This blog features over 300 articles by international bestselling author and leading clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy home expert, Karen Kingston

Cluttered desk, cluttered mind

Cluttered desk

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

This witty quote by Albert Einstein, whose desk was notoriously messy, is often bandied about by people to defend the state of their own cluttered desk. The implied argument is that if this is the preferred state a genius likes to work in, then it’s OK for everyone else too.

However, there are some major flaws with this reasoning, as I’ll explain.

There is no evidence that Albert Einstein ever said this

It’s not listed anywhere in the most comprehensive and reputable source of Einstein quotes, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, published by Princeton University Press. Quote Investigator has rigorously examined the origins of the quote and discovered that it was not attributed to him until 51 years after his death, in a New York Times article published in 2006 where its source was not cited. So while it sounds like something he could have said, there is no evidence at all that he did.

Messiness on the outside is always a symptom of some kind of chaos on the inside

Read any of the biographies about Einstein and what quickly emerges is that his life was not a happy one. Like many creative geniuses, he was chaotic to live with and found it impossible to sustain healthy relationships. It’s said he was an indifferent father and a habitual philanderer who had at least ten extra-marital liaisons.

So even if he did make this often-quoted remark, it’s still highly debatable that a cluttered desk is desirable. Having worked with clutter issues in people’s homes for many years, I’ve seen on numerous occasions how straightening up their home helps a person to straighten up their life, and also how much more productive they become after decluttering their desk. So it really does beg the question, how much more could Einstein have accomplished and how much happier could he have been if he’d been able to do that too?

An empty mind is a sublimely creative state

The quote suggests that an empty desk is a sign of an empty mind, inferring that this is inferior to a cluttered mind. But I’ve found the opposite to be the case.

The most notable experts I’ve met don’t use their mind at all. They ignore the relentless chatter of their thoughts and learn to access streams of creative brilliance that exist at much higher levels. The more they can empty their mind, the higher they can fly.

As experienced meditators know so well, the mind is a cage that keeps people boxed into conventional norms. Being able to still the mind and empty it of thoughts can take years to learn but it’s a very worthwhile endeavour. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that until a person has found a way to bypass their mind and access higher levels of consciousness, they have no real idea who they are or what the world is about anyway. Everything is skewed by the mental conditioning they are subject to.

Viewed from this standpoint, anyone who genuinely wants to make a difference in the world would value being able to empty their mind. And it would be obvious that being immersed in clutter would hamper rather than help them with this.

A cluttered desk is a symptom of a cluttered mind and a stuck life

Take another look at the photo at the top of this article. Even though you can’t see the person’s face, their body language and the state of their desk conveys much about them. Do you think they are happy, productive, in control of their life? Do they find their work fulfilling or are they overwhelmed? What are the chances they can find something when they need it? And even if they can, how much time will they waste looking for it? It’s clear that all is not well in their world.

So am I advocating pristine neatness or spartan minimalism? Heck, no. That’s about as inspiring as living your life inside a Tupperware box. What I’m recommending is a happy balance. Not so much stuff that there’s no room to work and not so little that it feels stark and sterile.

Exactly what works best to have on a desk will vary from person to person, depending on what stimulates and stifles their creativity or productivity. So if you tend to be messy, try having a good clear-up before you start work and see what a difference that makes. And if you’re ever-so tidy, relax a little. The sweet point for most people is not too cluttered and not too rigidly organized either. Discover what works best for you.

Related article
Feng shui desk positioning and why it matters

Related course
Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Don’t let your home become a museum of the past

Woman remembering the past

There’s a poignant moment in John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, when the family are packing to leave Oklahoma and must quickly decide which few possessions they can take and which they must leave behind. With eleven adults and two children about to board a dilapidated old truck with no idea if it will make the journey or what future awaits them if it does, there’s no room to salvage anything but essentials.

‘How can we live without our lives?’ ponders the mother, as she sorts through the family’s meagre personal belongings. ‘How will we know it’s us without our past?’

This is radical decluttering on a scale that most people never have to experience. But the thoughts she voices are similar to those I’ve often heard people express in modern times while clearing their personal clutter, as they confront their internal tug-of-war between wanting to live in the present and embrace the future while realizing they can only fully do so if they are willing to let go of the past.

Our relationship to material possessions

We aren’t born clutching any material possessions in our hands and can’t take anything with us when we die. So why is it that we can become so attached to objects while we’re here?

Psychologists have identified that babies only start to understand they have ownership of their own body at around two months old and it’s not until they are about twelve months old that they begin to bond with items such as teddies or blankets. At around 21 months, they start using the word “mine” and may start to squabble with other children over toys.

So it seems we are hard-wired to own things. But sometimes people take this too far and their entire home becomes a museum of things that relate to their past. I’ve been given guided tours where each item has a special story attached to it about how long the person has had it, how it came to be in their possession, what was happening in their life at that time, why it’s special to them, and so on.

These stories are often long and complicated, requiring a lot of detail and explanation, and the person can be very convincing about how important the items are. They believe that their well-being rests on continuing to own each object so that they can remember the particular event in their life that it relates to.

But when viewed through an outsider’s eyes, it looks like a home full of useless stuff. And when the person dies, it’s highly unlikely anyone will want any of it. It will most likely end up in landfill or, at best, be donated to charity.

Why a museum of possessions is no substitute for life

When people ask me for my advice about this as they sort through their things, I point out that the question to ask yourself is whether you really need to remember all the people and events of your life? What purpose does that serve other than to create mental and emotional clutter?

You are the sum total of all your life experiences. They have made you what you are, and whether you remember the events or not, it doesn’t change who you have become. You are the walking, talking embodiment of your life to date, as any facial diagnosis expert can tell you (a person’s entire history is recorded in their face). You can’t change the past but you can certainly change the future through the choices you make in the present.

The truth of the matter is that anyone can archive the past. What takes far greater skill and courage is to let go of the past and live fully in the now, to become all that you can be. As one woman said to me after letting go of her personal museum of things, ‘When I gave such importance to archiving my life, it felt as if I was already dead.’ She realized, as many others have done, that resting on old memories brings only limited pleasure. True happiness can only be found in the present.

Related article
Let go of clutter and live your life to the full

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Free clutter clearing consultation in Perth, Australia

Clutter clearing consultation

As part of an Advanced Clutter Clearing Practitioner Training, I am offering a free 3-hour clutter clearing consultation in a residential property in Perth, Australia, on a date between 8-12 December 2018.

The ceremony will be conducted by an experienced certified practitioner and overseen by myself or Richard Sebok personally to guarantee its effectiveness. All services, travel time and travel expenses will be supplied free of charge. The only cost involved will be a nominal $25 for materials.

If you live in Perth and would like to be considered for this, please click on this link and complete the form:

Request a free clutter clearing consultation

Please note: If you are located more than 25km from Perth CBD, it will take up too much of our training time to travel to you, so please do not apply. And please do not forward this offer to friends to request free consultations in other parts of Australia or the world. This is a one-time offer for the area within 25km of Perth CBD and between 8-12 December 2018 only.


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How to avoid impulse buys when shopping

Chocolate bread rolls

I was in a supermarket the other day when I came across a very obese woman whose chubby teenage son was pestering her to buy him some chocolate-flavoured bread rolls that had caught his eye. I wanted to say to him, ‘Step away from the bread rolls. They’re not going to help you in your life.’

Then he saw me looking at him, and as our eyes met I could see that he felt that he needed those rolls. Stuffing himself with carbs was his coping mechanism and comforter in life. He had no thought of chocolate bread rolls before he saw the lavish display in the store, but from that moment he wanted them. And since his mother saw it as an act of love to let him have them, into the shopping cart they went.

How shopping can be a coping mechanism

I’ve seen the same behaviour in relation to the accumulation of clutter. To some degree, anyone who has clutter uses it to suppress their emotions in some way. It provides a protective layer to numb feelings they would rather not experience. Their children then learn by example that they can quickly and easily cheer themselves up by acquiring a new material possession. It becomes the antidote to any disappointment or setback they don’t want to feel.

You’d think this would only apply to high-income families, but money is no object. The less well-off go to discount stores, charity shops, garage sales or the equivalent in their part of the world. Or they use websites such as Freecycle, where they can pick up tons of stuff for nothing at all except the time and expense of collecting it. If all else fails, they buy new things from regular malls or online stores and run up credit card debt they then struggle to pay off.

As with food treats, what takes over is the yearning for gratification, with no regard for the consequences that follow. And in the same way that a person gains weight one bite at a time, so clutter is acquired one item at a time. Each bite or item is the result of a yes/no choice that is made.

Become more conscious about the shopping choices you make

The problem with acquiring new things to try to make yourself feel better is that the effect soon wears off and then you want something else. The more stuff you pile into your home, the more stagnant energy will accumulate around it, and the more stuck in life you will feel.

And no amount of things is ever enough. So then you have the problems you’re trying to forget and the new problems created by the things you’re buying to try to make the original problems go away. It’s a downward spiral.

When you’re caught up in this pattern, you’re very easy prey. Billions of dollars are spent each year designing shop windows, store layouts and online stores to encourage impulse buys. You may think it’s your own idea to buy something, but it’s more likely you’ve succumbed to a marketing strategy that’s been cleverly engineered to snare you.

Stores use all kinds of tricks

Do you know that the reason why clothing stores offer generous return policies is because the resulting increase in profits from impulse buys far outweighs the cost of processing refunds for those who come to their senses after they get home? Long-term research shows that most people are just too lazy or disorganized to take things back.

And do you know that people prefer bananas that have Pantone 12-0752 coloured skins rather than the natural shade of Pantone 13-0858? There’s only a whisper of difference between them but it translates into millions of dollars of sales. So now banana growers work with scientists to produce the exact colour of banana skin we all want without even knowing that we do.

When you dig a little deeper, there are countless examples like this, and you discover that the “treats” you give yourself are mostly things you’ve been lured into buying. You thought they were your own choices, but they very probably weren’t.

The truth about impulse buys

On the one hand, there are the powerful advertising campaigns that lure you to buy things you don’t really need. And on the other hand, there are deeply ingrained self-gratifying urges that pop out of nowhere to engulf you. Somewhere in the middle, very hard to find these days, is the narrow pathway of free will.

The first thing to understand is that many items you may feel tempted to buy are nothing more than future clutter in disguise. A 2016 study in the UK discovered over £37 billion of unused gadgets in people’s homes, ranging from kitchen appliances and gardening equipment to hi-tech devices and other gizmos. These types of items are purchased, brought home and never used. Many are still in the box they came in or still have the price tag on.

A 2018 survey by Slickdeals.net revealed that American adults spend an average of $5,400 per year on impulse buys. 71% of the people polled said food was their most frequent type of impulse buy. Clothing purchases came in second, and then household items, takeout meals and shoes.

Stop before you shop

If you’re ever tempted to buy something you didn’t plan to buy, either online or in a store, stop for a moment and ask yourself this simple question:

Did I want this item before I saw it?

If the answer is no, then you’re about to make an impulse buy.

Instead of caving in, ask yourself:

  • Why do I want it?
  • Do I really need it?

And in the case of an item that will take up space in your home:

  • Where will I keep it?

If you don’t have clear, wholesome answers to all these questions, walk away.

How to be better prepared

If you know you’re prone to impulse buys, here are some more tips to help you avoid them in future…

Never shop when you’re hungry
If you’re shopping for food, you’ll tend to buy more than you planned. If you’re shopping for other things, you’re likely to make choices you’ll later regret.

Don’t shop when you’re feeling down
Retail therapy doesn’t work. It only masks the problems. It doesn’t solve them.

Don’t shop to celebrate
Adding clutter to your home is not helpful in the long term. Find other ways to reward yourself or rejoice.

Don’t shop to amuse yourself because you’re bored
No amount of material possessions can ever fill an emptiness you feel inside. Use your money more constructively to learn ways to bring more meaning to your life.

Remember that a bargain is not a bargain if you never use it
Sale items are the greatest source of impulse buys. But if you save money buying something you don’t need and never use, you haven’t saved money at all. You wasted it.

Plan ahead
Make a shopping list of the things you need and can afford and have it with you whenever you shop. If you’re tempted to buy anything else, make yourself wait for at least seven days, then reassess when you feel calm and more objective.

Get to know your triggers
Keep a written log for an entire month of situations that trigger you to want to make impulse buys. The more you are aware of the triggers, the easier it will be to resist.

Related article
The art of intercepting clutter before it even starts

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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The karmic implications of clutter

Clutter karma

Someone once asked me about the karmic implications of a parent dying and leaving a very cluttered home for their children to deal with. This is an interesting question and also a rather complex one.

What is karma?

Karma is a concept that can be found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s the notion that what we do in this life and in previous lives influences what happens to us in this and future lives. Based on their actions, a person can be said to have “good karma” or “bad karma”.

An important aspect of karma is that we can’t change the past but good actions in the present can help to assuage the karmic repercussions of actions in the past. And we can’t determine the future but doing our best to act with integrity in the present helps to smooth our path forward into the future. How this differs from the Christian belief that good deeds will be rewarded in heaven and bad deeds will send a person to hell is that it relates to incarnations on earth as well as the destiny of a person’s afterlife. But the “as you sow, so shall you reap” concept is common to both.

Living in a culture where everyone believes in karma is an insightful experience. Ninety-five percent of Balinese people are Hindu and during the twenty years I lived in Bali from 1990 until 2010, just about everyone I ever talked to about this told me that before they do anything, they always check within themselves to discern as best they can what the karmic repercussions of their action might be. It’s ingrained in them from an early age and applies to the smallest of deeds as well as to major decisions in life. It’s a guiding principle that runs through everything they do.

The karma of clutter

Not everything that happens to us in life is due to personal karma. Some events are purely random and many are the result of triggered samkaras (emotional scars that influence how we react). Other events are the result of being enmeshed in someone else’s karma, and this leads us nicely to the question of parents and their clutter.

If a parent deliberately leaves their home in an extremely cluttered condition, knowing that it will create a tiresome task for their offspring after their death, there are likely to be karmic repercussions for them arising from this and even more so if this was done with malice. But if the home deteriorated into this condition as a result of sickness, a mental health breakdown, an inability to cope, or other factors beyond the parent’s control, that’s a very different story.

Similarly, where the child or children who inherit this problem are concerned, there are a number of possibilities. Not everything that happens to us in life is related to karma, but where it is involved, sometimes it’s because of our own personal karma and sometimes it’s because we are caught in the karma of another person or other people. The two feel very different but both types of karma have a sense of inevitability about them. So if you inherit clutter from your parent or parents, it may reflect your own personal karma, being tangled up in theirs, or may have no karmic implications at all.

It’s not what happens to us but how we handle it

Learning to consciously navigate through karma is possible but the level of commitment to one’s spiritual path and the length of time it takes to develop the subtle body structures to be able to do so means that most people never come close. While we are incarnated here on earth, there is also no way of knowing for sure the true causal factors of karmic events because we are subject to the limited vision of the human standpoint.

So a better approach to take to situations like this is to remember that it’s not what happens to us in life that shapes our destiny but how we handle it. Having to clear out the cluttered home of deceased parents may be a chore, but it can also be a rich learning experience if approached constructively instead of with a victim mentality.

I’ve met people who have inherited situations like this and have spent years sorting through their parents’ belongings. They weigh themselves down with mountains of things that they bring home to store and lose themselves in the process. Others deal with the clear-up in a matter of weeks. They extract any important documents and perhaps one or two things they wish to keep, arrange for any valuable items to be sold by an auctioneer, and then hire a house clearance company to haul everything else away.

The difference between these two approaches does not seem to be the depth of grieving the person is going through but the way they handle being left such a mess to sort out. Some are overwhelmed. Others roll up their sleeves and deal with it. Above all, those who have an organized clutter-free home find it much easier to take it in their stride because they are able to see the problem clearly as their parent’s mess rather than an addition to their own.

Take karma by the horns

If you have a parent with serious clutter issues they are not able or willing to deal with themselves, take heart from the fact that clearing your own clutter first will equip you to sail through sorting theirs out more easily after they die. And in the meantime, you’ll get to experience all the lovely benefits of living clutter-free yourself.

And if you have children who could inherit a mess from you, improve your own karma by sorting through it now instead of leaving it for them. Whether you believe in karma or not, they’ll thank you for this, and you’ll be able to leave this world when the time comes with no concerns about leaving a burden for others behind.

Related article
Why life over 60 works better without clutter

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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