What Works for Me, Part 5: Cleaning House

There are a couple of truths of my life that come into conflict fairly consistency. They are (a) The state of my IMMEDIATE environment (e.g., the room I’m in, or the desk I’m at which I’m sitting in) has a fairly strong impact on my state of mind, and (b) Day-to-day, I’m not the neatest person. 

Because of (b), I don’t always return things to their proper places, telling myself, “Oh I’ll do that later,” and as the days go by, my desk and office/creative space can get pretty cluttered. 

So occasionally, I have to “Press Pause” and do a more significant “house cleaning,” during which I go through accumulated papers and materials and sort them into things that are useful and things that are not. If they are useful, I find a place for them and get them there; if they are not USEFUL, I either throw them out, or (if there’s a chance that maybe they WILL be useful at a future time) at the very least place somewhere away from my immediate work space. 

When I finish, I tend to breathe a little better, and find my work space a little more manageable and peaceful. 

Cleaning House in our own lives isn’t much different than this. Cleaning my house starts with BEING WILLING to have an HONEST look at my own life and noticing the things—“things” here being mostly attitudes, ideas, and concepts—that operate inside me. After that, it’s a simple matter of declaring some things helpful and others not helpful (just so you know: usually there are more things that are not helpful), and “putting them away” as best I can. 

(NOTE: This is where things can get a little dicey. Because I am only human, I can only ‘put things away’ to a certain extent. After that point, I need help from someONE or someTHING that is outside myself, and more powerful than I am. Because let’s face it: If  I was capable of putting those things away, I probably would have already done it.) 

The first time I did this it was nearly overwhelming. I really didn’t want to be THAT honest with myself, and name the things—the really unnecessary, BROKEN things—that dominated my life. 

But this is ALSO where trusting God (not to mention the spiritual principles of OPEN-MINDEDNESS and WILLINGNESS) came into play. 

Could I trust that I was still lovable—deserving of compassion and human dignity—NO MATTER WHAT cluttered up my house? 

For me, when I was able to be very clear about that trust, I was able to clean my house to a degree that brought about a pretty profound realization and a change of heart and mind. I was capable of seeing so much of my life that was just not helpful—attitudes of shame, self-loathing, and also pride and selfishness—that were holding me back and preventing me from being the compassionate, present, joyful person that I was invited to be. 

In other words, cleaning house—just like cleaning my office—was incredibly LIBERATING and LIFE-GIVING. 

After that initial instance, I continue to clean house on an ongoing, rhythmic basis. First, I try to do it daily, reviewing my day (or, in some cases, just the last few hours) and naming/clearing away those things that have come up. 

Second, I try to do a more in-depth review every few months, or annually. Let’s face it: things just come up in our lives. I know I, at least, am far from perfect, so it’s good to just keep things clean for me. 

One final, but critical idea: THIS IS CLEANING MY HOUSE, NOT YOURS. 

The fact of the matter is this: The state of YOUR office is not really affecting MY creative space. I’m tempted to think otherwise. I really want to give you tips on your office, or why your desk organization is not as effective as mine. 

But that’s not helpful, and not the way it works. 

I’m called to clean MY HOUSE, not YOURS. I’m called to look at MY life, not yours, EVEN WHEN THE STATE OF YOUR LIFE EFFECTS ME (because it’s made YOU bitter, or angry, or manipulative, etc.). 

I cannot clean your house. I’m called to clean mine. After that I can, TRUST that God has you on your own journey, be OPEN-MINDED enough to believe that it’s more helpful for me to focus on myself rather than you, and—if all else fails—be WILLING to follow the advice those around me (because this whole thing is assuming that I’m in SOME kind of spiritual community) to be quiet and focus on myself first. 

The good news is this: Without even focusing on anyone else’s space or house, looking at ME and my own space has been one of the most paradigm-shifting and chain-breaking activities I’ve ever gone through. 

Next Up: Serving Others