Banishing clutter: The wisdom of living with less

There is a direct connection between the clarity of your mind and the clutter in your life

Man made of cardboard boxes thinking / clutter concept

It all started with Adam and Eve. I do not claim this creation myth to be true. However, we see a similar pattern repeated time and time again in ancient religions and spiritual traditions the world over. There is a spiritual truth here more relevant today than ever. It’s a story in three acts.

  • Act One: We were in paradise, nirvana, Shangri-La, bliss.
  • Act Two: We got complacent and lazy. We took paradise for granted. We forgot we were there! This forgetfulness led to temptation.
  • Act Three: We were kicked out of paradise.

So, what in the name of heaven does this have to do with clutter?


Paradise or Shangri-La is a metaphor for a pure state of consciousness or clarity of mind. It is not a physical place. Therefore, when we were ‘kicked out’ we didn’t actually go anywhere. The joke is on us—we’re still in paradise, we just forgot. And now, from the moment we were ‘kicked out’ we have been looking ‘out there,’ in stuff, somewhere else, for that peace of mind, that bliss, that joy we lost. We think it will be in the next ‘thing’ we purchase or acquire. This is what puts us on the perpetual treadmill leading to… clutter!

Paradise or Shangri-La is a metaphor for a pure state of consciousness or clarity of mind

So, who would have thought that letting go, releasing, mastering the art of subtraction, would be today’s highest spiritual practice? As we clear the clutter from our lives, we create clarity of mind. There is a direct connection. As we create clarity of mind, we return to our original self. Slowly but surely, we begin to feel a greater sense of peace and joy. A feeling begins to rise up inside of us: I remember this place! Why, it’s Paradise. Right where I am.

Clutter, of course, is not just physical things. It’s anything in your life that causes confusion, stress, overwhelm. I call all of it ‘Chotchky’, which is an ancient Yiddish term that points to anything that takes our mind off our soul. For example, one form of mind Chotchky or ‘Mindotchky’ is the excessive amount of useless information cluttering up our very thoughts.

So, where does one begin to de-clutter?

I have found that almost everyone has a place that is pulling at his or her soul, whispering, “here, over here.” It may be your closet, store-room, garage, trunk, office, or even a drawer.

Go to that place and say in your heart “I am letting go, to remember my soul.” And then begin.

There are four categories

  1. Keep
  2. Give away
  3. Recycle
  4. Throw away

Whenever you are unsure, give it the Chotchky test. Hold it in your hand and ask your highest self, “Do I really love this, or does it truly support my life’s purpose?” If the answer is no, let it go. If the answer is ‘may be’, let it go. ‘May be’ comes form the ego mind, trapped in the old fear thought of “this thing might be it, the missing piece in my life.”

As we clear the clutter from our lives, we create clarity of mind. There is a direct connection

What the ego is incapable of comprehending is that the missing piece can’t be seen. What is missing in our lives is emptiness. Our soul wants more ‘nothing’. It is in the emptiness, which allows spaciousness, that we actually find the missing piece.

I will never forget the day my younger son, CJ, thought he found what was missing. It was Christmas 2002. He was interested in only one present. The one in the Big Box [some things never change].

When we finally gave him the green light to open it, he ripped the paper, tossing it in the air. Feeling his energy, the dog joined in, running and barking around the box as the scraps of paper floated down. Soon, there was nothing between him and the Holy Grail but the box itself. Finally, he slowly pulled back the cardboard flaps as if it was some ancient archaeological find. You could almost hear rusty hinges creak. He was now Indiana Jones. However, when he finally fully pulled the ‘doors’ open, revealing the contents of the Big Box, no mystical light came shooting out. The ground did not shake. People’s faces didn’t even melt.

Clutter is not just physical things. It’s anything in your life that causes confusion, stress, overwhelm

Several of us simply asked, “What is it?!” After staring into the box, frozen, stunned, CJ raised his head toward his mother and me. He seemed to be looking right through us though, as if we were rice paper, the words in his mind trying to find their rightful order. He looked at my father and mother, his grandparents, the ones who brought the contents of the Big Box. Then, through clenched teeth, with beady eyes and his face a shade of red I have not seen before nor since, the words came with a fury:

“It’s just what I always never wanted in my whole life!”

Stunning. How can anything reach such a status? How could anyone be consciously aware of the one thing—out of everything in the world—that you would never want? May be instead of creating a wish list each gift-giving holiday, one could thoughtfully craft a hate list, in order from the most dreaded to the least despised.

My afterthoughts about his comment

Ultimately, I think, those words that CJ uttered were his attempt at expressing something that cannot really fit into any earthly language. Maybe something closer to speaking in tongues, it is something we have all felt and continue to feel with some regularity but have never attempted to convey. This elusive something references the futility inherent in trying to find our soul, even God, in something, somewhere, out there. At age four, he had just experienced, possibly for the first time, projectionotchky: the projection of one’s own natural state of joy and peace onto the world of things.

Nothing in the world, no matter how big the box, could ever contain the miracle that lies within us. It is the tale as old as time.

In the throes of projectionotchky, no matter where we go, there it is not.

What is meant to be always finds a way

Cluttered room
It’s important to know when something is useful and when it has become clutter

A few hours later, CJ went up to the playroom. There it sat: the thing from the Big Box. Lifeless. Alone. It was a puppet theatre with a marionette, not too dissimilar from Pinocchio. [“I want to be a real boy.”]

And like Pinocchio, something began to change. Not the thing, of course. Things don’t change. Something inside the real boy.

He began to play with it and to create characters. A whole world was given birth; it was a real love story. Now my son was living in the truth that all he ever really wanted, he always had. Returning to this truth, the contents of the Big Box were transformed into something joyful, simply matching his state of being. You see, the thing is neutral. All things are. They simply exist to reflect back to us our projections in the form of our thoughts.

What is missing in our lives is emptiness. Our soul wants more ‘nothing’.

CJ soon came to Heather and me in a way that I can only describe as meek. He was humble, peaceful, loving and true.

In this way, he said, “Daddy, can I call Grandma and Grandpa? I want to tell them something.”

“Sure,” I replied. “What do you want to tell them?”

“It’s special, Daddy. A surprise.”

He picked up the phone, which looked quite large in his four-year-old hands, and, as I fed him the numbers, he dialled. “Grandma,” he said, “I have something to tell you and Grandpa, too.”

My father got on another line. CJ continued, “Grandma, Grandpa, I’m so sorry. It’s my favourite! I didn’t mean what I said. I love you.”

Nothing in the world, no matter how big the box, could ever contain the miracle that lies within us

He enjoyed the puppet theatre on and off for three years, which is quite exceptional. Most Christmas gifts turn into Chotchky within days, if not hours. Many are Chotchky even before the unwrapping. [God help us!]

Recently, we finally gave it to another child to enjoy. It is very powerful to know when something has made that transition from being useful, enjoyable, and life-enhancing to becoming clutter. The sooner we recognise this, the sooner we are free to release, let go, and make room for something better. And the clearer our mind becomes, the better we are at recognising that something better is often . . . nothing at all.

And so paradise is right there. All around. It’s just hard to see under all the clutter. Begin clearing, and find the missing peace.

A version of this was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Barry Dennis
Barry Dennis is an author, musician, inspirational speaker, life coach and the founder of Coexist Celebration and Celebration Church. He is fondly called one of America’s “architects of change”. He has been featured in many international publications.


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