The power of tidying as an antidote to chaos

What’s on the outside is a reflection of what’s on the inside. But do you know you can also change what’s on the inside by changing what’s on the outside?

One of the reasons why clutter clearing is so effective is that your home is an outward representation of you. So if you are surrounded by mess, it means there is a corresponding mess of some kind on the inside too. And when you clear up the mess on the outside, there is a reordering on the inside too, which is why you feel so much better after doing it.

But what about if you are thrown into a situation of external chaos that is not of your own making? Can ordering your personal space help with that in any way?

There’s an excellent description of this in a book I once read titled Tragedy in Bali. Written by an Australian news and current affairs journalist called Alan Atkinson, who happened to be on vacation in Bali in 2002 when the night club bomb blast occurred, he witnessed first-hand the aftermath of the bombing in Bali’s hopelessly inadequate hospitals at that time and wrote about the effect the carnage had on him personally:

I’ve noticed some changes in my behavior in the past week. I’ve become quite obsessive about tidiness.

Back in Adelaide I’m normally pretty organized at work, due to the pressure of deadlines, but less so at home. I’ve noticed that for the past few nights, while flicking between the ABC Pacific news service, BBC World and CNN… I’ve got into tidying my room. I don’t like food left on the room service dinner plate after I’ve eaten. I go and wash it. I can’t bear for my clothes to be in a mess. I tidy up my notebooks and pens…

I realize my new-found tidiness is probably a direct result of all the chaos I’ve seen.

Chaos control

The simple act of creating order in your immediate external environment can help you create more calm and order on the inside too. This is a very useful tip to remember if you ever find yourself in a chaotic situation of some kind.

Hopefully you will never be involved in a catastrophe such as the Bali bomb. But the same reordering principle can be applied at home or at work whenever life gets too busy or feels out of control.

Taken to extremes, tidying can become obsessive-compulsive and that’s not what I am recommending at all. But as an emergency technique to help create a sense of calm out of chaos, it can work surprisingly well.

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2016, updated 2019


About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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5 Responses to The power of tidying as an antidote to chaos

  1. Shay O says:

    When I found out that my father had cancer, I took a scrub brush and cleaned my kitchen with it from top to bottom, crying the whole time. After that, I was able to handle everything that came after; the surgery, visiting, the multiple returns to the hospital to remove scar tissue build-up, and the long recovery. It was very cathartic.

  2. Carol M says:

    I remember visiting an aunt when I was 12, in her tiny house overrun with chaos of 3 boys. I found the only way to copy with the visit, was to completely clean her kitchen. I didn’t even ask her. It was a response that I remember to this day, and with great relief how good it felt to get control for myself.

  3. Ruby says:

    I wonder why I felt drained the other day after tidying our storage room (which was in disarray for a very long time in our basement).

    I cleared it in a few hours time, but I wanted to feel energized & great & instead I felt uneasy & fatigued & even nauseous!

    • Some basement environments can be quite toxic, due to the lack of fresh air, dampness, mould, and other hazards. That’s why many people avoid sorting through clutter that accumulates there. If you have any more clearing work to do down there I suggest you do it for shorter periods, be sure to drink plenty of water, and take a shower after you finish for the day. And if there is any mould, be sure to wear a face mask.

  4. Alex says:

    What a simple but clear observation; tis certainly better to do what you can to change the things you can control so you are better able to deal with those you can’t!

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