For some people, a three-step plan for a decluttering system results in a neat and cozy home within a few months. For others, decluttering is an arduous journey. It’s not because of busyness or not having a system in place. Behind stacks of clutter, hidden spiritual and emotional issues lurk. If we’re honest, we admit that sometimes it’s just easier to keep those issues hidden in the piles of clutter.
Here are some hidden reasons for clutter:
- Low self-worth
- Pleasing other people
- Clinging to the past/reliving our mistakes
- Poverty mindset—fearing the lack
- Depression/anxiety clutter cycle—If we’re constantly in the emotional part of our brain, we can’t use the logic part (where we make decisions).
Some of these reasons are chronic, while others are situational. In 2014, my eyes were opened to a long-time clutter problem in my own house.
A few months after my dad passed away, my siblings and I traveled from three different states to his house. It took us four days to clean it out, working from early morning until late evening, when we were too tired to move.
I lost track of how many giant, industrial garbage dumpsters we filled. Time and again, a driver would load it onto his truck, empty it at the dump, and bring it back again.
Anything you could think of, we threw away. (We gave a lot away too. A charity came and took what was useable to help needy families.) Stacks of old magazines, mattresses, bank papers from before I was born, and an entire drawer full of keys to who-knows-what. Sixty-seven years’ worth of stuff, and I don’t think Dad ever tossed anything besides old food.
For me, it was like looking into my future.
When I arrived home, I saw everything I had piled around my house. Even some stuff I didn’t want but kept anyway, for fear of offending the relative who gave it to me. If I didn’t do something now, I realized, my kids were going to be saddled with loads of useless stuff to deal with upon my death.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t ever learned a practical system for being clutter free. One of the books in my many stacks was Kathi’s The Get Yourself Organized Project. I’d read it and even written a review for a newspaper article.
So how did I get from cluttery mess to (mostly) decluttered and organized home business owner?
Here I share five crucial elements on my clutter-free journey.
Here’s the main difference between then and now: Today I really can’t stand clutter and work the systems from Clutter Free daily to keep it out of my house. Before, I didn’t notice it or care that my house was cluttered. I lost time, money and sanity because of my clutter, but I tolerated it because it just seemed normal to me. I didn’t consider there might be a better way to live. This is the simplest—and also hardest—of the steps.
2) A new safe space.
Since clutter is often accompanied by feelings of low self-worth, we must redefine what feels safe to us. It’s a big mind shift to feel worthy of the time it takes to improve our living spaces. Making change is hard; it’s easier to just stick with what we know. Gradually, I accepted that my new way of living was the actual safe space, and not the unhealthy condition of an overly cluttered house. Instead of making ourselves feel better by buying more things, we can enjoy the calm, peaceful feeling of an uncluttered home.
3) Treat yourself like the treasure you are.
Once I became aware of my clutter problem, I worked to keep my thoughts about it positive. I changed “I’m such a slob!” to “I’m working through Kathi’s steps to get clutter free; I didn’t get here overnight, and I won’t be rid of it all overnight, either.” If we’re constantly berating ourselves, we’ll stay stuck in our low self-worth mindset. Kathi’s mantra of decluttering being a lifestyle and not a “one and done” became my mainstay. The more kind and gentle you can be with yourself, the more progress you’ll make.
4) Deal with specific issues you’re hiding.
Among my stacks of books, I had one titled Not Marked that deals with childhood sexual abuse. I had purchased it with several other titles and dumped them into my other piles of books. At that point, I hadn’t told anyone I was suffering from PTSD flashbacks to childhood trauma. Not even my husband knew about the abuse or that I was trying to cope with overwhelming memories. Other places to hide our issues might be ridiculously messy pantries to hide eating too much junk food or crammed-full closets to hide a clothes shopping addiction. It starts with telling one friend you can trust (or a therapist) and getting to the source of whatever’s eating you.
5) Celebrate your wins by enjoying that decluttered room again.
Once I got all the piles of books out of my living room, we bought some pretty pictures and couch pillows to make it cozy. Since it looks so nice, I’m really hesitant to leave anything that doesn’t belong out in the living room. One by one, as you conquer the specific areas of your home, decorate and personalize them so that they feel complete.
Whether your hidden reasons for clutter are chronic or situational, there is hope. Establishing a system for decluttering and recognizing the hidden reasons behind the clutter is the first step. Remember, give yourself grace for whatever you’re struggling with; even if it takes longer than you hoped, you’ll get to the place where you can live peacefully in your space again.
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