We all have lots of reasons to hang on to stuff, least of all the need to use those things. Of course, clothing, kitchen and life necessities (let’s be bold and include cutlery, crockery, bathroom stuff and all kinds of handyman utensils) are the kind of things we need to survive and thrive. But then, what about having two of each, or three, or more? Where does ‘plenty’ end and ‘surplus’ start? When is ‘too much’ turning into ‘clutter’?
Here’s a little experiment for you: look around your living room and identify the things that you REALLY need to survive (and I mean both physical survival and sentimental survival)? You’ll probably have a hard time deciding which items belong into either of these two groups group and which ones don’t, but stay with it, persevere and find the ones that you need.
Let’s put the ‘absolutely necessary’ items out of mind, for now. First off, you’ll probably be surprised how many items fall under the category of ‘not ultimately necessary to survive’, and how many you have identified as ‘not quite necessary for my physical and emotional wellbeing, but oddly sentimental’ straight away. The percentage of items you assign to these groups will be your personal default, of course, but I’m sure there are a lot of items in that vague ‘not quite necessary…’ category. Those are the ones you need to look out for as they often hold hidden attachments and all kinds of emotional turmoil could jump at you out of nowhere!
Those are the moments when decluttering may turn VERY emotional and those moments are best dealt with in the company of someone else: that could be a good friend, or a professional declutterer. The former will know you better, but they could have a hard time dealing with emotional situations, or they might be too involved to be able to take themselves out of the equation. The latter, a professional, will have a better understanding of the possible underlying issues, but they will not know you as well, at least to start with. I would opt for the professional, because emotional situations are best served with a bit more distance and detachment, but that’s my opinion entirely.
What to do when emotions overwhelm you?
First step: breathe! Stop what you were doing when it hit you, hold on to the physical item that triggered you or keep the memory in mind and try to experience the emotions properly. This is where an assistant can be helpful: their job is to keep an eye out for these moments and hold the space for you to work through it. Oftentimes there is no need for them to actually act in any way, but being there and supporting can be enormously helpful. A hug, a cup of tea, a moment of silence, all of these could be the correct response at that point.
A helper’s job is to facilitate, not to interfere, and that is sometimes hard to do if the helper is a good friend or a family member: they have too much baggage with you to be completely free of involvement.
Second step: once you have settled down, take a good look at the item or thought and try to find out if they are good or bad ones, if they are worth keeping at all (what’s the point of hanging on to a bad memory?). You are now in the eye of the emotional storm: this is the time to take decisions, right in the middle of the turmoil! Why? Because this is when you experience that emotion to its fullest and can see very clearly what it means to you. You can determine if that emotion served a purpose back when it started, if it still serves a purpose right now, and if it is likely to do so in the future.
Once you have found that quiet place in the eye of the storm, it will become very clear if that turmoil still is worth the bother or not. Be honest with yourself, and you’ll most likely answer with a clear NO to ‘now’ and ‘in the future’. And that is a glowing indorsement of letting go of that particular thought or item!
It is important that you act on your realisation right now and get that item out of your home, or banish that thought forever. Getting rid of things is relatively easy (although you might wonder for a while if you did the right thing), but letting go of a thought is more difficult. Again, your assistant can be of help and guide you: let them know your thought process and tell them why you are letting go. They must not interfere, just listen (something you want to make clear before you start) and hold the space for you to do the right thing for you!
The lesson here is to choose wisely when it comes to a decluttering assistant: there must be intrinsic trust and full confidentiality, they must understand their role as not being a part of the decision process at all (even if it may concern an item that relates to them!), and it is not their place to judge and give directions at all when it comes to decisions.
Supporting someone on an emotional level is difficult: we must strike a balance between keeping the process going and slowing it down when necessary. It requires a good sense of timing, understanding, emotional intelligence and experiences. And that is what makes a good declutterer, in my eyes.
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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.