“Clean up your stuff so it stops screaming at me.”
Being overstimulated by clutter can drive me to say silly things (I’m certain my kids think I’ve lost it).
I think the phrase “a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind” holds way too much power over us. Have you ever felt like this? Like you can’t sit down in a room until it is tidy—not to pay bills or enjoy a hobby or even read your Bible? Then one thing leads to another and you spiral into full cleaning mode, unable to stay present at all?
The other day, I heard1 about the “silent to-do list”. According to Fumio Sasaki, every item in our environment is sending you a message. That message can be life-giving (like the flowers on my table), or guilt-giving (like the dishes in my sink). When I learned about the silent to-do list, it resonated like a loud “aha!” in my head. At last, a concept to explain my clutter-anxiety!
That day, I became hyper aware of the silent to-do list. I started addressing each item in one of 3 ways:
- Cross the item off (e.g.: tidy up toys)
- Put the item out of sight (store the toys where they aren’t visually “screaming” at me anymore).
- Eliminate the demand from the “list” altogether (donate or throw away the toy).
The last one is the long-term solution for an overwhelming “silent to-do list”. The item cannot demand your attention if the item doesn’t exist in your environment. This applies to plants that need watered, tchotchkes that need dusting, laundry that needs folded and put away, etc.
So, who’s actually calling the shots here?
At first, I my awareness felt like control. Instead of feeling victimized, I was managing the stimuli. However, I quickly learned I was not in control.
The silent to-do list seemed to grow louder and louder the more I paid attention to it. Soon, I resented others in our home for not “hearing” it! My kids had the audacity to ask to read book together in a room full of toys scattered across the floor. How could we enjoy a peaceful moment together when all the stuff was screaming so loud!?
Then I prayed about it (if only this had been my first response—why do we think the Lord has big plans for our destiny and little purpose our day-to-day?). A few moments in God’s Word gave me a clear 4th option for managing the silent to-do list:
“we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 CSB
I know Paul did not write this to mamas struggling with over-stimulation or clutter in the home. However, the principle of the verse applies:
- NOTHING should have power over us except the Holy Spirit.
- NOTHING should compel us into compulsory obedience except Jesus.
- His WORD should be the only quiet voice we need to pay attention to. (See 1 Kings 19:12)
Now, I am truly in control. When I prioritize His still small voice above the “silent to-do list”, I am set free! Now tidying and decluttering are a form of worship and obedience to Christ to steward my space well, not a response to the demands of the “silent to-do list”.
Staying present in a messy space is not always ideal, but entropy2 is a reality. Even though your environment will always move toward chaos, because of Christ’s power you can still function in a room with clutter. Sure, quiet time with Jesus might feel more satisfying at an empty table, but it is possible at a sticky one stacked with homework and muffin crumbs and more than a few treasured rocks brought indoors after a child’s adventure. With practice, you can say yes to staying present in the middle of the “noise”.
It is time to take every thought captive and make the “silent to do-list” do the obeying, not the other way around.
- I first heard of the silent to-do list from The Minimal Mom on Youtube
- Entropy: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. According to Oxford languages