Mental Clutter

I’m fighting clutter.  Some is the usual clutter associated with intensely living in our home.  With three of us here all day almost every day, there is quite a bit of living going on here, and two of the members of the household contribute more to the clutter than the other.  I name no names, but I’m (generally) innocent.   We’re all here, 24/5.5, and we’re all often busy with projects.  Projects require specific materials and a certain amount of room, and, at least for my children, a large amount of droppings and trails.

Basically I’m fine with project-related clutter.  It reflects their current passions, whether it be polymer clay at the kitchen table and a living room floor full of my younger’s Pearl Harbor re-enactment, Sculpy-style, or my older’s tools spread from the back door down to his workshop while his latest woodworking project takes shape.  While the clutter builds, I have happy, occupied children who are learning new skills and not in front of a computer or TV screen.  Besides, most homeschooling families live with a fair amount of clutter given the relative amount of time at home pursuing knowledge and other fun stuff.

I often clear the clutter (straighten the stacks was my father’s term when I was growing up) in order to think:  too much stuff around is just too much visual stimulation for me.  Just clearing a single room can increase my concentration ability and soothe my soul.  But it’s not the material clutter I’m feeling most acutely lately.  It’s the mental clutter.

There is the usual mental clutter:  appointments to keep, bills to pay, household to-do lists growing daily, and all that.  I’ve joked that we homeschool because I’d never be able to keep track with all the due-dates and paperwork associated with school, but I’ve heard plenty of school-sending parents breathe a sigh of relief that they’re not planning lessons and teaching their progeny.  Either way, it’s more on the mind.  Such is the nature of life with kids.

Those details, however, rarely wake me at 3 in the morning.  That distinction falls to my more personal mental noise.  I’m an Enneagram Type I, for those incorporating that system of personality typing into their lives.  Basically, I’m a perfectionist who spends way too much mental energy on listening to/arguing with my inner mental critic who judges my every thought and deed (and often finds me lacking).  When I’m well grounded (and that’s a growing percent of the time), I’m not only happier and more peaceful but less mentally cluttered.  As I quiet the critic, I wake less at night, bark at my children less, dissect the latest moral wrong of my ex (Hey, that mental critic can do a job on perceived wrongs from others, too.), and live more deeply.  Good stuff.

But for the past week or two, the clutter is loud and terribly distracting.  I’m grouchy and preoccupied with thoughts and feelings of enormous range.  Life is shifting, as life is wont to do, and I’m reverting to type.   As they say, knowing the problem is half the battle, although at this point, I often feel it’s the easy half.  Doing the inner work, taking the time to simply be and find my grounded self challenges me.  Not doing the work is great fodder for that voice that tells me all I’m doing wrong, however, so there’s much to be gained from taking some time to simply be. 

So I’m off to do just that.  As I sit, my mind will fly around, and I’ll quietly bring it back, without judgement and with patience.  Practice, they say, not to reach a goal but practice just to practice.  And if the clutter clears in the process, all the better. 

(For an excellent introduction to the Enneagram, Helen Palmer’s books are a great place to start.  For locals who want to discover more with real live people or anyone who wants a thorough overview of the purpose of understanding type, check out Inner Enneagram.)

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