Tidying Up is a Contemplative Practice

 In Reflections

A guest blog post by Elota Patton, LPC, M.Ed. MFA

Humans collect things; it’s in our nature. Beautiful things, useful things, practical things, and things we might possibly use in the future. In 21st century America, we are bombarded with advertising, on computers, TVs, phones. We are told that if we buy more things (jewelry, makeup, cars, lawn furniture, couches, decorative objects, and bigger houses to hold them all) we will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. The truth is the opposite. Recent research on happiness shows that while people predict that objects will make them happy, experiences provide far more enduring pleasure.

Like so many Americans, last January I got swept up in the fervor around Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix series, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I began cleaning and organizing drawers that had been disorganized and messy for years – decades!  I gathered things I truly no longer used or needed and gave them away.  And in the process, I discovered a secret –one monastics have known for a long time – clearing space and organizing clutter creates greater peace of mind. Truly, tidying up is a contemplative practice.

And this practice is attracting more and more Americans. For decades, we have been caught in consumption, but our fervor for things has a profound cost. Our closets and drawers are stuffed, our oceans are filled with plastic, and no one wants our excess clothing. We are stuck in acquisition addiction, the mistaken brain signal that acquiring more things will make us happy.

There are still some things that I want to let go that I have not, and that has made me curious: How do we let go of the emotional attachment to some “things?” Not everything has to go.  It’s important to keep what is meaningful to you, and only you know what those things are.

But releasing some of my object-history has made me feel lighter, more content with what I have, less drawn to wanting more. This practice has helped to make my home more authentic to who I am today. I feel less called to shop, less energetically pulled by things I don’t truly need. I’m not “finished,” and my space is still imperfect, but choice by choice, my home has become a sweeter, more contemplative space.

Noticing what nourishes and letting go of what does not gives me pause and peace. I invite you to join me in this practice, to create your unique way to clear and connect to the sacred in the simpler.

Find Out More About Elota’s Upcoming Workshop: The Contemplative Art of Tidying Up



Elota Patton served as Executive Director at Zachary Scott Theatre and taught Business Communication at the University of Texas. She also edits professionally, teaches Nia and serves on the Eremos Board of Directors.

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