Existential Clutter

The only way to silence the noise is to let go

Words by Joshua Fields Millburn

I remember feeling a sense of dread whenever I returned home: two people sharing four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms, and one oversized basement—all brimming with stuff. The decorations, the trinkets, the collections—the accoutrements of a supposedly successful life cluttered every corner of my home.

But it certainly didn’t feel “successful.” It felt chaotic and overwhelming, and I felt anxious as a result.

I didn’t realize it at the time, all those years ago, but my material possessions were just a physical manifestation of my internal life. My external clutter was internal clutter on display. Angst, distress, restlessness—all visible right there in my home.

You see, physical clutter is tantamount to visual noise, and sustained noise is crazy-making—it leads to tension, stress, and despair. Mixed together, my external and internal clutter led ultimately to existential clutter—a crisis of self.

And the only way to silence the noise was to let go.

In time, I figured out that my full house left little space for solace. But a more empty space is filled with silence.

Perhaps, then, a full house isn’t “full”—it’s noisy. And an empty space isn’t “empty”—it’s full of opportunity. And when we make room for the silence, we’re able to clean up the emotional, mental, and spiritual clutter that drives us mad.

Joshua Fields Millburn

Joshua Fields Millburn is a bestselling author, writing instructor, and international speaker. Best known as one half of The Minimalists, he is the author of four books, including a critically acclaimed memoir, Everything That Remains. He has been featured in Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Vancouver Sun, Village Voice, LA Weekly, and many other outlets. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1981, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California.


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