You are not crazy: why decluttering is so hard

Posted on Aug 7, 2018

smiling on clutter free couch

Before yoga class begins, Sharon (name changed) tells us about the beaded jewelry necklace that broke in her hands this morning, scattering tiny seed beads across her bathroom floor. After class — more specifically, after she finds out that I help people declutter as a way to support extraordinary life changes — she shares that she got down on her hands and knees to carefully pick up each bead. She saved them just in case she ever gets the string repaired.

“I know it’s crazy!” she says with a nervous laugh, gazing towards the floor between us. “I know I’m crazy.”

Can you relate? Have you ever saved something, wondered why giving it up felt so wrong, and thought something like this?

This is crazy.

If people knew this about me, they’d think I was nuts.

What is wrong with me?

In her latest book Clutter Intervention, feng shui expert, intuitive coach, and author Tisha Morris discusses the root cause of our clutter troubles. She writes… 

“It’s not really about our stuff. It’s about what our stuff is covering up.”

What is clutter exactly?

First, what are our belongings?

Though we rarely think of it this deeply, every item you own is an expression of you. That faded hoodie in your bottom dresser drawer reminds you of your summer college trip to Europe. The French press coffee maker expresses the cultured identity you want the world to see, and the way you savor your mornings. The box of photos that you’re afraid to open represents an old unrequited love and your usually-skillfully-repressed inner turmoil.

So which of these belongings do we call clutter?

You might think of clutter as valueless items — piles of old newspapers and cable bills. Or maybe you think of negative energy items like the photos I mentioned above. But clutter can take literally any form. It could be those things, and it could be a seemingly-joyous framed college diploma that anchors you to a past career identity. It could be a six-figure car.

Clutter is anything that is not in your true self’s best interest to keep.

If you’re struggling with the term true self, here is another line from Morris that illustrates this concept beautifully: “The items we possess should enhance our energy, not deplete it.”

Some define clutter more broadly as anything that’s not in its rightful space, meaning either a different area of your home or not in your home at all. I leave the former to the talented personal organizers of the world. I focus on the latter variety — the toughest clutter problems that are well-suited for the life coach’s toolbox.

Why should I care about clutter?

You have a busy life. You have your unique variety of work, relationships, leisure, obligations. Why should you spend your precious time thinking about clutter? And why the heck is a life coach talking about clutter, anyway?

Because, my love, your clutter is your gateway to a better life. 💖

Martha Beck is a sociologist, life coach, best-selling author, and speaker. Her Living Space tool uses the home as a metaphor for life. By examining what you love (and don’t) about your home, you discover major insights in what you want in life. It’s a tool I frequently use with clients who aren’t yet crystal clear about what they want.

Beck isn’t the only one who has noticed this connection. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo writes, “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”

Morris’s vibe mirrors Kondo: “Clutter is the physical representation of our emotional and mental blocks, and once it is removed, change can happen fast.”

The experts agree: decluttering your home is a fast track to life transformation.

Ok, I’m in! Now why can’t I let go of my clutter?

What might seem like a simple problem of making a decision and then moving physical items is anything but. Clutter is not the problem. It’s the symptom of something much deeper.

So what is the problem? Morris summarizes, “Clutter is an avoidance tactic used to distract us from dealing with painful emotions from the past.” I describe these painful emotions simply as grief.

Grief is mental or emotional suffering over a loss. Though the words “loss” and “grief” often make us think of a loved one’s death, these concepts are far more ubiquitous. Loss is death, and it’s also miscarriage, divorce, loss of health, loss of an identity or a dream, a job change, a significant financial change, a loved one’s serious illness, a geographic move… Every human being has lost and has grieved. The (common and at times culturally-approved) trouble comes when we avoid experiencing this grief.

The fantastic news is that your clutter is a gift in disguise! It gives you clues about what you’re holding on to, emotionally or mentally, that is holding you back from your best life.

The way through? Notice the beliefs and feelings that your stuff brings up, allow yourself to feel any grief, and question every unpleasant thought.

Morris writes boldly, “Getting rid of an item before you’ve processed the [emotional] energy around it is a missed opportunity for healing.”

Your clutter is the key to your healing, your personal transformation, your most outrageously fun life.

Now that you understand what clutter is, how it holds us back, and why it’s so hard to deal with, you can approach your possessions with much more confidence.

Photo by Kimberly Bailey