One thing about us humans that surprises me time and time again is the effect that habits and complacency have on our ability to make changes. If you live your life like I have for most of my life, you will often take things to be unchangeable. Enduring a daily commute to work even though you really, really hate it and resent the thought of going through it again tomorrow. Having to relocate a hundred toys every single day because your kids won’t do it after they finished playing. Looking for your keys, papers, work utensils every time you step out to get your day started. Falling out with the neighbours over their constant barbeques with lots of smoke, smells and noise.
Those are only a couple of examples that show opportunities to give up and let things slide simply because you are tired of trying to make it work or you have given up altogether. The issue here is: even though you may have given up or stopped caring, these things still nag you and gnaw at your nerves without you being aware of it.
Does it happen to you that you feel down and things are getting to you much more easily than they really should? Maybe that’s because there are lots of hidden annoyances that you have buried or filed away as “that’s just the way it is”. You lack the motivation to do anything about it anymore, and that lack of motivation is dragging you down further.
It all comes down to the stance you take: a positive one that starts with an assumption that change is possible, or a negative one that gradually accepts bad things and makes a habit out of that stance. Looking at the examples above, here are some thoughts: that daily commute could become less annoying if you manage to change your work hours so that you travel out of peak hours, or if you get permission to work from home on certain days. The toy cleaning story is a very common one and I know kids will be kids, but there are ways to make it very clear that leaving things lying around is unacceptable (while cleaning up after the kids occasionally) or by limiting the number of toys available at any given moment. Finding your stuff easily is down to thinking about where it needs to go in the first place and making sure it is placed there every time it is not used (read all about “finding homes” in another blog). As for the neighbours and how they affect your home situation… the radical solution would be to move – but that is seldom an option, really. And maybe you only react this way because you are already antsy from all the other stuff that is going on, and you actually don’t mind the activity all that much, maybe even hope to join in at some point. Who knows?
I’m certainly not saying that you can avoid any and all annoyances, but I firmly believe that the way we perceive those is something we can change. That change, however, never comes easy. In some cases, annoyances can be solved with practical solutions, like the commute or by finding homes for your stuff. In other cases, it’s a question of being firm, voicing your annoyance and trying to find workable solutions, like with the kids’ toys. In other cases, acceptance is the only way forward and if that won’t work, you’ll have to change your circumstances radically.
What does all this have to do with habits and decluttering, you might ask? Well: having clutter around is kind of a habit in itself. Most of us have this internal mechanism that makes us get used to situations and the way things look, creating blind spots and making us not realise how things gradually turn out for the worse – in this particular case, more cluttered. Clutter can easily have a negative effect on the psyche: there is that nagging feeling of unhappiness or disappointment or being closed in. And although we feel that way, we don’t necessarily realise where the feeling is coming from, that maybe something needs to be done about piles of books, about things blocking the way, about that overflowing cabinet or wardrobe, etc. That is because we have gotten used to the way things are and have stopped questioning the situation to a point where we only feel the effects but cannot see the cause any longer.
The options you have at that point are the same ones indicated above: making sure things run more smoothly, being firm about certain things, or applying radical change. Whatever you do, try to make sure you do it in a positive way, spin it to your advantage: positive thinking attracts more positive thinking. Positive feelings reinforce positive feelings. The starting quote teaches us an important lesson: life is too precious to be unhappy for long periods of time. Make sure to stay on the happy side of things, and getting rid of clutter is a good start in any case.
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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.