All Over the Map | March 2016

Spring Cleaning

By Liz Massey, March 2016 Issue.

While those who know me well would not describe me as a neat freak, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about clutter as spring (and spring cleaning) approaches.

I was raised by parents who were dedicated “filer-pilers” … meaning, if items were organized in a pile or placed in a file folder they were sufficiently attended to. This strategy works well until a person has piles everywhere in their home or has filled their file cabinet.

I have inherited my parents’ organizational tendencies (or closely followed their example), and typically choose to spend my free time doing things other than cleaning. But I realized recently that there is one type of decluttering at which I excel. My training as an editor has shaped me into a ruthless mental declutterer. There is no room for debris in a sentence. I spend most of my working days paring back ornate ideas, renovating articles by rearranging and downsizing copy and condensing concepts found in a book down into an essay, a blog post or a tweet. That’s a reduction from 100,000 words into 140 characters … not bad for a woman who doesn’t like to throw away her writing outlines.

As I’ve pondered the power of spring cleaning, one thing has become very clear to me: mental decluttering precedes any sort of outer cleansing. Some of the most significant “cleaning” activities can involve changing one’s mind, or doing less in general. In these cases, not one tangible item may make its way to the recycling bin or the trash barrel, yet one’s life is clearly changed for the better.

Our community is due for a mental housecleaning. We’re nearly a half-century past the Stonewall riots, and we’ve been living with the HIV/AIDS pandemic for 35 years. The legal and social underpinnings of the “general gay mindset” for those of us who came out in the 1980s or 1990s have changed dramatically. We have marriage equality, and gay and lesbian people can serve openly in the U.S. military. AIDS has been transformed (for those who receive proper treatment) from a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease.

The challenges we face as a community in 2016 are very different than those we faced as a group in 1986, or even 2006. Today’s challenges include: how best to serve and nurture our queer youth; how to advocate for full equality in a way that serves all the “letters” in our LGBTQ acronym; and how to flex our strengths as a community when (especially in the Valley of the sun) we are geographically dispersed.

Before I sat down to write this column, I reviewed some of my favorite bloggers and authors and what they had to say about decluttering. They had several tips that are quite useful when considering how to update our ideas about LGBTQ community life:

Restrict the flow of incoming clutter. 

It helps to evaluate the river of social media trivia, gossip, and sensationalistic media coverage that flows into our consciousness, and to become more picky about what we actually spend time digesting.

Have a disposal plan for your clutter.

If you decide to clear out your mindset about a particular idea, what is going to fill the gap? Meditation or journaling can give the “debris” a place to live outside of your head and your belief system.

Explore more, commit to less.

I love this idea from author Greg McKeown, who advises readers to “play the field” with ideas or activities in which they’re interested, but not to settle down with one until they’re sure it is a 100 percent “hell yeah!” kind of fit for them.

Accept and celebrate trade-offs.

At some point, we must stop theorizing and demanding ideological purity and start acting on our ideas. Forward movement is something positive to celebrate, even if sometimes we must accept a less-than-ideal compromise as part of the process.

In the end, learning how to spring clean inside our heads matters because it leads to more elegant ideas, better strategies and an increased ability to move our lives in the direction of our dreams.

As Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta writes, “[This is what] decluttering is: taking time to decide what’s important enough to remain in your life. It’s not about getting rid of everything, or emptying your life completely. It’s about figuring out what matters to you. And then getting rid of what doesn’t.”