Questions to ask before you acquire

One of the reasons we get cluttered is because we acquire a fair bit of stuff rather unintentionally. We let bargains and marketing and the need for “newer” or “better” get the upper hand over us.

Instead of asking yourself “Can I afford it?” and “Do I wanted it?” when shopping – ask these questions.

And answer honestly!

  1. Am I just buying this to feel better about my life? You could have the urge to purchase because you feel bad. You might feel anxious, stressed, tired. You might need a dopamine hit or some cheering up and you’ve gone looking for it at the shopping centre. Think hard – is there another way you can feel good without buying? Perhaps going fora walk in nature, watching funny bloopers on YouTube, cuddling a puppy or having a massage might do the trick instead.
  2. Where is this going to live? Do I have space for it? Buying stuff when your home is already full or overflowing is just buying problems. If you can’t think of a helpful home for the item, it would definitely be worth re-thinking the acquisition.
  3. Do I have this on my “to buy” or “need” list? If you’ve previously identified a need for this item (like last week when your kettle shorted out and refused to work) then it can be justified as a need. But if you see a fancy kettle and you think “Ooh, this is nice and it’s 60% off!” and your kettle at home hasn’t bothered you at all until now, then you are simply responding to marketing and don’t actually need it.
  4. Is the price the most enticing thing about this object? This is where you decide whether you actually want the item itself, or you want the thrill of the discount. If you had to pay full price, would you? That’s the test of true need.
  5. How does this item “die”? What happens when you’re finished with it? Does it go into landfill? Wash into the sea? Sometimes by thinking about the whole life cycle of the item, we can be encouraged to leave it on the shelf so that we aren’t contributing to landfill or other environmental issues.
  6. Is this item going to make my life better, and for the long term? Very frequently we buy based on the excitement of something new. A new top, the latest magazine, the new kitchen gadget, the exercise thingy. We buy because we think it will make our lives better. And sometimes in the short term it does, but long term it ends up in the back of a cupboard and ignored. We want to buy things that KEEP paying the rent on the space they take up, not just the deposit!
  7. Do I really need it? Or do I just want it? Perhaps you’re self-soothing and don’t really need the item at all. Usually we buy things we don’t actually need, they’re just for temporary highs. If you can spot this happening, you can avoid it.
  8. Do I already have a similar thing? Often we buy something we already have at home that does most of the job already. We might buy a food processor because the blender doesn’t grate (but we have a grater in the drawer) or we might buy an avocado slicer when we have perfectly adequate knives and spoons that can do the job. Think first – how have you survived so far without it and can you keep on surviving without it?

Your excuses to yourself aren’t helpful

You know what I hear a fair bit of? Excuses.

It’s understandable, and I empathise (after all, most of our behaviour does have a reasonable justification!), but the reality is that excuses are incredibly unhelpful.  They are normal, and expected, and we do it instinctively, but they are still unhelpful in helping us achieve all our goals.

Therefore, it’s vital that we catch them when they show up, and that we challenge them.

If you don’t like your life as it is now, you can’t expect it to change if your behaviour doesn’t. You can’t say “I don’t want to always be in a rush” and then keep adding to your schedule because you “have to do the thing”. You can’t say “I need to declutter” and then be unwilling to stop shopping “but I collect pink glass” or let go because you “plan to make something with it one day”.

Even if it’s unpleasant, the only way things change is if things change.

That means putting up with unpleasant decisions, making difficult choices, making sacrifices and putting in the hard emotional work. This means catching yourself in an excuse (“But I need to keep it for if I ever have grandkids”) and challenging that.

When people invite me into their homes, I don’t, I can’t, just wave a magic wand and solve their issues for them. THEY have to do the hard yards. I’m only there to show them the path, walk it alongside them and to put my hands on their back and gently push should they begin to slide back down the mountain.

You can expect miracles, but only if you work at them and be honest with yourself.

No more excuses, okay? You’ve got this x

“I might need it someday”

This is a really common thought that occurs to people when they are trying to declutter.

It pops up when they come across an item that they haven’t been using, either for a very long time, or not yet at all so far. It’s something like a box a phone came in, or a length of ribbon, or a spare screwdriver, or an umbrella, a jar, or a piece of wood.

It’s been languishing under a pile of stuff for who-know-how-long. Now they know that they haven’t been using it, they might not have even known they had it n the first place. So, because they are trying to declutter and a goal is to make more space, the logical part of them says “I should cull this”.

As soon as that happens, the emotional side of them jumps in and interrupts with “But I might need it some day!” or “But it could be really handy!”.

So then immediately, there are two teams fighting against each other in your brain. Logic and Emotion.

Usually when there’s an argument between our logical side and our emotional side, emotion wins in the first instance. It’s not really a fair fight, to be honest.

Emotion has a huge advantage over the logical side. Two advantages actually. One is that is gives instant gratification – keeping something you like gives you an immediate sense of comfort and security. Logic’s rewards are more long-term, and so are harder to see.

The second is that Emotion can evoke a physical response in you that is incredibly hard to ignore. It can raise your heart-rate, and make you feel nauseated as it diverts essential activities away from your intestines. It can make you sweat, make you jumpy, make you want to cry. It can make it harder to breath, or you may even hyperventilate. It can make you twitchy and very very intent on removing yourself from the situation, or angry and wanting to lash out.

Poor Logic doesn’t really have a hope against that, does it? And so to make all that go away, Emotion wins and you keep the item.

But every time you let Emotion win in these cases, it gets stronger. Then next time it pops up faster, more intensely. It feeds off your validation of it.

So how do we fight this?

We practice building up Logic so that it has a fairer fight. It still might not always win, but we give it a better chance.

  1. We stop and acknowledge the anxiety that Emotion has brought up. We temper it with facts and truths (for example, it’s true that jars do keep coming in the house, and that most friends will have a jar if you need one, and they are not at all hard to come by and are often free). We allow Logic to have its say, to tell its truths.
  2. We pick fairer fights, one where we know Emotion doesn’t have quite the strong stake in it. If Emotion gets repulsed at the thought of eating foods past their used-by-date, do some decluttering at the back of the pantry because Emotion won’t have quite as much to say about it when Logic suggests something needs to go. Go for the “easy” stuff to help build up that Logic muscle.
  3. We ask ourselves questions. Questions like “If I didn’t have this when I needed it, what would happen?”. Would you be able to borrow it? Use something else? Make an alternative?Be creative with something you already have?
  4. We extend the story. What we’re saying when we say “I might need it someday” is actually “I’m afraid of the consequences of not having this when I need it”. We’re telling ourselves a story that stops at the worse part. So extend the story – what ARE those consequences? What would happen if you didn’t have a spare screwdriver when you needed it? What would happen to you? And then what would you do? And then what? What’s at the end of the story? And is it so bad as you initially thought?
  5. We use our powers of creativity and ingenuity. Tell yourself stories about how resourceful you are and how you will be just fine without The Thing. Tell yourself about how smart you are at making do without, and how strong you are when things don’t go your way. Tell yourself how a little inconvenience won’t derail you, and that it’s unlikely to even happen at all. Back yourself, you can do it.

So next time you find yourself thinking “But I might need it someday”, stop and see if you can give Logic a fighting chance. And the more you do it, the better you and Logic will get at fighting off that pesky Emotion who keeps telling you that you aren’t strong enough.

Conditions that can masquerade as “hoarding”

I have had quite a few clients that have been told they are “hoarders” (by experts and non-experts alike). Some diagnosed and some not diagnosed. And many clients have self-diagnosed themselves as “hoarders” also.

I have also had professionals (support coordinators, social workers etc) say “This person is a hoarder”. However, there are a LOT of conditions, neuro-diversities and behaviours that can cause (or masquerade as) hoarding and challenging domestic environments.

Autism can cause executive dysfunction that results in overwhelm and avoidance, which can end up looking like hoarding to the uninitiated.

ADHD can do the same. It can also cause impulsive buying which can then also look, on appearances, like hoarding.

Autism can result in collecting behaviours in special interests, and very strong attachment. This can be mistaken for hoarding disorder.

Depression can cause decision-making anxiety, which means that things can’t be decided-upon get left unresolved, which can result in unclean living conditions and unfinished tasks, which also can be mistaken for hoarding.Depression can also cause low motivation, which results in unfinished tasks, and sometimes self-soothing actions like buying and collecting, which can build up clutter and sometimes unclean spaces.Bi-polar can have similar effects – during mania episodes, there could be impulsive purchasing. During depressive episodes, there could be a lack of motivation, overwhelm and difficulty starting and finishing tasks.

OCD can mean that regular household tasks become gargantuan and unmanageable due to the complex rituals that need to be undertaken. Washing the dishes could take 5 hours. Who’d want to do the dishes if it took that long?

Creativity can cause a high interest in numerous activities. Couple that with ADHD and you can end up with high level of clutter and an inability to put it into order.

Childhood trauma (or any trauma really) can cause attachment issues and self-soothing activities that can cause high clutter levels. Also for some people, there was no role model to learn helpful space and stuff management behaviours.

I could go on, but my point is – hoarding behaviours and “unclean” living environments can come from many possible sources.

Be careful not to saddle someone with a label that has stigma attached to it (hopefully that will go away but for now, it’s here) when it could simply be a behaviour that has its sources in a place other than hoarding disorder.

Also, assuming it’s hoarding disorder can mean that potential treatments can be missed out on.

And if you have hoarding behaviours, go easy on yourself – you are a whole person who cannot be reduced to one behaviour. You’re awesome x

Leaving room for the warm fuzzies

When you declutter or downsize, there will be items that are challenging to make decisions on. There are various reasons, but one reason is definitely that there is a sentimental connection somewhere.

Sometimes it’s an item that reminds you of a past event, or even just a past feeling. It could remind you of blood, sweat and tears that you put into it. It could have been given to you by a loved one, or someone who has passed. It gives you a good feeling that you don’t want to lose.

When you have more stuff than space, it’s important to reduce your belongings – it’s actually necessary. However, you don’t need to give up on off of the things that fill your heart and soul.

When you are decluttering and downsizing, it’s fine if you want to set aside some space for your memorabilia. For some people, it’s a really important piece of who they are.  They key is to be intentional about how much space it can take up. If you’re moving into a smaller home, designate a certain storage area in the new home for your warm fuzzies.  Ideally, you’ll use them and they’ll be in the daily cycle.  Second priority would be to display them. But even if there’s no room to do either (or it’s not appropriate to display Great Grandpa’s love letters or your school reports), you can set aside a space somewhere out of the way to keep them safe.  Sometimes just a few items can meet the same emotional needs as the whole lot.

It’s okay to make space for your heart, just as long as you do it intentionally and it takes up only a helpful amount of your living space.

Being able to keep some things that give you the warm fuzzies is important.

A better life? You choose….

When we buy things or keep things, we often have reasons why.

“I might need it”
“But it’s part of my history”
“I need to finish it first”
“I’ll feel guilty”
“It’s still usable”
“These things always come in handy”

ALL of those rationales could be re-written as “My life will be better if I keep it”, couldn’t they? You’d be prepared, or have memories, or have knowledge awaiting you, or you won’t feel guilt. You’ll be better off than if you discarded it, right? I mean, that’s why you’re keeping it, really, isn’t it?

Next time you catch yourself making an excuse to keep something, tell it how it is. Say how you think it will make your life better. Then question that. Will it REALLY? Or just potentially? Or just in the short term?

What about your goal of living a life that is more intentional, mindful, simple and meaningful? Will living like that make your life better?

So which will you go with?

Keeping: “My life will be better if I keep it”

OR

Discarding: “My life will be better if I don’t keep it”.

It’s up to you to choose, so choose well.

Mindful shopping: an antidote to clutter

One of the most common causes of clutter I come across is excess acquisitions; when people buy more stuff than they have space or need for.

People shop for various reasons. One is a basic need – you need sustenance, so you buy milk and bread. You have a hole in your shoe, so you buy a replacement pair to stop your feet getting wet.

Another reason we buy things is to give to others. Presents, gifts, donations. Or as an investment – jewellery, art etc. We also shop to create an environment we feel happy in. We buy home-wares, clothes, artwork and decorations.

Another big reason we buy things is to make ourselves feel better. To feel more successful, to feel more content, to feel more beautiful, more intelligent, more accepted, more creative.

Finally, we shop to get an adrenaline rush. Either the thrill of the chase, or the thrill of the bargain. And then once addicted, it’s just for the rush and no other reason.

People don’t usually shop with the intention of filling their house to unhelpful levels, nor with the intention of growing large amounts of debt, of feeling constantly unsatisfied, or of needing to buy more storage, or of filling our oceans and landfill with excess goods we didn’t need in the first place.  But this is what happens anyway.

Shopping mindfully can help to reduce these negative effects of consumption.

Ask yourself what do you really NEED, and can this item give you that? Will that pretty notebook really make you happier than you are today, beyond the first page of using it? Will that new outfit really make you feel more attractive in the long term?  Will that new phone still be good enough when the next one comes out?

Ask yourself if your home and your life can handle more stuff in it. Is there a home for that item? Do you have time to maintain it, put it away, dust it, clean in, move it around, repair it etc?

Ask yourself if you already have enough. Do you have something else already that can do the same job as that thing you’re eyeing off? Can you survive without the item? (for most things the answer is yes as you’ve survived just fine without it so far!).

Finally, as yourself what truly makes you happy. True, lasting happiness comes from being accepted and part of a community. It comes from helping others. It comes from being grateful for what you have. It comes from learning and growing. It comes from being mindful and present.

Ask yourself these questions before you next make a purchase – and be intentional and mindful of what you bring into your life.

Future You and Past You – are you ignoring them?

Why do we treat our future selves so badly sometimes? And why don’t we trust our past selves?
 
I was just thinking about this because I decided to set myself a calendar reminder to do something (marketing stuff – boring!) once a month. I thought that was a good thing for my future self – she’ll be glad I reminded her of something she should be doing but always forgets to.
 
My first thought was “I’ll probably ignore it” (as I usually do).
 
Do you do this? How many reminders pop up on your phone or PC and you select “Dismiss all” every time without reading them?
 
My next thought was “I wouldn’t ignore someone else’s advice, why do I ignore my own??!”.
 
Doing that task monthly is a GOOD IDEA. I know it is, that’s why I want to set the reminder. But then when I get the reminder, I’ll think “Meh, whatever”.
 
I will not trust my past self enough to do what she said. I will not respect my future self enough to put in some work for her so that her SEO doesn’t drop away.
 
So I’m going to write that reminder, and schedule it. And in it I will write in caps: “STOP DISRESPECTING YOURSELF”. Maybe that will remind me of how important that task really is!

The culture of “better” is hurting us

It might be because of the hundreds of homes we either declutter or empty every year, but I am very, very aware of the amount of stuff that our culture is wasting.

Our culture of “better” is toxic to say the least. We are made to believe that unless we have a home that is in fashion, we have failed somehow. That we can’t have “ugly” things or old thing, or things that don’t match (side note: what you bought last week will be ugly to you or someone else one day but you think it’s gorgeous now – what does that say about us??).

We at Clear Space send TONS of furniture to Auction Houses and charities every month. Literally tons. It’s all perfectly usable and the supply really does outnumber the demand, which means that even quite usuable stuff is often rejected by all and ends up in landfill.

But despite the massive supply to second-hand places, how many people ever consider buying second-hand?

Most people think “Why would you, when a new one is $5 from Kmart or $15 from IKEA and it’s “modern” and pretty?

I beg you to rethink this obsession with fashion. I beg you to rethink this obsession with buying cheap stuff and replacing it frequently with more cheap stuff.

There’s some amazing secondhand stuff available if you just take the time to look. I can virtually guarantee you that a 50yo, $30 coffee table will last longer than the $250 new one you buy.

Embrace sustainable purchasing, embrace “old is new”, embrace the idea that what you have is good enough and doesn’t need to be “upgraded”.

Let’s not fall for the Culture of Better.

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.