One person’s clutter is another person’s treasure. That being the case, the perception that something is important to us does not necessarily mean that it is also true! We may think that something is important to us, or we cannot live without it, but if put to the test, more often than not we actually find that we can easily do without it. The trick here is to realise that what we think of as indispensable today may end up covered in dust on a shelf or in a box next year. I think we can all agree that this is a possibility.
Looking at your stuff now takes another turn: some of the things you own right now may just have been ‘hot items’ last year, but in the meantime have turned into clutter that you are unlikely to hold dear, except for its memory value. It’s time to re-evaluate that perception: what is the REAL reason you keep this? Will you ever use it again?
Some things we own hold a special poisonous load: the idea that we are obliged to keep them. These items may have been presents given by someone who comes to visit occasionally, or family heirlooms that were dropped in your lap even though you weren’t really interested in them. Obligation is just another form of perception, but it is one that relies on what we believe other people think about us if we didn’t keep these things.
Let me tell you a secret: you are under no obligation to keep anything! It is YOUR home after all and it has to feel good to YOU. This being said, of course it is tricky to let go of those, but try to separate your own feelings from the repercussions of not doing what you think is what you should do. [take your time, read that last one once more]
Presents – and I have spoken about this time and again – are tokens of a moment in the past: the moment when the present was given. It’s the act of giving that counts. If you feel burdened by the gift it’s time to let it go: it has served its purpose. Don’t feel bad about it, that is the nature of a present, and most of them will likely not have any monetary value.
As for family heirlooms: if you don’t want them, don’t need them and you only keep them on the off chance that some other family member will claim them in the future, … give everyone a final deadline to take it off your hands then let it go. They had their chance and clearly nobody was interested any more than you are. Feeling obliged to keep something is probably the worst reason to keep it.
This is about putting off decisions as long as it takes for a situation to become normality. If you leave anything in an unsuitable place for long enough, it will no longer appear to be in the wrong place, because we become used to it being this way. The same goes for perceptions and ideas: just shuffle them around in your mind for any length of time and they’ll feel all natural and normal. You should always make decisions about keeping or letting go straight away: there’s no shame in reconsidering later, but the important thing is to act NOW and not put it off.
We all have that feeling sometimes that whatever we do will not last forever. That’s completely normal, and in the case of making a decision that is especially true. Nothing is written in stone and that is a good thing! “Nothing will last forever” may be a scary concept for those of us who crave continuity, but it is also true. Denying it is a bad idea and offers no help in the long run. Better embrace it and go with it.
When we move beyond procrastination, we hit the big one: habit. Once a thing or idea embeds itself in our homes or our minds, we get so used to it that it appears totally normal to us and it never occurs to us to question the presence of that thing or idea. This is the main reason we become complacent about the way things are. Novelty is exciting and emotional, anything else just fades into the background and we never think of it. Even the totally outrageous can become the norm.
Habits come in many shapes and sizes: we could be looking at a purely habitual urge to collect all of one kind, or that you have gotten used to a piece of furniture that was “temporarily” placed in an awkward location years ago and has just taken root there (although you still bump your hip on it every single time you pass), or the silly fact that you have started putting down those reading glasses without thinking and never seem to be able to find them when you need them.
Habits can be changed, although some of them can be hard to deal with. The habits we deal with when it comes to clutter are usually about ‘having gotten used to something’ or ‘keeping things just in case’ or ‘it’s always been with me’. Strangely, keeping things out of habit is one of the things that can go both ways when a decluttering session starts: either there is a quick change of mind and stuff just flies off the shelves and into boxes to be taken away, or nothing happens at all. Let’s hope you are a ‘flying off the shelves’ person!
Some of us fear change, and that is a valid reason for concern about letting things go, because having space allows us to stretch and think different thoughts. Clutter represents the past, when things were the same way they are now. There was no perceivable change, there is a sense of continuation and safety through maintenance of the status quo. Change can be very scary, especially if the physical clutter has served to bury any lingering doubts in your mind. However, wouldn’t you rather be free of the fear and live a life without doubt?
Being fearful or full on scared is a serious issue, and clutter can be the outward representation of such a state of mind. It is important to understand that in some cases, taking the clutter away is not a simple matter of taking decisions. Sometimes the clutter itself is the security net for a person otherwise lost, and it must be recognised and dealt with in an appropriate way, and that could be psychological support, therapy, or – in drastic cases – even medical examination.
Then there is the lovechild of habit and fear: addiction. If we are feeling vulnerable, it has become something of a possibility to go shopping, or retract into a hobby … any kind of displacement activity that takes our mind off the initial problem. While this is clearly a psychological issue, in some cases it can have serious implications on the sheer number of things we have in our homes.
Just think of someone with a shopping addiction: not only is this a very expensive pressure valve, but it leads to more and more stuff in the house that is not exactly useless, but becomes so through the sheer number of items that – more often than not – are never used. This is a slightly different reason for clutter than the previous ones, as it deals with ADDING stuff rather than NOT REMOVING stuff. However, in the grand scheme of things it has the same effect: the home is gradually filling up with stuff.
There are many reason for shopping addiction (and this is not the forum to discuss them), but from a decluttering point of view, a similar road to the other reasons presents itself: find the reason behind the clutter before attacking the physical clutter itself. Nothing good will come from chucking out a bunch of stuff as long as the underlying reason for the accumulation has not been addressed.
When it all comes down to it, clutter is a representation and reminder of our past, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We need our past to define who we are today. However, if our lives are taken over by memories and experiences of the past and the objects that represent it, and we spend our days thinking of past times and repressing the problems they have caused, how are we supposed to embrace new ideas and opportunities, and understand the reasons why we are the way we are now?
The ideas and ideals we live by today are within us: our current mind-set and perception of our surroundings have been shaped by the past, what counts is what it feels like to us at this point in time. If there is any doubt whatsoever in your mind that things may not be exactly right, there is reason to suspect you have no room to stretch both your body and your mind.
I believe that seeing and experiencing empty spaces in our homes has a positive effect on the mind: it gives us the option to add something in addition to what we already have, both in our homes (stuff) and in our minds (new ideas, experiences and concepts). I’m not advocating the idea that change and growth are an ultimate necessity, but having too much stuff that holds us back prevents change. Having space to grow does not mean you have to do so, but there is comfort in the knowledge that you are able to do so when necessary, and allow the future to take shape.
If you have enjoyed reading this, you may find these other articles interesting:
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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.