When "Just Do It" Isn't Enough, Coping With the Emotional Aspects of Clutter Clearing

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 and persevere, clutter-clearing is not quite so simple as that. Running unprepared into the not-so-simple aspects of clutter can bring all of our good intentions to a halt.

For every piece of clutter that has piled up because we'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 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 with very frugal parents who taught you not to be wasteful, getting rid of items that are still useful may trigger feelings of guilt. (This is very common among the "Baby Boomer" generation, whose parents may have experienced hardship and deprivation during the Great Depression and/or World War II years.)
  • 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, or that you will be punished for trying to create them for yourself.
  • If you have experienced a difficult loss through the death of a loved one or the end of a marriage, 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 would become a career, clearing it out may feel like giving up on your dreams, or it may force a confrontation with the fact that you are getting older.
  • If you lack confidence in pursuing a long-held dream, keeping your clutter can keep you from having to go out and actually do it.

Healing and growth come from recognizing your feelings, no matter what they are. If your enthusiasm for clutter clearing suddenly turns into 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.
  • Letting go of regrets about your present clutter will help free you from the fear of regret that drives the accumulation of future clutter
  • 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 your own decisions.
  • Hoarding against an uncertain future reveals a lack of faith in the ability of the Universe 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.

Remember that the space you create by releasing clutter will allow all kinds of gifts to flow into your life, on the physical, spiritual, and emotional levels. Letting go of excess makes room for blessings.

© 2003 Stephanie Roberts

Stephanie Roberts is the author of "Fast Feng Shui: 9 Simple Principles for Transforming Your Life by Energizing Your Home", a #1 most popular feng shui book at Amazon.com.

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