Keeping baggage from the past will leave no room for happiness in the future. – Wayne L. Misner
A few months after my Wise Aunt Bea passed away I was overcome with an incredible desire to completely clean and declutter my house. I went through boxes I had not gone through in over a decade. I cleaned out the attic and the storage room in the basement. I have never been a pack rat but I wound up throwing out about half of what I owned. I selected those items I really loved and placed them in a more prominent place in my home. I finally got rid of the last pieces of furniture that I had acquired as a teenager, when my only requirement for furniture was “free”.
I was thirty years old at the time. Cleaning out everything felt very much like I was done with the first part of my life and that I was open for whatever the next phase of my life might bring. The stuff in boxes and other people’s furniture felt stale and burdensome and I wanted a sense of renewal in the face of a big loss.
Can decluttering really do all that? Yes, it can.
A home does not have to be only a utilitarian place where we eat, sleep and live. A house that is clean and clutter-free can gives us a sense of peace when we walk into it. It is a balm against stress. It sends a message that tells us we can relax now. We can exhale and sink into a comfy couch. There is no looming reminder of all of the home-based work we now have facing us, as soon as we walk in the door from all of our other forms of work. It becomes a retreat and it can stand as our sanctuary. Personally, no matter what else is going on around me, when I’m safe in my clean and orderly home, all is well.
I’m not alone. I’m pretty sure this is the feeling many of us are seeking within our homes. Why else would Home and Garden TV be so popular? On that channel, everything gets magically cleaned up – and in only 30 minutes! I believe this desire is also behind the massive success of a little book about organizing, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which is now a runaway best-seller.
When we were little, my sister and I used to play “clean up”. We would imitate a clip on Sesame Street in which children see a mess and then clean it up together. The children look at each other and yell, “messy!” and then clean everything up and proclaim, “clean!”. Even at that young age, I could feel the satisfaction in putting things in order.
When I am feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to accomplish the first thing I do is clean up the room I’m in. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment in contrast to my feelings of helplessness in regard to everything else that I have to do. Cleaning up a room is simple and quick and it provides instant gratification.
My house was never cleaner than when I was studying for the bar exam. I remember sitting at my bar review course and exclaiming to the other students that when studying at home I just had an incredible desire to repaint the living room. I was met with blank stares, so I’m guessing not everyone could relate.
As I learned from a feng shui consultant I engaged years ago, the more clutter and dirt we have around us, the more energy it takes from us – subtly and in tiny little amounts. Once a room is cleared and clutter-free and the furniture is arranged so that movement through the room is effortless, you feel energized. The change is subtle and yet substantial.
Clutter does not just relate to our physical space. We can also experience clutter in relation to our time. Another way to declutter is to say no to those commitments that leave us with less energy and exchange them for those commitments which energize us. We might want to drop the homeowner’s association board position and volunteer at a local food bank instead. We may want to drop some of our commitments altogether in order to carve out some time doing a whole lot of nothing at home. It is good to do a review every now and then to make sure that we are holding enough space on the calendar for those things that really energize us.
Errands, chores and household tasks that we have been meaning to get to for months – or perhaps years – can also weigh us down and sap our energy. A great exercise that I tried once was walking through each room in the house and writing down everything I needed to accomplish. My list included everything from taking the clothes to the drycleaners, fixing a jiggly door handle and making a doctor’s appointment to renovating the guest bathroom.
After the list was complete, I prioritized those items that could be done quickly and easily, those that should be delegated – to a handyman, for instance – and those that could not be completed in the near future, such as the bathroom renovation. I then set aside a day to complete all of the quick and easy tasks and made calls to delegate the rest. It was amazing how, in just a couple of hours, I had completed things that I had been avoiding for several months.
Take the time to do at least one thing to declutter your life. You will be amazed at how getting rid of the burden of clutter opens up space in your world for other, more energetic things to arrive.