120 – How Clutter Hinders Creativity and What to Do About It

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How Clutter Hinders Creativity and What to Do About It Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungSo much is happening in the world and in our lives today. So many opinions come at us, and voices about what we need to do, and in the midst of it all we get overwhelmed. Which is only made worse when we look around our living and working space, and all we see are piles of things. Clutter can hinder our lives and creativity if we let it. So here are some tips to clearing out the clutter from our minds, hearts, and homes.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Some of you have heard me mention on the podcast that my husband and I moved to Kansas from Oklahoma for his job. We ended up in an apartment for a while, and now we’re about to move again into a house. Moving three times in the space of a few months makes you take a good look at all your STUFF, which can quickly become clutter.

Aside from just possessions, there are all kinds of clutter. Today we’re going to talk about them and how and why they can inhibit our peace, and therefore our writing.

5 Reasons to Clear the Clutter out of Your Lifeby Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., (in “Psychology Today”) summarized the findings of recent research about clutter.

1. Low subjective well-being. Clutter makes your home environment feel unfriendly.

2. Unhealthier eating.

3. Poorer mental health.

4. Less efficient visual processing. It’s actually harder to read people’s feelings when your visual surroundings are filled with random stimuli.

5. Less efficient thinking.

There are plenty of other articles and research about the negative effects of clutter. But don’t hear us saying ALL clutter is bad for EVERYONE, because we all have differing levels of tolerance. What some may call clutter, others may call cozy. And what some may call clutter-free, others may call sterile. What we’re saying is that it’s time to evaluate what you need, what you can tolerate, and what needs to go.

Types of clutter
Spiritual Clutter

What is it?

  • Baggage we carry that we should have let go. For example, bitterness, past sins we can’t forgive ourselves or others for, past hurts.
  • Getting too caught up in the minor issues. For example: sprinkle baptism or immersion, communion every week or once a quarter, whether the rapture will be pre-tribulation or post-tribulation, etc.. Even now, during this pandemic, people are arguing over when will churches reopen and how, or whether they even should.
  • Looking at other people’s actions and judging them. Cluttering your mind with what others “ought” to do.

Why is it harmful?

  • We lose sight of the basics: Love. God loves us and we need to simply love him back and love our neighbor.
  • Spiritual clutter multiplies small problems and makes them SEEM big. Resentment and divisiveness can build. Churches can split over what is really just a multitude of details.

How do we clear it out?

  • Go back to the basics. When you feel bogged down with an overabundance of theology, go back to: love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.
  • Get rid of baggage. See yourself as God sees you. You’re a beloved child of God, dressed in Jesus’ righteousness. This isn’t easy. Go to God and let him help you. You can also go through our Going Deeper Workshop: Overcoming Damaging Self-Talk to help you get rid of lies and negative tapes in your head. So much of that contributes to spiritual clutter.
  • Discern the underlying issues behind the details and address them. Sometimes all the details are signs of another deeper problem.
Mental Clutter

What is it?

  • Whitbourne’s article defined mental clutter as: “a state of mind in which you can’t inhibit irrelevant information.” So, it’s too much information coming at us. But I think it’s more than that, because we may FEEL all those things in our mind ARE relevant.
  • Too many things we’re trying to remember. For example, a long to-do list. Grocery items we need, all the home improvements we want to do, all our family activities, where we have to drive the kids this week, who has soccer practice and when, what we have to do to market our upcoming book release, etc.
  • The clutter of voices around us, the multitude of opinions. Voices that say what the good life is, who God is, what truth is, what we should want, what a good parent is, and so on.

Why is it harmful?

  • Having a giant to-do list jumbled in your mind is stressful and problematic because we too easily forget things.
  • A cluttered mind crowds out our thoughts and our ability to focus and organize.
  • Too many opinions can fatigue us and make us less responsive to which opinions do matter to us. We can’t please everybody and invariably we feel guilty. We can freeze, or shut down because it’s too overwhelming.

How do we clear it out?

  • If your clutter is a jumble of stuff you need to get done, get the clutter out of your mind and on to some external platform, such as a to-do list on your computer or on paper. Get an organizer so you can write stuff down and get it out of your head. It’ll help you see what’s possible and what’s not, so you can make better decisions with your time.
  • Deal with one thing at a time rather than trying to multitask. Multitasking is inefficient and stressful, and it hinders our ability to deeply focus on any one thing.
  • Limit the stimuli you take in. For example, limit the amount of time you spend on social media or other media sources, or consider taking periodic breaks from them.
  • Figure out whose opinion really matters to you, and ask yourself whether those opinions resonate with you. If so, let go of all the other opinions. There are lots of right ways to feed your kids, to pick a church, to pray, or whatever. This doesn’t mean we shut off the world, it means we limit the advice we take because people have differing opinions.
  • Seek God’s Word. There are a plethora of opinions in this world, but God’s opinion matters first and foremost. Check what you’re thinking with Scripture. It may not address your situation in practicality. For example, which school to send your kid to. But look for principles of Scripture and do your best to apply them. Then seek counsel from people you trust. Not everybody! Even then, understand that there will likely be differing opinions. You’re a Spirit-lead believer, so trust God’s voice within you.
Emotional clutter

What is it?

  • An overload of unresolved emotions. There’s so much happening in the world. We read all these things, see them on television or social media, or wherever, and it’s all hitting us emotionally.
  • Too many feelings and frustrations stirred up inside of you because of too much happening in our corner of the world, in the church, in our town, in our neighborhood. Because of the abundance, we can’t sort through them and own what our emotions ever are.
  • Too much happening in our personal lives or in the lives of our friends.

Why is it harmful?

  • We’re incapacitated because of the abundance. That makes us emotionally shut down, or become hard-hearted or apathetic.
  • When we’re clogged up inside, we can’t empathize. We can’t sympathize with others and reach out to them as God would have us do.

How do we clear it out?

  • Take time to understand yourself. Research to understand the historical basis for what people are feeling about what’s happening. Research to discover what you really think and believe as well.
  • Take time to listen. Sometimes people just need to vent, and nothing we can say or do beyond listening will help.
  • Pray, asking God to reveal what’s happening inside of you. Ask him to remove anything that’s hindering you. Ask him to give you his eyes and heart.
  • Be honest about the beliefs and emotions you’re having. Don’t stuff them or deny them. Then surrender to God what needs to be surrendered.
  • Wherever you can, resolve the emotions. When you understand where they come from, you can more easily let go of them and move on.
House clutter

What is it?

  • Stuff we should have thrown away but we’re afraid to because we might need it someday.
  • Stuff that’s not put away because there’s no designated place to put it, or we’re too tired.
  • Could be as simple as the wrong size furniture for our space so it just feels cluttered.

Why is it harmful?

  • It’s not a restful environment. We don’t feel good about our environment. We don’t feel at peace.
  • It’s not functional. We can’t find a place to sit, or can’t find what we want, or have to constantly clear our chair or bed so we can sit or rest.

How do we clear it out?

  • Have a designated place for everything. If you don’t have a place for it, don’t bring it into your house.
  • Limit your stuff to things that are useful in this stage of your life. It’s okay to let go of things that used to be part of your life but aren’t anymore. For example, hobbies you don’t enjoy anymore.
  • Take pictures of sentimental objects to remember them. Sometimes that works just as well as having the real thing. But when it doesn’t, don’t feel bad about keeping something that has sentimental value.
  • Declutter in small portions. For example, just do a closet, or a drawer, so it isn’t overwhelming.
Workspace clutter

What is it?

  • Cluttered, unorganized, or messy workspace in a quantity or quality that has become inefficient.
  • It could be simply that you don’t have designated space to work, and the place where you try to do your work, your dining room table, for example, is cluttered.
  • “To-do” clutter in the workspace of your responsibility. For example, an un-ordered priority list, or too much on your plate, or the wrong things on your plate, or too much you’re responsible for.

Why is it harmful?

  • You can’t find what you need when you need it. This especially can kill creativity because not having what you need when you need it can pull you out of your creative flow.
  • You fall prey to tyranny of the urgent or get sidetracked by less important things.
  • It can be hard to write a sweet love scene when you’re looking at a big pile of laundry or your calendar is hanging on the wall reminding you that you only have this one hour and the rest of your day is crammed with running around, so you can’t focus on your writing time, or you feel pressure.
  • You procrastinate because you can’t find what you need to start, or you don’t know where to start, or the project feels too big.

How do we clear it out?

  • Set priorities for each day so you’re not wasting time on the things you don’t mean to.
  • Break big projects into smaller tasks. That helps them seem more manageable.
  • Look for things you can delegate. Ask yourself whether you’re the best person for this task.
  • Create a space (designate one if you don’t have one) that’s conducive to you focusing on work. You might not want to look at all the dirty dishes in the sink, or have a TV behind you, or be looking at your pile of bills or paperwork.
  • Make sure you have all your supplies handy at the start of every day.
  • Have a routine in the morning that gives you time to think through what you want to do and figure out what you need.
The Bottom Line

Recognize that all these types of clutter can interfere with our ability to focus on God, or our creativity or writing. It can hinder us from doing the work God has asked us to do. The best thing we can do is to submit all this before God. In clearing things out, take a look at those things that end up being clutter, whether internal or external, and ask God, “Is this something I need to let go of? Is this something you want me to release?” And if it is, let it go. You’ll be so much happier and so much clearer.

We want to hear from you!

What’s your tolerance level for clutter? What helps you clear it out when it hinders your peace, productivity, and creativity?

Did you know that clutter can inhibit creativity? Here’s how you can prevent that! #amwriting @KarenBall1 Share on X

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our June sponsor of the month, Bobbi Updegraff! You can find out more about another important cause she sponsors at friendsofrenacer.com.

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!


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