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On Monday, I wrapped up our Power POM round (a 25-minute body-doubling work session) with my Clutter Clear Your Life members and asked them to share what they accomplished during the coworking window.
A variety of wins flooded the chat box:
“I finally got some gifts wrapped and packaged them up for shipping.”
“I began a draft of a difficult letter I need to send.”
“I came up with a list of small steps for a daunting project.”
“I sorted and emptied three bags from my closet.”
Then I saw Sally’s (not her real name) win:
“I recycled a bunch of boxes that I’d been hanging on to. I’m not sure what took so long.”
The Message in the Mess
That last bit is music to my clutter coach’s ears because I love to excavate the real reason why someone’s stuck. Why did it take Sally “so long?”
So I asked her.
“They’re just such good boxes!” she replied.
I knew just what she meant. I’ve struggled to get rid of some good ones, too. (I’m looking at you, Apple.)
But the boxes were bugging her. She didn’t love, need, or use them so they were, in fact, clutter. So why the resistance to recycling them sooner?
From my years of working with people who are craving space in their lives to focus on what they really want, I see this time and time again: a desire to clear clutter (physical, emotional, or mental) but a ton of push back to doing so.
Stubborn vs. Simple Clutter
This is what I call Stubborn Clutter — something (or someone) you know you’re ready to part with but can’t seem to make it happen. Versus Simple Clutter — something you’re ready to part with and can let go of with ease.
An example of simple clutter would be junk mail.
An example of stubborn clutter would be the extra pounds on your body, or in this case, Sally’s boxes.
Core Causes of Stubborn Clutter
There are three core causes that rumble underneath all stubborn clutter:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Limiting beliefs
- The need for boundaries
Your struggle to let go could be because of one or, more likely, a combination of two or three of these core causes.
What is Sally’s Core Cause?
Using Sally’s situation as an example, her core clutter might be:
- Unrealistic expectations: Sally could be telling herself that to get rid of them, she’d have to do them all at once.Whenever you’re feeling a strong resistance to taking action, the best thing you can do is break down the task into super small steps. By telling yourself you have to do it all makes that resistant part of you dig their heels in and not budge. The job feels too massive. But by giving yourself permission to do just a little (progress over perfection), your resistance will likely step aside.
- Limiting beliefs: Sally might think it’s wasteful to get rid of these perfectly good boxes; that she must be able to use them for something. This thinking could be hinting at some beliefs having to do with a fear of not having enough, being considered ungrateful, or feeling shame about how much online shopping she does.
- The need for boundaries: Maybe Sally’s partner has been bugging her incessantly to clear out the boxes and in an act of push back or rebellion she kept putting it off. The real thing that would need attention here is the communication clutter in her relationship.Instead of the back and forth with her partner, she could have set a boundary letting them know that she doesn’t appreciate being spoken to that way, that nagging her is never productive, or she could use this as an opportunity to process her feelings about the boxes with her partner and come up with a strategy, as a team, for how to tackle them.
Dig Deeper than the Pile
As you can see, stubborn clutter is almost never about the clutter in front of you. That’s merely a symptom of something else. And the great news about that? You can finally stop beating yourself up for not taking care of it and instead get curious about the message in the mess.
What stories are you telling yourself about the thoughts, things, or people you can’t seem to let go of?
Start there and you just might discover some core clutter that, when tended to, makes your stubborn clutter that much easier to clear.
P.S. This month’s mini-workshop in my membership community is How to Truly Let Go where I explore the reasons you might struggle to let go at a deeper level (think regret, grudges, resentment) and share strategies to free yourself of these emotional burdens. If you’re not yet a member, join us and get immediate access to this workshop and so much more. ClutterClearYourLife.com.