Conscious Clutter vs. Subconscious Clutter: What's the Difference and Which One is Affecting You?

A common clutter question I hear is whether it’s better to have clutter sitting out or stored behind closed doors. Both affect us in different ways. Just like we have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind, we have conscious clutter (visual) and subconscious clutter (hidden).

(I’m using the word subconscious rather than unconscious because our subconscious is always aware of what we’re up to and therefore we’re really not unconscious to anything, unless you hit your head passed out).

You can run but you can’t hide from your clutter because your subconscious mind is always aware of what you put where. You can run from the storage unit, from the basement, from the shed, from the attic, but your subconscious mind (which runs about 98% of our thoughts, behaviors, and actions) is omniscient of your past and attuned to your surroundings.

This is why you can try to remember something and a few hours later out of nowhere it hits you. The subconscious memory rose to the surface of your consciousness. This is what happens when we move and start packing up things that have been stored away for years and why this process can be so difficult. Inherent in moving is movement - this is what happens when the subconscious mind meets the conscious mind.

Visual clutter is like our conscious mind. We are consciously aware of it because it’s sitting front and center of your desk, kitchen counter, or dresser. Numerous scientific studies have proven that clutter sitting out causes a cluttered mind.

Unfortunately, there are no studies that I’m aware of on the effects of hidden clutter. If there were, it would most likely show that hidden clutter (which is usually stuff from our past that we don’t want to deal with), clouds our direction, our dreams, our motivation, our purpose, and our heart. It sits in your cupboards, closets, and subconscious like a wet blanket from the past.

That, of course, doesn’t mean everything stored is clutter. Storage serves a functional purpose so our crap isn’t just sitting out in the living room floor. In my book, Clutter Intervention, I help you disseminate what is clutter (anything keeping you tethered to the past preventing you from moving forward) versus not clutter (items from the past that serve as a stepping stone to help move you forward).

I find that most people gravitate more to either conscious or subconscious clutter and often in couples, opposite attract. The visual clutter person usually comes out looking like the bad guy, whereas the subconscious clutter bug is just better at hiding stuff.

Except in cases of great loss, we all have a little of both to some extent as we try to navigate this clunky 3D world. The good news is if you’re at least conscious of your subconscious clutter, you no longer have subconscious clutter.