It’s amazing to learn how much we all hang on to what we have accumulated over time, and it is true that time plays a role in how we perceive things, because habits are created over time. Research shows doing something regularly for about six weeks (or not doing it any more) will potentially change that habit. Just imagine how much years and years of habit can consolidate ways we perceive things, and how difficult it could be to recognise, let alone change that old habit.
Having things around and being accustomed to having them is no less of a habit than it is to eat certain foods for breakfast or pushing the snooze button on your alarm clock a dozen times every day. Habits are hard to tackle if there is no intrinsic desire to do so, but when it comes to decluttering we might already be a step ahead of the game: if you feel the need to make a change, you have already started questioning the status quo, even though you may not quite understand yet what exactly it is you question or need to change. It’s an important first step.
Time is not the only factor to consider, though. Some things hold huge importance from day one – think: presents, memorabilia, anything that sparks an emotional response at first sight. Those items are distinctly different from other items that come into our lives for more mundane, often practical, reasons. Emotions are a tricky subject in any situation, but they certainly make dealing with these items difficult, sometimes even painful to deal with. An item that you associate with an emotional situation will hold that load forever, and while you could argue that it makes you remember that situation better, two questions should be coming to mind:
Is this something you want to remember in the first place? If we are looking at a sad or bad memory, what is the point in being reminded of it over and over again? Very rarely these items serve a practical purpose: to remind you of a mistake that you should never make again, but then again, do you really need an item to remind you of that bad decision? I would assume that a really bad decision is branded into your mind anyway and does not actually need reinforcing forever.
Will you lose that memory if you remove the item? I would suggest that this is rarely the case: if you keep an item to remind you of every single one of your good times, your home will fill up very quickly with things that slowly fade out of sight and do not fulfil their jobs, really, do they? I’m not saying you should dump all of your memorabilia, but there are some memories worth reinforcing, and there are a lot of memories that will either stick around on their own, or are not really worth keeping an item for.
The trick is to question each item regularly: “Why are you here?” and “How do you enhance my life?” are some of the best questions to ask in order to figure out the real value of any object in your home. These – and others – will help you figure out the practical and/or emotional value of every single item.
The important thing after answering those questions is to act accordingly, without worrying too much about having made a snap decision. You’ll find that what you see as a snap decision is often based on a solid history with that particular object – or a lack of attachment, especially when compared with other attachments. These questions usually help take care of items that fall into the category of “habitual items”, things that are only there because they have been for a long time and their presence has never been scrutinised.
Truly emotional items are different: letting go of those is much harder, and sometimes not possible at all – yet. There might come a time when you can let go of those, but it’s down to always question the presence of any item. Items that hold you back from moving on, or that have encrusted themselves into your habits are the most important ones to tackle, but – as mentioned – also the most difficult ones. Nothing in life comes easy, but the effort of dealing with items – and subsequently also the emotions attached to them – is certainly worth considering making that effort.
A good time to consider the value, effect and necessity of any item is when you are going about your routine cleaning. How often don’t we pick up things to clean around them? This is the perfect time to give them a quick once-over and think about what this really means to you, isn’t it? Let’s call it the therapeutic-meditative-cleansing effect of housework!
Taking things away will clear not just the space, but also the mind, leaving more physical and virtual space for personal development. It’s all about understanding why we behave in a certain way, and why we keep certain things. And once you have taken the first steps in that direction, the next ones become easier. Again, we are back in the realm of habits: “not changing things” is yet another habit that needs coaxing out of its corner and becoming more accustomed to change. Once you have started, you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t do it earlier…
We give up on dreams and hopes if we have become bogged down by all our belongings, obligations and habits, and this gridlock is reinforced with every single thing we own and every item we add to the stockpile. Not only is there a practical issue with having too much (think: cleaning, moving around, health and safety considerations, personal life, etc.), but all those things weigh on your mind and hold you back from doing all kinds of things, be it inviting friends over (“I couldn’t because of the state of my lounge”), cleaning properly (“it’s just too much work shifting things around”), starting with a clear-out (“I wouldn’t even know where to start”).
Are those really dreams, or is this about the ‘regular’ stuff, really? Well, anything you can’t or won’t do because you hold yourself back from it could be considered a dream. Remember, those are all things you would like to achieve… and isn’t that what a dream really is? Admittedly, those seem like small steps, but they will make your life better, for sure. So why not give it a go?
Let’s recapitulate the practical aspects that could help you along:
These three tips are sure to help you get started. Of course, there are other elements to consider, but these three will address the question of habitual ownership, at the very least. Good luck with the next personal review of your stuff.
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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.