The most interesting thing about this whole situation was, however, the owner of the flat: she was almost proudly presenting the clean state of the floors, but had clearly blanked out the chaos that surrounded her on every surface available. The only exception was the lounge table: it did have lots of stuff on it as well, but there was a well-defended empty space just about large enough to put down a plate and a cup, or alternatively two cups and a small plate of biscuits.
I sometimes see this kind of thing. It’s all because of selective perception of your surroundings, and the long period of time the clutter has accumulated almost imperceptibly and then spread even more. This lady clearly was unconsciously aware of the mess and clutter, and her mind has created this clean area to retain some notion of organisation and hold on to it for dear life. However, at the same time she apparently had pushed the disorganised bits further away from her consciousness into a space where it didn’t register at all any more. At least not to a point where it made her uncomfortable.
It was like two different homes: one spotless and near antiseptically clean, the other one overrun with stuff and dangers at every corner. The good news here was that she had taken the initiative to call me in herself, so obviously she had realised that something was wrong. During our initial talk it became very clear to me very quickly that she was aware to some degree, but she wasn’t able to see the complete picture of the piles of things. It’s a tricky one: she WANTS to see change, but simply has no idea how to proceed and when I pointed out how we could approach the situation, it took 15 minutes for her to admit to herself the sheer volume of things we would need to look at.
Again, luckily she is ready to go down that road, and even more luckily she is an intelligent lady who already has started to see things in a slightly different light. She could even acknowledge the need to make quick headway, so we did start off with a couple of easy issues that did not require a lot of reshuffling – and reshuffling we will need to do in a big way as most things are out of their original spot, taking room away from something that lives elsewhere in the house. Classic chain reaction situation.
She being a book person, we ended up taking stock of her collection of books and other reading materials. To my joy she mentioned herself that she wants to get rid of many books, but simply cannot find space or time or motivation to get on with it. I can help her out on that front: I believe that we need to create a space to sort through everything first, where books can be put down temporarily without blocking access to something else. Keep in mind: the floor was off limits. The only place without clutter had to remain clutter-free, if only to keep her mind happy during the decluttering activities!
And again, we got lucky: there were several piles of magazines that she was no longer attached to and that we spent a quarter of an hour carrying to the paper container around the corner. That little thing created enough space to use as a triage area for the books we started to accumulate from all kinds of places. Many of these were page-turners you read once and then forget about and we decided to focus on those, as they would go to a charity shop right after our first session. And that we did.
At some point, simply removing things will - of course - no longer be an option and we'll have to deal with more emotional aspects of the journey, and potentially find better storage options for the remaining things. I will keep working with her for a while, until such time that she can get on her own feet again and no longer needs regular support.
Her case is exceptional in one sense: she is clearly ready to let go, and it appears that the only thing that kept her from getting started was that she was completely overwhelmed and could not see her way through it all. And that kept her from even getting started! I believe that is the case for a lot of people: they realise there is a problem, but they cannot find a way to even start to fix it. The issue is usually that the sheer idea of having to do “all that” is beyond comprehension, and it becomes impossible to start with, and even see the little steps necessary to get things on the road again.
It all boils down to one thing that I see on internet memes all the time: “if you wait for the perfect moment, nothing will ever get done because you’ll never start”. I believe the same is true for decluttering: every little bit helps to start the process, and as you go along, the going gets easier because you don’t create what appears to be more chaos through your decluttering activities. Once there is some free space you’ll have room to manoeuvre and things get less stressful. Trust me.
Maybe this is the definition of what a professional declutterer does: we listen, we guide, and we help with the practical stuff, making use of what comes naturally to the customer, and gently leading them across the areas they are having trouble with. And hopefully bring it all to a clutter-free conclusion.
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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.