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The world has gone crazy for Marie Condo.  She’s bringing some clarity to our tendency to accumulate too much stuff.  She’s helping us clear out clutter, think about what brings us joy, open up breathing space in our environments and, as a result, within ourselves.  I love Marie Condo.  Except for the pressure she’s put on me to clean up every closet, every bookshelf, and every flat surface in my living space.

Even before Marie Condo entered my house, we had instituted a rule of “something comes in, something goes out.”  New shirt in, old shirt out.  New sheets in, old sheets out.  New shoes in, old shoes out.  Bills in, money out.  Balance and containment.  We had at least started on the path to simplify.  However, it doesn’t apply to books, earrings, tools, or art supplies, so I guess it’s more of a guideline than a rule.

Marie wants us to figure out what brings us joy.  Here’s my dilemma.  The things that bring me joy create clutter.  Lots of it!  I could give you several examples – photography, painting, beading – but I will limit myself to one since it was the one that helped me come to a resolution.  (You may call it a rationalization.  I’ll stick with resolution.)

A habit that brings me joy is to journal.  Because I’ve done it for decades, I have dozens of old journals in my closets.  Have they become clutter? They’re definitely taking up space.  Do they bring me joy?  Some memories perhaps, others not so much.  It would take hours of sifting.  Days of sifting.

I think I would keep the left-handed ones if I can find them.  I heard a presentation many years ago by a woman who journals first with her right hand and then with her left, and the words and the voices are entirely different.  I tried it and sure enough, inside the atrocious hand-writing of my left-hand was a different voice, humorous, saw things from a different perspective.  It was like meeting a new friend.  Yes, when I have time, it might be fun to find those journals and read them again.

And there are my photo-journals, resting here and there on bookshelves and in computer files.  And the messiest of all are the collage journals.  Collage requires lots of old magazines and scissors and glue and a place to store it all.  Do you see how this one joyful habit is creating more and more clutter?  And how confusing it can be to clean closets?  But hold on, I’m about to get to the important insight concerning clutter and joy that came through my latest journaling technique.

Are you familiar with those little Angel Cards?  Each card has a single word on it, a concept.  The idea is to randomly draw a card each morning, set it on the kitchen table and think about the concept all day.  My technique is to draw a card and write down the concept in the middle of a blank journal page.  Next, I look up the word in the thesaurus, and write down a few of the synonyms that resonate with me.  Then I wait to see where the word and the concept take me. I write down words and phrases that pop into my head.  Often, I turn to my book shelf and see which book wants to join the conversation.

A couple weeks ago, I drew “CREATIVITY.”  Where to begin?!  I have books on creativity. Ideas. Prompts.  Philosophies.  There’s a lot of gold to mine in creativity.  From the thesaurus, I added words to my page: cleverness, originality, resourcefulness, imagination, talent, inspiration, innovation, inventiveness, artistry.  Then I looked over to my bookshelf and Maslow practically shouted at me: “Pick me, pick me!”

Abraham Maslow is one of my all-time favorite psychologists.  He studied healthy people, not those with obvious neuroses.  His work concerned “self-actualized” people, those who use all they have to be all they can be (in the Army or wherever.)  I opened my well-worn copy of Toward a Psychology of Being, and dang if he didn’t have a whole chapter on Creativity in Self-Actualizing People.  I read:

Creativity is a fundamental characteristic inherent in human nature, a potentiality given to all or most human beings at birth, which most often is lost or buried or inhibited as the person gets enculturated.

Did you get that?  Fundamental characteristic!  Yes!  We ALL have it.  But sometimes it gets squashed, shamed, hidden, inhibited.  Sometimes, it happens really early when our ideas are called outlandish, or we color outside the lines, or (you can’t win) are required to color within them.  Or some big person asks us to explain something that makes no sense to them and then makes us feel it’s our problem instead of theirs.  Or we are told “Grow up,” “Don’t embarrass me,” “Don’t make a fool of yourself.”

Or maybe: “Don’t make a mess.”

All happy and secure children ooze with creativity.  I don’t think Maslow said ooze, but he did talk about effortless innocence, spontaneity, uninhibited.  Those very characteristics that it takes a life-time to reclaim once they have been “enculturated.”  He describes self-actualized, mature adults as “strongly childlike,” with an absence of fear of what others might say or think, AND, equally important, of what is deep within themselves.  In other words, people who recovered from junior high school.

And then, thank you Dr. Maslow, my very favorite part:  These self-actualized people can comfortably be:

  • Disorderly
  • Sloppy
  • Chaotic
  • Vague
  • Doubtful
  • Uncertain
  • Indefinite
  • Inaccurate

I felt vindicated, affirmed, celebrated even in my clutter.  I claimed my creativity!  And can’t you see my uninhibited sassy six-year-old self, hand on hip, scribbling these words on my journal page: So there, Marie Condo!  I WILL be messy!

After several days of reflection on Creativity, Clutter, and Condo, I’m not sure I’m any closer to my own answers.  Open space would be nice, but I’m happy, even joyful with my somewhat disorderly collections of books and beads, art supplies and old journals, ceramic pots and rocks, and on and on.  They feed my creativity.  But perhaps to rationalize my choices, I’ve come up with a loose guideline:

When my clutter turns to chaos and curtails my creativity, I will Condo-ize.

That works for me.