03/04/2015 05:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I'm a Recovering Hoarder


When I recently arrived for a hotel stay, I hadn't been in the room for two minutes before I found myself flitting around hiding things.

The maps they provide are now tucked in the drawer. The room service menu and newspaper left on the bed are nestled away in the same drawer. The local entertainment magazine and coffee accoutrements get assigned a home in the cabinet above the fridge. I don't even want the little card that tells me how to conserve water in my line of sight, so it now lives in the desk drawer with the red Gideon bible.

About halfway through my Mary Poppins impression of Tidying Up the Nursery, I was watching myself from the outside thinking, "Hey, whatcha doin' there, nut?" As is usually the case, these are the thought crumbs that lead me to a new blog post.

Let me start by saying, my house looks lived in. I don't spend time white glove testing the tops of the door frames, but I like things to be presentable. I like things to have a place they belong. Yes, I have a junk drawer. I, too, have a Rubbermaid container drawer with never a matching lid. The closet for my knitting and quilting supplies looks like a crazy old lady died in there.

I don't mind a little "real people live here" dirt. Messes that develop because people care for each other, laugh hardily, cook with gusto, and leave a dirty dish in hopes of real conversation. I don't mind coats and shoes lying around because folks got comfortable. And more recently, I don't mind a bouncy new puppy and his many, many chew toys scattered in every corner.

It's the clutter I despise. Things that ought to have a home. The bag of I-can't-remember-what's-in-there in the back seat of the car. The crunched up receipts, 6 pounds of change, and abandoned keys fighting in the bottom of the purse. The emails that don't have a permanent folder, and the unopened mail on the kitchen island.

The same is true in my head. I hate brain clutter. I want things to have a home. I want to understand what's going on in my noggin. I need to know where things came from and why they took up residence in my head.

I don't mind the "real people live here" mud in my mind and heart. It's part of being human. Part of living in authentic relationships. But, the shame-clutter that other people left behind for me is not helpful as I sink into my real self.

Some shame is appropriately placed. I rob a bank. I'm not a sociopath. I feel shame. This, my friends, is litigate shame. It helps me take responsible for my actions.

Some shame is inappropriately placed. I was sexually abused. I feel shame. It's not my shame. The shame belongs to the perpetrator. Time for a head space eviction notice.

We don't have to carry other people's shame or invite it in for dinner as if it belongs to us. The shame-clutter has been lurking so long, it often becomes part of the landscape. We don't notice it anymore. Maybe the first few times we walk by the empty cardboard box in the hall we think, "I should put that in recycling." After a while though, we don't notice the box anymore. Don't even notice that we don't notice it.

When shame has been around so long, we don't recognize it. We just know that when we walk out life in a certain direction we trip over the same emotional cardboard box time and time again. The cluttery box in the hall has become such a part of our journey, we expect to fall but don't know why. We come to expect to land on our faces in a pile of crushing feelings.

There was a point when I became desperately tired of tripping. Desperately tired of the clutter in my relationships and in my head. I was so very tired of feeling like the pain and shame were a part of my DNA. Tired of the mess... seen and unseen.

I was terrified at the idea of letting someone walk with me. I didn't know what I'd find amidst all the old boxes in the hall. I certainly didn't want someone else seeing the mess I'd walked past so many times pretending it wasn't there. I wanted life to appear shiny before allowing others in. What I found was that I needed others with deep compassion and a flashlight or two to help guide the way.

Clutter is a distraction from a life of hope. Be it in my hall, in my head, or in my hotel room, emotional disorder gets in the way of joy, love, and true rest.

Is it time to declutter?