Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 8: Clutter Busting (book review)


The hardest book reviews to write are about the books that, for whatever reason, make your heart beat most wildly.

These may not even be the books you enjoy the most; you may enjoy these books least of all, if that makes any sense. The things that touch you are not necessarily elegant nor exquisitely wrought nor especially witty. But they pierce you somehow, getting straight to core of what makes you you, for better or worse, and in doing so, they disarm you.

Or, to put it another way, it's hard to write a review when you feel like you've just been pantsed.

This is the effect that reading Brooks Palmer's new book, Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back, had upon me. The writing seems deliberately stark and gentle, stripped of all the hoo-ha and folderol with which I love to adorn most of my own ideas, designed so that there is no avoiding the very simple, almost alarming thoughts contained within, yet somehow softening you enough to yield to them. Like...

  • "Things will not make you happy." (page 4) I know this. We all know this, kinda sorta. But most of what most of us are surrounded by every day screams "More and/or newer is exactly what will make you happy...AND HERE IT IS!" TV, radio, magazines, billboards, stores, and that great, big 24/7 bazaar of Never Ending Stuff, the Internet. It is, quite literally, difficult to sit still and do nothing, or even to sit still and do one thing. Whereas Brooks, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times on his last visit to Southern California, including one at-work time, has so little "noise" he can be completely present and still even amongst the most chaotic of circumstances, seven ladies dealing with a combined 280 woman-years of crap, or a crowded networking event on the West Side's noisiest outdoor dining area. It's unnerving even as it inspires. Like this book.
  • "Hanging on to things is a way to avoid change." (also page 4) I know this, too. Or, I think I did. Maybe I heard it somewhere before, in a book where the writer was also trying to be entertaining and clever. I loved Peter Walsh's book, and you might, too. But smart assery is my modus operandi, and that book was apparently too far inside my comfort zone. I enjoyed it, but I did not take it to heart. For those of us used to cluttering up our feelings with fancy turns of phrase, Clutter Busting may be the better bet. It's far too earnest and plainspoken to turn away from.
  • "Clutter keeps you from feeling." (page 90) This, from a really excellent chapter that addicts of all stripes will recognize and run screaming in the night from. Kidding. No, I'm not. Nor is Palmer. It's an interesting paradox, because one of the reasons we acquire things is to either chase a feeling or hang onto one, both impossibilities, but hey, hope springs eternal. The hard work of letting go of the things we think give us the feelings (or the stopping of the chasing of them through acquisition) actually does let the feelings happen. Only with those good feelings come all the other feelings and...well, living is fucking hard. But it beats the alternative.

Palmer seems to have written the book so you can drop in at any point and start with any node of decluttering; as he says in his annoyingly true chapter on how clutter is all about avoiding change,

Change is like a dog that is utterly enthusiastic to see you the moment you decide to greet it. There is no right time to begin other than now.

Each chapter contains several exercises for addressing clutter, so you can do so from pretty much any angle that works for you. Some of the exercises involve imagination, stepping outside of yourself to get a better look at your surroundings or your relationship to the things that surround you, including everything from pretending you're dead and that loved ones have been assigned the task of combing through your possessions to interviewing your clutter (yes, really).

He also has some pretty hard and fast rules about execution: there are not a lot of "maybe" or "to mend" piles in Palmer's universe; this may seem overly harsh, but in my extended experience with the decluttering process, those two piles often become "gimmes" and are responsible for a lot of crap creep. It's easy to kid yourself that you'll take those unflattering pants to the tailor or get the glass on that hideous poster replaced, when most of the time you'd have done it already if you really, truly loved it.

I'm at a place in my own process where all I really needed were the right set of words (I guess) to give myself permission, and this book abounds with those. It's a plain and simple message at heart, people matter, things don't, and Palmer comes up with many different, yet very plain and simple, ways of delivering it. Not all works resonate with all people, so by all means, browse the book in a store, check out the sample pages on Amazon, or enjoy some of the fine posts on Palmer's blog to see about fit.

But if at first glance you feel like it's not a fit, ask yourself about compassion: how much you have for yourself, for your predicament, for your secret, down-deep, tender desire to become something better, even if you've no idea what that is right now, much less how you'll get there from here. Because you will get there, I promise.

And the first step, before even looking at what might possibly be in the way, is to address yourself with compassion. Love is what's under everything: doesn't it make sense that we handle the journey towards the heart of it with that very same love?


Image by Mish Bradley via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.