Clutter, junk, stuff, keepsakes, memorabilia, things I need, and just plain trash invade the lives of everyday folks way more than you would believe. Some of them feel overwhelmed by the day to day clutter and as a result ignore relationships, paying bills, or physical and emotional health. Of course, we all have that one room, garage, or basement that seems to be the catch-all for junk and overflow. There is the proverbial junk drawer in nearly every kitchen or office desk. But I’m talking about households of clutter, in every room, including the garage.
What if the accumulation of goods, papers, laundry, and general household items is actually keeping you from accomplishing what you should be doing with your life? What does the clutter in your house keep you away from? How much time would you save every year if you didn’t have to look through junk to find the things that you actually use?
For most of us, saving things from our past (old school papers, kids drawings, scrapbook items, photographs) gives us a sense of identity and feeling grounded in our heritage. We feel that these things can create links to the past, our accomplishments, and even connect us with deceased relatives. Everyone needs a sense of belonging, a validation of our roots and family lineage, but nearly all of us have a tendency to save ten of our children’s first grade pictures when one or two will do. We hold on to great grandpa’s entire tool box instead of just the miter square even though most of the tools have rusted beyond use. We keep aunt Lydia’s tea stained tablecloth in the closet, never using it because of the stain, when the smaller table runner will evoke the same memories. Sometimes, de-cluttering our lives begins with not clinging so hard to the past. Respect what has come before, but don’t let the memories (and the physical items that accompany them) keep you from moving forward. If you have box after box of keepsakes, try letting go of a third of them. You will find that after two weeks, you still have as much love for your heritage as you did before, with less clutter.
Guilt can play a large part in keeping things that you don’t need. Many of us have been taught that it’s wasteful to throw away a perfectly good utensil, piece of furniture, or any other household item. That said, isn’t it just as wasteful to hold onto it and never use it? That’s not good stewardship. The answer may be as simple as having a garage sale (priced very, very cheap), or donating items to a local charity. Many thrift stores have trucks that will pick up your good, used items once a month.
Fear of financial devastation can be another motivator for keeping our clutter. I’ve heard one or two people in my lifetime say, “If we lose all of our money, at least we have all of this (pointing to a house full of unused items filling every corner of every room).” If financial fears are what motivate you to hold on to things you might never use, yet constantly get in your way, then maybe you should re-evaluate your awareness of needs versus wants, and learn to live with less. Why is it that you cling to the fear of having no possessions? Self evaluation and criticism are necessary to get past this reasoning. What are you trying to replace in your life with excess possessions?
Some use the messy house as an attention getter, to show others that their lives are so busy, so frantic, so in demand by family, friends, and jobs that they just can’t keep up with the house, yard, and garage. They say that it’s a heavy yoke that life has placed upon their shoulders. They proclaim that they must live this way, sacrificing themselves and an orderly home for the good of everyone else. Martyr, martyr, martyr. Either way, it’s a tactic often used to feel important in front of anyone who will listen. They literally allow the house to be cluttered in order to present their case. Sadly, most outside observers of this behavior simply see disorganization and insecurity. They tire quickly of listening to the tales of being overwhelmed.
Some also use the clutter in their lives to avoid dealing with relationships, finances, or health issues. The important things are often left behind when we can use the excuse of having too much to do. If the garage needs cleaning every weekend, then are we really avoiding spending time with our spouse or in-laws? If the kitchen is always a mess then there is never enough time to deal with getting your finances in order. If we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with the volume of things that need to be attended to in a house with too much clutter, then we will never get on that exercise routine. The problems will not go away simply because you feel over burdened.
While there are many possible motivations for hanging on to clutter in our lives, the reality is that those issues often cannot be addressed until some of the excess is removed. It’s like getting rid of the swelling and pain in a shoulder so that you can address the reason it’s getting sore. Start by promising to rid yourself of three boxes a week for a month. Then stop for a week to evaluate how you feel, what your life is like now, what is likely to change toward the positive if you continue to de-clutter. It will allow you to begin to look at why you accumulated those items in the first place. Be honest with yourself, accept your motivations, then move forward.