7 Things You Need to Know About Clutter.

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Welcome to the contemporary declutter movement!

But first a quick history lesson.

After WWII, a new emergent American middle class was created (and deliberately supported by public policy).  What made the middle class unique was the prospect of upward social and economic mobility. Over the years, as this class grew in size and wealth, so did mass consumerism and consumption.

Bigger was better. If I were to use one word to describe the 80’s it would be status (mullet might be the other word).

During this expansion, more was, well, more. The average square footage of a American home grew from 983 sq. ft (1950) to 2,349 sq. ft (2004) and 2,598 sq. ft (2013), despite reduction in family size.

However, after several economic dips and a few out right crisis (hello 2008 and the introduction of “Funemployment” to the American lexicon), the growth of the American middle class began to slow down to an almost stagnant pace and now the prospect of mobility is becoming smaller.

For those of us in severely high real estate markets (California, New York), we are either priced out of home ownership, or spend more than 50% of our income on housing (Thank you, San Francisco).

Given this new reality, paired with the threat of climate change, we are seeing a new downsized, smaller living movement (Tiny House Nation, on HGTV anyone?).

We are collectively decluttering, and finding out what really matters, AKA what feels good (#doesitsparkjoy).

Despite this collective movement towards a new minimalism, downsizing and decluttering can still seem like a daunting task.

So what stands in the way? A lot apparently.  So, let’s break it down, and get to work.

 

1. Let's Define Clutter

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In some ways so is clutter. But there are definitely some non-negotiable items that belong on that clutter list.

These include:

  • Piles of paperwork that need to be shredded

  • Clothing that no longer fits

  • Anything that is broken, ripped, stale, expired and downright unusable

  • Any items you have in excess (100 towels, or 50 spam cans - yes, really)

  • Items that are no longer used or useful (think old hobbies and corresponding bits and pieces you will not use anytime soon).

More broadly, clutter is anything that blocks your physical pathway, and /or transmits (or vomits) visual chaos across your space.

So getting rid of these things only make sense, right? Yes, but we convince ourselves otherwise.

 

2. Rationale: How We Talk Ourselves Into Keeping Our Clutter.

We tell ourselves a lot of things. We turn seemingly logical arguments into convincing reasons why our stuff needs to stay.

We say:

  • One day I will fit into my smaller sized old clothes.

  • One day we may have another baby --- or have grandchildren.

  • I might be able to use this again in the future.

  • This could be worth something someday.

  • This belonged to (my parents, children, fill in the blank).

  • This was a gift. I can’t give it away.

  • I don’t want to waste it.

  • The Ex (spouse, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover) was a significant part of my life.

  • I won this in my divorce. It’s mine. I don’t care that it reminds me of a painful separation.

 

3. What’s Beneath the Logical Thinking? (Just a Layer Deeper).

Feelings. And then more feelings.

  • Denial (that we have changed or outgrown the things around us).

  • Fear (of losing out of on opportunity or a resource).

  • Guilt (“They would kill us if they knew we gave it away!”).

  • Shame (For not being able to live up to the standards we feel we can’t meet).

  • Attachment (Inability or unwillingness to let something, or someone, from the past go).

  • Grief (Sometimes there is a genuine, painful grieving process when we let our past go).

Let’s be real. These emotions are not easy to deal with. But in order to liberate ourselves, our lives and our space, the only way to the other side, is through. Deep breath.

 

4. Going Beyond the Obvious (One More Layer).

As energetic beings, we are in constant relationship with the environment and people around us. We do the energetic dance with things, the energy they carry, and the emotions they invoke.

Personal space is both a beautiful reflective mirror and a two way street. What do I mean by that?

Visual chaos, either reflects or triggers mental chaos (think scattered, unorganized thinking - I’m talking to you person who just put your keys in your fridge).

So, the inner reflects the outer. Always. And the outer reinforces the inner. Always.

Not only does clutter cloud your thinking, but can take up energetic and emotional space. Consider any object that evokes a painful memory or feeling. It literally, metaphorically and energetically takes up space and keeps you ‘stuck’, most likely somewhere you don’t want to be.

 

5. Ready to Purge?

Start with small tasks you can complete in one day.

For a very methodical approach to sweeping through everything you own, Marie Kondo is your new best friend.

In the meantime, here are 4 categories of things to get rid of in your home (as in pronto).

1. Any object that reflects or invokes pain, or any unsettling response in you.

It doesn’t matter how expensive or how unique it is, if the mere presence of the thing is like perpetually ripping off a band aid that will not let an old wound heal, it has to go.

2. Any item that is broken, expired, stale, old and non-functioning (including the Victoria Secret lotion set you got for Christmas 5 years ago).

If you can’t use it, you can’t eat it, or it will make you break out in hives, it has to go.

3. Any item that reflects a time in your life you have fully grown out of.

Old clothing and hobbies fit into this category (you haven’t snowboarded, in like,10 years).

4. Drop the fear, shame, guilt, procrastination, indecision (a form of procrastination), and corresponding anxiety like hot cakes.

They will not serve you. Take a deep breath. When you experience one of these emotions, go a layer deeper. Ask, why? What comes up? Then go a layer deeper. There may be lot of information for you to uncover and process. Give yourself permission to go there and truly ignite change.

 

6. Where Does It All Go Now? (The Clutter, Of Course).

Unlike Marie Kondo, I DO NOT recommend throwing everything away. I firmly believe in closing the product loop and keeping as many things out of our landfills as possible. (#EarthDayEveryday).

Consider the following:

  • Recycle (plastic, glass, cardboard, electronics)

  • Re-Sell (There’s several apps for this)

  • Return clothing to vendors who recycle or up-cycle their products (H&M, Uniqlo)

  • Donate items to community thrift stores

 Be sure to remove these items from your space as soon as possible (if you are in SF, you can bet there’s service/ app for that), otherwise, you may change your mind or someone may begin pulling things out of the bin!

 

7. All Shiny and New. Now What?

We are habitual beings by nature (meaning physiologically). While our decision making habits form in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, once they become habit they live in the basal ganglia. It’s how we get things done on auto-pilot (like parallel parking - if we’re good at it).

Breaking habits and forming new ones, at first, takes a conscious effort. Keeping a space decluttered after it has been cleared means forming new ways of thinking about consumption.

When consuming new things consider the following ideas:

  • Do an inventory of what you have before you buy something new (you don’t want to buy the same thing twice).

  • Buy eco-friendly, sustainable products.

  • Consider why you are purchasing an item (need a pick me up feeling, or do you genuinely need it).

  • Purchase only what you need, at the equivalent rate you will consume it.

  • Buy fewer, high quality things (they will last you longer and will take up less space!)


Now I would love to hear from you!

  1. In what ways are you downsizing in your life?

  2. What is the #1 advice you would give to someone adopting the less is more lifestyle?

Lastly, if you feel this blog post has helped you, or could benefit someone you love, please feel free to share this post with friends and family.

Thank you for taking the time to journey with me today!

From my heart center to yours,

Noemi