by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A Year of Decluttering - January: Everyday Actions
When I started telling people that I could help them declutter, I was met with a lot of enthusiasm as they described the excess stuff that they felt was preventing them from going back to school, giving their teenagers a space to hang out with their friends, or downsizing to a smaller home that would be easier to take care of.
So, I was surprised when these people who told me they wanted to declutter would argue with me when I suggested that they get rid of, say, a six-month-old receipts from the grocery store.
“Oh, no,” they’d say, “I have to record them in a spreadsheet before I can toss them.” When were they going to do that task? “When I find the time. Let’s move on to something else.”
When I’d suggest that they devote 15-minutes a day to a decluttering-related project, I’d get a look and be told “I really have to find an entire day to declutter so I can see big results.” But, then, they’d never schedule a day to work on what they’d said was important to them.
I was baffled by this tug-of-war that they were playing with themselves.
I was rereading Marth Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star, when I came to a section where she talked about the words we use when describing situations that we find ourselves in. She wasn’t talking about decluttering, so I’m taking some liberties here to impose her examples onto this scenario. I’m curious if changing our language can clarify how we feel about our stuff.
Do You Really Have to Declutter?
Unless the situation at home is hazardous to you or another family member, do you really have to declutter? Ignore the comments and jokes from your spouse, sister, and 8-year-old grandson, do you, you, want to declutter?
When you think that you have to declutter, you’re saying you don’t have control over the situation and that you’re bending to the will of others. Is it any wonder that you’d cling to items when you feel as if you have no control over what you can keep?
Take a moment to try this quick exercise, you don’t even have to say the words out loud, you can think them. Stand in a room or near a location that you feel you have to declutter and say, “I have to get organized,” and watch your body react. Do your shoulders sag? Next, clear the thought with a deep breath and exhale. Then, say, “I’ve decided to get organized.”
Consider, have you made the decision to declutter and get organized? If decluttering isn’t your choice, how will you decide what to do with the things you own?
Why Can’t You Get Rid of that?
If you say, “Oh, I can’t get rid of that lamp because my mother gave it to me,” are you saying that you like the lamp or that you don’t want to anger or disappoint your mother? I’m thinking that you don’t like the lamp or the obligation you have to it.
If, instead, you said, “I don’t want to keep this lamp,” or “I choose not to keep this lamp,” or even, “I choose to keep this lamp,” then there’s a lamp and your decision. It doesn’t need any explanation.
Do You Really Not Have the Time?
I’m not suggesting that you aren’t busy or that you could be busier than you are; however, if an opportunity comes up to do something you really want to do, you make it work.
Are you being accurate when you say, “I don’t have time to declutter the garage,” or, do you really mean, “I’m going to do something else?”
The change in language admits that decluttering isn’t a priority this day, week, month, or year. Instead of brushing away the task you identify your true priorities.
Clarify What You Want to Do
If you feel that decluttering isn’t your choice, but something you have to do to appease someone else or because it’s January or because you think you should want clear counters and fewer things in your closet, then chances are you will fight yourself throughout the process of decluttering.
Try changing the language of what you are saying and consider which statement is truer for you. “I can’t get rid of my mother’s wedding china,” isn’t the same as saying, “I won’t get rid of my mother’s wedding china.”
Remember, you choose to declutter.
Decluttering is a Journey; It's Not Your Destination
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I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.