Household clutter and chaos can produce spiritual clutter and chaos – and vice versa
By Jennifer Schu

Our Sunday Visitor
May 23, 2004 Your doorbell rings. An unexpected visitor – a friend, neighbor or fellow parishioner – is on your doorstep. You panic, because your house is a mess. While the guest waits patiently outside, you run around like mad trying to clean up.

For most of us, it’s not that we’re lazy – we’re simply overwhelmed by daily life in 2004.

We juggle home maintenance, housework and meal preparations with caring for family members, paid employment or volunteer work, endless errands, and more.

By conquering “clutter” and making the mundane details of your life work together with your life’s purpose, everything will seem more meaningful and manageable, according to “Organizing for the Spirit: Making the Details of Your Life Meaningful and Manageable” (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, $14.95) by professional organizer and coach Sunny Schlenger.

Schlenger offers a step-by-step process to take stock of your life and clarify your values and priorities so they can guide the organization of both your physical environment and your time. The result can be a life filled with more meaning and harmony.
If you desire calm, peace and clarity of mind, your environment should be clear and harmonious. Likewise, a disorderly house may leave you chronically exhausted and tense.

Transform a room

The disorganized among us yearn for help – of the type provided by TV programs such as “Mission Organization” on the Home & Garden network or “Clean Sweep” on HGTV.

The shows focus on one or two rooms in a family’s home. In one “Mission” episode, the kitchen countertops and table are so cluttered they can’t be used for food preparation, so the family eats frozen, microwaved, takeout food for dinner. Then, like magic, a professional organizer appears and transforms the room into a model of organization. After the installation of shelving and other organizational tools, the kitchen is a new place.

Or transform a soul

What goes unsaid is that in a few week’s time, it will probably return to its former state because while the show has addressed the physical organizational issues, it has not addressed the family’s emotional issues, which may be contributors or byproducts of the clutter.

For example, all three preteen children and both parents are seriously overweight – the result, perhaps, of disordered eating in a messy, chaotic household with no space or opportunity to prepare healthy meals.

An organized home can affect the spirit and emotions. Some of us feel so weighed down by clutter that we’re left with less energy for attending to our physical health and spiritual well-being.

A home doesn’t become a mess in one day, and even one room can’t be completely transformed in that time. Likewise, if your spirit feels as chaotic as your home, don’t feel compelled to solve everything overnight. Start by adding a few minutes a day of meditation and prayer.

Next, address those small, bothersome tasks on your to-do list that never get completed, such as filling personal documents, sewing a button on a shirt or fixing a broken yet necessary item. When a large number of these individual tasks start to build up, they begin to make us feel overwhelmed, Schlenger told Our Sunday Visitor.

Accomplishing one of these tasks offers a sense of well-being out of proportion with the size of the accomplishment. Schlenger advocates setting a regular time once a week for them.

Heart of the matter

The essence of organization is completing repetitive tasks – which many of us dislike. Yet as Catholics, some of our most profound spiritual exercises are repetitive.

Cleaning and organizing can provide us an opportunity to meditate and maintain order in our spiritual lives. Removing the deadwood from our homes – throwing away items that are broken, dirty or no longer valued – can keep our energy flowing and help us focus on belongings and activities that are pleasing and meaningful.

“If your time and space are taken up with details that don’t support who you are today, your spirit may feel stifled and dusty,” Schlenger told OSV. “Anything that you make routine makes it easier to focus on other – and higher – pursuits.
In the end, by removing excess from our physical environment, we have better knowledge of – and more time for – what we truly value.

Spiritual exercises for organization:
In “Organizing for the Spirit”, Sunny Schlenger offers these tips for maintaining peace and order in your life:

Identify “drainers” and “fillers” in your life — Divide a piece of paper into two columns, labeling one side “drainers” and the other “fillers”. Classify every aspect of your day into one of the two categories. Work on balancing the activities that drain or fill your spirit to create a less stressful daily routine.

Do a trust exercise — Maintaining patience and perseverance in the face of disruption can be a taxing ordeal. Remember a time when you had to surrender control and trust that things would work out for a higher good. Reflect on the outcome and what you learned from the experience.

Keep a separate “to-do” list that doesn’t include chores or errands.

Make columns filled with ideas for enjoyable activities for yourself, or with your spouse, children or friends.

Start a grateful list. Refer to it when you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed.

Practice being present in the moment

Stop your mind from racing about all the things you need to get done and focus on the here and now.

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