by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Taking a moment to realize why a task is important to you can help you stay focused and productive.
Making a change to your home, even for the better, is very emotional. To declutter, you must admit that you have clutter. Admitting you have clutter, forces you to acknowledge that you’ve been holding onto the past, clinging to things you wanted to do but never got around to.
While it may be sad or frustrating to admit that some things haven’t worked out (using the treadmill, knitting a baby layette for your first child – who will be heading off to college in the fall, baking fresh bread every morning), by clearing out these items, you make space for your current life.
Why Am I Decluttering?
Complete the following sentences. Although these prompts are open-ended so that they could be used for any problem you are facing in your life, focus on how you feel about the condition of your home. Why ask these questions?
One, you’ve got a big task ahead of you. If your choice for the evening is binge-watching a show on Netflix or spending two or three hours decluttering, connecting to your emotional reason for wanting to declutter will help you get started and keep you going.
Two, at some point, someone may want to know why you are getting rid of stuff. Maybe you’ve decided that the tchotchke your aunt brought back from Hawaii twenty-seven years ago isn’t important to you; your mother is appalled that you would treat a gift from her sister is such a way. Or, your spouse sees you decluttering your stuff and is worried about what this means.
Answering these questions will help you verbalize the unsettled feeling you have when looking at the clutter in your home.
I wish …
I hope …
I’m angry that …
I’m afraid that …
I’m sad about …
I’m happy about …
You might journal these questions for you whole home or for each individual room.
Asking the Five Whys
Interested in gaining a bit more insight? Which feeling, identified in the above exercise, was the strongest? Maybe you wrote more in response to one of the prompts. Maybe your heart raced, or your hand shook as you completed one of the sentences. Explore that feeling by asking, ‘why?’.
Then, look at your answer, and ask why. Look at that response and ask why again. This is called the Five Whys Technique because, in theory, questioning a problem this way allows you to examine cause and effect and get to the root cause of a problem. For example,
I want to declutter the house.
Why? I hate having all this useless stuff around.
Why do I find this stuff useless? It’s a bunch of knickknacks that don’t do anything but collect dust.
Why does everything have to have a function? Okay, it doesn’t. I just think about clearing out my parents’ house and tossing this type of stuff into trash bags.
Why did that bother me? Because while clearing my parents’ house I was seething that they’d been so inconsiderate to leave all this stuff for their kids to deal with. If they didn’t know what to do with the stuff, how was I supposed to know? I don’t want to leave my family with that sort of burden.
Transforming Your Why into What You Want to See in Your Life
Clearing the clutter is not just about releasing what is no longer important to you but also about imagining your life after decluttering. Sometimes, it is easier to know what you don’t want than what you do want from your life.
When you take the time to gain clarity, it can help give you focus and energize you for the task ahead.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.