My (Failed) Clutter Experiment

I’ll admit it, I have a clutter problem – i HATE clutter.  But here’s the problem: I have a husband and three kids.  My youngest is just 16 months, so she gets a “pass” on being part of the problem.  Hubby and the older two, well there’s no nice way to say this, they are SLOBS.  The result is we are all often miserable.  Them, because I am constantly on them to pick up AND put away their belongings.  Me, because I am constantly running around my house picking up after everyone else, which is frustrating and time-consuming.


Why am I so obsessed with clutter? A few reasons.  First, I hate the way it looks.  As soon as a guest walks into my house, I begin to see my home through their eyes.  Piles of papers that seemed to blend into the background before, suddenly become a major focal point – and source of embarrassment for me. I like to see clean surfaces.  Second, clutter-free surfaces make me feel good.  A clear kitchen counter actually makes me happy.  It says “come be creative here,” or “why don’t you make an amazing meal for you family here,” to me. It’s inviting, it calls me to use it.  When my counter is covered with “crap,” it says, “don’t bother – just order in,” to me.  Third, clutter makes me feel stressed out.  It’s like a looming “to do” list.  Seeing piles of stuff everywhere reminds me of everything I have to do (like pay bills).  Finally, I learned that everything that I innately feel about clutter has roots in Feng Shui.


I found a simple definition for feng shui on about.com’s “Feng Shui 101” page: “an ancient art and science developed over 3,000 years ago in China.  It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune of people inhabiting it.”  My husband is of the opinion that this is all BS, but I feel differently.  
About two years ago I enlisted the help of a professional Feng Shui consultant – Ann Bingley Gallops of Open Spaces Feng Shui.  Ann revealed to me that there is good reason for me to be so stressed out by clutter.  Clutter can make you feel stuck because it prevents the flow of “chi,” or energy. Together, Ann and I went over my space (home) in detail and discussed some of the nuances of Feng Shui and how they applied to my home and life.  Clearing clutter was a critical part of her suggestions, and not just paper clutter.  For example, in the soffit above my kitchen cabinets I had an extensive collection of wicker baskets.  Ann suggest I remove them.  Since they are made of wood they are easily burned by the fire element that is so strong in a kitchen.  I did remove them and the space instantly felt “lighter.”  Other suggestions Ann made included wall color selections (reds in our “fame and reputation area), removing books from the master bedroom (too much stimulation for what is supposed to be a serene and intimate sanctuary), and ways to disguise a staircase that runs through the center of the house (affects the health and finances of the family).


Anyway, clutter is a never-ending battle when you have kids (and a husband).  I am the one who constantly runs around picking up after everyone, trying to keep the clutter in check.  So as an experiment, I decided to stop picking up after everyone else, with the exception of the baby.  For three days, I picked up only my own things and those of the little munchkin and let everyone else’s clutter accumulate.  This was no small task.  It took every ounce of strength I had to fight the urge to “tidy up.”  My kitchen countertops became inundated with papers – school stuff, mail, junk.  I often had to leave the room in order to regain my composure and prevent myself from hyperventilating.  
After three days, I declared my experiment a complete and total failure.  Why? Because NO ONE noticed that I had stopped cleaning up.  Not one member of my household commented that things were looking out of control.  No one even tried to pick up their accumulated junk to get it out of the way.  72 hours was my maximum threshold for clutter accumulation – and probably also for my elevated blood pressure.  When I announced to my family that I had been conducting this experiment they looked at me, puzzled.  My eleven year old said, “Well, now I have room to do my homework in the kitchen again.”  Gee, thanks…..