It requires more than decluttering

There’s always a lot of talk about decluttering as the Solver of All Woes.
 
We’re told that if we throw out a lot of stuff, we’ll be happy.
 
That’s not incorrect per se; I truly believe that with less stuff comes less complexity and stress, but decluttering is a medium-term benefit, not long-term (and organising is short term!).
 
By decluttering, we are ridding ourselves of all the things that weigh us down and complicate our lives. But if that’s the only thing we do, then we’ll have to keep decluttering forever, and we’ll still have big impact on our environment and culture.
 
What is better, is a change in acquisition habits over the long term.
 
What we don’t buy today, what we don’t get given as gifts, what we don’t grab on sale, what we don’t “save” from kerbside waste, will not need to be decluttered later.
 
The items we choose to repair instead of discard, to purchase from ethical and sustainable suppliers, to buy based on the material’s end-of-life destination, to buy second-hand, will not end up in landfill at the same rate it will for lesser quality goods.
 
So yes, declutter, but also please, put into action some new habits and lifestyle changes so that in five years time, you’re not still decluttering madly nor sending a lot of unnecessary items to landfill.
 
Some habits to try could be;
* only buying what you need
* avoiding sales
* saving up for things instead of using a credit card
* largely ignoring clothing and decor trends (they’re just there to make you consume more and then you produce more waste)
* buying fewer items that are higher quality, repairable, and are produced ethically and sustainably
* giving experiences as gifts
* not accepting “free stuff”
* buying second-hand when you do need something
* showing your love with presence instead of presents
* avoiding the “disposable” mentality
* keep things until they fall apart or are no longer serving you, not just because there’s a “newer” version
 
You don’t need to be “perfect”, and do all these things (I certainly don’t always) but any small attempts you make now will reward you and our planet significantly in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with who you are right now

You know, I don’t subscribe to the “achievement” agenda. The “be your best” and “overcome mediocrity” war-cries.

I’m tired of all the “You can do better, you can have better, you can be better” motivational lines.

I am sick of everyone feeling like a failure because they aren’t the best. When did just living a mediocre or modest life become disdainful? My Dad didn’t climb the corporate ladder. He pretty much had the same job for 30 years. Others rose above him, and he kept working in his lab or in the field, quietly, brilliantly and unassumedly. And one day someone named a building after him (much to his embarrassment!).  You don’t need to appear to be the best to have an impact on the world (you also don’t need a building named after you either, it was just an example of people admiring and appreciating you even if you aren’t “out there” or rich or famous).

You don’t need an Instagram face or body. You don’t need to look 20 years younger than you actually are (as one of my friends put it, if there’s nothing wrong with being 40, why is there so much ‘wrong’ with looking 40?). Your loved-ones won’t look back on their photos and see your Mummy Tummy or bald spot. They’ll just be happy to be setting eyes on someone they love.

The only thing I think we should be more of is compassionate and kind. And even then, if you don’t want to be, that’s noone’s business but yours.

You’re good enough. You’re loved already. You’re part of something wonderful already.

You don’t need to set lofty goals, be the best, be the first, be the only. You don’t need wealth, just some security. You don’t need to be extra fit or have an extreme approach to life.

Just stand outside with your face to the sun and try to argue that you need to be, do or have more. You have so much already.

Letting go without context

Some people struggle to declutter because they need context. Without it, they feel they can’t let go.

By context I mean that someone is decluttering their study and they find an egg-flip. The person doesn’t know if they have any other egg-flips, or how many they have, so they can’t make a decision to discard that egg-flip. They keep it, and then weeks later have the same dilemma when they find another egg-flip somewhere else. Was it the same one? Do I only have one? Or do I h…ave more, and can I safely donate this one? Usually the uncertainty is too high so they choose to keep it.

There is one obvious solution to this – declutter by category. Grab all your egg-flips, put them in one place and then declutter. Marie Kondo has borrowed this method for her book and it can be very helpful.

Unfortunately, it’s only helpful for people with low-to-medium levels of clutter or for relatively organised homes (ie, all your items are contained to one to three rooms per category, like clothes or toys). It’s completely useless for people with high or hoarding levels. I mean, how on earth do you find all of your batteries in the whole house when you can’t even open the cupboards or see the floor?

So my poor clients are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t discard because they fear discarding too many or the wrong ones, and they can’t find the rest to help facilitate the decision-making.

The solution I recommend (understanding how hard it is) is to just forget the context. Forget the others, forget the maybes, just declutter as much as you possibly can, knowing that if you make a mistake, you’ll still be okay and your main goal of being in control of your belongings is more important than trying to avoid having to buy a $3 egg-flip from KMart.

That’s the key – knowing you’ll still be okay no matter what choice you make. Because you will, I promise.

Practice makes perfect

Many people who struggle with clutter have difficulty “de-owning” their stuff. They get anxious at the thought of parting with it because all the fears crowd their mind with a billion “What if..?” scenarios.

If you are one of those, you’ll be pleased to know that your first goal is not to part with items. Your first goal is to reduce your anxiety around letting go. It’s not about the item, it’s about the discomfort. It doesn’t matter WHY you want to keep it, it’s about anxiety itself.

If you can expose yourself every single day to the behaviour of letting go (starting with really easy things) then your brain starts to back off. You will realise that your anxiety isn’t as high anymore.

Initially, for the first thing you let go of, it will hurt. You’ll feel very anxious. Don’t give up – the pain doesn’t last as long as you’re anticipating. The next one will hurt too, but the one after, and the one after that will all hurt less. This is proven.

You’ve built up your “letting go” muscles and the workout won’t hurt as much anymore.

Be careful – if you cave to the pressure and practice the avoidance behaviour (the keeping) instead of the behaviour you’re trying to encourage (the letting go), it reinforces your brain and takes you straight back to the beginning. A psychologist once told me that if you give in just one time, it will undo a fortnight’s worth of letting go practice.

That’s why it’s important to focus on an easy category of items – so that you are more capable of pushing through the anxiety. After you’re no longer uncomfortable with one category, you can work your way up the line to the harder ones.

Consistency is the key – if you don’t do it EVERY SINGLE DAY you’ll be wasting your time because your brain will revert very quickly and you’ll undo all your good work.

Keeping up with the @joneses

When you’re trying to get your life under control it’s very important not to compare yourself with others. Especially with others on social media.

There’s so much “perfection” out there. On Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.

It’s easy to get sucked into the idea that your life would be better if you looked like them, or your house did. If you could afford new furnishings or a Professional Organiser, if you could take the kids to interesting places every weekend and everyone smiled and looked like the perfect family.

You can’t see the struggles behind that “perfection” but don’t assume they aren’t there. Don’t assume that the picture of the perfect living room wasn’t taken by a woman in tears whose teenage daughter had just ripped shreds off her, or by a person in severe debt that kept them awake all night worrying. You don’t see the tantrums, the fights, the tension. You don’t see the anxiety, the throwing things and the coldness. You don’t see the overdue bills, the migraines, the depression.

And that’s fine – no one likes to show off the ugly and unhappy sides of life that inevitably affect all of us, no matter who, no matter how. No one wants to see it all the time, either.

But what’s not okay is to let yourself be dissatisfied with your life because you want it to be perfect.

Perfect doesn’t exist.

You can have a perfectly organised pantry with all glass containers full of organic whatever and you will still just hide in it and sob as you eat chocolate while the toddler screams blue murder for cutting their toast in squares instead of triangles, despite asking for squares in the first place.

A perfect home does not equal a perfect life. You’ll still have life’s struggles, you’ll just be doing it all in white with pastel, hanging planters and elk horns, with a toddler in a hand-knitted outfit.

A home under control does help you and that should be what you’re aiming for.

Just make sure it’s YOUR version of “under control”, not Instagram’s.

Post-Declutter Stress Disorder

Okay, I made that title up. But it isn’t too far from reality!

Most people get a sense of euphoria after decluttering. Some, however, do not. In fact, they feel horrible. They are anxious and miserable, dwelling on decisions made and wondering if they made mistakes. If you’re one of those people, you may be wondering why you don’t get as excited by the results as others do.

Here’s a few reasons why you might feel that way after decluttering:

1) Attachment happens in your mind. Physically removing something does just that; it’s physically gone. If you are still attached in your mind, the fact that it’s gone is not a relief.

2) You haven’t trained your brain to stop panicking yet. Every time our brain gets a reinforcement, it is told to continue that behaviour. So when you try to throw something away, then panic, then keep the item to make the panic go away, you’re telling your brain that panic is the appropriate response when attempting to discard something.

3) The future is more unknown with less stuff. No longer can you safely predict what might happen (ie right now you can predict you will have 2 spare can-openers to grab should you lose your favourite one). Instead, if you only have one can opener, you can’t predict the outcome of losing or breaking it. Unknown stuff can be scary if we allow ourselves to think of the negative consequences.

4) You worry that you’ve made a mistake. Your brain predicts a total catastrophe should it become apparent you’ve thrown out something that later becomes needed. This fear of the catastrophe has you dwelling on what mistakes you may have made when culling.

5) You feel you are losing a part of your identity or your past. Your past and your stuff are related. We store patterns in our neo-cortex of things we see, hear, smell and feel. Our brain cross-references these patterns and therefore creates an association. If you part with one of those “pointers” and it’s outside of your control and exists only in your mind, perhaps you’ll end up with memories in your brain that can’t ever be retrieved again.

6) You’re grieving lost opportunities. There are now things you may never see again, do again, think about again.

7) You did it for someone else. When you declutter to keep someone else happy, you’re less likely to enjoy the results. It’s not unlikely, just a little less likely.

8) You’ve forgotten about your goals. You’re thinking about what you’ve “lost”, not what you’ve gained. You have either not focused on your goals, or you have forgotten about them.

9) You just love your stuff too much. Whether you have hoarding disorder, or another mental health condition that fosters a very strong bond with physical belongings, your brain simply won’t let you let go.

This is why there is so much more to decluttering than just getting rid of stuff. It actually requires changes in mindset that without them, you won’t be able to be completely happy with the result.

Declutter your fears first, then your stuff.

Churning (or: Why You’re Getting Nowhere)

Sometimes you think you’re working really hard at trying to gain control of your clutter, but you find you make no progress.

deck-chairs-on-TitanicYou are constantly sorting and organising, tidying and moving things around in an effort to gain order and be able to find your stuff when you want it, and have clear surfaces, but you don’t get anywhere.

No sooner do you clear a spot than you turn around and it’s full again.

“Whhhyyyyy??!??!!?” I hear you wail….

Here’s why – you’re just churning, or as my best friend puts it, “moving deck chairs on the Titanic”

Churning is the act of sorting, categorising, grouping into piles or sections and then having to do it again when the piles all merge together after a few days or weeks.

You need to stop churning and face the reality that the only way you’re going to gain control is to reduce the volume of your possessions. That means letting go of things you don’t need, use or love – and even some things you do.

Unless things actually leave the house, it’s just churning and you’re going to get nowhere.

It’s all about how it makes you feel

It’s not how your space looks that matters, it’s how it makes you feel.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and think “I’ve got this. I can handle this” then you don’t really need to change much.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and your heart rate goes up, you feel stressed, you feel the urge to escape or you don’t know where to start; then change is needed.

It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be under control.

Don’t worry about how it should look, or how you think others think it should look. Don’t worry about what your neighbour’s looks like, or your sister’s, or the other school parents. Don’t compare your home to the ones you see on TV or in magazines.

As long as you feel like you’ve got control of it, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s how you feel in your home that matters.

How (and why) your thoughts sabotage you

one way

When you want to make a change, you need to take action. You know that you need to do something, and you want to do something. There’s a problem though; sometimes our brains are just not on our side. It’s usually our subconscious that’s the culprit.

Our subconscious is there to keep us safe and working – it keeps us breathing, helps us to do up our shoelaces when we’re not looking, tells us the way to drive home when we’re off with the fairies, and enables us to respond quickly to danger.

Any time your subconscious perceives a threat, it propels us into an action of some kind (like the “fight or flight” reflex around danger you may have heard of). When you’re decluttering and find something that you consciously want to part with, and therefore make a change, your subconscious kicks in and immediately tells you to keep it. It perceives the possibility of future stress and sets off the panic alarm. That panic alarm floods your conscious brain with thoughts around that item and all the reasons why you need to keep it.

But they’re not real. Those reasons are invented as an automatic response to an automatic reaction.

Every time you reinforce those thoughts (“Danger! Danger!”) with the behaviour that they’re prompting (you keep the thing even though your logic tells you you shouldn’t), you’re telling your subconscious that it’s on the right track, and that it needs to react in the same way next time. And so it gets stronger and stronger.

To help to short-circuit this wiring, you need to listen to the thoughts, acknowledge them, feel the anxiety, but DO NOT act the way it wants you to. Eventually, you’ll find that little voice screaming “Keep it!” goes away because your subconscious gets evidence that you are safe without that action, and it stops trying to make you do it. Anxiety goes away eventually – your body is not designed to stay at heightened levels for long periods. Your brain will eventually kick in and essentially give up on trying to get you to act because it receives no reinforcements.

Tell your subconscious that you’re okay, that it’s all okay. That you know what you’re doing and in this circumstance, you don’t need it to keep you safe.

Too many interests makes for all work and no fun

A common theme among my clients with high levels of clutter, particularly those who are “information collectors” or “crafters”, is a very high number of interests.

The more interests you are actively pursuing, the more stuff you accumulate.

The more stuff you accumulate, the more time it takes you away from your interests.

Take stock. How many interests do you have? And how much do you even get to enjoy them? Ironically, the more supplies people have, the less they actually do.

IMG_6339I know you need your hobbies and pursuits for your mental health, but do you need all of them at the same time? Our lives are long enough to pick a few favourites at a time.

Consider dropping some altogether, or putting a lot of them on hold.

As Oprah says –

“You CAN have it all, just not all at once”.

 

freelancer web developer