Fifty years ago, if someone used the word “clutter” in a conversation, it would not have had the same sort of emotional charge that it does today. But currently, it is met with eyes rolled up and a sense of hopelessness. Clutter now occupies the ranks as one of the top ten causes of human distress: “I would have a lovely home, if I could only manage my clutter.” “I’m ready to move on in my career, but I just can’t get through the clutter.” “I would love to elope, but I can’t find my passport in all this clutter.” “I think I have three children, but the little one hasn’t been seen for months because of all of this clutter!” Ah yes, clutter has become the number one excuse for many of our ailments, but what exactly is this insidious condition, and how can we release the powerful hold it seems to have over our lives?

In feng shui, clutter refers to any condition that blocks the flow of chi energy. Often, these blockages start fairly harmlessly. Why spend time washing the dishes, when the pile of dirty laundry is calling and the heap of unpaid bills glares at you from the desk? You want to clean everything up, you really do . . . but it feels so overwhelming, the most you can do is stagger to the sofa and use your last bit of energy to search through yesterday’s take-out containers for the remote control!

This can be a difficult truth to accept: one of the reasons that clutter is difficult to erase is because we actually like it. What? Did you read that correctly? Yes. Underneath all our grumblings about the mess and our complaints about not finding what we need, most of us have a subconscious attraction to clutter. Throwing things around gives us a sense of freedom. Especially after a demanding day at work, who wants to worry about putting things neatly away? I don’t! Then, when the accumulation becomes a problem, we set ourselves up with an impressive New Year’s resolution, which usually takes us as far as January 2. A stand up desk can improve your posture, instead of leaning over your desk all the time.

There’s another reason why we are so attached to clutter: it’s exhausting. That’s the reason we like it? Absolutely. The easiest way to avoid doing the things we fear is to find something that distracts us and soaks up all our energy. Clutter fits the avoidance bill, every time. With all this mess around, who has time to deal with the big problems, like being in a relationship or finding a challenging job?

Remember that old joke? A man went into the doctor’s office and complained, “Doc, I’ve had a splitting headache for three days straight, and I just can’t ignore it. Can you help me?” The doctor picked up a hammer and slammed it against the man’s foot. The patient screamed in pain and cried, “What did you do that for?” to which the doctor replied, “Did you forget about your headache?” Do you know anyone who wants an electric standing desk or an ajustable standing desk?

This principle also applies to people who seemingly do not have any clutter at all. They are the model of good housekeeping, spending every moment ensuring everything is spotless and in its right place. They are so consumed by their housekeeping, they have little time for anything else. Which is exactly how they planned it.