Would it surprise you to hear that I don’t like going to bed with things a-clutter? No? Oh, well there goes the shock factor for this post!

In all seriousness, though, I am a neat person. I don’t know if I have always been, or if it is because my mom taught or forced me to be. I do know she taught me the value of cleaning up as you go and of unpacking your suitcase as soon as you get home. And I do remember being the one in charge of cleaning my own room. (I also used to sometimes take the glass cleaner into my parents’ room to clean their full-length mirror, the only one in the house, which I used as well. Dust is my cleaning trigger!) But I wouldn’t say I’m a neat-freak, or obsessive, and I’m definitely not a germophobe. No, what bothers me the most is clutter.

In my dorm rooms, especially my tiny ones in college, I would often find that during stressful times my neatness would escape me, and I would have to pick my way to bed amongst piles of books, shoes, etc. But after not very long of this, I would snap and absolutely HAVE to clean it all up RIGHT THEN. This often was at the most stressed point of my stressed out time. And somehow, even though it wasn’t tackling anything on my to-do list, straightening up my room always made me miraculously LESS STRESSED.

Honestly, I am still this way. Our apartment, while bigger by far than my dorm rooms, is still not very big, and it is easy to let piles accumulate. I don’t mind piles to an extent, and in fact find them quite useful–for awhile. The clutter points for me are the dining table and the square foot of floor next to my small dresser. The table accumulates things that I want to read, forms that need to be filled out, or things that need to be taken somewhere else. The floor next to my dresser accumulates blue jeans. I do not have a good hanger system for hanging my jeans, and I hate using it, so instead I let them live on the floor until, suddenly, I have no jeans on the hanger, and I must hang them all up. ANYWAY, all that to say, often at around 10:00 p.m. I look around and just simply can’t take it anymore, and I go on a straightening binge.

My straightening binges are perhaps why I am so adamant about everything having its own place. When things have places of their own, they don’t take long to put away! Sure, my jeans may all be on the floor, but they have a place to go once I decide they need to be elsewhere. Cleaning up doesn’t involve figuring out where to put something; it only involves transporting that thing to its designated home.

Sometimes the clutter doesn’t bother me.

Sometimes I look around and think, even though I can see various piles and unfolded throw blankets, that it’s not really that bad.

Sometimes I stack up the dirty dishes and think how nice it is that they’re only taking up one small counter.

But other times I look around and turn into a maniacal clutter banishing fiend.

And the fiend always prevails.

I finally decided recently that the reason clutter bothers me so much, especially in times of stress, is because I have a near constant stream of brain clutter running through my head at all times, and at peak times, the visual clutter makes the brain clutter unbearable. When my eyes can rest on empty table and countertops, when the throw blanket is folded perfectly in thirds and draped neatly on the couch, when there are no shoes in the entryway, then the roar of the brain clutter is noticeably quieted. On my newly cleared table, I can put pen to paper and create an orderly to-do list, further emptying the cluttered brain bin. And on my chair with its neatly fluffed slipcover, I can sit with the computer and chip away at the list, bringing the clutter pollution down to practically zero. But it all depends on the dominance of the Clutter Banishing Fiend.

If you can’t fathom what brain clutter is, consider yourself lucky. But if you can, take my word for it: conquering the visual and physical clutter can work wonders for your sanity.

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman