The Cluttered Lives We Live

This project has forced me to think about clutter in my own life. Clutter extends far beyond our residential spaces, and it is relevant to time management, social life, information intake, and cultural choice.

Cluttered space often remains cluttered because clutterers lack the time management skills to accomplish tasks efficiently and effectively. Spatial and temporal clutter are intertwined. Similar psychological mechanisms are at play.

Spatial clutter arises from the failure to discard stuff from one’s personal sphere. Clutterers cannot decide when they have accumulated too much. There is a pathological issue in executing simple decisions about what to discard and what not to discard. Many clutterers are also fundamentally unrealistic about how much can be accomplished in a given time frame – with decluttering activities or otherwise.

Thus, time clutter and space clutter are intimately related. Inability to regulate one’s spatial life is inextricably linked to an inability to cope successfully with time constraints. Though there is not always a correlation between the two, many spatial clutterers also have a cluttered schedules.

But there are also time clutterers who do not suffer from cluttered space. Many meticulously neat people have intensely chaotic schedules. I have begun to contemplate my own time management and whether my schedule is too cluttered. Perhaps I do best with a cluttered schedule. Or perhaps I, too, should schedule less cluttered days.

During a Clutterers Anonymous (CLA) meeting on January 15th, I committed explicitly to thinking more about the relationship between spatial clutter (to which CLA is dedicated) and other sorts of clutter (namely, temporal and social).

A third type of clutter is social clutter, which is often be linked to temporal clutter. My life is often socially cluttered – whether due to technology such as Facebook or an excessively extroverted personality.

Is there a limit to one’s Rolodex, cellphone contact list, or Facebook friends? Is 1000 enough? What’s the line between a social butterfly and a social clutterer?

Next is information clutter. Columbia Journalism Review’s November/December 2008 issue dealt with information overload. Are we bombarded with too much knowledge? How much time do we spend uncluttering our gmail? Do you routinely lose files on your desktop and hard drive?

In this age of infinite information, it is difficult to maintain satisfactory levels of order in these realms. Technology should increase the speed and the order of our lives, but it also contributes to tremendous clutter problems. As with physical space, informational clutter does not become a problem until you simply cannot find what you’re looking for. Or, when you simply run out of space to store stuff.

But, information clutter does not stop there. Idea clutter in the classroom is forever nagging. Especially for journalists, word clutter and other written expressions of disorganization can be disastrous. Informational clutter is seemingly endless…

The fifth and final type of clutter in this entry is cultural clutter. Does this afflict me? I constantly find myself partaking in a rapidly growing number of cultural traditions. Is there a limit to the digestible variety of cuisines, fashions, religions, holidays, and languages?  Is splintered cultural allegiance detrimental to personal growth?

What may be burdensome clutter to some may be positive for others. For example, cultural clutter  might be more accurately labeled “cosmopolitan,” “diverse,” or “eclectic.” Similarly,  a social clutterer might be called popular. Are information clutterers not intellectual and informed? Time clutterers are often high efficient people. After all, when you need something done quickly, give it to a busy person.

Back to spatial clutter. There is often a very fine line between a collector and a clutterer.

In sum, let’s consider five potentially cluttered realms: space, time, friendship, information, and culture.

A little bit of minimalism does the body (and the mind) good.


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