what I do

what I do

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Understanding clutter

Illustration by Ron Leishman
We live in a very cluttered world.
It is a world that makes it easy to accumulate more stuff than there is room for. Just take the 'paper' that comes into your house for example. Stop managing those papers that come into your house each day through the mail, your children's school (and every other organization they are involved in), newspapers and catalogues and magazines, receipts and invoices ... and it will not take long for an overwhelming pile to form.

Every electronic device we own requires cords and adapters and chargers and then there are the CDs and DVDs and game cartridges and all of them need a home or they pile up.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that we are consumers. We see, we want, we buy. We have shopping at our fingertips 24 hours a day and we are tempted without even leaving our houses. Just opening the mail or turning on the computer or television can provide images that will create a need inside us to 'have'. We overbuy and we are left with the excesses.
A grandmother asked me once, "How does this happen?" referring to her grand-daughters' rooms overflowing with toys. And I reminded her ... "Just take the birthdays and Christmases and multiply the number of relatives and friends times the number of children and you have A LOT OF GIFTS. Add a few years to that equation and your storage spaces are overwhelmed and overflowing. Things are how we show our love. And it is how we love ourselves." 

We buy things because they make us feel good. And we hang on to them because they make us feel emotionally comfortable, safe and secure. We become attached to our things - they hold certain memories or emotions for us and to give them up feels painful.


So when does collecting and clutter become a problem? When it interferes with your life. It can interfere with your life by taking up too much time (either accumulating or managing it), it can cause you to go into financial distress, or create an environment where you cannot find what you need when you need it. Too much clutter can cause a sense of chaos or lack of control which can create stress or a feeling of depression. 

Style At Home
Sometimes clutter builds up because of a lack of time or energy. Or because of sentimental attachment. And often because of a lack of storage space. Once it has accumulated, getting rid of the clutter can be very painful. 

Women's Day
Just getting rid of the clutter is not always a solution. Sometimes we have to dig deeper into the reasons why the clutter became a problem in the first place.

(The following is adapted from an article by Stephanie Roberts
One reason so many clutter-clearing efforts fail or remain uncompleted is that we have this idea that all that it takes to get rid of clutter is a little effort and determination. While a 'just do it' attitude does help you get started, clutter-cleaning is not quite so simple as that.

For every piece of clutter that has piled up because you've been too busy or too distracted to deal with it, there's probably at least one piece that you have avoided dealing with for emotional reasons. The underlying problem is not procrastination; it's that dealing with the clutter means dealing with our own difficult emotions:

  • Getting rid of clothes we'll never fit into again means accepting our current shape and level (or lack) of fitness.
  • Getting rid of an expensive item we never use means admitting that we made a poor decision when we bought it.
  • Getting rid of books and magazines we don't have time to read means accepting that we will never have enough time or attention to explore every topic that's of interest to us.
  • Getting rid of possessions remaining after a loved one has died means coming to terms with our loss and grief.
Acknowledge to yourself that clearing out your clutter will involve some emotional risk. Start by exploring why keeping certain kinds of clutter feels comforting to you. For example:
  • If you grew up poor and hungry, surrounding yourself with material goods may feel reassuring that you will always have enough.
  • If you suffer from low self-esteem or come from an abusive environment, you may unconsciously feel that you don't deserve beautiful surroundings.
  • If you have experienced a difficult loss, getting rid of that person's things can feel like a betrayal of your love.
  • If you have an attic or basement full of supplies for a hobby you hoped you would pursue, clearing it out may feel like giving up on your dreams.

Healing and growth come from recognizing your feelings, no matter what they are. If your enthusiasm for clearing out your clutter suddenly turns to feelings of anger, resentment at the task itself, or a vague sense of anxiety, that's a sign to pause and reflect on what deeper feelings are being triggered.

Many of our reasons for hanging on to clutter are, at their core, about fear; fear that we won't be equal to the challenges of the future, and fear of confronting our regrets about the past. Clutter can be comforting; it acts as a buffer between us and reality.

Here are some points to help you maintain a perspective of clarity as you work on your clutter:

  • Living clutter-free does not mean living in a sterile environment; it means getting rid of the excess so that everything around you is there for a reason.
  • The past is over and the future isn't here yet. Confronting the emotions raised by clutter will make living in the present less threatening.
  • In the course of clutter clearing, you may get rid of something that you later wish you'd kept. Emotionally healthy people do feel regret, but then they let it go, trusting that an equal or better item will be available if they need it.
  • People who are able to live without clutter trust themselves to make good choices. As you become more conscious of what you allow into and keep in your home, you will develop a higher level of trust in your own decisions.
  • Hoarding against an uncertain future reveals a lack in faith in the ability of God to provide what you need at the time you need it. The antidote is to focus on gratitude for all that you now have, and for all the ways in which you are already being provided for.
If difficult feelings come up for you as you work through your clutter, acknowledge them. You may discover that you just aren't ready to confront some tasks or part with some things yet. It is self-defeating to push yourself all at once through changes that are too large for you today. Be gentle with yourself, take baby steps, and work at your own pace.


Robbie said...

Bravo, well said.

L said...

Wow, alot of that rang true to me. I am happy to say that yesterday I worked in my attic and I now have 4 trash bags & a large box ready for the thrift truck pick-up tomorrow. Alot of it was clothes that were way too small for me to ever fit into again, yes, hard to part with when you wish they would fit. What a great feeling though to see the space where all that was stored now setting empty!