Clutter Means Insecurity

Clutter Means Insecurity

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Clutter Means Insecurity

Clutter has crept back in.

I have too many pens.  I’d have to write everything by hand for the next ten years to use them up, and by then I’ll have 300 more pens, stragglers from conferences I attend that somehow make their way into my purse.  “Just in case.”

My computer hard drive is no different:  all the mp3s and PDFs I’ve saved just in case I ever need the information.  But now there are hundreds, many poorly identified by file name, so I’d have to open each one to see what it is.

And despite round after round of unsubscribing from newsletters, my email box is out of control.  I can’t delete fast enough.  Between my online business, my offline consulting, my investments, my interests and my friends … disaster has struck.

Now my eyes scan the area around my desk.  I see organizers filled with file folders, neatly labeled for all the projects and businesses I’m running.  But they’re multiplying too.  Some projects are finished or abandoned and the files are actually just taking up space.

Speaking of paper, what’s that pile of papers growing on the corner of my desk?  I sort my mail when it comes in:  (1) into the trash; (2) to handle immediately; and (3) maybe interesting so “hold and decide.”  Aha, it’s that insidious “hold and decide.”

Okay, I haven’t even left my desk area and I’ve found five major “just in case” collections of stuff.

Yet I had successfully dealt with clutter earlier, after several passes during my journey from financial disaster to financial peace of mind.


What does this mean?

Along the way, I had already digitized whatever I could:  old cassettes (yes!), CDs, DVDs, photos and files of paperwork I rarely needed.  Then I pared that way down.  I cleared out my email box regularly.  Anything digital not used for 6 months got trashed.  (Except for tax stuff, of course.)

But I’ve been breaking my own rules.

I had fooled myself, believing that once I had dealt with my clutter issues, they’d be gone forever.  But they’ve crept back.  Why is that?

A long talk with myself this weekend gave me the answer.

As I created my version of “financial peace of mind,” I made some assumptions of how that would play out.  Today, all the big pieces are still in place, as planned.

But, for the past six months, I have struggled with how I wanted to build the part of my online business that was to be on autopilot.  I just couldn’t decide.  So … that minor piece of my puzzle was not on schedule.

And my old long-term insecurities kicked back in again, without me even noticing.  I had become a “what if-er” again.  Because we hold on to things when we feel insecure.

See how the subconscious mind works when it comes to money?  Mine was waving big red flags.

Now that I’m aware, I’ll make that part of my business a priority.  I have to make some decisions there … just as it takes decision-making to keep clutter out of my life.  I will:

•    Decide to give handfuls of pens to people who can use them.
•    Decide to delete all the mp3s and PDFs that don’t have direct application to what I’m doing “today.”
•    Decide to delete all the untouched emails and not subscribe to any new “just in case” temptations.
•    Decide to shred all documents not required for present projects or IRS justification.
•    Decide to limit myself to two mail-sorting categories:  (1) into the trash and (2) to handle immediately.

No more indecision.

Look around you right now.  Do you see any signs of clutter that could be pointing to an insecurity or two?  Take the time to identify the insecurity and to figure out how to turn that insecurity around.  And let us know in the comment section below, so others might have more hints of where to look for themselves.

Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Sharon we are sooo on the same page! As I read your article I looked over at my desk and saw the stack (s) of “what if” papers…the pile of “maybe” mail and oh yes I have waayyy to many pens (some of which don’t even write!) …You have inspired me! De-cluttering my desk is on my list for this week…my mind is next! Thanks!

    • SharonODay

      Denny, it surprised me as much as I guess it did you!  And it really made me ask “why” …

  • Sharon, You are so right about the ‘what if’ mentality. 🙂 Your post has me thinking now about insecurities vs. beliefs… there’s a tussle. Thanks so much.

    • SharonODay

      Glad the post got you thinking, Michele.  And I think I can resolve your tussle … Question:  are your insecurities not founded upon your beliefs?

  • I have the pile of ‘what-ifs’ too, and have been shredding them a few hours a week for 2 months already. Guess what? There are more to shred. Just yesterday, I brought 15 gently-used empty binders to church to give away. Great post, Sharon!

    • SharonODay

      Claudia, … and here we thought we were headed toward a “paperless society” … 😉

  • Where is that secret camera you have next to my desk?  I hate clutter. Did a big de-cluttering recently.  And yet.  It crept back in.  Thanks for the reminder and insight.

    • SharonODay

      You’ve gone through a ton of changes recently, Susan.  I’m not surprised you’ve got “hit teams” of clutter poking and testing as you settle in …  Just take a look at what may not yet be well grounded for you.

  • SharonODay

    If you’re not sure you’re ready, Michele, then start shedding something that will have no impact on your future financial security (i.e., clothes instead of papers and supplies).  As you do so, see what feels threatened inside.  The “mindless” act of sorting will often quiet your mind long enough to get a good, strong clue …   

  • franklinstrefurn

    Thanks for this!! I need to let go of so much and you hit the nail on the head. Thanks Sharon!

    • SharonODay

      So glad it helped.  Lots of times we just need a gentle push … 😉

  • Ginger

    ‘…Because we hold on to things when we feel insecure’.   WOW.   Taking a deep breath.  I had to read that sentence a few times.  My biggest clutter problem?  hundreds and hundreds of books. Why can’t I just let go of most of them and get a kindle for the rest of them?  I then realized that as long as I hold on to them physically, I can’t move (i.e., too much to pack, or ship and where would I be able to put them all in the next place)  WOW.  You are amazing!  Can I send YOU a Staples ‘EASY’ button?  Thank you. 

    • SharonODay

      Ginger, there was a time when I thought I’d have to “pull a Martha Stewart” and go to a minimum security prison for a few years to read all the books I had collected to read “someday.”  I got radical, kept just the ones I’d never find on Kindle, and donated the rest to the local library.  I left it up to them to decide if they were worth keeping.  That made such a difference.  (Although you WOULD have to address what they represent first!  For example, where does the fear of moving come from?)

  • I have a beautiful antique desk, I love the way it looks when everything is nice and organized.
    When I am working it goes through chaos stages, but then back to calm and neat.
    Thamks for your ideas!

    • SharonODay

      Ah, but MarVeena, sounds like any clutter comes from “creative chaos,” but then goes away when you’re done.  And, boy, does a beautiful desk act as a good motivator for keeping your workspace organized … and beautiful!  Bravo!

  • Lisa Carter

    My desk is a mess!  Too many projects started and not enough of them finished.  Juggling self-employment, part-time employment and a family really has allowed me the excuse to put off all the things I really don’t like to do, like filing and organizing my computer files.  Thanks for the tips!

    • SharonODay

      Lisa, sounds more like a case of lack of focus and time than insecurity-driven clutter.  But the unfinished projects?  Hmmm … 😉

  • Liz Fulcher

    Wow.  “Just in case” sounds like a one of the new syndromes, doesn’t it?  Well, I  definitely suffer from JIC Syndrome!   And I can see that it is another form of hoarding and it’s born from fear.  Time to stop and clear the fear!  Thanks Sharon….great post!

    • SharonODay

      Liz, “hoarding” has taken on such a horrible name, especially after the TV shows on extreme hoarders.  Yet so many of us have closets, pantries, bookcases, sheds … or storage units … accumulating unneeded “stuff.”  I wonder if anyone’s done a study on increases in JIC Syndrome since the 2008 financial collapse of markets …

  • Terressajcortez

    Thank you for the great ideas on keeping yourself uncluttered. I try to clean things out as I go. I don’t work well in clutter. I like everything in its place and if not needed out it goes 🙂

    • SharonODay

       Terressa, it’s great that you can stay on top of it!

  • You inspired me, Sharon.  There’s a pile of stuff in the basement from our last purge… they didn’t make it in the Goodwill drop, because they have value and I wanted to consign them or list on ebay.  

    I’m pretty sure that anything I might make from them is not worth the peace of mind they’ve already cost me worrying about the time it would take to photograph and list them.

    So out they go – this week!

    • SharonODay

      Amity, I made a similar calculation the other night:  will what I make by selling things be greater than the value of the time and effort I have to put in?  Or will everyone be better served if I call the Vietnam Vets in to take everything, make the money for themselves and leave me free to make money elsewhere or share quality time with loved ones?  Guess what won?  😉

  • This was a spot-on post Sharon!  I would love to read one that goes a little deeper into the why of this condition and the kinds of things one would tell themselves to overcome the tendency in the first place.  Kind of like a brain rewiring that would bypass the mental pathway that causes this to occur in the first place.  Thanks for the post!

    • SharonODay

      Robert, the brain-wiring process really is fascinating.  I’ll add that to my list of article topics.  Thanks for suggesting it!

  • Great suggestions for fighting clutter! That’s a huge challenge for people working from home like me!  And I am so guilty of those “just in case” subscriptions!

    • SharonODay

      Sherri, we think we’re minimizing things by running online businesses, but they are still businesses.  And they generate as much of a paper and digital footprint as any other business!

  • I have so many “just in case” piles! I had never looked at it that way. I think it’s time for me to toss a few things out. Thanks for sharing!

    • SharonODay

      Have you ever wondered how distracting those “just in case” piles can be, Genevieve?  It’s so easy as entrepreneurs to have a million ideas; the trick is to take the best one(s) and make a successful enterprise out of it(them).  And I see those visual piles as “energy vampires!” 

  • I never thought about clutter as pointing to insecurities, but I do see it as pointing to too many distractions.  It’s hard to focus if you are surrounded by clutter. I don’t always follow this advice, but keeping a clear desk will help you keep a clear head!

    • SharonODay

      You’re right, Martha.  It IS hard to concentrate when there are too many things to distract you.  In fact, I’ve always kept one blank space on a wall in my work area where my eyes can rest and not focus on anything.  I know that’s hard to do, but it’s real effective!

  • Wow… that’s certainly food for thought. I never saw the connection between insecurity and clutter before. I need to do some major decluttering, especially on my hard drives. Thanks Sharon!

    • SharonODay

      “Writer, photographer, musician and all-around creative introvert …”  Yup, I think there’s potential for clutter accumulation in that list of interests, Helena!  😉

      •  When you see it laid out in this context, it certainly sheds light on a few things. 🙂

  • “Just in case” is the biggest clutter atractor 😉 It is great to have peace of mind when clutter is dealt with. Thank you for such an inspirational article Sharon!

    • SharonODay

      I know how much “peace of mind” is important to you, Solvita.  So I would imagine avoiding clutter would be important to the “Positive Calm” topic of your website!

  • sharon, are you living in my head–or on my computer? I could have so written this. I am in the middle of the same thing. Having just moved everything to a new computer, I’m now looking at files and thinking “why in the world do I have this?”

    And then I’ll focus on the real work, which is building my business.

    • SharonODay

      Ah, the purging you can do with a new computer!  Yet the hardest part is that “it’s just a little file” and, on this new larger hard drive, “what harm can it do?”  And so it goes.  We just have to become our own gatekeepers!

  • Sharon this is a really insightful article. I loved how you saw clearly what was the source and for resolved the clutter issue!This was so inspirational-thanks!

    • SharonODay

      Lisa, the result of all the work I did to clear up my money issues was recognizing how powerful “awareness” is.  (Before that, I ran on autopilot.)  And life keeps shifting on us, bringing new challenges each day.  So my solution has been to remain ever vigilant … with a gentle awareness running in the background at all times.  Not intrusive, just readily available.

  • From books on decluttering books, to plans to finally declutter, I too recently become so keenly aware of just how much I’ve held onto. I’m glad to note from your article that I am not alone. By normalizing this, it gives me more impetus to gradually get better at dealing with my issues around financial security. Thanks for the great article Sharon. 

    • SharonODay

      Eno, we see the conscious/subconscious brain represented as a glacier, with about 10% visible and above water … and 90% percent below.  So something as “simple” as clutter has to have tons of “reasons” to exist.  I find it fascinating to discover those reasons and, with that awareness, release them.

  • Your posts are always so good.  I find that re-organizing is a lot of work, but it really does refresh the energy and the mind!  We have a big cleaning day once a month at our house, and other big projects from time to time.

    • SharonODay

      Oooh, that word:  re-organizing.  (I had an instant response just reading it!) Check and see if you’re not in a loop, organizing and then organizing again.  That might be why it seems like a lot of work … But you’re right, Sally, it DOES refresh the energy and the mind!

  • lol Oh my are you looking at my office.. Blushing!! LOL

    • SharonODay

      I don’t know what the actual percentage is, Elizabeth, but it’s a safe bet I was looking at a LOT of people’s offices!  😉

  • Kimberly

    clutter – on ongoing battle!  But I keep claiming new territory.  That’s worth celebrating.  And recycling is SO satisfying – it’s one pile I LOVE to see grow!  I think you’re on to something about insecurity and “what if?”.  But, truthfully, some of us tactile/visual types do better with physical paper versus digital (but that’s what a good filing system is for, right?)  Thanks for casting a new light on an old problem!

    • SharonODay

      Kimberly, you’re so right!  Tactile/visual types ARE well served by physical things around them.  (BTW, clutter-free doesn’t mean “minimalist!”)  Besides, what is classified as clutter is a very personal thing.  It becomes clutter when it affects your productivity and happiness … or someone else’s!

  • Mom is a clutterbug. I’ve learned her habits and tend to let things collect for a while. Then I’ll reach a point that I can’t stand it any longer and toss everything out. Wish I could manage without the extremes.

    • SharonODay

      So many of our behaviors seem almost “inherited,” Denise.  But they’re not in our genes.  They’re in what we learned was “normal” as kids.  Your mom was probably always a clutterbug, yet you fight clutter when it reaches a certain point so it’s not where you are happiest.  Spend a little time thinking about that connection, ask yourself why you still allow the tendency to persist in your life.  (You won’t love your mother less if you’re not exactly like her.  And I certainly doubt she’ll love you less if your home isn’t cluttered.)  Just a thought … 😉

  • Sharon, I have to respectfully disagree in that I am also prone to clutter, but I find that if I wrap up papers into a folder and leave that folder aside for a few months, then I become willing to toss it entirely. Whereas if I try to force myself to toss stuff because of the need to clear out space, then I am torn as to whether I might need it. Time allows me to let go. I like the words of Virginia Wolf, which I dont recall entirely, but to paraphrase, “A house that’s tidy is a life misspent.” I can throw out kid’s drawings, old work files, old keepsakes etc. once I have passed the sentimental stage.

    • SharonODay

      I think we’re on the same page, Diane.  We each deal with “moving things through our lives” differently.  Your method works for you, mine for me.  I’ll give you an example, even with old papers: I found two boxes of file folders that I pulled from my desk drawers when I moved 10 years ago.  Instead of tossing them, sight unseen, I took the time to flip through.  They were going anyway, but my “emotional composition” was more comfortable knowing what I was tossing.  But we both still toss!

  • Cat

    I agree! I have always disliked clutter. when I was young, my dad would always have me clear my desk to remove distractions when I did homework. I still do that, and it puts me in the mindset to work. 

    • SharonODay

      Old habits die hard, Cat.  And when they’re good ones, bravo!  Clear desk = time to work = high productivity.  Your father gave you a gift!

  • Sue

    Sharon, so glad to know I’m not alone.  From the comments listed, nice to “come out in the open” and realize by admitting it first, there is help available!!  This truly is something I am working on bigtime this year.  Physical clutter causes mental clutter as well!!   🙂   Thanks for a great post!

    • SharonODay

      Sue, as a society, we’re buffeted constantly with “things.”  And today that’s digital as well as physical.  Bet there were fewer clutterbugs back in caveman days (unless they gathered old bones …)  And they had no UPS man!

  • Mandy

    You sound like me! My email box is a mess!

    • SharonODay

      Mandy, one of my mentors says something like “Your email box is nothing but a place where you give other people permission to lay their priorities over you and your time.”  And he’s so right: stuff lands there and we somehow think we have an obligation to sort through it and invest time in it!

  • Great thoughts here, Sharon! I had never before considered how clutter can be a sign of insecurity, and I certainly have plenty of clutter I need to get rid of!

    • SharonODay

      It’s not the only reason for clutter, Rebecca, but explains it often enough to warrant taking a look at the possibility.  If we don’t look at stuff, we can’t change what needs changing, right?  😉

  • Sondra

    Wow Sharon!! Reading this post has made me feel so proud of myself for the stand against clutter I took this year. I went on a 30 minute a day clean sweep purge in my office. Everything I touched had to be given away, thrown away, or properly placed away. Then, I turned on my computer; deleting files I hadn’t seen in years and unsubscribing from email lists that were no longer serving a purpose of the than cluttering my inbox . And this week, my Credit Union is hosting a Community Shred Day so I spent some time this weekend gathering old documents. I was already feeling happier and more productive. But thanks to your post, can add super confident to the list now too!