Albert Einstein’s Take on Clutter
The great theoretical physicist Albert Einstein wasn’t, of course, a stand-up comedian. But he was a funny guy. One of his witticisms goes like this:
If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?
The quote is often paraphrased this way: A clean desk is a sign of an empty mind.
As a rule, we aren’t too interested in arguing with Einstein, who was certainly one of the great minds of his—or any—time. But we would like to respectfully suggest an edit to his idea. We propose:
A clean desk can help support a healthy mind.
It’s not as clever as the original or the paraphrase of Einstein’s words. But what it lacks in cleverness it makes up for in accuracy. It turns out that straightening up can be an excellent way to support our mental health.
You don’t have to be a genius to understand why this might be so. Decluttering can be good for you—and can support your recovery from a substance use disorder.
Less Clutter, Less Stress
It’s a pretty simple equation: Clutter + time constraints = stress
Imagine your dining room table is covered with junk mail, your kids’ homework, three cookbooks, various small tools, a wallet, a purse, and a veritable sea of small detritus—paperclips, pennies and nickels, hard candies, Legos, and more. Your car keys are in there somewhere.
Now imagine you are running late. You’ve got to get the kids to school or yourself to work or your pet to the vet or whatever. It is not a great time for your keys to be missing, right? But you can’t find them. And you can’t start your car with the paperclips or the junk mail or any of the loose change scattered about.
This is a very common—and very stressful—scenario. It is also the kind of thing that can be remedied if you spend a little time straightening up (not while you’re rushing out the door, of course). Knowing where your keys are is good for your mental health and, by extension, for your recovery.
Get an Easy Victory
Sometimes our to-do lists threaten to overwhelm us. They can create a paradox worthy of the problems Einstein spent his time trying to solve: We have so much to do that we can’t seem to do anything at all.
In those cases, breaking out of the paradox is all about getting an easy win. Pencil in “straighten up my desk” at the top of the to-do list, and then get to it. Throw out the junk mail. Organize the bills by due date (and pay the ones that are due soon). Gather up the dirty dishes that have accumulated on your desk and take them to the dishwasher.
Now your space is a little less cluttered—and the mental block that has kept you from diving into the tasks on your to-do list has been broken up. Scratch the straightening project off your list and move on to the next thing.
We’ll note here that your to-do list is a lot like your recovery journey. Take one step at a time and make progress where you can. Decluttering is progress.
Lower the Sense of Sensory Overload
When the spaces we spend our time in are messy, we are likely to experience an ongoing sense of sensory overload. A cluttered visual field filled with untidy piles and random items that are out of place and in the way can be hard for our minds to take in and make sense of. This, in turn, can lead to the development of a bad mood. Worse, a sense of helplessness in the face of all that clutter can damage our self-esteem.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true. Tidying up can boost both your mood and your self-esteem. Boosting and supporting those things is an essential part of supporting your recovery because persistent bad moods and low self-regard can put you on a path toward relapse.
You Can Start Small
When it comes to decluttering, you don’t have to do it all at once. Just as Einstein didn’t arrive at his final conclusions in a single sitting, you shouldn’t necessarily plan to restructure your living or working spaces all in one go.
It’s perfectly okay to start small. The important thing is to start. Clean a closet. Straighten up the garage. Find five things around the house you can donate or give to others. Find a spot where you will always put your car keys. Every step toward a less cluttered environment is a step in the right direction. Over time, those steps will add up to significant mental health and recovery-related benefits.
Wooded Glen Recovery Center Is the Smart Choice
Here’s something else Albert Einstein said:
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
If the difficulty you are facing is a substance use disorder, Wooded Glen Recovery Center offers the opportunity for you to reclaim your life. Our detox and rehab programs will help you put drug or alcohol use behind you and give you the tools you need to build a firm foundation for your recovery.
We will also help you address any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to—or have been caused by—your substance use disorder. As we have noted here, your mental health and your recovery are thoroughly intertwined. In group and individual therapy sessions, we can help you come to grips with depression, anxiety, trauma-based disorders, and more.
Let us clear away the clutter: Wooded Glen Recovery Center can help.