First impressions count
First of all, I make it a point to only work with people who have actively approached me to help them. I’ve had middle-aged adults ask me to help their parents ‘get rid of their junk’ (and it was understood that the rest of the sentence would have gone along the lines of ‘…before they pass away, so I don’t have to deal with it’). Of course, when I had a quick chat with the parents – and I did have a chat with them, you never know – there was a bit of consternation in the air. It is imperative that a customer WANTS to declutter in the first place, or at least is open to the suggestion that it might be a good idea. Just sending me in to do the dirty work for someone else is never a good idea.
If we come to an agreement that I should assist and bring my expertise to the table, I try to get a feel of the space we will be dealing with. And believe me: I know how this sounds! I’m the first person to agree that this is a tad ‘woo-woo’, there is no other way to describe how it works. Quite apart from the initial reason for my customers to call on me, I am in a unique position that will benefit the customer in the long term: I am a complete outsider to any situation I encounter on-site, and that is what I’m exploiting through this process.
By the way: I believe that everyone can do this. Imagine yourself walking into a new space for the first time, without any preconception of what to expect, let’s say a classroom for your child, or a friend’s home you have never visited before. If your mind is not otherwise occupied, you’ll undoubtedly pick up on certain things that stand out, seem out of place or are simply in the way. I call this the “outsider’s view” and I believe that pretty much everybody has that feeling occasionally, although we don’t normally act on it.
Unfortunately, if you occupy a space, this feeling never comes to you because you are used to how things are, they have turned into a habit, and that habit is being reinforced each day by seeing everything in that particular light. This is where my work starts: if I pick up on something of this kind because I see it for the first time – and believe me: that feeling is very short-lived – it has to be documented pretty quickly. And here the interaction with the customer really starts: there will be an exchange of ideas the customer has about their space, and some level of input of my first impressions.
Decluttering is not “just taking things out of the space”
While this is the ultimate goal of decluttering, it is important to understand the underlying reasons why something was there in the first place. Just removing things (‘let’s dump half the kitchenware’) without addressing the reasons why something was there in the first place will only leave a mental and emotional gap. And that gap will undoubtedly be filled up with other – potentially new – stuff in no time at all to fill the empty space.
If, however, we manage to find the emotional reason behind the accumulation of ‘too much’, we can start dealing with it. Those reasons could be very diverse: from things that evoke memories (good ones AND bad ones), gifts from dear friends, items inherited from passed family or friends, collections, obsessive behaviour or bad memory (leading to double and triple items)… you take a pick and you’ll find at least one of those items in any household. On the bright side, once we identify a reason, that usually takes care of a whole set of items in a home, but never of all of them. Sometimes, the realisation will make certain items even more valuable, but often it clarifies perfect reasons to let go after all.
There are also gradations of emotional attachment: some things can be dealt with through simple realisation why it is still there and can go easily, others are more difficult and involve not just realising why items are there, but also find a way that is not emotionally damaging when it disappears. Besides that, having more than one person living in a home increases the complexity of the task, as everybody has to be taken into account for every single item. You do the math on that one!
From here on in, my task consists of figuring things out with the customer and – when the moment comes and things become clear – assist them with the physical removal of clutter, so to avoid that the habit comes back. Out of sight, out of mind! And that brings us full circle: “just taking things out of the space”, this is where the practical side of decluttering really starts.
Of course, this is a very summary explanation of how I approach decluttering with a particular client: each of them is different, the situations vary, the problems are diverse, some homes allow for a storage improvement and others don’t. The whole process involves a lot of going with the flow and reading minds, as it were. In some cases, the decluttering only involves minor changes to the space, and huge ones in the mind, or vice versa. Sometimes, better storage is the solution. Sometimes it’s simply a question of an unwieldy space that does not allow for as much stuff as that particular persons actually needs. And sometimes it does not work at all: e.g., when there is a compulsive/obsessive element to the person, I like to refer the customer to a therapist and revisit the issue if therapy had an effect. This is rare, though, as those cases don’t usually ask for my services in the first place.
It’s a complex process, that much is clear, and I hope you have gained a bit of an understanding of my approach to decluttering.
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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.