Organizing Decluttering: It Starts With Your Brain

Organize Your LifeAll decisions that you make originate as a concerted actions in your body and brain. Your brain is the computer: hardware, software, wires and connections. Your body interprets your brain’s signals. Researchers now postulate than thinking is not solely a brain activity. Your organs think too. Their thinking is different from brain activity, but it produces results that are sent to the brain.

The decision to clear clutter happens after after a series of events have taken place in your brain and body. After a period of time of living in your home, you develop patterns of behavior, interactions, patterns and non-doing (puttering). Your status quo is how things are.

The “normal” is fine until it’s not. One day, you perceive something, like “those piles of papers irritate me.” This may not be the first time those piles irritated you, but it’s the first time that you realized that you were irritated and those piles are what irritates you. You may notice a tightness in your gut. Or you shrug your shoulders up towards your ears. Or tense your muscles.

You become alert to this irritation and start paying attention and notice things about your home. The original “those piles irritate me” is the tip of the iceberg that you hadn’t been paying attention to until now. “I can’t find anything.” “I can’t easily complete projects.” “I am stressed.” Your alertness creates awareness, and your brain starts to collect data on your home environment. It puts thoughts about what you notice into categories. Your brain requires order and creates those categories automatically. It’s how you figure things out. When humans lived in caves, being safe, dry and fed were important. Rain was in the category of weather. Predators were in the “danger” category.Your brain creates categories as you look around and think about what your home means to you. It processes your thoughts and things you notice by using memory to help it decode those thoughts and your reactions to those thoughts. You feel emotions and your brain makes more categories about items and emotions.

From there, seeing items and then feeling emotions, your brain starts to create even more categories: labels for emotions, other times that you have felt these individual emotions and the origination of items: where you were, what year, what you were doing, who you were with and how you felt at that time.  The brain needs to have as many associations as possible for thoughts so that it can create order. The brain naturally creates order from seemingly random pieces of information.

So now you realize that there aspects of your home you no longer like. Your stuff: the amount, where it’s placed, how arranged, who you associate with it, how it looks, smells and feels, now has significance. Each item makes you feel something, which may be neutral, good or bad.

You decide that you want to change things.

But it’s not that easy. You share your home with other people and companion animals. They may be perfectly happy with how things are. Any mention of change or moving stuff around may result in a variety of reactions: a “noway,” a glazed look, or an abruptly departure from the room.

In the event that everyone agree that there is too much clutter and clearing it will create positive outcomes, it’s time to get started.

This process doesn’t begin with purchasing storage boxes; it begins with dialogue. Honest, open conversations that are based on caring and respect. Sometimes these conversations lead to other conversations that lead to still other conversations.  Moving stuff around isn’t simply about moving stuff. It’s about transforming your life.

Reference materials: A User’s Guide To The Brain (2001), John J. Ratey, M.D.; Risk and Ethics in Human Enterprises (2004), University of Washington, Karen L. Hallis, JD, CPC; and “The Secrets of Future Calm,” Peggy La Cerra, Ph.D. and Stephen Kiesling, Spirituality and Health (Sept/Oct 2015).