A cautionary tale of clutter and broken things

I’m not a Feng Shui expert, but I do agree completely with some of its precepts, two of which are:

a beautiful, calm and uncluttered environment gives us a sense of peace and wellbeing, quite aside from increased effectiveness and efficiency

we lose energy on both a physical and a psychic level if we have broken or damaged things in our environment

A recent experience has made me even more convinced of the importance of these two principles to easy and effective living.

I’d received an invitation to visit a new friend. As she walked me through her small apartment I wondered why I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. It certainly wasn’t her personally – she’s a lovely lady and very hospitable.

Then I began to take more notice of my environment. Although the house was clean, almost every inch of the place was crowded, most of it with things she rarely uses.

For example:

Multiple collections of teapots and condiment sets decorate many of the kitchen shelves – not just high shelves but also easy-to-reach ones that you’d expect to hold regularly used kitchen equipment or food items.

The available working space beside the kitchen sink is no more than a few inches – ‘stuff’ crowds the rest of the small space.

Only two of the elements on the stove top can be used without shifting several piles of other utensils. (They are clean, at least!)

It is a nuisance to use the oven – first you have to clear it of a pile of casserole dishes and other crockery, presumably stored there because there is no more cupboard space.

The small dining/kitchen table has just enough room for two to sit at. The rest of the table carries a random selection of books, papers and magazines.

In the bathroom are multiples of all the normal paraphernalia – and it’s not for anyone else. She lives alone.

‘Is it possible to borrow your iron?’ I asked on Sunday morning.

We were about to head out for a relaxed luncheon with friends and I wanted to wear the new white cotton dress I’d bought in Southern Italy. For a moment she looked a bit bothered but then said, ‘Hang on, I’ll get it.’ The next four minutes were spent pulling out a plethora of seldom-used things from a hard-to-reach cupboard so she could reach a box containing the iron. (I did say ‘don’t worry’ but once she started she was unstoppable.)

What I noticed was a complete lack of logic in placement of commonly used items, and maybe a compulsion to acquire ‘stuff’. (We didn’t discuss it but the environment indicated this possibility. Some hoarders have an acquisition addiction.)

But it was more than clutter – I quickly discovered that many items in the house didn’t function properly.

Some of the cupboard doors are very difficult to shut – when I went to help with something in the kitchen I was warned not to open them or we’d never get them shut. Too bad if you want any of the many items in that particular cupboard.

The washing machine is hidden underneath piles of kitchen clutter and never used. Instead she does most of her laundry by hand and when she has a large amount of linen she uses a friend’s machine. Most of the windows can’t be opened properly – there are too many things on the window sills.

It was hot so I turned on my bedroom fan when I went to bed. It ran for fifteen minutes and then started making an excruciatingly loud noise. Result: no ventilation on a very hot night.

Half the light switches don’t work – or maybe bulbs need replacing?

‘Be very careful not to touch that mirror’, she said as we crowded past a tall mirror on the wall. ‘It will fall down if you do.’

Even the front door can’t be fully opened due to things piled up behind it – we slid in sideways.

Result: underneath the kindness and very genuine hospitality she often displayed an aura of frustration and low-level stress, sometimes triggered by seemingly small and unrelated issues.

It’s certainly not for anyone to say how much ‘stuff’ is right for another – we all have different standards and comfort levels. But I do know that my friend would improve the quality of her life and greatly diminish her stress levels if she could clear some of her clutter and also develop a habit of fixing broken things as soon as they become a problem.

If we attend to a niggling issue as soon as it surfaces we keep our energy high. However, if we allow things to build up, the job of fixing everything begins to feel like a mountain of problems. Stress at multiple levels, a diminishment of energy, and compounding inefficiency is the result.

I wonder what her work space looks like?