(Today’s post is part of a series on losing emotional weight: the weight of clutter, of public speaking, and financial stress. To read how to shed the emotional weight of public speaking, click here. To read how to lose the weight of financial stress, click here.)
How to Lose the Weight of Clutter
Imagine if you could lose 10, 20, even 100 pounds in three hours (in a safe and healthy way). You’d feel lighter, freer, perhaps more confident, more capable. When it comes to your home, you can. All that STUFF in your home is a physical burden on your life, holding you down and back from the life you could have.
When I work with my clients to de-Stuff their homes, my favorite part is watching people physically lighten as they make progress. They stand straighter as they see space open up. They smile more easily as they realize it was easier than they feared. And they breathe deeply as they face and release the emotions tied up in all that stuff.
Three amazing examples of “weight loss” from letting go of the STUFF:
– Linda had an amazing and forgiving conversation with her ex four years past their divorce after clearing the house of the stuff left over after their split. They have gone on to be better parents to their kids because there is less animosity between them.
– Jeff broke free of his depression by clearing out his living room so that he could feel proud of the space and invite friends over. He also cleared out the bonus room so he could start a home-based business working for himself, which double the feeling of accomplishment in his new life.
– Ray quit her job and went back to school after she cleared out her small apartment of STUFF, realizing that she wanted more from life than what she had to date.
Decluttering is no replacement for counseling and medical advice, but the work does wonders as you learn to let go, be generous, forgive, and create a new vision for the future.
If you’ve been wanting to de-Stuff, resist the urge to run out and buy a new set of color-coded bins to just organize everything. Before anything can be organized, much has to be removed from the space. No one can fit 10 pounds of flour into a 5 pound bag, so it’s time to let it go.
If you’re ready to lose the weight of clutter, let your home breathe, and start a new chapter, here are three tips for success if you go it alone:
1. Set limits. Set a time limit, a space limit, and a category limit. For example, 30 minutes, bottom drawer, only clothes. That means that as we come across paperwork or kids toys or whatever, it goes into a pile for later, or phase two.
2. Wipe the slate clean. Take everything out of that space, then put back in only what belongs there. So if we are working on a drawer, everything comes out first, and if it’s an underwear drawer, that’s all that goes back in. Yes, it means piles along the way, but feel the joy and relief of having a space done.
3. Have an exit strategy. EVERY session ends with a trip to the trash, the recycling, and Goodwill. Except for big furniture, stuff is taken directly to Goodwill, no interim stop by the front door… stuff has a way of creeping back in, or never leaving.
The hardest part of decluttering, aside from avoiding feeling overwhelmed as you dive in, is knowing if something should stay or go. The right set of questions can help a lot. I might ask you something like:
- “Could someone else use this better than you are using it?”
- “Does it feel selfish to hold on to this?”
- “Are you holding on to this out of love or fear?” (If fear, release it.)
- “Are you holding on to this out of love or guilt?” (If guilt, release it.)
If your house were to be burgled or flooded tomorrow, what are the things you would miss? Those are the only things to keep. All else is superfluous. It is really hard to release stuff. It all seems somehow valuable once it is in our home. But in the end it’s all stuff, and most of it could be shoved in a plastic bag and given away and would never be missed.
One more important thing: we must remember that we are not other people’s storage units. This is especially true for empty nesters, but crops up when family moves and asks us to hold on to Stuff for them for a while, or when family members pass away and we feel obligated to hold on to the Stuff out of guilt or for other family members.
We get to control our environments and how they make us feel, not the other way around. Try to work through feelings of overwhelm and focus on how wonderful it will feel to be 20, 50, 100 pounds lighter. Because the ‘stuff’ truly is a physical weight in our life.
Design psychology coach, interior designer, author, and speaker Rebecca West helps people create home and work environments that actively support their goals and make it easier to be happy and successful.
With a degree in Community and Environmental Planning, she comes to design not from a love of sofas, but from a desire to create functional and nurturing spaces. In fact, she doesn’t really care if you ever buy a new sofa, she just cares that your home really works for you!