Do You Suffer From Cluttered Mind Syndrome?

Toby Keith is singing his cover of I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying, I am at the computer and the dog is going nuts downstairs.

Can’t decide if he is defending the homestead against the very dangerous squirrel outside or if he is communicating with other pooches using the language of their people.

Don’t know if cluttered mind syndrome is a real problem or not because I didn’t ask Dr. Google to confirm or deny but I know that upon occasion it strikes me.

When it does I find myself fighting my own personal Hydra, a fictional construct created inside my own melon, a giant beast whose many heads are all trying to take a bite out of my ass.

Most of the time I am pretty good at keeping the beast at bay. Most of the time I pound those heads into submission so I can attack one challenge at a time, but every now and then it just doesn’t work as well as I would like it to.

The First Garage Sale

We had our first garage sale about this time four years ago. It was at the old house and we knew that since we were going to sell it we had to cut down on the amount of crap we had accumulated.

Part of me really enjoyed clearing away clutter. Part of me saw it as an easy way to clean up and march into the future and part of me hated it.

That is because my first choice wasn’t to sell that place. It wasn’t supposed to go down the way it did but sometimes you don’t have as much control of a matter as you wish.

And though things are 150,000 times better than they were in The Story Of A House- The Final Days there are moments where the memory of that time pricks my skin.

Yesterday was one of those days.


It took place in a multifamily garage sale and I was pleasantly surprised by how much we made.

But that didn’t prevent me from remembering angry children who didn’t want to sell our stuff. Didn’t prevent me from remembering how my daughter reacted when she saw kids playing on our couch.

“I put it on the curb because it is not worth keeping. It is broken.”

“Daddy, you tell him to get off. You tell him to go away and then put it back in my house.”

She was seven and didn’t understand that we were in the midst of a horrific recession. I was unemployed and I couldn’t find work.

I tried to get a job unloading trucks and was turned down. Grocery stores didn’t need another checker and none of the places I really wanted to work were hiring.

We were drowning and that house was the biggest albatross around my neck I had ever had to drag around.

I carried us all for a bunch of years and I found ways to make it all work until I couldn’t take the beating any more. And when I was done, I was finished with it.

Took a long time for me to be able to speak or write about it. Felt like a father’s worst failure and I remember one night where I went out of with the boys and drank like we were still 19.

I remember being ready to take on a group of idiots at one of the bars not caring how many there were because frustration had turned to rage and my fists against flesh would have felt good.

The guys took care of me, calmed me down and reminded me that I had responsibilities and when I said I didn’t know how to fix what was broken they said “you are a fucking phoenix, you’ll rise again.”

They were right.


Otis Redding is singing That’s How Strong My Love Is and I am staring at the ceiling remembering some of those moments.

Some of it leads me down darker paths and I debate whether to put on something darker and heavier.

Got to bang out some sets with the weights and some more pushups. Got to get myself back to 500 of those bad boys a night.

Got to get into better shape, so much harder than it used to be but doable and that is enough.

Sometimes I just rely upon force of will and follow my gut down rabbit hole to see where it leads. Listen to my heart and add a double dose of common sense and I know I’ll get there.

Where is there?

Good question, I define it as the place that provides more peace of mind.

I look back at the house and think about how the experiences forced me to reevaluate things, to grow and how it made me become a better writer.

I think about it how I was a good father, but the house made me a better one.

But there is part of me that asks if I am being honest with myself or if this is just me rationalizing things, a way to make the rough spots look smooth.

Damn Hydra must have reared its head.

Clutter Must Be Eliminated

“It is summer so you have time to go through your rooms and figure out what you don’t need and what you don’t wear. Clutter must be eliminated.”

The kids grumble but when I tell them they get to keep the profits from whatever they sell at the garage sale they get excited.

They’re on board and they are ready.

Four years later we have taken back almost all of the things that were put in storage when we moved. I am amazed by just how much we put away.

Four of those portable pods were filled with odds and ends.

Four were filled with things that we couldn’t just give away or didn’t want to sell.

When you shrink the footprint of where you live you figure out what you really need and what you don’t.

The phoenix has risen from the ashes but the climb out and back up to that place isn’t completed overnight.

The Checklist To Simplicity

The kids are thrilled with how much they made and I am pretty damn happy too.

We talk about a bunch of things they want and I tell them they can get something, but a portion of their profits has to be deposited in savings.

There are a million different things going on and too many details to keep track of now, but I am focused on the checklist to simplicity.

That Hydra never goes away, but he does get stuffed back into his cage. It is just how it works.

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  1. Nicole Johnson July 28, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    This is so fitting for how I feel at this exact moment (and so many other moments lately). I rid myself of so much years ago when I sold it all and moved to make a new start, but now I am cluttered (mind and home) once again. How the hell does that keep happening? I really enjoyed this. Thanks!! And let me know if you figure out how to make the Hydra go away…I have my own version. I guess we all do.

    • Jack Steiner July 28, 2015 at 10:55 pm

      I wonder about people who don’t battle their personal hydra. Still haven’t figured out if I think they are disturbed or lucky. 😉

      For me the trick is to compartmentalize and assign times to focus on certain items, hasn’t always worked as well as I would like, but most days it is ok.

  2. Mitch Mitchell July 28, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Cluttered mind? Oh yeah!

    It’s one of the reasons I started scheduling my day, which includes my break periods, when I should be eating something, and lately scheduling time that allows me to sit back and either read a book or watch a movie.

    When you work for yourself and it’s a slow period, you sometimes feel like you don’t have the right to take a break or rest any; probably why I don’t sleep so well (nah, that’s not true because when prosperity hits I still sleep bad). Meanwhile, while I’m working too many distracting things pop into my mind and threaten to take me off to other worlds rather than doing what I need to do because that’s hard and the other stuff is easy; I have my own Kennedy mantra pounding in my head daily.

    Sorry, I got distracted… what was I saying? lol

    • Jack Steiner July 28, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      Hi Mitch,

      Every time I have ever worked for myself and there have been a few I have had twice as hard a time relaxing because I always felt like resting would stop my momentum and I couldn’t have that.

      I understand the need for scheduling because I worked hard to follow mine, especially the times I had marked for downtime.

  3. Kristen July 25, 2015 at 4:41 am

    Clutter is so symbolic of our minds isn’t it? My entire house is cluttered and so is my life. I need to sort it out and have been pacing room by room terrified of where to start. It’s freeing isn’t it?

    • Jack Steiner July 25, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Every time I clean up and clear away the clutter that accumulates in my house I give myself a gift.

      It is not a physical gift, just a feeling of freedom and satisfaction.
      Freeing is exactly right.

    • Irene July 27, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      I feel the same way – cluttered mind, room and soul and they need to be freed. I have been trying to be more ruthless and less nostalgic, and get over the pack rat mentality that I got from my parents who grew up during war years. “Might need it one day….” mentality.

      Kristen – I understand how you feel. It’s almost a security blanket even though you know it’s not good for you. Those first steps… a little bit at a time. One box then two. You can dooooooo it!

      I am trying to do the “One in, One out” with mixed results. I always feel good when I do the recycling; perhaps I will just have to frame it that way – things are not being thrown away, but being recycled or donated to someone who will be able to use the item.

      Jack – I am longing for that freedom. Every once in a while, I feel a bit of it when i cram all the clutter behind a door. But I know there is a bigger reward when I get through it all, piece by piece, and ensure that it’s only the important and meaningful things that remain.

    • irene July 28, 2015 at 2:02 am

      Let’s get started together with this list. 🙂
      I can do a lot of them

  4. Tim Bonner July 22, 2015 at 1:04 am

    We seem to carry clutter with us from one house to another.

    When we lived in the West Midlands near Birmingham, we owned a 3-bedroom house but couldn’t afford the same when we came up to Edinburgh.

    So we downsized to a 2-bedroom apartment but we couldn’t fit all our stuff in it. When two kids came along it was time to move.

    We’ve fallen on our feet in that my wife’s employer now provides a 3-bedroom apartment but it’s not where we ideally like to be. I’d like a house with a garden where we can open the doors and let the kids play outside.

    Maybe then I’ll feel like rummaging through the clutter that we’ve had in boxes for the past 10 years and actually decide what to do with it!

    • Jack Steiner July 23, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Fallen on your feet? That is the first time I have heard that expression and I love it. What a great way of putting things and how very cool for that to have happened.

      • Tim Bonner July 23, 2015 at 2:38 pm

        I suspect it’s a British thing!

        It’s cool and means that we don’t have to worry too much about me being at home with the kids.

        No mortgage, no utility bills, no council tax. Lots of hard work and responsibility for my wife though…

  5. Larry July 20, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    I hate clutter! My wife and I are very good at ridding our house of clutter.
    My mind – that’s another story. Lately, I feel like the clutter is holding me back and making me indecisive.

  6. Tracy@CrazyAsNormal July 20, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Sometimes I have to re-read your posts more than once so my brain gets the points that my heart needs to hear. Does that make sense? Any who – thanks. 🙂

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