Forward thinking: Clearing out clutter

Her name shall remain anonymous — may it suffice to say that she is elderly.

In a few short months, she will celebrate her 92nd birthday. That is the good news. The not so good news: family and friends recently had to move her into an assisted living facility, which proved to be a challenging feat in itself.

Relocating her was only part of the challenge. Cleaning out her apartment after living there for nearly twenty years was equally challenging – perhaps even more so. Never would I have ever imagined how much “stuff” you could store away in such a small living space. Trust me, it was a lot!

Never in my life would I have ever suspected such a collection of things lying about in every imaginable space. It was a virtual warehouse of clutter. Perhaps a better or more accurate description would be borderline hoarder.

When I first walked into the apartment, I saw clothes lying around in every room. Only later did I discover the reason – the two closets were stuffed. There was no storage space available for more items.

The same was true of books. The book shelf was packed, so you would find them in stacks on the floor or on every table throughout. There were also piles of mail that had yet to be opened, plus old newspapers and magazines that had not been read.

Then there was the bathroom. I understand the need to stock up on certain items for those “just-in-case” emergencies. I was not prepared, however, for the number of bathroom supplies: rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, napkins and handy wipes.

What was true in the bathroom had its parallel in the kitchen. Multiple sets of dishes were “stored” in cupboards. My guess is that each set held its own sentimental value from days long past. Next was the food pantry. It was well stocked. The sad part was that many items had been purchased in multiple quantities and the expiration date had long since expired. Those had to be thrown out.

I can’t begin to tell you how much “stuff” was thrown out. Neither can I tell you how many trips we made to Value Village and Goodwill, but they were numerous. The hours invested in the cleanup were far more than any of us had planned to invest in this “good” deed.

The above experience left me thinking a lot about the “clutter” in my own life and the impact it may have both personally and on others. One determination I have made is to start clearing my house of clutter starting now. I do not want my family and friends to inherit that unseemly task of dealing with my stuff.

However, it has also prompted me to again think about clearing out a different kind clutter in my life and perhaps yours as well. Think with me if you will.

Years ago, I made the discovery that one of the common denominators of successful people is a single-minded focus that allows them to concentrate on first things first. American Philosopher and Poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in
The Conduct of Life, “Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade, in short, in all human affairs.” In other words, while many people squander their physical and mental abilities, successful people learn how to focus, concentrate and persist.

Yet even those with a clear sense of purpose sometimes lose their focus and their ability to concentrate on priorities. Why? I’ve found it is too much “internal” clutter. From personal experience and observing others, I have found four types of clutter that I strive to keep out of my life. The benefit is that I’m much better able to concentrate on that which I do best.

This is the relational baggage that can accumulate when we don’t forgive those who have wronged us, when we hold a grudge, or when we carry a chip on our shoulder because of a grievance long past. The price of holding onto emotional clutter is too high. Not only will it steal energy from your focus, but it has serious emotional and spiritual consequences as well.

Early on, I discovered the need for a system to help me deal with multiple projects and multiple deadlines. For example, I have at least a dozen things to accomplish within the next week. I will be able to get them all done because I have learned to organize so I don’t waste time looking around for things or wondering what comes next. There is nothing magical about any system. Find one that works for you and do it.

This is simply mastering the basic principle of time management. You must prioritize your work and spend your best effort on that which will yield the most return. Take a few moments to start listing all the things you’ve done in the past twenty-four hours that gave you no return whatsoever. Why did you do them? Do they need to be done at all or can someone else do them better for you?

I have not mowed my lawn in over thirty years. Some people like working in the yard. I don’t. Why would I give a couple of hours a week to something that has no payoff for me when I could give those same hours to concentrate on my priorities?

I stopped playing the game of Trivial Pursuit years ago. Frankly, I don’t commit to memory anything that I can find quickly in a book, internet search or from someone else. It’s not that I have a bad memory (I do wish it were better), I just don’t see the value of allowing the insignificant things to distract me from my focus. Most people try to live in the flood path of trivial phone calls, e-mails and pointless meetings. I just try to get rid of the trivia.

What I have discovered, or learned, is that with clutter-free living, you’ll find your focus clear and your anxieties diminished. More importantly, you will see a level of productivity that you never experienced before. You are set free to concentrate on that which you were created to accomplish.

I challenge you to join me in the pursuit of Clutter-free Living… and in the near future you will join those who are already shouting the chorus – FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST, PRAISE GOD I AM FREE AT LAST!

Until next time…

–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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