I had a discussion a few weeks back with somebody who had retired, and they were having a hard time managing household stuff, clutter, etc. Their entire schedule and daily structure had previously revolved around their job, so once the job disappeared, so did the schedule – and they were having a hard time settling into a new routine. The lack of a routine and structure caused chaos around the house, and pretty soon clutter started taking root.
I think this is a common issue – and not just for people who have retired.
Clutter frequently goes along with unhealthy emotional states, which means addressing the causes of those emotional issues is frequently the first step in getting clutter under control.
We naturally organize our lives around things that are important to us. Jobs, spouses, kids, pets, religious activities, etc. And when those things disappear for whatever reason, we sometimes find ourselves in a tail spin, because one of the things that gives us structure is no longer there.
But the tail spin isn’t caused by the thing disappearing – it’s caused by the failure (or in rare cases, inability) to correct the issue. Just like an airplane typically doesn’t have a malfunction and immediately plummet into the middle of the ocean, our lives typically don’t spin out of control without us having an opportunity to correct our course.
The problem, of course, is that it’s usually been quite a while since we’ve set our lives in order – and it’s uncomfortable to have to do so again. So we avoid it. Which almost always makes things worse. Which makes it more uncomfortable to deal with. And so on, and so forth.
So how do we break the cycle?
I’d propose a simple question….
This is a simple question, but it’s powerful because it forces you to look forward.
Answering this question looks a little bit different for everybody, but basically you need to take a bit of time, sit down with a pen & paper (or your laptop if that’s how you roll), and make some notes about the things that are contributing to the downward spiral – then take some action that will address one or more of those things.
This almost always involves peeling back at least one layer of the proverbial onion, because the problem usually isn’t the trigger itself (the spouse, the job, etc.), but rather the effect of the trigger.
For example, if your spouse leaves, “lack of spouse” isn’t really the problem. By that I mean going out and immediately finding another spouse won’t fix your problem – even if you’re able to do it. The issue is that your spouse supported various aspects of your life, and you’d structured things around that support.
So while it may be ill-conceived to try to immediately replace your spouse, I think that it’s healthy to acknowledge the fact that the spouse (for example) provided a large portion of your meaningful human interaction. If that’s the case, you might conclude that “spouse” doesn’t need to be replaced right now, but “meaningful human interaction” probably should be.
It’s the same with work. If you retire, your income might be taken care of (pension, 401(k), etc.), but there’s a large void where you previously spent 40 hours per week doing some sort of meaningful activity. “Job” doesn’t inherently need to be replaced, but “meaningful activity” probably should be.
The focus here is forward-looking. Whatever has happened to you in the past, you need to figure out a “next step” that will move you closer to stability.
That “next step” doesn’t need to be big, but you do need to take it.
So What’s Next For You?
I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers here, but experience tells me that there’s almost always something that can be done to move toward more stability.
If you’re looking for social interaction, you can go to a site like MeetUp.com and see what’s going on in your community. If you’re looking for meaningful activity apart from work, there are charities everywhere that need volunteers. If you just need to get a proper perspective again, maybe a talk with a friend or even a counselor would be a good idea. Sometimes even tackling a small cleaning or decluttering project will help to put your mind at ease.
And you might just find, as others have, that the more you can make progress on straightening out the other stuff, the more progress you’ll make with your clutter situation as well.
If you have questions, comments, or just want a friendly ear, you’re welcome to pop over to the Facebook group and join the discussion – I’d love to hear from you!