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EXTRACT: Stuff Happens! by Emma Gleeson

Our extract this week is from the brilliant Stuff Happens! Manage your clutter, clear your head & discover what’s really important, written by Emma Gleeson.


During years of rollercoaster mental health I got huge relief from being on my own in my bedroom, doing what I called ‘pottering’. I can now see that what I was really doing was allowing myself to recharge from the world which so overwhelmed me, but I did not have this vocabulary at the time. I would go through all my things and try and find different storage solutions for everything. What I desired with this ritual was a sense that nothing was lost, nothing was undervalued or forgotten.

The relief I still experience when everything has been appraised and organised is huge. We all find ways to cope with the stresses of life, and this just happens to be mine. I’m not alone in using tidying and cleaning as a means of avoiding difficult emotions. Brené Brown, bestselling author and shame researcher, writes of a telling conversation with her therapist in her book Daring Greatly. The therapist asks, ‘What do you do when you feel vulnerable?’ and Brené answers: ‘Clean the house. Eat peanut butter. Blame people. Make everything around me perfect.

Control whatever I can – whatever’s not nailed down.’ Mrs Hinch explains how cleaning has helped her man- age her panic attacks: ‘When you feel at your weakest, you’re still achieving something.’ I have a friend who sometimes just needs to be alone and clean his kitchen to unwind his mind. This compulsion makes sense to me: control your external environment to calm your internal chaos. Although my mental health is much easier to manage these days, I still love organising and decluttering. No, I do not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; that is a serious condition, and I would never trivialise it.

But the buzz I get from having things ordered provides what I see as a harm- less stress relief, and I have been able to turn it into a business. I’m wired for it, as author Alain de Botton explained when he wrote: ‘The more turbulent someone’s inner life is, the more tidiness appeals… It isn’t tidy minds that go for tidy exteriors, it’s chaotic minds.’ In the broadest terms, decluttering is an outward expression of my deep wish for a clean and decluttered internal life. In my fantasy, I have a mind that is ironed out flat, neat and knowable. This wish is foolish and impossible, but I cling to it when life pulls me back under a wave of gloom. The mind cannot be decluttered.

Thoughts cannot be filed neatly, emotions processed in orderly fashion when they arise. Our neuroses are not temporary but cyclical, returning from their orbit outside our consciousness when we are vulnerable. Accepting this is the biggest task for anyone who experiences emotional difficulties, which I would argue is basically every- one on Earth. At this stage in my life, I am aware enough to know when I’m pottering harmlessly as a means to rest and when I’m in an anxiety state. I don’t pathologise the organising any more; it’s my way of slowing down.

Stuff Happens! Manage
your clutter, clear your
head & discover what’s
really important by Emma
Gleeson, is published by
Sandycove, an imprint of
Penguin Books, and is out now.