A few days ago I watched part of a TV show about clutter: actually, the show was about hoarders — those people who impulsively gather things around them and never clean out their trash. The scenes were sad, and the participants struggled to release even tiny items from their hoards. At first I felt it should be easy to throw away items that were obviously trash, but then I began to reflect on my own world. No, my home isn’t covered in trash, nor are there high stacks of unrestrained purchases.

My reflection was on the struggle the people were experiencing in the decision to rid themselves of unneeded items; that is where I began to rediscover what clutter is all about. Clutter is what we ascribe to items in disarray, such as clothes scattered on the floor, or possibly to papers strewn across a desk. But that isn’t clutter; that is just unstructured organization. True, those examples aren’t neat, but they only represent a style of the individual, a style that may be temporary or purposeful for the person. Clutter refers to whatever keeps one from living a balanced life toward that person’s priorities. Clutter is not quantity; clutter is not the absence of neatness; clutter is whatever detracts your being productive toward your goals.

Typically, clutter is attached to materialism, a desire to own many items far beyond one’s needs. We read of people who own a thousand pairs of shoes or fifty motorcycles — clearly owning more than they can use. However, the definition of clutter isn’t focused on the quantity, but on the fact that such owners typically dwell on what they own and not on what they can and want to do. These examples become clutter when the owner identifies with the items owned. Focusing on ownership, whether one item or a thousand items, is a sign of clutter. And it is clutter that robs us from our only life on this Earth. Clutter is in the mind.

Knowing all of this should identify me as one without clutter, but I do struggle. Twenty years ago I was a successful instructor for a time management course. The course was very popular and employees signed up months in advance to participate in one my seminars. So, I know the drill. I’m familiar with the Pareto principle. I can readily separate the vital tasks from the urgent tasks. I know the territory well, yet knowledge, in itself, doesn’t make me better at managing my life; it only makes me more aware of how I sometimes mismanage my life.

After rambling on about my definition of clutter, where is it that I struggle? It is in the little things of life and in my desire to be useful and liked by others. That’s a virtue, right? At least that is what I was taught as a child. Yet what I find is that my time helping others is often misspent, giving them help they do not want or not giving them everything they do want. In my desire to be useful I find that, instead of discarding items I cannot use, I look for the persons who might appreciate the items. However, I am learning. In being overly concerned for others, I overlook that I also have needs. The effective woodsman must periodically pause to sharpen his ax, thereby rebuilding his effectiveness and maintaining focus on his priority. Avoiding the clutter that overtakes our lives is what keeps our ax of life sharp.

One of the phrases that helps me is keep your eyes on the prize. Whenever I stumble, I remind myself of the prize, whatever it happens to be. Every morning I write down what I consider my priorities, and every morning I see that some items have been copied from the prior day, and I often see some items have been copied forward for weeks. Yet I carry on each day, knowing that being aware of my priorities, even when missed, is better than stumbling forward, unaware. I’m getting better and that is all I ever ask of myself.

This subject I have studied in many books, and having become more aware of the Bible’s influence on our lives in recent years, I decided to also see what this ancient tome might offer. Why I did this I can’t really explain; it was just a feeling that this book might reflect knowledge from history that might prove clutter in one’s mind has been with humanity since early times. People who view the Bible as just a book of fundamental religious instruction are missing the historical value of the Bible. The words reflect people, ideas, beliefs, social values and so much more. And I confess – I didn’t anticipate all that I found.

Let me share some of what I discovered. Yes, there is more, but I am content with these bits and pieces of early wisdom that rained down on me from antiquity. In reviewing these verses, I knew I would not find words that spoke of time management or clutter specifically, but what I did find were verses that encompassed the issue of priorities in life and avoiding spending your time where it is not productive for you.

Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
Okay, this is one of the ten commandments and is generally considered as a directive to not build images or statues or whatever and conducting worship towards them. At the time of the writing of Exodus, this was a common practice. Today, I read the words as reminding people to avoid wasting their life in pursuit of that which keeps them from achieving a meaningful life.

I Corinthians 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
This one I like for its simplicity. This reminds me that I need priorities in life.

Exodus 16:19 Let no man leave of it till the morning.
How refreshing to see a paraphrase of “Just do it!” in the Old Testament. Too often we know what must be done, yet we postpone or do less important tasks.

Mark 4:24 Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
This is priceless and should be on a plaque in every office. Experiencing a successful life requires that we participate in life, that we understand what is needed and that we contribute of our abilities. Only by this do we grow in spirit and happiness.

Mark 8:36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
I have seen a trite phrase, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” How sad. In truth, the ones who die with the most “toys” are likely the ones who never focused on being a part of life and who are quickly forgotten.

Luke 12:23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
How simply said and how true. Our lives are valued on our beliefs, our openness to others and on what we choose for our life priorities. On our life scale, financial wealth cannot compete with spiritual wealth.

Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
Beautiful words to tell us that our tendency to hoard and want more is time wasted that could be better spent.

Luke 12:25: And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
How true. That new sports car looks great in your driveway, but you’re still the same person. Pretending that what we own adds value to ourselves is pure vanity.

Ecclesiastes 3:6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
One of my favorite books is Ecclesiastes, so rich and full of wisdom, wisdom from early history as valued today as then. I enjoy this verse as a reminder that clutter must be managed, as items lose their worth I should discard them.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
I cannot say it better. This one verse summarizes the hoarding within us.

In closing this post, I know that I have not overcome clutter. Focusing on the purpose of my life will challenge me to my grave, but I am thrilled to know the enemy and to be prepared for the fight. There are those who love me and I know they care and support me. That keeps me going.