Present in the Clutter

I was fast when I was little. I loved to run. I didn’t run far, I ran fast. Short bursts of energy and speed, wind on my face, feeling like magic carried me from Point A to Point B.

I have a memory from when I was about four-years-old. I had just woke up from my nap and looked out the window to see my best friend across the street playing. Ground had been broken for a new house to be built on our street, and it was going to have a basement. There were huge piles of black dirt dug out of the hillside, and my friend was climbing, sliding and having fun when I had been wasting away the afternoon sleeping.

I ran into the kitchen where my mom was standing with our mustard yellow wall phone wedged between her ear and shoulder. She was stirring something in a pot, and I knew better than to interrupt her while she was on the telephone, but this was urgent. There was fun happening outside without me, and I needed to get to it fast.

“Mama! Can I please go outside and play?”

She shook her head and pointed down towards the floor.

“Yes! I’ll put shoes on first! Then can I go outside?”

She pointed toward the floor again.

“Silly woman,” I remember thinking, “of course I’m going to put shoes on. I’m going to need my boots to climb those dirt hills!”

I ran to my bedroom, put on my boots, and bolted out the front door. I ran like the wind across the gravel road that stretched up the hill of my neighborhood, and practically flew up the biggest dirt hill. My friend had brought his big yellow dump truck and other various construction vehicles, all of which we filled with dirt and rolled down the hill, sliding behind them on our behinds. I dug my boots into the dirt for traction and climbed back to the top so I could slide back down over and over.


My mom’s voice bellowed from our front door, and I froze. I suddenly realized that when she pointed down at me while trying hard not to be interrupted on her phone call, she was not reminding me to put on my sturdy boots so I could climb faster. Her pointing was to tell me to put on pants.

I have always been a hot sleeper, so when my mom laid me down for my afternoon nap, she often stripped me to my undershirt and panties. Going out to play in an undershirt was fine. Going out to play in panties was not.

As I stood frozen at the top of the pile of dirt, in my white cami with tiny blue flowers and matching panties, and my brown cowboy boots, I realized I had left too quickly, too fast. My little four-year-old self was keenly aware of my blunder. Had I waited a minute or two more, my mom would have helped me find pants and sent me out to play. I had simply been too eager, too restless, too fast.

So much of my life has been that way. Race ahead for the fun. Race ahead for the prize. Race ahead for the win. Don’t hold back. When the gun fires, just blast from the starting blocks like a rocket. Don’t wait for explanations, instructions, or warnings. Speak without thinking. Get the last word in before someone else can zing.

Some of this can be laid at the feet of my ADHD diagnosis; one that didn’t come until I was in my late thirties. ADHD was barely a thing when I was a child, and it was not really a girl thing. It was for the boys who could never sit still, talk loudly, and fight on the playground out of impulsive bursts. No one talked about cluttered desks and closets, constantly forgetting to put your name on your paper, or daydreaming for hours on end. No one thought about running across the street in your panties as an executive function deficit.

The mind is a fascinating place, and science has only touched on the outskirts of it’s possibilities. God’s intricate design of the brain never ceases to amaze me.

My mind is a very cluttered place. It’s filled with thoughts of what I’m doing, what I think I should be doing, and what would be more fun than what I’m doing. It’s filled with schedules – my own, my kids, my husbands, my work, and when Grey’s Anatomy is returning from its winter break.

This is where the problem starts. A cluttered mind leads to a cluttered space. I have a strong desire to purge, downsize, clean up. And yet, I actively create clutter. I defer putting things away until I have piles surrounding me. And yet, because I have no desire to become a hoarder, when the clutter and piles overwhelm me, I purge like that little girl running up the dirt hill in her boots. I do it with full gusto and speed, often getting rid of things that should have been saved.

When clutter becomes overwhelming, I tend to avoid it. If I can shove it in a drawer or closet and walk away, I will do so every chance I get.

When I find myself overwhelmed by clutter, it’s usually because I’m overwhelmed by other things in my life. Decisions to be made, conversations to be had, situations to confront. When I avoid cleaning my messes, I’m almost always avoiding something much harder.

And for me, avoidance leads to numbing. Numbing, for me, can be eating, drinking, shopping, watching television, scrolling social media, and sleeping. Those are my big ones. I usually start numbing when I don’t want to be alone with the thoughts chaotically rolling around my head. And when those thoughts get extra chaotic, it pays to be fast.

I’m learning to deal with my executive dysfunction. I’m learning to feel my feelings and think my thoughts, and not run from them. There is nothing wrong with watching television, but when I watch in order to feel someone else’s feelings or think someone else’s thoughts, it’s a problem. It’s the same for all numbing devices.

Being present is not easy for me. It doesn’t come naturally with the way my brain functions. But that’s okay. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or the way I think; it just means I have to work at being present. I have to take extra steps to be self-aware, instead of racing from one hill to the next.

I find that being near water helps me. I also look for ways to engage my mind and body in separate ways, but at the same time; such as balancing exercises. Sometimes doodling helps. Deep breathing always helps.

One of my prayers for this Lenten season is for God to help me slow down and be present in my thoughts and feelings. I’m praying for him to guide me in giving myself grace when grace is due, and refinement when needed. I’m using a journal, Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect Guided Journal – Journey to a Simpler, More Soulful Life.

What is God teaching you lately about being present?

One Reply to “Present in the Clutter”

  1. Love this Tamara. I pray you develop some good habits around being present
    Personally, I’m setting boundaries around my time with God and taking the time to purify my mind, heart and soul.
    A friend shared she will be spending 40 days telling her husband and kids how much she appreciates them three times a day.
    That’s what I’m doing during lent. Will try to go beyond 40 days to let my lil family know how much I love them

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