Clutter & the Ego
Clutter gets a bad rap, but I happen to LOVE clutter. I think once you see clutter’s true colors, you’ll love it too (or at least appreciate it more). I’ve been playing with clutter professionally for over 13 years and have come to realize that clutter can brilliantly lead us to the life we are longing to live. Understanding clutter provides invaluable insight into the workings of our lives and minds and is an efficient way to disentangle from the ego. I’d go so far as to say that a functional relationship with clutter can clear a path to enlightenment.
That’s a tall order for anything, especially for something that could easily be mistaken for a pile of crap.
We all feel the call to live a meaningful life. We are driven to uncover the magic we know is hidden within and pray for the courage to shine that brilliance back into the world. Although we all feel compelled, for the most part we are lost on how to do it. For lack of an alternative, we follow the path endorsed by society and championed by our egos, which is to seek outside of ourselves for meaning and happiness. We spend our life trying to look and behave the right way, accomplish the right feats, own the right stuff, live in the right house and believe in the right things. But all too often we don’t find a happy life full of meaning, we find a life devoid of purpose and full of crap.
For a better outcome, it’s useful to understand what the ego is and what role it plays in this journey. In simple terms, the ego is a case of mistaken identity, a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are. As a newborn, our initial awareness is one that is reflected back to us from outside of ourselves: from our mother, our body, our environment. Our ego is formed as we mistake these reflections to be who we are. As we go through life, we attach to, and identify with these pieces that we think comprise who we are. These pieces take many forms including our possessions, our jobs, our personality traits, our accomplishments, our story, and so on. These pieces don’t add up to the whole of who we are, they add up to the whole of who we’ve mistaken ourselves to be, a false center- our ego.
Our egos are delighted to lead the charge in this ill-fated search for happiness outside of ourselves. Each step towards something external is a step of self-preservation for the ego as it distances us from our true selves just a little bit more. See, what our ego knows and guards with its life, is that real happiness only comes from within, from our true center (our soul, our rainbow self). What our ego knows is that when we’re living from our true center our lives are meaningful and happy and our false center atrophies.
Even though the ego takes us through the ringer, leads us off path, and is the source of all suffering, it does have an up side. It allows us to know what we are not, in order for us to experience what we are.
“The real can be known only through the false, so the ego is a must. One has to pass through it. It is a discipline. The real can be known only through the illusion. You cannot know the truth directly. First you have to know that which is not true. First you have to encounter the untrue. Through that encounter you become capable of knowing the truth. If you know the false as the false, truth will dawn upon you.”
We can’t get rid of the ego because it can’t be found, it isn’t real. However, with the help of clutter, we can start to disentangle from the ego by recognizing where we’ve falsely identified with it.
I define clutter as any possession, commitment or pattern that no longer serves you. If you don’t love it and it’s not useful, then it’s clutter. I consider even intangible things like relationships, thought patterns, and the ego as clutter. The ego is both a form of clutter (it certainly no longer serves you) and the source of all clutter (clutter is born out of a lack of clarity due to egoic entanglement).
The ego loves clutter (the more the better) and will die to protect it. This is true partly because more clutter means more to identify with, strengthening the ego, and partly because clutter acts as a wonderful distraction. But clutter is actually a sort of traitor in the house of the ego. Whereas the ego is clever, insidious and hides like its life depends on it (it does), clutter hides about as well as a small child. Once we turn our attention to our clutter and start clearing it out, the ego’s jig is up. When we clear clutter it is the ego that reacts with fear as we let things go. Understandably so, because as we detach ourselves from this stuff, disentangling ourselves from the relationship with all this clutter, we are detaching ourselves from our identification with the ego.
When we turn our attention to and clear the stuff mounting on our kitchen counters, lurking in the corners, overflowing our drawers, and spilling out of our closets, we are actually clearing ourselves of the heaviness and burdens of the ego. With practice, we strengthen this ability and find clearing clutter isn’t as scary and insurmountable as we once thought. We start to see, slowly at first, and then at a rapid pace, that when we let go we aren’t diminished as our ego has led us to believe. In fact, we are gaining much more than we are giving up. As we let go, we find an incredible lightness and freedom. Better than that, we find ourselves.
I love clutter, and I love it best of all when I send it packing.