Physical and Emotional Clutter

Not long ago, a Realtor dropped off the flier announcing plans for the annual neighborhood garage sale. “Join us to make this the biggest sale ever!” the flyer read.

Since making our move to Colorado, we have never participated in this annual ritual. This year would be no exception. I’ve learned the hard way that for a compulsive shopper it doesn’t matter much if it’s new or “gently used.” And the last things I need are my neighbors’ cast-offs clamoring for space in our home.

As I dropped the flyer in the trash, I couldn’t help but visualize one family down the street. They have so much stuff in their garage they can barely close the door. Each year, just in time for the one-day big event, they roll all of it out onto the front lawn for the day. Then as the sun sets, they turn into human shoehorns to squeeze everything back into place, where it will remain until the same time next year.

Don Aslett, author and cleaning expert (“Clutter’s Last Stand” Writers Digest Books, 1984), says that extraneous stuff robs us of freedom because it requires so much of our time to tend. Our houses, drawers, closets and vehicles are so crowded we can’t breathe. But it’s more than that. Stuff crowds our minds, our emotions and relationships, too, into dullness and immobility.

As I poured a cup of coffee, my mind was stuck in garage sale mode. Wouldn’t it be nice, I pondered, if once each year we could unload everything that clutters our lives — not just our homes?


It’s not always a bad thing. Worry can spark action, if you worry and recognize that a plan of action is necessary — and you act. But worry can fill your imagination with every manner of fearful possibility, complete with all of the damaging chemical and physical changes of an actual trauma.

Experts tell us that most of what we worry about never happens. That means we are better off getting rid of harmful worries as a way to clear our minds and souls, in the same way that getting rid of stuff we never use clears our homes.


In our gotta-have-it-now culture, seasons of longing have been replaced by instant gratification. And that’s too bad because yearning builds character. Having to wait makes us strong and resilient. It teaches us patience.

But in the extreme, yearning can be terribly destructive. It can turn to covetousness and envy. Focusing on what you lack steals contentment because your heart and mind are stuck in the future, always trying to get whatever that might be.

If you are so consumed by wanting what you do not have that you’re sacrificing the joy in the present, that’s a problem. That’s clutter you need to get rid of.


The desire to do well and receive approval from other people is not a bad thing. It can build character. But when your life becomes based on the expectations of others and you do things just to be perceived as nice, you’ve crossed the line. Getting others’ approval is messing up your life; it’s creating emotional clutter.

I don’t know what form emotional clutter takes in your life, but I do know this: There’s no better time than today to pack it up, haul it out and get rid of it once and for all.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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