Last month, a whole herd of us spent two weeks spring cleaning our homes, a few hours a day, using my e-book as a guide. One of the biggest focuses was decluttering–getting rid of all the stuff taking residence in our homes that we just don’t need.

I define clutter as anything you don’t love or need that takes up space, taking cues from one of my favorite quotes:

“Having nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” -William Morris

Now, “beautiful” is subjective–your daughter’s My Little Pony, your son’s rock collection, and your husband’s college t-shirt he wears to bed all may be considered beautiful.

“Useful” is subjective as well, though I’d argue many of us assume an item is useful by predicting its future usefulness. As in, “I don’t want to get rid of this–what if I need it one day?”

And as I always say, if you haven’t used it in the past year, the odds of you needing it are very slim–too slim to honor it with valuable square footage in your living space.

These guidelines–while sometimes challenging and even emotional–are pretty cut-and-dry for a physical space holding physical items. Like our homes.

But what about our lives? What clutter–the kind you can’t see–is taking up precious space in our lives? In ourselves?

If we remember the definition of clutter being anything you don’t love or need that takes up space, I guarantee you many of us have non-material clutter in our lives. And because we’re holding on to these things we don’t need, we’re not allowing room for those things we truly do find beautiful or useful.

Here are just a few examples of life clutter.

1. Relationship clutter

Are you holding on to something unkind your mother-in-law said to you over the holidays? Do you want to reconnect with your college roommate, but feel guilty every time you think of her because it’s been so long since you’ve called? Do you keep saying ‘yes’ to the mom with the extremely difficult child that your own kid doesn’t even like, because you feel sorry that no one else will play with him?

There are plenty of ways we can have relationship clutter. I’m not saying every relationship in our life has to be free of conflict, packed with meaningful conversation, or even be one that isn’t more of a ministry that a two-sided friendship.

But there are times when we are holding on to things in relationships that aren’t useful or beautiful to us–they’re robbing us of joy, and they’re depleting our resources for the relationships that do matter, like with our spouse and kids.

What to do:

Forgive. Confront in love. Bite the bullet and initiate. Be honest. And don’t let secondary relationships interfere with your primary ones, the ones you know are the most important in your life.

2. Time clutter

Photo by Lindsey T

Are you running your kids all over town to extracurriculars, leaving no time to have a family dinner together? Is your calendar so full for the next two weeks that you’re not sure you’ll see your spouse awake and out of bed? Or are you waking up later than your kids, not providing enough time to get ready for the day and have much-needed adult time by yourself? In general, do you feel like your calendar and routine owns you, instead of the other way around?

We all go through seasons of busyness, and many times, those are unavoidable. But to live in a perpetual state of panic, rush, and urgency leaves no time to enjoy life and the things that truly matter to you.

Likewise, when we passively move through life, not developing healthy habits that will help us get more out of life–like making time to pray and journal, get enough sleep, and work diligently on taking care of our home–we’re depriving ourselves and our families of valuable time.

What to do:

Sit down with your spouse and mutually agree on how many squares in your calendar will have something planned for the family’s evening each week. And then stick to it. Keep track of how you use your time for a few days, and use your results to make some changes. Call a spade a spade, and do what you can to make your use of time align with your priorities.

3. Body clutter

Are you consistently running on four hours of sleep a night (and you don’t have a baby in the house)? Does most of your fuel come from a box or wrapped in cellophane, bought from the center aisles of the grocery store? Are you going out of your way to make sure your kids eat their daily allotment of veggies–but not bothering to watch your own? Are you spending most of your day in a sedentary position?

What to do:

Treat your body as the temple it was created to be. Set an example for your kids and move, even just 20 minutes per day. Make sure 80 percent of your diet comes from something that grows in the ground or once ate the ground. And get enough sleep–we all know how important this is, but we’re far more diligent about getting our kids to bed on time than we are ourselves.

4. Mind clutter

Photo by Ian MacKenzie

Are you reading a book most of the time? Would you say most of the information you gather online is directly helpful to your real life? Do you truly enjoy everything you watch on TV, and can you count the number of evenings per week when it’s not even turned on? And if you’re a follower of Jesus, like me, do you take Philippians 4:8 to heart, and dwell on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?

What to do:

Think of a book you’ve wanted to read for awhile, and check it out at the library. Keep it by your night stand, and diligently read a chapter each night before bed. Go through your feed reader, and keep only those blogs you truly find useful or beautiful. Try to not turn on the TV for a week, and see what else you do with your time. And perhaps find a fellow mom to touch base with weekly (even just on the phone), and keep each other accountable about what your mind dwells on.

The takeaway

I don’t mean for this post to be a bummer. But I do truly believe that when Mom is doing well, the whole family thrives. We all know how easy it is to put us last on the list–and it’s also easy to brush off those things we can’t see in favor of those things right in front of us, like the bills and dinner. Important stuff, I know.

But so are our relationships. And our mental energy. And all those things that contribute to our health and our family’s well-being. Don’t forget about the clutter you can’t see.

Remember, when you get rid of clutter, you’re making room for things you truly love. This is true in our homes and in our lives.

Which of these four types of clutter do you feel the most right now? What are some other types of non-material clutter you’ve experienced?

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