young boy carefully holding a corn snake

Ignoring Clutter

My son likes snakes and I don’t.  He would happily fill his room with cages full of carefully selected specimens and  meet all their serpentine needs. I’d happily never see one again. Our compromise is that he has a couple of small pet snakes in his room and I tell myself  if I can’t see them, they’re not really in my house.

Although I know they can’t escape now – that was years ago and must never happen again – there’s a program running in the back of my mind on a continuous loop that says snakes are in  here! – watch out, there’s snakes! – there are snakes in that room! Although I don’t consciously hear those words, my body knows. And the day those snakes finally slither away, I’m going to feel a massive sense of relief and realize just how much of my energy has been taken up thinking about those snakes without me even knowing it.

It’s the same with clutter. You might be at the point where you don’t see the clutter that much anymore. It’s become so normal, you forget that not everyone lives like this. Yet just as not everyone has two pet snakes in their house, not everyone deals with piles everywhere they can’t sort out.  I automatically avoid looking at my son’s closed door as I pass by in case it’s open and I catch a glimpse of scaliness. You may have become so accustomed to deliberately not looking at your home as a whole that if someone took a photograph of your dining room and showed it to you, you’d do a double take.

Telling myself I ought not to be afraid of snakes doesn’t work. The more I argue with that idea, the more my brain comes up with all sorts of solid reasons why I’m right and really should be frightened of them. And telling yourself you’re a miserable failure because your place is a mess is an equally ineffective away to make a change. The reality is, I’m scared of snakes. You have too much clutter. And the only way either of us is getting out of our predicament is slowly and gently, encouraging ourselves with each step forward, coming back to try again over and over.

I can’t do anything about those snakes until my son moves out but you can do something about your clutter right now. And if he never moved out and I had to face my fear of snakes, I wouldn’t doing it by reaching into a cage and picking one up. That would be too much too soon, I’d have to gradually work my way up to it, gaining confidence as I gradually exposed myself to snakes in a slow and steady manner that worked just right for me.

It’s like that with decluttering. Trying to “just” clean out the spare room will ramp up your anxiety and make you slam the door shut. Setting your timer for 20 minutes and picking one thing to start with, taking the whole 20 minutes to decide what to do with it if you need to, will allow you to come back tomorrow and do the same thing.

Odds are, no matter how much clutter you’re dealing with, if you declutter for 20 minutes a day, you’ll deal with it sooner than my house will be snake free. If you plan to fill the empty space with your collection of interesting snakes, that’s up to you. Just  please keep it to yourself.


  1. “Clutter blindness” is one of the first lessons I learned as an organizer, from a client who called me about her clutter and yet couldn’t see all of it. I asked, “What about this clutter here?” and she replied, “What clutter?” I pointed out several items that didn’t belong there and she started laughing. So, I was lucky she had a great sense of humor about herself, but I imagine that the no-longer-seen clutter was contributing to her anxiety as much as the clutter she consciously knew about was.

  2. I just love the way you write, Lucy. I totally get it. My thing is spiders – I can tolerate snakes. I agree with Seana. 20 minutes is a long time and you can make real change by focusing on something for 20 minutes a day. I also agree that a picture is worth a thousand words.

  3. I’m not a fan of snakes either. Luckily, my husband had one growing up so he deals with any snake issues we have in the backyard. =)

    I’m a fan of quick organizing, so much so, I created several checklists on my blog to inspire people to do quick organizing projects. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. I also do NOT like snakes. No thank you. Glad my girls never wanted one:) I completely agree with the 20 minutes a day. In fact, I think most people would be shocked by what they can accomplish by doing anything consistently for 20 minutes a day. That is actually a long time, well worth the investment!


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