This is true in our homes and in our lives.

Which of these four types of clutter do you feel the most right now? What are some other types of non-material clutter you’ve experienced?

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  1. Leanne

    I’ve just cut out some mind and time clutter over the weekend. I had an “aha” moment driving to an appointment. I was feeling stressed about not spending enough time with my kids and keeping our home. It dawned on me that I wasn’t even enjoying what was taking up my time and mental resources. It wasn’t something I had to do, but I felt like I “should” do it. The moment I decided to let go of that thing I felt so much lighter and relaxed – it was amazing.

    I think this is a post I’ll refer back to often 🙂

    Leanne´s last blog post…The Expanda is Here

  2. Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food.

    Oh, yeah…
    At first I thought this is going to be more about cleaning and clearing the house… I do try to have the least mess possible in my life. What a challenge.
    Should work on getting more sleep ASAP. It seems pretty easy to do as a start.

  3. Nicole Ross

    I sure do enjoy your blog! And especially this post. I’ve been working on the whole clutter in the house deal…but mental and body clutter! Those are great reminders as well. Keep up the great posts! I look forward to whatever clever thing you have to say!

    Nicole Ross´s last blog post…My Little Photographer

  4. MrsScotsman

    I did not do the two week challenge. No excuses I just didn’t. I did however tackle a HUGE project and serious decluttering. In the month of May both my parents (recently divorce) and DH’s parents (recently retired) moved into small dwellings. After a crazy two weeks of helping them AT THE SAME TIME we saw a lot of clutter (crap) that got in the way of what could have been an easier and smoother transition. We took two things away from this experience. 1) We physically took away stuff that we had been storing at both parents’ homes. 2) We saw first hand what acummulated clutter can do in the long run to relationships. In the couple week that have pasted we have discussed our clutter and taken care getting rid of stuff that we had been meaning to for awhile. We also decided that after spending so much time helping our families that it was time for us to spend time on our home.

    Our clutter dump is our office. It is the place that gets all the ‘stash and dash’ items. They kept piling and piling like a dump. We never emptied it. I was tired of not being able to even walk in that room that we use so often. Here’s the results:

  5. Frugalchick

    I just found your site and I’m glad I did. Body clutter is the one I need to work on the most right now. I need to get moving, eat better, and get more sleep. Speaking of which, it’s almost 1 am and here I am blog hopping. So, off to bed I go.

  6. Emma @

    Your post reminded me of a similar idea I read elsewhere some time ago, it was about things that cause friction. Those things can be different – some unfinished business, a door knob that doesn’t work, clutter on your desk, anything that you were supposed to handle but for some reason just didn’t.

    Why is this a problem? Because things that cause friction don’t let your mind concentrate on more important stuff, they kind of hold you back. So the solution for that was to make a list of those things and go one by one and eliminate them. Fix the door knob, file the papers on your desk, get rid of all those issues and free your mental energy for the things that really matter.

    Emma @´s last blog post…Toys That Last: musical mobile for your newborn

  7. steadymom

    I think my current area to work on is Body Clutter. I make sure that our family of five always eats pretty healthily, but for some reason I’m not feeling so healthy myself. Need to add some extra walks into the schedule, I think.

    Thanks for the reminder, Tsh.


    steadymom´s last blog post…Sponsor Giveaway :: Barefoot Books Gift Set

  8. Dena

    What a nice post and reminder. I read the Bible, too, but it’s helpful to have someone put it right in front of you in plain English sometimes. Thank you.

  9. Snapper

    Excellent post!

  10. Gladys

    Mind clutter, magazine and internet is driving me crazy!

    Body clutter, we are living at my ML house for couple month and she does not have a good healthy habit, I fell that our diet is falling apart just because we don’t want to say no to her.

    I’m writing Phil. 4: 8 on my TV now.

  11. Catherine

    LOVE this!

  12. Denise

    good to read *you* again. Your writing it what keeps bringing me back to this site. thank you for this post.

    Denise´s last blog post…I gotta be me

  13. Molly

    Oh I really like this! I usually think of “clutter” as only the physical stuff – junk around my home. I like the ideas of relationship clutter and mind clutter – it might help me tonight to think twice instead of watching trash on TV. Thanks!

  14. Cj Carleton

    Thank you for sharing this. It is a great way to start the week, remembering what is important. If we as Mom are feeling our best the whole family wins!

  15. Kim

    Time clutter! I was so excited to be off for the summer from school that I booked the Bird for all kinds of classes we are not able to do during the school year. Now all I really want to do is go to the neighborhood pool each day, visit library story time and eat watermelon! Instead, we have something almost everyday that we go to. Also evaluating relationships right now too! Love your blog!

  16. Angie @ The Creative Mama

    Am I nuts that I feel I’m struggling with all 4 to some extent? Sigh. I loved this article, definitely made me stop and think…

    I love that you said this:
    But I do truly believe that when Mom is doing well, the whole family thrives.

    How true it is!

    Angie @ The Creative Mama´s last blog post…Giveaway 3 – PamperingBeki

  17. FACSofOurLives

    Great post! I think I have some clutter in the relationship area. Not in the exact sense that you describe above, but in the sense that I am trying to keep up a few too many relationships. I am trying to keep up the social life I had before I had children and it just isn’t possible. I find myself chosing to do an activity with some friends over spending an evening with my daughters. Then when I do the activity I realize that I would have had more fun if I would have spent the night at home with my husband and two beautiful girls. I don’t necessarily want to get rid of the friendships, but I am finding that these particular friendships aren’t adding a value to my life but rather are taking away from the valuable time I could spend with my family. It is time to refocus these relationships to fit into my lifestyle a little better. Thanks for your post!

  18. bdaiss

    Our major clutter right now is that we’re building a house. Fortunately the end is nearing (couple more weeks). I’m already planning the purging. Of the stuff while we move (I think there will be many things that don’t make it to the new house). And of all the mind/time clutter once we’re in. I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of summer/fall focusing on our existing family and the little one that will join us in October.

    It will be a great weight off my shoulders…

    bdaiss´s last blog post…Creeping closer

  19. Tracey

    What a great, thought-provoking post! I am constantly trying to be on guard against over-scheduling ourselves, even when all the activities are acceptable and fun. I am also finding that getting up earlier gives me the jumpstart I need for the day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  20. Steph

    I’ve been thinking along these lines for a few weeks now…there are 2 things that I’m working on, but with minimal success so far. One is the mind clutter but not necessarily as you describe it – what I’m struggling with are the little nagging thoughts that distract me from being in the moment or float through my mind when I try and fall asleep at night. I am currently a working mom and my company is closing sometime around the end of the year. I want very much to be a SAHM or work part time, but my husband is freaking out at the idea – so my mind keeps coming back to the future and where we will be going from here.
    The other is calendar clutter as it relates to managing my time a bit better. I find myself regularly forgetting about things we need, errands that could be combined, and then I’m running out with my daughter and wasting what could be quality time better spent elsewhere by dragging her to the store. While I try to make these “adventures” fun, I do think they aren’t the best use of my time.

  21. melissa

    Tsh~one of my very favorite quotes, but I never thought of applying it to “life.” Loved your insights~I would say right now I’m struggling most with body clutter. I was thinking this weekend that God gave me this amazing body, as much as I may not like the look of it, has given me the ability to experience so many wonderful things, born children, tried to help others bear their burdens…how must He feel when I fill it with food that is not good for me and don’t take care of it. I really am trying to be better in this area…

    melissa´s last blog post…summer chore cards

  22. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect

    I love this post. What is most notable to me about this topic is how connected these things are – if I have these other types of clutter, odds are, my house isn’t going to be tidy and peaceful either. Thank you for laying this all out so clearly.

  23. Erin

    I love the get a book at the Library suggestion. I just did that last week and have spent more time reading in the past few days than I have in the past few months. I like the idea of Library books because they come with a built in deadline! I’m reading The Five Love Languages of Children and am loving it. I need the encouragement and the ideas that are in there. Thanks for encouraging us to be us Tsh!

    Erin´s last blog post…Africa- Day 7

  24. Andrea

    I so need to declutter. In the past I’ve done a “mind dump.” Just take a notebook, or piece of paper and write down everything on your mind. It doesn’t need to be organized or even complete sentences. Just get all that extra information out of your head. I did this several months ago when I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t function, because I didn’t know where to start. After “dumping” everything onto paper, I was much more relaxed and all that extra info was on paper, so I could refer back to it if I needed it. I never needed it, but I felt so much better and more focused. Now I just need to focus on putting me (Mom) first!

  25. deb

    This was well written ! I know that getting up earlier helps me begin the day with a better mindset.
    And I started to say no to some volunteer requests from the kids schools and activities.. no only were the tasks time consuming, but many women love to extend the social aspect of them. Not judging, and I still have to help sometimes as we’re all a community , but I found it seriously stressful. I have even asked to buy out of some of them. It seemed expensive at first but again many others followed suit, I think Moms in general get tired of so much of it.
    I think a few mindful moments or actions benefits us all much better in the short and long term.

  26. anna

    I don’t think your post was a bummer at all! It was great! Loved the spiritual and biblical references and the many points to ponder. Some very good morsels of wisdom in there. My area to work on would be relationships…hard feelings with one of my parents…I am working very hard to resolve those feelings and not allow them have a negative impact on my close relationships. Your post was a good reminder to keep at the decluttering. Thanks.

  27. Kel

    What a great post! It can be so much easier to get rid of physical clutter than clutter that can’t be seen. Thanks for the reminder.

  28. Barbara

    Having just had a baby, it seems that I wake up and there is more clutter than the night before. We are trying to fit her into this home that was too small for my husband and I 5 years ago before we added our first daughter. (They will share a room. Without a closet. ) The “stuff”clutter causes mind clutter for me. And I, of course, have the body clutter that comes with having a baby.

  29. Caroline

    Your blog always has a way of “touching” me…thank you! I needed to read this tonight and am also a follower of Jesus. I have really been depriving myself of the joy in summer which happens to be the only season that creates peace in my soul. I am so busy. I feel as though I am constantly doing something…not really for me though. I am trying to delegate more and give our kids more independence so that they do not have to ask me to do everything for them. It is hard sometimes to set boundaries. I lack on sleep big-time and am thankful though that we eat tons of fruit and vegs and we all take our Vidazorb probiotic. It feels so good to take care of our bodies. I suffer from the lack of energy to keep on the house stuff (laundry and dishes) because I am always taking care of so many other things…then the clutter makes me miserable. It is a vicious circle. Thanks for inspiring me to go through my priorities! Caroline

  30. shelle

    Another great post! When I am feeling over or even underwhelmed I become stuck in obsessive computer usage. I needlessly and endlessly look for answers online. I try and lose myself in another world. I find if I organize my day and stay busy and engaged I don’t even want to sit down to the screen.
    I also agree when Mom is centered the family responds better. I hope my children feel the warmth I try to create at home.

    shelle´s last blog post…Thoughtful Friday

  31. Jaime

    This post is a great example of why I love, love, love your blog. Thanks so much!

  32. Amy

    I so feel like crying. I feel like I am lost in the chaos of toys. I just spent another 4 hours today cleaning the kid’s room, organizing everything, and knowing deep in my heart that in a week or so, I will be sitting in the very same spot doing it all again. I am in utter despair. I know that this is all my fault for not teaching them how to pick up their toys. The fact is that they do pick up their toys, just not the way they are supposed to. Everything always gets dumped together, and I end up spending hours sorting it all out. I always get huge thank yous, and excitement when they find the long lost toy they thought they would never see again. I on the other hand am ready to get rid of it all. There is something so wrong about them being outside playing while I sit in their room for hours cleaning up their mess. What can I do? I don’t know how to teach them what to do, at least everything I’ve tried has failed in this area. Please help if you can.

    • anna

      Hi Amy,
      I’ve been there…what I did was to scale back the magnitude of toys. I believe it’s not only stressful for parents who want to keep their home somewhat orderly, but it’s stressful for the kids. I kept only their favorites and provided easy access to low shelves and containers and showed them that everything has a place to “live” and let them know they were responsible for putting their toys and things away. It took perseverence but eventually they learned that picking up a little every day was much better than waiting until it was overwhelming. Of course if yours are very young they may need a little guidance. Such as “Put all your stuffed animals in the toy box”, and then give them the next task until they have learned a routine. And last but not least, I did not let them go out to play until they had done a good job, not a perfect job, but a good one. It worked for me…hope it helps you. -Anna =)

  33. Vanessa

    I have been doing exactly what you’ve said up above. I’m trying to de-clutter my mind… lots of litlle tiny things that takes so much “space” in my life… it all fit just like a “glove” to me. Thanks for sharing your thougths and giving a chance to other people to re-think about their “cluttered” mind. Very helpful! Have a great day!

  34. paula

    I thought this was going to be a cleaning post too….but a good reminder we all need.

    I think all the free magazines I get from the internet are now a waste for me. The only good thing I can say is that I plan to take them to the homeless shelter. Maybe I should do that today. They take up so much room.

    paula´s last blog post…Happy Father’s Day to All Fathers out There

  35. Suzanna

    I really enjoy reading your blog and especially enjoyed and needed this post. Thank you so much for taking the time to write!! God bless.

  36. Scott

    My friends have often hated me for being able to ‘get away’ with body clutter. However, it seems like they are getting the last laugh these days. My energy and sleep levels are horrendous! Thanks for reminding me to take care of myself, just as I try to do for my children.

    Scott´s last blog post…Monthly Roundup – May/June

  37. octamom

    Excellent post. I have certainly known women with immaculate, decluttered homes who have very cluttered inner lives–and I’ve had some seasons like that myself! Thanks so much for the perspective and tips!


    octamom´s last blog post…Partners in Canon…..

  38. Faerylandmom

    “Or are you waking up later than your kids, not providing enough time to get ready for the day and have much-needed adult time by yourself? In general, do you feel like your calendar and routine owns you, instead of the other way around?”

    This is me. And so is your description of body clutter. Sigh. What’s worse, is that I know better. I struggle mostly with the fact that I “just know” I can’t change long term, because if I can’t do it right the first time, and every time after that, why try???

    Which is horse pucky. Absolutely useless drivel.

    Thank you for kicking my butt today – on behalf of Christ. He used you today…may I listen and just do it.

    Faerylandmom´s last blog post…The Letter

  39. tacy

    “And because we’re holding on to these things we don’t need, we’re not allowing room for those things we truly do find beautiful or useful.”

    Goodness, this is well put and it articulates perfectly what I have been wanting to articulate for some time. . . Reminds me of a quote from a book I read recently – Boundaries- that talks about keeping the good in and the bad out. It encourages you to have fences and not walls. Fences have gates that we can open and close, whereas walls have no gates. If you are struggling with a draining relationship you can (and should) be CHOOSY about when and how the time with them is spent.

  40. Lynn

    Thanks for your writing – it’s very inspiring and encouraging! Glad I found your blog.

  41. Liz Jenkins

    I love, love, love this post. You hit on so many critical points – so many people only see physical clutter and don’t realize that the mental clutter is just as, if not more, draining and difficult. Making those hard decisions and choices can make the difference between just living, and actually enjoying your life.
    I talk about these things so often with my clients, and struggle with them myself so I know just how hard it is. The older I get, though, the easier it seems to be to let go of what isn’t important to focus on what is.
    I really appreciate the way you get your point across in this post – I wish everyone would read it.

    Liz Jenkins´s last blog post…How I Love My Label Maker . . . let me count the ways

  42. Toddler Craft Onna

    I think that your post is actually inspirational and not a bummer. I think it is important to take stock. I frequently find I don’t get enough sleep, grab what I can to eat and squeeze everything in I can in a day. I know I need to start putting my body as a priority again! I think you have given me the push I need. Thank you.

    Toddler Craft Onna´s last blog post…Growing a Garden with your kids – Tackle it Tuesday

  43. kirwin

    This was a great post — one I enjoyed. (Of course, I tend to enjoy all the posts here, at Simple Mom!) ; )

    It reminds me of something I do each week on Sundays, called Edit, Add, & Appreciate. I choose one thing to *edit* from my life (a bad habit, a useless item, a negative energy…), one thing to *add* to my life (a new good habit, an item that I love and will cherish,…), and one thing to *appreciate* (like my family, or my health, or the friendly face at the grocery store.)

    It’s a good way to reflect on the “clutter” of my life and what needs to stay and what needs to go. Last week’s Edit, Add, & Appreciate is here.

  44. turnitupmom

    Funny….I just wrote a post about tips for fitting in fitness. I feel strongly about the importance of moms getting up and getting moving, because it does benefit the whole family. And it gives you the mental recharge to be fully present to our most precious commodities- our kids. But I never thought of it as body clutter. That’s so true.

  45. Jennae @ Green Your Decor

    I have some issues with mind and time clutter. I spend so much time online for both my blog and my graphic design business that its easy to get sidetracked and waste time doing unnecessary surfing, and it’s just hard to turn my brain off at the end of the day. Though I will say I’m markedly better at handling both of these types of clutter than I was a year ago. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that at the end of the day, the computer will still be there, and it’s more important for my daughter and husband to know they are the most important things in my life.

    Jennae @ Green Your Decor´s last blog post…Reclaim to Fame: White & Silver Damask Wood Frame

  46. Bruce Kersten

    A great way to declutter is to join a site like This national community site is green and facilitates the reusing of items-keeping them out of landfills. It is free to join, post items you want to get rid of, and take items if you want more stuff.

  47. Erika

    Wow. I know it’s impossible for you to know me but each example you gave…they were me! All four I need to work on. At the rate the Lord is opening my eyes lately…I can’t even take it all in! I have a huge mess to clean up and I didn’t even realize the magnitude of it all!! Thank you for posting this and being the Lord’s vessel just for me 😉

  48. Tia

    Thanks for the confirmation! Amen and I am on my way to declutter. I only have a few more matters to remove or put in place.

    Tia´s last blog post…Sweet Rest

  49. Rose

    Mind clutter really strikes home with me. I was laid off three months ago and spend far too much time on the computer researching the job market, going through hundreds of job listings from autosearches, etc. As I wait for a page to load, I open a new window and read blogs, articles, some social networks I’m on, etc. Before I know it, I’ve been here for a couple of hours – ugh! I recently spent a week in Mexico with no internet and no cellphone and felt such peace. I’m going to check a few more jobs and then I’m going to go and get some chores done.

  50. Christi Williams

    This was another great post I found. I shared it on twitter and facebook. Thank you for such insightful posts about the clutter in our lives in every form.

  51. Krista

    So many times the things that take up our time and mind are more difficult than the things that take up room in our home. Great advice. And knowing you’re not alone in this kind of clutter makes tackling it much easier!

  52. Emily

    Every time Prerna has refered to a past post you’ve written, it always seems to apply directly to what I need for that day. This one, in particular, was especially relevant and moving. Thank you, Tsh! Hope your Fake Break is almost over and you come back soon!

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