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by Karen Kingston & Richard Kingston

by Karen Kingston & Richard Kingston

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The surprising benefits of reducing word clutter

It’s a curious fact that people who have a lot of clutter tend to use more words to express themselves. So can reducing word clutter help you to live clutter-free?

I once worked with a space clearing trainee who was struggling to achieve the standard required for professional certification. She would send me case study reports that were more than twice as long as those of other trainees and twice as convoluted too.

So I did something unusual. I asked her to rewrite her most recent case study report using half the number of words. For a few days there was no response. Just a stunned silence. Then her revised case study arrived and I was amazed at the difference. Not only had she halved her word count. She had also greatly increased her level of clarity.

In this trainee’s case, it turned out she had huge amounts of clutter at home (this was in the days before professional space clearing trainees took my clutter clearing practitioner training first). She never did get certified as a space clearing practitioner, but she told me that learning how to cut the unnecessary babble from her written words greatly helped her to at least declutter her house. It allowed her to see more clearly what was essential to her life and what it was time to let go of.

The value of decluttering your words

I was fortunate to have a high school English teacher who was a kindly soul and a stickler for good grammar.

I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time but now realize that she taught me one of the most useful skills of my life, which was the art of précis. She would give the class a 600-word passage and ask us to rewrite it in 200 words or less, retaining the essence and discarding any non-essential text. And when she was in the mood, she would push it even further and ask us to reduce it again to a succinct 100 words.

At the tender age of 11, I considered this to be a form of mental cruelty and railed against the injustice of such a difficult task. But she was relentless and eventually I mastered it. It’s now a core principle that runs through the way I write, the way I talk, and the way I live. It’s an essential skill for living a clutter-free life.

The connection between word clutter and other types of clutter

I have often noticed a correlation between how much clutter someone has and how much they talk. People who live clutter-free usually speak concisely and get quickly to the point. People who have a lot of clutter are likely to use more words and also tend to get distracted and stray off the point.

In my book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, I explain that clearing your physical clutter is one of the quickest ways to get your life moving when you feel stuck. And conversely, if you get your life moving in some other way, you will naturally feel inclined to declutter your physical space. The two go hand in hand.

The same thing happens at the mental level too. It is much easier to think clearly in a clear space and conversely, creating clear space around you promotes clearer thinking.

So if you declutter your home, you will naturally start to need fewer words to express yourself. And if you declutter your words, you will find it easier to let go of other types of clutter in your life too, such as too much stuff in your home, meaningless ways you keep yourself busy, people in your life who waste your time, and so on. There’s a natural connection.

Word clutter and verbal incontinence

Like other forms of clutter, word clutter is not the real problem. It is only a symptom of an underlying issue.

We are all born incontinent and gradually learn how to control the sphincter muscles of our bladder and anus so we can control when we pee and poo. But what many people don’t know is that we also have two major energetic sphincters that we need to learn how to operate. One is located just above the head and the other is just below the torso. They can function independently but are designed to work together.

Talking too much is often a sign of weak sphincter control above the head, which is why some people sound like a gushing tap that can’t be turned off. I’ve often speculated that excessive leakage of this kind may, in fact, be the true cause of some forms of ADHD. It’s certainly interesting to note that ADHD children are often described as having verbal diarrhoea and are prone to physical bladder or bowel incontinence too.

How to reduce word clutter

The most effective remedy I know for verbal incontinence is meditation — the kind that teaches you to cease all mental chatter by stilling the mind. It’s not an easy skill to acquire, but it will tone the energetic sphincter above your head in a way that no other practice can.

Even basic mindfulness techniques cany help too. Mindfulness is about observing and focusing the mind rather than emptying it, so it is much easier to do than traditional meditation. Initiatives to teach this to inattentive children have proven to be more successful than giving them detention. Schools in the US, UK, and Australia have reported an increase in good behaviour and improved test scores by previously unruly pupils as well as a decrease in suspensions.

And if meditation or mindfulness are not your thing, here are three simple methods that can also help to reduce word clutter:

  • Think before you speak or write
  • Stick to the point
  • Make each word count

There are many ways you can practice this. Here are three examples to get you started…

  • When you send an email, challenge yourself to keep it to three succinct sentences or less.
  • If you tell someone a story, don’t ramble off into irrelevant details. Ask your friends to let you know if you’ve strayed off the point.
  • When you share a problem you are having, explain clearly what help you need without telling your whole life story first.

Thomas Jefferson summed it up beautifully when he said, ‘The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do’.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2019, updated 2024

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9 comments on “The surprising benefits of reducing word clutter”

  1. Sebastian

    I encountered this “too many words” problem when I was editing the preface to my possibly forthcoming book to be that I have written as a manuscript. The preface was at the beginning 10 pages long. I read it through and thought “OMG, what have I been thinking”, as it was full of verbiage. I thought to myself: “What would Hemingway do?” … … … I wanted to use his iceberg technique, but I realized that it works best in fiction and not so well in non-fiction, which my manuscript is. At last, I decided that I would remove all the parts from the preface that I had spat out from the corner of my mouth and save the bits that I had laboured on, for instance, those with footnotes, sources or a list of quotes. The end result was 4 pages of preface, which was already much more readable, though it still had some overflow in it. I kept that amount, as I figured I could handle such a preface myself as a reader by any author of non-fiction, including Karen. I don’t want to go minimalist for the sake of being “cool”, either.

    I would recommend the old principle, “kill your darlings” (meaning, sentences that were fun to write but not to read) if you are an author or an author wannabe. These days, publishing houses seem to have sacked too many of their proofreaders and copy editors, which has resulted in unreadable books.

  2. As a non native speaker in English I often describe something with too many words because I lack the right vocabulary. When talking to other non native speakers we always use simple (and therefore more) words for better understanding. When preparing for an english certificate years ago I had a given number of words for written tasks and suddenly we managed to be precise and make the point. I have to confess that I quickly lost that skill afterwards. But after having read Karen’s article I’ll work on that again!

    In my mother tongue I started to make mind maps where I have to focus on key words in order to get every important information onto one page. That is very helpful to reduce word clutter of the speaker when taking notes.

  3. Thankfully I found this article while stuck on a commuter train this morning and pondering how the situation was a metaphor for several aspects of my personal and professional work. This message couldn’t be more true for me in terms of the connection to clutter in multiple spaces. I’m hoping this new realization will help me address clutter in a different manner and improve my communication skills as a bonus. Thank you so much!

  4. Gabriel

    Your article is fascinating, and certainly makes me think — as someone who used to write in paragraph-long sentences, and as a hoarder for far too many years. Sadly my high school had a very poor English teacher: who seemed to think the art of precis (she called paraphrasing) was something learnt by osmosis. I don’t recall her ever explaining what “paraphrasing” meant, or giving any examples to learn from.

    I knew we were supposed to make things shorter, but without a clue how to do it. And I thought of her English language lessons as the most boring possible: until learning French and Latin grammar suddenly made English grammar really interesting.

    But it was not until I had to write a long dissertation at the end of a five-year degree that I learnt the art of precis: taught by my father! Who had been taught by my mother — as a critical reader of his technical books on classification, hard enough to understand anyway.

    And it was a revelation: having to split my long complicated sentences into several much shorter ones made everything so much clearer. Including what was more, and less, important to say at all.

    And years after that, I learnt yet more by working for an award-winning medical journalist, commissioned to compile a quick reference guide for GPs to self-help groups for patients. This meant my extracting salient info from often verbose or woolly self-descriptions by such groups, before phoning them to check the info was up to date and fill in any gaps.

    So I was really pleased when Jill announced that she didn’t want to check what I’d done any more, because I’d become better at precis than she was! For me, an accomplishment indeed. And I’ve continued to learn from the use of language in advertising and (as environmental activist since the 1980s) campaign materials: when LESS is so often MORE.

    But it’s made me hyper-critical of the excess words that too often blur attempts at effective communication. Estate agent-ese is usually the worst offender, in just about every respect one can think of in terms of bad writing.

  5. Peter

    Thank you Karen, for some reason I happen to come across this article just at the time when I was realizing that I tend to get side tracked with too many details all too often, especially when speaking. I hope that stepping up my decluttering efforts will also help me become more precise and to the point in conversations.

  6. Jaymie

    I love the details, yet also have been challenged with getting to point/getting lost in the details — reading this is like a balm of understanding & compassion for myself + further motivates me to keep on clearing, thx!

    ps: ironically, a journalism grad here, schooled in copy *editing*

  7. This is all so very true. I am usually concise & to the point, but recently when I was involved in sorting three chaotic deceased estates in the midst of utterly chaotic situations, I was unable to write a short pointed email. My emails during this time were as chaotic & lengthy as the three complicated deceased estates.

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Karen Kingston

KAREN KINGSTON
Leading expert in Space Clearing, Clutter Clearing, and Conscious Living

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