There’s an on-going request in my household that I not load the dishwasher. I’m encouraged to load the dishwasher only if I’m going to be there to finish the job and unload the clean dishes so that no one else has to bear the consequences. The problem seems to be that I load the dishes with no rhyme, reason or order. I put them in with a reckless abandon that makes me happy. A big bowl here! A cup here! A plate here! The tongs here! All are welcome and included! My husband will often pull everything back out after I have loaded it and load it back up — bowls go here, cups go here, tongs go in an elusive “tong zone” — and he will sigh as he’s doing this and give me the “See what you make me go through?” look.

To look at my dishwasher technique you wouldn’t think that order is one of my most cherished values. I have come to require it. But I don’t have an orderly mind. I really have to work at it. And I find it necessary to celebrate my disorderly mind and let that part of me have-at-it on occasion. I don’t value dishwasher order. Hence, I’ve developed the “festival seating” approach to dishwasher loading.

Miraculously, I’ve learned (I’m still learning) how to keep space and order in my life and business. I’ve done this without having to become one of the neck-tie wearing, PDA carrying, cell-phone loud-talking business guys who haven’t been spontaneous since 1971, when they were born three days early.

Starting my business is what made me do it. I’ve come to learn a lot from the corporate world of intensity and gloom, just as they can learn a lot from the artist types (of a different kind of intensity and gloom). I was forced to learn. My mailing list turned into a bigger list than I could handle, my performance dates could no longer be remembered on a wall calendar, I needed contracts, I had to distribute my CDs — and I had to hire someone.

Lots of creative types seem to hold onto a hope that maybe eventually they will be rescued, (by an agent, by a record label, by a publishing deal — name your prince-on-a-white-horse) and they really just don’t want to deal with this whole order thing because man, I just wanna make things, you know? Me too.

But two things happened (or didn’t) that woke me up:

1) I never got rescued. Record labels didn’t like me all that much. (Funny thing — I didn’t like them all that much either.) And the agents that I worked with didn’t really have the time to do much rescuing. They just wanted to be left alone to book dates.

2) I finally had to admit to myself that I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do this well. This was a bigger item than the first one. This is a major act of self-esteem for some artists. I think we trick ourselves by believing these lies about why we can’t pursue our dreams because if we actually looked closely, we’d see the lies for what they are — fear, laziness, overwhelm, more fear — then we’d have to recognize that our lives and dreams are really up to us. And that can be an uncomfortable realization.

By that point, my disorganized “business” had bled into my life. So the process of ordering and organizing became quite a project. It took time and patience, and it taught me a whole lot about myself and the old beliefs to which I clung.

So, then, why even bother? Why is order necessary?

Because it clears your mind. It creates space. I’ve written some about space already. It bears repeating, though, that many people fill their time, their environment, their heads with unimportant and distracting stuff — relationship drama, magazine subscriptions they can’t keep up with, or clothes they bought on sale but never liked. My conjecture is that most of these people fill up every last crevice with stuff because it covers up the fact that they’re scared to look within because then they’d have to take responsibility for creating their lives and really see what’s holding them back.

For me personally, space is necessary for sanity and for creativity. When I write a song, I need space and silence and time to make mistakes and get frustrated and start over and look things up – and on and on. So much of being a creative person requires “going with the flow” that it’s imperative for the things that can be in order to be in order so that the disorderly part of my work can take up all the space it needs.

As I see it, there are 6 components to creating order. #1 and #2 are below. I’ll continue the rest in Part 2 –

Component #1 – Lose the crap.

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.”
-William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement

Clutter. People talk and write about clearing clutter all the time. But just because you read a beautifully written article on the topic in Real Simple magazine and stared longingly at the adjoining photo of an airy mauve room with white furniture and white rugs with books on the shelves that all have mauve covers, (and there’s even mauve houseplants!) doesn’t mean you GET IT. (Besides, people who live in rooms with white rugs definitely don’t have dogs. Or, for that matter, feet.)

Getting rid of clutter is a big undertaking. It can be a spiritual process. It is an act of courage. It requires that you ask yourself your motivation for keeping each little thing you have. And in that process, you get to come face to face with all of your inner stuff. Not just your outer stuff. And when you’re holding onto stuff because of guilt or fear or any reason other than “this makes me happy and is useful” then you most likely don’t need that stuff. It just keeps you stuck in that emotion. It’s like saying, “Yes. I’m gonna give lots of power to this guilt.”

In one of Caroline Myss’s early lectures, she suggested that we consistently ask ourselves what is motivating us. What’s behind every action we take. When we do this, we become clear when we’re acting out of fear or negativity or control, etc. Use that same question with every item you pick up and sort through. “What’s my motivation for keeping this?”

I had old furniture in my basement that I had gotten from the Salvation Army when I first moved to Asheville and became a songwriter. I held onto a few of the pieces, and when I asked myself why I didn’t just take them back to the Salvation Army, this tiny voice in my head said, “Because if you ever fail at music, then you might need it.” So, in other words, if my deepest bag lady fears ever come to life and I’m out on the street, I’ll have a big sense of relief that I’ve got this bookcase to cart around.

What I learned to do was let go of anything that had that level of poverty-thinking behind its presence. If fear was the motivating force for keeping anything, I got rid of it immediately. In essence, this is like saying to the universe, “Hey, I’m not going to fail. And even if I do, there will always be lots of great furniture for me!” And the universe will say yes because it always says yes. (An interesting note: I did this process before I released my CD Rain & Mud & Wild & Green which sold 5 times as many in the first year than each of my other CDs.)

I was holding onto tons of old books because I wanted to make sure when I had people over they’d know I was a reader. (If I know someone well enough to have her over, don’t you think she’d already know this?) I held onto CD’s not because I was listening to them, but because I wanted people to think I was eclectic and cool. I was holding on to old things of dead relatives out of guilt. (I think they were given to me out of guilt too, since the giver didn’t want them but was too guilty to throw them away. I’m the youngest in my family, so by the time things make it down to me, you KNOW no one else wants them.)

I slowly let go of most of my excess stuff, and consequently, much of my ego. I’m pleased to report that I’ve never needed the Salvation Army furniture, that my grandmother’s ghost has never appeared to accuse me of not loving her enough, and no one has ever come over to my house and pronounced me an un-eclectic music listener. Mostly they marvel at how open and airy my house feels.

2] Lose even more crap.

Once you really get into this idea and you start to experience the difference the space makes in your life, then you’ll probably carry it into all areas of your environment and thought process. You start to see where you’re holding on to lots of things out of negativity. You fine-tune.

In her most excellent book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston says that objects have energy. “You are connected to everything you own by fine strands of energy. When your home is filled with things which you love or use well it becomes an incredible source of support and nourishment for you. Clutter, on the other hand, drags your energy down and the longer you keep it, the more it will affect you. When you get rid of everything which has no real meaning or significance for you, you literally feel lighter in body, mind and spirit.”

One last note about clearing away stuff. Though my house never really looked cluttered, (I kept most of the stuff in the basement), this process was, and remains, invaluable. In my last blog I wrote about finding my new house after creating a vision board with a magazine picture of a house. In conjunction with doing that vision board, I had just finished clearing all of the crap out of the basement. My new house is a contemporary design, and has no basement and very little storage space. Thankfully, I didn’t have to rush to clear out the junk. I was ready to just move in. Grace happened. But I had shown up to do the work too…

Stay tuned for the next steps!

8 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Petula

    I’m constantly clearing clutter. In the past three years I’ve sold things, given things away, thrown away things… With four to six people living in the house (my oldest daughter is at college and my boyfriend is a frequenter) someone is always leaving something somewhere. No matter how many times I sneak and throw away the thousand of projects the smaller children bring home or clean out their toy box; it seems like stuff just magically appears. Since I’m divorced I often find toys I’ve never seen before or clothes the children didn’t put away.

    Okay, that was a short vent. I’ve found that organizing and de-cluttering are a constant process and it takes a lot of realization (like you said about what’s the purpose/reason) to be able to part with certain things.

    Love this post and your writing; entertaining, helpful and interesting.

  • Candace Davies

    Great story Christine… and the concept is SO true. Our household is working on creating a clutter free home, with three kids and a hubby that is a pack rack it has been a challenge. Is Part 2 in a different section, I would love to read it.

    Take care,

    Candace Davies

  • Caren

    Ay, yi, yi…. so, you mean it might be that I’m *afraid* to succeed, rather than I’m a lovingly distracted artiste? Crap. There goes another excuse to not succeed! Why is it when I’m surfing the web, reading my e-mails rather than looking at my *stuff* (inner and outer), trying to escape, I come across something like the truth, hitting me between my eyes? Must be time to do something about it… like, clean my house? But then what will be left?

    Having read (and re-read, and re-read) “Clear your Clutter”, the Karen Kingston book, I could immediately feel the truth of what you’re saying… but where does that first kick come from, the one that gets me started? Ah, wait… I was about to write, “get me past my fears” but that’s not it, is it? It’s moving forward in spite of my fears… ’cause I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! OK, fine, I surrender. I’ll try this cleaning up thing. Yeah, thanks…. I guess.

  • cloudscome

    I have been working on this for a couple of years too and you are so right! I am trying to give books away at bookcrossing.com but somehow I keep getting more anyway… LOL. I do love having less stuff and more space/freedom.

  • Jack

    This reminds me of the whole metahor of storage spaces. Supposedly for stuff intended to make us prepared for future scenarios. But, it begs the question about the truth of uncertainty. Truth is, live simply and improvise! This is the wisdom of those who embrace change as given.

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