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During a monthly Ask Me Anything session in my Clutter Clear Your Life community, a member (let’s call her Julie) shared a fascinating conundrum she’d been wrestling with:
“I really want to say goodbye to my physical clutter, but I can’t shake off this fear that I’ll miss it all once it’s gone. How can I have these conflicting feelings about wanting to clear it yet desiring to hold on to it?”
Julie’s question got me thinking… but not in the way you might imagine.
What really got my wheels spinning wasn’t the idea that she might miss her clutter. What struck me was the level of self-awareness Julie exhibited.
Many of us chat about decluttering while wrestling with the frustration of not being able to make it happen, but rarely do we stop to dig deeper into why this might be.
But our friend Julie was different. She spotted the iceberg beneath the surface. She got that her fear was less about the task of decluttering and more about the aftermath of the job.
As a result of this realization, Julie found herself steering clear of decluttering altogether.
Is Clutter Providing Comfort?
Persistent clutter is a curious beast. It may seem like it’s all about the physical stuff, but often it’s more about the stories and meanings we attach to those items.
Julie may be apprehensive about clearing her clutter for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps it’s keeping her company, not in the “let’s have coffee” way, but in a more subtle sense. Consider how differently you feel in a cozy, well-furnished room versus an empty one – that’s the kind of “energetic” companionship I’m talking about.
Maybe clearing her clutter will leave the space feeling too open, possibly leading to a sense of vulnerability or even loneliness.
Clutter as a Distraction
Or her clutter could be providing a handy diversion from tackling other challenging aspects of her life. Say, for example, Julie is feeling crappy about her job. She thinks about switching gears often, but the idea of leaving what’s familiar, despite the daily grind, gives her the jitters.
By having the job of decluttering looming, she cleverly dodges the task of hunting for a new job.
This is what is referred to as a “secondary gain” — a subtle advantage Julie gets from not clearing her clutter. She has herself believing that she can’t look for a new job (and step out of her professional comfort zone) until her space is clutter-free.
Imagining a Clutter-Free Life
I nudged Julie to picture a clutter-free life. What would that look like? Would she find another way to distract herself from making changes or would she feel unshackled and ready to dive into new possibilities?
“I’d like to believe I’d use that extra time to job hunt, but I really can’t be certain,” she admitted.
“Well, there’s one surefire way to find out,” I suggested. “Roll up your sleeves and dive into decluttering.”
Addressing clutter often feels like a “chicken or the egg” situation. Depending on the type of clutter and the significance you’ve given it, you might feel the need to clear the clutter to create space for your goals, or you might start chasing your dreams and find that as you make progress, the clutter becomes more of an annoyance leading you to more easily let go of things one after the other.
The trick to dealing with the comfort clutter can bring is to face those feelings head-on rather than shy away. Acknowledge your emotions, appreciate that your belongings have offered you some security and comfort, but also understand that this comfort could be standing in the way of a more fulfilled, low-stress life.
Finding Balance in Decluttering
Finding the right balance is key to resolving the comfort-clutter paradox. If a pile of old books brings you joy and fond memories, why not set aside a special shelf for them?
If you’re holding onto items for “someday”, take a moment to think about whether these things are worth the space they’re occupying now. If you haven’t used something for a year, chances are you probably won’t use it in the future.
It’s perfectly okay to hold onto things that have deep sentimental value for you, but also be aware when items start to feel more like a burden than a comfort. Ultimately, your space should serve you and add to your wellbeing, not be a source of stress.
Uncovering Deeper Truths Through Decluttering
This journey of self-awareness, while seemingly about physical clutter, can actually uncover deeper truths about our fears, desires, and what we hold dear. As Julie found out, dealing with clutter can be an enlightening and liberating experience, offering us the chance to not just create a tidier space, but also a more focused mind and a lighter heart.
And honestly, that might be the most comforting part of all.