The Process of De-Cluttering

“Clutter-clearing is modern-day alchemy.” ~ Denise Linn

“Clutter is stuck energy. The word “clutter” derives from the Middle English word “clotter”, which means to coagulate – and that’s about as stuck as you can get.” ~ Karen Kingston

“Eliminate physical clutter. More importantly, eliminate spiritual clutter.” ~ D.H. Mondfleur

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” ~William Morris

“Clutter is a physical manifestation of fear that cripples our ability to grow.” ~ H.G. Chissell

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.” ~ Edwin Way Teale


I’ve had a couple of requests from followers to talk about clutter in the blog.  My first thought was, “What can I say about clutter, my house is neat and tidy.”  Then I opened my hall closet.  Isn’t it funny how we lie to ourselves!  After some thoughtful meditation, I had to admit to myself that I have a clutter problem – and it’s not just about the physical stuff.

You see, physical clutter is just the tangible effects of spiritual clutter.  We hold on to objects because of the positive (or negative) emotional attachments to them.  Let me give you an example.

I have an unfinished cross-stitch in my closet that I started over 15 years ago – and haven’t touched since then except to pack and unpack it over the course of eight (yes eight) moves.  I bought it on clearance, worked on it for a week or two, and then it went into a closet; and in many closets since then.  Every time I see it I think about throwing it away and then my ego starts acting up.  It says things like, “You can’t throw that away, you paid for it.”  “Remember, you were going to give that as a gift.”  “If you throw it away, you are admitting failure.”  “You’ll get back to that someday.”  And it goes on, and on, and on.

The truth is that I will never finish that cross-stitch.  I’ve had 15 years to do so.  It’s not important to me, so why do I hold on to it?  Because it symbolizes unfinished work.  Giving it up would feel like failure.  It’s not about the cross-stitch, it’s my fear of failure that keeps it in my closet.

I also have several boxes containing every card I’ve ever received.  There are hundreds of them.  I never look at them.  I never display them.  I just carry them from house to house.  Occasionally, I think about putting them in the paper recycling, but every time my ego starts acting up.  It says things like, “Those people cared enough for you to give you a card and you want to throw them away?”  “How could you be so careless of their gifts to you?”  “You obviously never cared for them if you are willing to throw their cards away!”

The truth is that many of those cards are from people I don’t even remember.  They were temporary acquaintances, co-workers or even strangers.  I’m sure I have a card from my mail carrier in 2000 somewhere.  Many of those cards are not important to me, so why do I hold on to them?  Is there some irrational fear that by throwing away the cards I am throwing away the person?  Do I really think I will need the mail carrier’s card from 2000 as research when I write my memoirs in 20 years?  Am I afraid that recycling the cards is throwing away a piece of me?  I’ll have to ponder on this some more.  Perhaps you can relate.

The point is that we have physical clutter because we have spiritual clutter.  Think about it.

Are you holding on to clothes that are much too small for you because you think that one day you’ll be able to wear them again?  Would getting rid of them mean that you have to accept your current weight?

Do you hold on to objects that you don’t use (or perhaps you don’t even like) because they were a relative’s, or given to you by a deceased friend?  Does the person live in the object?  Is their impact on your life limited to a coffee mug from Tucson?  Does it diminish them to send that mug to the Thrift store?

All physical clutter is really spiritual clutter.  The objects that clutter up our physical spaces are connected to (and reflective of) the negative thoughts and emotions that clutter up our spiritual space.  The objects take on, and store, all of that negative energy; all of the guilt, fear, judgment, and unworthiness that we would prefer to not see.  That’s why it’s so difficult to get rid of clutter.  It means we have to process the feelings, and more often than not, we would prefer to keep them locked up.

The problem is that blocked emotions are not neutral.  They are quite the opposite: they are toxic.  They keep you from fully experiencing and embracing the “now”.  Your home is an extension of you and impacts you.  The level of physical clutter in your space is reflective of the level of spiritual clutter in your life.  It’s perhaps an unpleasant truth, but truth nonetheless.

I love helping others do this work because it makes me accountable for doing my own.  I guess it’s time to go through those boxes of cards and say goodbye to that cross-stitch.  What physical and spiritual clutter are you willing to say goodbye to?

What is your home doing to you?

A dirty and cluttered home:

  • Makes you feel out of control in your life.  That’s because the stuff is controlling you.
  • Makes you feel hopeless.  Having too much stuff becomes overwhelming because you can’t manage it all.
  • Makes you feel exhausted.  A cluttered home is an energetic drain.  Ignoring clutter requires at least as much energy as removing it – probably more.
  • Makes you do without the things you really want and need.  Holding on to too many things takes up energetic space – space that could be filled with the things you really want and need.

A clean and organized home:

  • Puts you in control of your life.  It creates order in your universe.  You can easily find things when you want them.
  • Gives you a sense of calm.  Walking into a mess-free room is relaxing.  There is no anxiety because everything is in place.
  • Increases your energy and well-being.  When your home is energetically balanced, you feel better, rest better and are more productive.
  • It makes room for new things to come.  When you create space for new things to enter your life, you are giving them permission to come in.

Simple Ways to Begin De-cluttering

Take small, consistent actions.

If a project is too big, you won’t start it.  Don’t attempt to empty the entire garage in a day.  Instead, focus on one shelf or corner.  Appreciate the work you have done and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction.  Then, hold yourself accountable for taking another small action in the near future.  If it helps, make a de-cluttering schedule and put it on your calendar.

Allow adequate time and take breaks.

People often get overwhelmed by the emotions that come up when purging belongings.  It will take longer than you expect.  So, schedule in regular breaks and allow yourself time to process the emotions as they arise.  If you attempt to do the physical work without doing the spiritual work, the clutter will either remain or quickly return.

Avoid distractions.

When you find something that belongs somewhere else, resist the temptation to put it away immediately.  You’ll just end up being diverted to another space or project.  Instead, keep a “goes somewhere else” box in the space you are de-cluttering.  If it doesn’t belong, toss it in the box.  Put the box aside for another project.

Ask yourself why.

If you think you need to keep something that you aren’t regularly using or actively benefitting from, ask yourself why, and keep asking yourself why until you have the real answer.  Either you will be justified in keeping the object because it brings some function or beauty to your life, or your spiritual clutter will be exposed and you can address it.

Create a place for things.

Establish an official place for things.  If you have a problem with mail being strewn all over the house, make a space for it.  Put a basket or tote next to the front door, or on your desk, that will hold all mail.  Then, when you are ready to pay bills, read a magazine or recycle junk mail everything is in one place.  Make a commitment to yourself:  if it comes out of the space it gets processed.

Don’t buy storage containers until you have a use for them.

It may seem like a good idea to go buy 100 totes at your favorite store, but it’s not.  Bringing items into your home that don’t have a specific benefit of purpose is just continuing the clutter.  Begin collecting like items together.  Then you can decide the size and shape container you need to house them.  Don’t forget to also measure closets, cabinets and shelves so that the containers you purchase actually fit the space for which you intent to use them.  Buying containers without a clear purpose just creates a clutter of containers.

Be realistic.

Organizing and de-cluttering isn’t about being perfectionistic.  Decide what your top priorities are and consider your space limitations.  You don’t have to color-code the rubber bands and purchase a separate container for each.  Focus on what really matters.

Get help if you need it.

The TV show Hoarders may be able to gut a hoard and scrub a hose clean within 3 days.  But they have a professional crew and provide months of after-care assistance and therapy.  Don’t expect to be able to do it all by yourself.  Sometimes, we can’t see past our own attachments to things.  There will always be a justification.  Invite someone you trust to help you in the process.  Give them permission to gently and lovingly challenge your decisions.  It may not always be fun but it can be effective.

Og Mandino Poem

Never again clutter your days or nights with
so many menial and unimportant things
that you have no time to accept
a real challenge when it comes along.
This applies to play as well as work.
A day merely survived is no cause for celebration.
You are not here to fritter away your precious hours
when you have the ability to accomplish so much
by making a slight change in your routine.
No more busy work.
No more hiding from success.
Leave time, leave space, to grow.
Not tomorrow!
Og Mandino

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