by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Our thoughts about our stuff can become emotions that can feel more difficult to disentangle from. Remember, those overwhelming emotions started with a thought.
I have a friend who has been working at decluttering her home for a while. A few times, she looked around the room we were in and said that looking at everything felt overwhelming. She hoped that getting more organized would help her feel calmer. She put a lot of energy into thinking about and questioning every item’s past and future use.
The other day, she emailed to say that she had a dumpster in her driveway. My reaction was: ?!!!
Her response was far more verbal. “I wish I could say it feels good to be parting with so much, but it is trickier than that.”
I get it.
It’s easy to talk about decluttering in a non-emotional way, keep what you use; keep what you love; clear out the rest. But, decluttering an item is always wrapped up in some emotion even if you ignore the feeling.
Sometimes, I’ll look at an item for a while, thinking that it is time to donate it, but it continues to sit on its shelf. Maybe I’ll move it to a new location. It’s time, I think. The item sits there. I’ve had it for thirty years! Most of the meaning is tied up with the length of time I’ve had the item.
In one case, it’s a stuffed toy, a dog, a German Shepard that I had bought years after my German Shepard/Husky mix had died. As I write this, I realize that there are no memories directly attached to this toy, it was a reminder of a memory. Last week I tucked it into my to-be-donated box. I wish I could tuck the thoughts and emotions about the items into the box as well.
Recycling the files from my years of teaching, seemed to suck the energy from my muscles and leave my head full of dead leaves. Rescuing binder clips, pulling off rusted paperclips, remembering the hours of unpaid work I put into creating classes, seeing names of former students, trekking from my basement to the recycling bin at the end of my driveway, and then back down the stairs to sort through more papers. Just remembering this process makes me want to lie down.
Releasing things that you've held onto for a while kind of feels like you've created a little hole in your self. There's this gap of - hey, that was part of how I identified myself for years, but not for a while, come to think of it, but, still, weird-empty-feeling.
Even if decluttering isn't physically challenging, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Think of it like sweeping a floor - you stir a lot of dust into the air, no matter how slowly or carefully you go. You need to blow your nose, clear out the dust; get a drink of water.
If you’ve had these feelings and think, “Clearing clutter should feel great! I should feel free! Empowered! It should be a cathartic experience!” Well, yes, and no.
Along with stirring up the dust, decluttering stirs up a lot of emotions. About who you were. Who you thought you would be.
However, eventually, you’ll have a difficult time recalling what you released. Objects. Thoughts. Emotions.
The emotions tied to the object you’re releasing today, will replace the memories of last week’s feelings and donated things. As next week will ease away this week’s emotions.
One day, you’ll notice that there’s space around your favorite objects sitting on a shelf and you’ll realize that there’s some extra space in your heart, your lungs, your mind. You can breathe. You’re ready to explore and discover what will come next.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, loves learning and sharing information about organizing, productivity, and habits. She also likes reading young adult novels, crocheting, and spending time with her cat and husband in their riverside home in Massachusetts.