Posted below is an article I wrote for a wonderful association that is about to take off. Look for more information about ARC in the near future!
Clearing the Clutter: Organizing Your Life from Inside-Out
For years I saw how clutter was affecting myself and my family. I was a witness to what sages have said for years: your outer life reflects your inner life. If you have a cluttered home, it’s likely your mind is cluttered as well. If your office is a disaster, chances are, your career is a mess too. If your emotions are running rampant, your physical body is probably also in a state of chaos. However, there is certainly hope for all of us who were not born with the gene for organization or the ability to relentlessly purge our material possessions at will.
Logically, when tackling any sort of “dis-ease”, one would look to the cause and (with the exception of a large chunk of Western medical practices) seek to cure the source in order to alleviate the symptoms. This can be overwhelming, especially for those who have not yet built a nourishing support system around themselves. Creating a change in our operating procedures is often something we see as a pipe dream, or place on a pedestal as something we could have “in a perfect world”. Well, I have news for you: You’ll never get there with that attitude, but you CAN get there, and it’s easier than you imagine. You must stop wishing it could be, and start seeing that it is. This is the first step towards creating the life you want to live.
Step 1: Change the Vocabulary: No More Negativity – Even the Subtle Kind!
How often do you hear yourself or others claiming defeat before you’ve even started? Something like, “I could never go back to school – I’m a terrible student”. What about, “I wish I could start my own business, but the bank would never give me a loan.” “How can I get my house clean without taking a month off of work?” Or, “It figures Joe got the promotion instead of me. I am never recognized for my hard work.” These comments may seem harmless, but they are like little maggots eating away at what we are truly capable of. Such loathsome creatures may conjure a grotesque image, but how much more monstrous is it to set ourselves up for failure? Our conscious mind gets into the pattern of repeating these despicable worms of conversation until our subconscious takes them for reality. That’s the beautiful and ugly truth about our subconscious mind: it doesn’t judge, it doesn’t reason, it just executes the programs we feed it.
Once we realize how much control we actually have over the course of our lives, it is a wonderfully liberating sensation. We have the power to destroy our old patterns of self-loathing and malfunction and create new blueprints for success, happiness, love, and everything we’ve ever wanted out of life. We must learn to let go of the “Woe is me” terminology that pervades our conversations. In the beginning it takes some discipline; those little larva of negativity are often so engrained in our day-to-day lives we don’t even see them anymore. We fear failure and disappointment so much that we set our expectations lower and lower to avoid being unable to meet them, when we only end up striving for less and less. Well, no more. Today’s the day we reset our convictions. Our past dissatisfactions will be looked upon as the learning experiences necessary to get us where we are today. From now on, we won’t fear reaching for the stars. We won’t be ashamed of lofty goals. We won’t be prisoners to our former images of self-worth.
We must be diligent, and whenever we come across one of our old habits of doubt we must immediately correct it with an affirmation of what we want, what we know we will have, not what we fear will happen. “I can get my degree.” “There are people who believe in my business and will help me finance it.” “My house will be clean in a month.” “I work hard and strive for excellence at my job. I will get the recognition I deserve.” The old ruts we were stuck in will erode, and a new path will soon appear, leading us toward our goals.
Step Two: Change the Nouns: People, Places and Things
Your new, life-affirming attitude will affect several areas of your existence. Many of us feel a natural desire to hold on tight to the old, familiar symbols of our past. Have these people, places, and things served us well? Perhaps some of them have, but many of the golden nuggets that could help us the most have been so mired in dirt and grime that we may never have noticed they were there. It can be scary, but we must be open to letting go. We cannot make room for the new happy, successful, and loving lives we yearn for without first shedding the patterns and nouns that are holding us back.
The Law of Attraction is a valuable lesson to apply as you decide what should stay and what should go: negative will attract negative, just as positive will attract positive. By adopting a positive outlook on life, many of the negative influences that may have surrounded you will fade into the background, while others you may need to consciously push away. Are the coworkers you sit with at lunch prone to gossip and complain? Does your family demean you and belittle your goals? Are you in relationships where you are not consistently treated with the kindness, respect, and love you deserve on every level – emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual? You may notice yourself shifting away from some of the people who have been in your life for years. For some, such as close friends and family, it is worth communicating your new outlook, and sharing your wish to be surrounded by positive, constructive, and supportive people. Many of your loved ones may not even realize they had adopted the same pessimistic outlook you once had. You can assist in encouraging a propitious change, which they will then continue to spread, like ripples radiating outward from a stone tossed in the water. However, not everyone wants to change, or wants to help you change. These are the people you must not be afraid to let go. Take the lessons they have taught you, and shed these relationships to make room for new ones that will help you grow and evolve towards the life you want. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those you have identified as positive influences in your life, and, under no circumstances, should you ever settle for a relationship that is abusive or harmful to any aspect of your being. You deserve the best life possible, and these derisive people are the anchors that keep you from moving forward, from reaching your highest aspirations. You can’t change them, but you can change yourself, and you can love yourself enough to leave them behind with your old life, as you step into the wonderful person you are supposed to become.
The places in our lives will go through the same growing pains as our relationships when we make the decision to live to our full potential. Perhaps our workplace is not promoting growth, our social haunts are surrounding us by our old destructive habits and acquaintances, or our living situation is perpetuating harm. Incorporating new environments can be beneficial, such as places that strengthen and balance our physical selves, like yoga studios, swimming pools, or a bike path through the park. Spiritual havens, whether a church, temple, mountain, or forest will help us reconnect with the divine spark inherent in us all. The language of connection doesn’t matter: God, Goddess, gods, the Divine, the Unnamable, animal spirits, tree spirits, fairies, even quantum physics helps us to understand that there is something that links everything in the universe. Wherever we find this community of connection, and whatever device of semantics we find comfort in using to describe it, it will serve to affirm our new lifestyle of positivity, love, and happiness.
One of the most noticeable, and often one of the most difficult changes we can make is to shed the “stuff” cluttering our lives. We’ve talked about the negative patterns, the people, and the places that weigh us down, but what about the physical items that often overwhelm us? I know what it’s like to be in a house with every inch of space occupied by “things”; you never fully feel at ease. As with everything else, it is impossible to enjoy the items that we love, when they are surrounded by so many other things we’re apathetic about. It is here that the overwhelming sense of “How will I ever straighten this out?” can stealthily overcome our best efforts. Additionally, the kindest of intentions by loved ones to assist the process don’t always help, because the patterns that make us want to collect and amass are still present. The mess will only dissipate once we first get rid of the ethos that created it.
How do we become packrats? For some, it is the Depression Era mentality we were taught by our parents and grandparents of “waste not, want not”. Why throw that twisty-tie away when I might need it in a few years? What if I gain or lose weight and these clothes fit me again? What if I use these plastic soda bottles to make mini-greenhouses for the garden I want to start (but haven’t)? In a world quickly filling with disposable everything, this is not necessarily a bad thing – but it must be peppered with limits and organization. For example, yes, it is good to reuse plastic bags. However, do we have somewhere to keep them? Do we have a limit on how many we really need to keep? Are there steps to take to avoid amassing so many in the future? If we create boundaries, we can still feel we are prepared for any potential situation while preventing plastic-bag-chaos. By setting aside a box to fill with bags, we know right where to put them when we come home with one. They will not be spread out all over our kitchen, in our drawers, on the floor, and in the closets. We will know right where to look when we need one, and when the box is full, we won’t get that anxious feeling of “But what if I need one??” as we throw the extras away. In addition, by utilizing reusable bags when we shop, we can prevent being inundated with more in the future. This sort of plan can be applied to everything that falls in the “What if I need it someday?” category.
Nostalgia is another reason for holding on tightly to mementos. We may not be able to remember every occasion when we were children, playing with our friends or siblings, and so we keep items that jog these memories. They may be the actual toys we had as a child, or perhaps similar toys we saw at a yard sale or store that evoked those same feelings of safety and being carefree. Some of us enjoy being able to relive these parts of our lives by physically touching, smelling, and viewing an object, reading old letters, or recreating environments. These attachments can be painful to break, and often lead to regret, frustration, and anger if the objects are removed without our approval (even if by well-meaning loved ones). However, this is yet another scenario of being unable to truly enjoy and honor the items that mean the most because of all the other junk that surrounds them. Don’t worry; there are strategies that can help.
We will never be able to live in a clean, organized, and inviting house until we are ready to make the changes in ourselves. The mess was created by our mindset, and can ultimately only be fixed by clearing the mental clutter, and putting order to the chaos oozing into every aspect of our lives. Our living space is a mirror of our life, and we need not feel overwhelmed at its appearance. We must change our attitude, and see it as a barometer for the wonderful shifts that are occurring, the detrimental patterns we are destroying and the beneficial ones we are creating. We are in control of our lives, regardless of our pasts. The universe wants to help us, and will give us back what we put forth into it. By allowing ourselves to shed the habits, people, and places that are no longer serving our new goals and aspirations, we will be able to conquer the physical clutter of things. No more “I wish I could”. You can.
Step Three: With the Mental Clutter, Goes the Physical Clutter
You’ve already done the hard part. Consciously deciding to shed negativity from all areas of your life, from your speech, to your relationships, to your hang-outs makes this next part icing on the cake. Now you get to create the home you’ve always wanted, the visual reminder of your new fabulous life. Don’t give in to the dread of starting – no one expects you to do it all at once. However, by creating a plan and implementing systems, you’ll be finished in no time.
There are four questions that must be answered for every item in your house, and, while there is no right or wrong, honesty is essential. You must commit to be truthful with yourself, whether you like the answer or not, or you will never be able to accept and love who you are, and grow into who you want to be. I recommend doing the easy stuff first – the obvious trash or items with little personal attachment. Don’t get stuck arguing with yourself. If you can’t answer these questions in less than 2 minutes, move on, and come back to it later:
1. Do I love it?
- Not, “Oh, I kind of like this” or “Well, I used to love it.” Do you currently love this to the point you would endanger your life to rescue it from a burning building? If you answer yes, keep it, find a home for it (we’ll get to that part soon), and move on to the next item. If you don’t love it, move on to question 2.
2. Do I need it?
- This one gets tricky. It doesn’t mean, “Do I need it in three years when I finally get to that project I’ve been meaning to do for the last decade?” It means is it essential for your everyday life. If you haven’t looked at it in the last six months or more, which can be easy to do if you have lots of clutter, really ask yourself if that electric wok will get any more use than the skillet you normally use. If it will, keep it, find a home for it, and move on to the next item. If it won’t, move on to question 3.
3. Would someone else love or need it?
- This is not meant to be a philosophical treatise about the merits of your favorite alarm clock that only needs a spring or coil or something replaced, or the doll that you loved into oblivion as a child that someone somewhere may someday love. Honestly assess the item: Is it trash? Is it worth donating or selling in a yard sale? If you have someone specific in mind who you know loves that ugly lamp Aunt Frieda gave you, or you have boxes of perfectly good clothes that are out of style or don’t fit – great. They can go to a friend or a good cause. However, don’t be delusional: If Aunt Frieda’s lamp doesn’t work and can’t easily be repaired, trash it. Whatever you decide, on to question 4.
4. When will I get rid of it?
- This question is often overlooked and yet vital to success. It’s not enough to decide you don’t want something anymore, you must follow through. Just like deciding to go back to school, or starting a business, or making any other lifestyle choice you want to implement, you can’t go halfway and stop if you want to achieve your goals. I recommend setting up a schedule: Set a day every week where you will take whatever you’ve decided to trash to the dump, and whatever you’ve decided to donate to the appropriate charity. Be vigilant, and stick to it. Don’t let a week go by where you didn’t take at least one bag of junk out of your house.
Now that you have a system, make it quick and easy to utilize. So often we decide we are too tired, or not in the mood to sort and clean. This is where discipline and follow through come in, and where we decide that we can make the changes we want to continue to see flourish in our lives. Schedule time everyday – before work, after work, when the kids go to bed, whenever – and set a goal of sorting for 15 minutes. Set a timer or make a short play list so you’re not watching the clock. If you go longer than your allotted time – fantastic! If you don’t, at least you made a little dent that will continue to grow. Additionally, put three boxes in every room marked Trash, Donate, and Relocate. Sometimes we come across things and recognize we want to get rid of them, but are busy with another task, so we return the items to the mess to deal with them later. Don’t just put it down anymore! Assess the item, and put it in one of the boxes. If you’re busy and you know you want to keep the item, use the relocate box, but follow through: when the box is full, find homes for everything in it with no exceptions. If everything you want to keep has a proper place to live, it won’t end up spilling out onto counters and floors. This is especially true for the stuff that we think we will need later – it may not have passed the “need” test of question 2, but it is easier to justify keeping it if it has a place to live that will prevent it from constantly being in the way.
Nostalgic items are the hardest to part with, and no one is saying everything must go. However, by clearing away the less meaningful junk, we can create a space to honor the items we truly love. We can choose a few pictures out of a box full of childhood snapshots and hang them on the wall, or hang shelves to display family heirlooms. For collections, maybe we don’t need to keep every doll, but could just keep one or two of the most special and donate or store the rest. Sometimes it is even enough to spend time with an object and write down the memories and feelings it evokes, for that is what we are actually seeking. It’s not the snow globe we love, but the uncle who made us feel special by giving it to us. By recording those sensations, and perhaps even attaching a photo of the beloved object, we can let go of the fear that we will have nothing left to jog the memory of that uncle’s love as we let go of the actual object.
Clearing the clutter – both inward and outward – is an emotional process. It can be scary to let go of patterns, people, locations, and objects that we have come to associate with our identity, the very core of who we are. We may wonder if there will be anything left when we tear away layer after layer. Relax. These old habits and tendencies don’t represent who we truly are – they are simply things we did, ways we acted, emotions we felt, objects we owned. None of it defines us, and none of it will limit us unless we let it. We each have the ability to take the lessons we needed to learn from the past, and create the future we want most for ourselves. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, support, and encouragement along the way, because we are not simply isolated beings, but a community of people striving to better one another and ourselves. Feel empowered and enjoy the new clutter-free you!