The other morning, I discovered a pot of once regal and Grateful-Dead-inspired scarlet begonias on my back porch. They were in desperate need of a good deadheading. The rich red blooms were obscured by long-expired flowers and dead brown leaves. Sad, just sad, I thought to myself.
As a working mother of a 16-month-old toddler (need I say more?), most living areas inside and outside of my home are in a perpetual state of disorder. My floor is often covered in Floorios, a term another friend and mother shared about the beloved oat-circle breakfast cereal children dump on the floor and then eat (there is also the hashtag #floorios should you want a vivid illustration of my everyday chaos). And truth be told, I have never been a neat-freak or Mid-Century minimalist. Writer Amber Sparks nailed my aesthetic in a recent Tweet: “If the gods of interior design are listening: I am really, really tired of industrial design. I hate big, cold, steel-filled open spaces with concrete walls. I would like to go back to carpets, wall tapestries, comfy soft chairs and thick rugs. Please address this.” Amen, Ms. Sparks, amen.
But as I removed the dead parts of my forlorn begonia, I felt immense and total relief at getting rid of what was no longer helping my plant thrive in these last, golden months of St. Louis summer. Clearing out the clutter was a tangible reminder that progress can be made in this messy, fraught world. I was left with a pot of thriving, gorgeous flowers amidst the back-patio clutter of a deflated kiddie pool and rusty Citronella candle holders. Such a small, singular act of tidying up felt weirdly liberating.
In fact, my relief and joy in this small victory of cleaning up are not novel or isolated feelings. There are scores of online articles touting the psychological benefits of tidying up: “There’s Proof That Clutter Causes Anxiety,” “The Clutter-Depression-Anxiety Cycle: How to Stop It,” and “Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies.” There is even an intriguing 2016 study published in Environment & Behavior, “Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments” that explains beautifully why study participants are drawn to snack more on junk food in an overflowing kitchen. The authors of the study are quick to point out the importance of individuals’ mindsets, yet it is also important to note that chaotic environments can trigger stress-based behavior.
While I have yet to participate in The Minimalists’ #MinsGame on social media, whereby users commit to a 30-day-purge challenge, documented on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, I have become keenly aware of the pitfalls of overconsumption and things, things, things. I even searched for Marie Kondō’s 2014 bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, at the library, but, funny enough, the book is missing. No matter.
My primary goal in tidying up is less austere than Ms. Kondō’s. All of my books, read and unread, will remain on their dusty bookshelves. The random cards and recipes handwritten by late grandmothers too. The messy toddler and random-receipt-hoarding husband, for sure. No, my inspiration rests with the Tibetan Buddhist monks who create intricate sand mandalas, only to ritualistically destroy the rainbow-hued circles. Creating anew, again and again, after constant dumpster fires, destruction, and chaos is the rallying call of the day. The monks know all too well the fleeting beauty of a messy life and Floorios.