Clutter = procrastination = lies.

10 March 2006

The formula above might not be true for everybody. That’s fine. I’ve come to believe it’s true for me.

I’m hardly the first to make the connection between clutter and procrastination. “The Feng Shui of Procrastination” makes the point nicely: “Clutter is delayed decisions. It’s procrastination. It’s stress.” All so very true, even though I’m not a big believer in Feng Shui. For me the most important sentence in the article is this: “Procrastination puts you out of integrity with yourself.”

“Integral” means that all the parts agree with one another. Clutter keeps you from being that. It means you’re lying to yourself about who you are and what you want to be. It means that you have one idea about where you’re going or what your life ideally means . . . but they you do something very different. You surround yourself in cruft to give yourself an excuse for not living the bold life you dreamed for yourself.

That’s all projection, of course; for “you,” read “I” and you’ll understand where I’m coming from. I have made so many agreements with myself about how I wanted things to be, but then allowed myself to get caught in the tidal flow of stuff, cruft, junk, and flotsam that life inevitably brings our way. The flow may be inevitable, but (a) we don’t have to encourage it by following procrastination-friendly habits, and (b) we don’t have to accept that clutter and procrastination themselves are inevitable. They’re not.

Mind you, procrastination has complex psychological bases. For more on that, check out this useful article from Psychology Today: “Procrastination: Ten Things To Know”. Read the whole thing, but for the moment focus on this:

Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.

This is where my simplified formula comes from. Clutter is the physical manifestation of procrastination. Clutter is outright proof of our indulgence in the fantasy that there will be time to work on Thing X later, and that there isn’t even time now to put Thing X in the rightful place for things waiting to be worked on. Clutter is an abdication of responsibility.

If you want to have a meaningful life, you have come to an agreement with yourself about what’s important and what isn’t. If you’re treating your own hopes and dreams with integrity, you do the things that are important and leave off the things that aren’t–not just for the moment, but forever. You don’t form clutter because you don’t tell yourself the string of lies that would allow you to.

Let’s all agree to stop lying to ourselves, shall we? Address the clutter/procrastination/lies nexus in your own life, honestly dealing with both the old junk you’ve accumulated and the new nonsense that washes in with each day’s tide.

As I was writing this, I stumbled across a quotation from the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. I don’t know what book or article it’s from, or when I wrote it down, but I think it’s useful in this context:

There are many people I know who possess a vision of (personal) evolution yet seem to lack the will for it. They want, and believe it possible, to skip over the discipline, to find an easy shortcut to sainthood. Often they attempt to attain it by simply imitating the superficialities of saints, retiring to the desert or taking up carpentry. Some even believe by such imitation they have really become saints and prophets, and are unable to acknowledge that they are still children and face the painful fact that they must start at the beginning and go through the middle.

Not for a moment do I propose that being honest with yourself is easy. But it’s the only way to live.

[Thanks to Lifehacker for pointing out the Feng Shui article. Their accompanying photo is priceless.]


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