Apart from the more obvious reasons why people call in an organiser or declutterer – like being overrun by paperwork or needing help paring down a wardrobe – this problem with overwhelm is pretty much a staple for many of us in the business.
Indeed, chronic overwhelmed brought on by too much stuff is one of the main reasons why people get stuck and end up in a downward spiral of ever more stuff and ever decreasing chance of solving the issue on their own. It’s hard to focus on a particular issue when they mind is constantly drawn to something else that needs doing, too.
In those cases, part of my job is to make sure that the client is able to keep their focus for a longer time, and provide tools to make that happen. One of the most important things that happens – at least when I am involved – is something you may never have thought about: decluttering actually has two ribbons of activity that are closely intertwined: I like to call them “micro-management’ and “the big picture”.
Decluttering is a fairly intricate activity to start with and it helps to have a goal in mind before you get started: that is “the big picture”. This not only give you a sense of direction, but provides much of the motivation for anything related to the decluttering process. However, once you dig in and start looking at the clutter, it turns out that every single item needs to be considered on its own AND in relation to the big picture at the same time. This means that the big picture not only provides the general direction, but it affects every single decision taken.
On top of that, decluttering is a never-ending procession of items and decisions, following each other in quick succession, pretty much everybody’s nightmare! Those decisions is what I refer to as “micro-management”. You can probably see how those two elements are hard to keep track of at the same time, zooming in to make decisions and then zooming out to check if you are still on the right track in the general direction.
Part of my job is to take some of this focus away from my clients: I keep an eye on the big picture and keep their focus on one item at a time. An “item” could be a single object I present to them, a drawer or a complete room, depending on their ability to remain focused. Sometimes it’s necessary to take them into an area where they never get to see the progress during the process, sometimes it’s enough to hide things they should not focus on at that moment, but one thing has become clear over the years: everyone needs a slightly different approach to be successful in decluttering.
Another thing that is worth mentioning is the need to take regular breaks. Making decisions is more taxing to the brain than you would imagine, and most of my clients are grateful for the occasional cup of tea and a quick check-in about the progress. It’s helpful to look at any advance and get a sense of achievement, review the next steps and redefine the goals or process if necessary. Interestingly, it’s also a good moment to get a sense of timing and gauge the time necessary to finish the original job.
Ultimately, the time necessary depends pretty much only on two elements: the speed with which decisions can be taken, and the ability to shift discarded items out of the way – ideally out of the house completely.
Since the amount of items is one of the reasons for the initial overwhelm, that last issue is crucial to creating a feeling of achievement and gradually ripping free of the vicious circle of overwhelm and lack of focus. The simple expedient of having fewer items to deal with will automatically open new avenues to consider for storage, and deciding which items are no longer necessary to keep. That – in turn – will lead to the next round of decluttering.
In a way, that starts a see-saw movement where fewer items lead to less overwhelm, which leads to better focus, which leads to a greater ease at making decisions, which leads to fewer items, and so forth. If the process is taken seriously by both the client and the declutterer, the overwhelm will eventually be under control, and the client will reach a point of balance where there are enough items for comfort yet not too many to be managed without becoming overwhelmed again.
Mission accomplished? Yes, but don’t get me wrong: this process is a lengthy one. It took my clients years to accumulate all that stuff, why would they be able to discard it in no time at all? And herein lies the problem, it’s a long-drawn process and many clients are unable or unwilling to keep going. All I can do is reinforce the positive side of their efforts and make sure there are visible results at each session. But that is another subject altogether…
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.