by Joanna Crawford
(Placing blue 'thing' on altar:)
Can anyone tell me what this is?
Well, my mom used to put pretty little soaps on it, in her guest bathroom. Of course, that was in the 70's, when decorating had a lot more leeway than now. Lava lamps and shag carpeting, anyone?
10 years ago, my parents got rid of their 4 bedroom, 3 bath, 2 living areas ranch house and distributed to my siblings and me much of what they had acquired in their 40 years together. My sister lived in Seattle, so she was limited as to what she could take, and my brother is a fastidious wealthy person who simply buys for himself whatever he wants.
Among other things, I got this.
And here it is, 10 years later. This thing has sat under my bathroom cabinet for the 3 years we've lived here. Before that, it sat under the bathroom cabinet in my house in Austin. Before that, it sat under the bathroom cabinet in our duplex in Austin and before that, it sat under the bathroom cabinet in our apartment in Austin.
My friends, I stand before you, a recovering pack rat, a clutterholic. I kept this blue 'thing' because it had been my mothers. Now the fact that a) she didn't want it, b) she's alive and quite healthy, and c) I have a million other things (some of them quite nice) that were hers -- none of this fazed me. After all, I might need it someday. It might be the perfect thing for a room I'd redecorate. (Right, in lava striped blue). I might take it to antiques roadshow and find out it was worth $1000.
I don't think so.
Quite simply, like most of the things in my house, it was easier to just stuff it somewhere than to actually make a decision to get rid of it.
But my friends, the first step is the hardest. After that, it gets REAL EASY to get rid of things. Things. Stuff. Clutter.
So what's so bad about clutter anyway?
Well, for some people, and I used to be one, clutter leads to C-H-A-O-S. Chaos, which is an acronym for Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.
And it drags you down. Half-finished projects from 2 years ago mock you, making you feel guilt about never finishing them. You feel guilt about the mess that's behind your closet doors. It's stressful and it's depressing.
But my friends, getting rid of the clutter is liberating.
Now my spirituality friends are wondering what the heck any of this has to do with the spiritual side of life. Plenty.
For many of us, clutter is a protection. We are literally building walls around ourselves to feel more secure. We have a dreadful fear that if we get rid of that 2 handled whatchamacallit, we might need it someday. As you let clutter go, you are also letting the fear go. Because you know what? You're not going to need it. And if you do, you can go to the store and get another. Or, in one of those metaphysical coincidences the world operates on, you'll be given one.
And for my Judeo-Christian friends, I remind you of Exodus 14:
And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they knew not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them.
I'm not sure, but I think Moses was pretty hacked off, too. This Bible verse reminds us to not hoard our manna, but to use what we want and then let it go.
Let your clutter go ... one man's clutter is another's treasure that he has been searching for. You have, in your closets and attics and garages, an item which you have no use for, an item that is taking up precious space ... and it also happens to be an item that someone else is searching for. And by the same token ... that person perhaps has exactly what you've been looking for.
Benefits of decluttering:
I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, but based on plenty of anecdotes, including my own experience, if you want to lose weight, first put your house on a diet. After decluttering your home, you're not going to want to clutter up your own body. You're throwing away trash, and you're going to be less likely to want to put trash -- junk food -- into your body.
And mental health. In "Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui," author Karen Kingston talks about a long-term therapy client. "(She) was a young girl who was a recovering heroin addict. After she had had a couple of relapses, I realized I had to take a firmer approach. I refused to work with her again unless we did a session at her home and she showed her commitment to kicking her habit by getting her place fit for the session. This was very tough for her to do. Her self-esteem had sunk so low over the years that she was living in squalor. But she set to work with a will and triumphantly invited me to her apartment several weeks later. It was plain to see how much work had been done, and the change in her in those weeks was also remarkable. The next few therapy sessions marked profound breakthroughs for her.
"Several years later, I bumped into her in a public place and didn't recognize her. She had transformed into a radiantly beautiful woman, full of hapiness and love for life. She dated the change from those sessions. Through clearing out her clutter, she had cleaned up her life."
Other benefit of decluttering: Lose guilt. Many of us with what appear to be tidy homes, harbor the secret of clutter stuffed in closets, stuffed in the garage, stuffed under the bed and in the attic. It's also stuffed into our consciousness. Those of us ... and we know who we are ... know the tight feeling of anxiety that comes when a guest says, "May I hang this up in a closet?"
Another benefit --
Saving money -- you won't want to buy more stuff because your first thought will be -- "Where will I put it?" Also, when you have a cluttered home, there is often the instinct to go shopping ... there is a gnawing feeling inside, and we feel it can be assuaged by buying something. When the clutter disappears, many times, the gnawing feeling does to.
Why is that?
Well, that brings me to the best benefit of decluttering:
Finding peace. Clutter is more than just a full closet. It fills up our lives in a negative way. It tells us that we're disorganized. Clothes that we no longer fit into mock us, telling us that we'll never be that size again. Unfinished projects give us a feeling of failure. Our psychological goal may be to feel safe and secure, surrounded by our possessions, but because we clutch them so tightly, it has the opposite effect.
By letting go ... by trusting in a universe of abundance that if we do need that 2-handled whatchamacallit, we'll get one, we can truly gain that feeling of security.
And ... I've heard too many anecdotes, and had it happen to me too many times, to not believe that there is a rhythm somewhere in this -- that by recycling, letting go of clutter, we make space for good things. Like a month ago, when I decided to get rid of a particular coffee table. I went out garage saleing with Katy Carpman, not even thinking of coffee tables and there I found an antique trunk, perfect to use as a table ... and I could put the kids toys in it, and oh, it looks so good in our library ... oh, and I paid all of 5 bucks for it.
Some of you have heard me talk about a mail list on the internet led by a woman called "FlyLady." This list sends out little reminders daily about taking care of your life and your home, including the famous 27 Fling Boogie.
Here's what the 27 Fling Boogie is ...
Take a garbage bag and walk through your home and throw away 27 items. (Scrap paper, broken toys, rags, old magazines, etc.) Do not stop until you have collected all 27 items. Then close the garbage bag and pitch it. DO NOT LOOK IN IT!!! Just do it.
Next, take an empty box and go through your home collecting 27 items to give away. Suze Orman teaches this in her book, The Courage to be Rich. This will change the energy in your home and bring about good feelings. As soon as you finish filling the box, take it to the car. You are less tempted to rescue the items.
Optionally, you may sing: "Please Release Me, Let Me Go" as sung from the stuff's pointof view as you boogie.
Back to FlyLady. She gets many letters of appreciation from people who have benefited from her list. (The list is free, incidentally. FlyLady, real name Marla Cilley, runs it as her contribution to society, being a recovering clutteroholic herself.) I thought I'd read to you a few of the testimonials she has received ...
"I realized that this was more than the home being clean. This was about me. As I started decluttering my home I started decluttering my life. These past 4 years have been an absolute struggle for my life. There have deaths in my family, a move, a difficult pregnancy ... My life was so dark that I was losing sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.
Then I realized one day as I was decluttering my hall closet that I was hiding. Hiding behind my STUFF. My WEIGHT. My ANGER. My SELF PITY!!!! That is when I started to change. It was then that I started to declutter my life right along with the closet. Ever since I started this journey of decluttering my LIFE I have had a major miracle happen. As I said earlier that it has been a struggle for my LIFE, that was literal in two ways. The first being a major depression that overwhelmed me. The second being diagnosed with a kidney disease and my kidneys were in failure. Two weeks after I started to declutter my life I recieved a call from my doctor telling me that my kidney function had returned to normal and I was no longer in failure and I no longer needed her services.
I still have alot of decluttering to do in my life but since I have finished my home and have a very good routine going I have more time to work on myself. I can honestly say that I am a much happier person with a heck of a lot less guilt on my shoulders."
Marla Cilley -- Flylady -- sees clutter as not just something that fills up closets, but as ... well, the devil. Something that takes on a life of its own and is there to destroy your family and your life. It takes over your home, so that it's no longer friendly. You stay late at work, the kids stay out as much as possible, to avoid coming into this house. Flylady -- who came up with the CHAOS acronym for Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome -- also sees stuff as an acronym. S-T-U-F-F -- Something that undermines family fun. We can't go do something fun Saturday, because we need to clean the house. Sorry, you can't have a friend over -- look at this mess.
So, how do you do it? How do you get rid of the clutter?
27 Fling Boogiing is one way, and it's very good for maintenance, or for taking baby steps toward your goal. But when you're ready to sit down and eat the whole elephant, here's what you do.
You go to the area you want to declutter -- let's say your bedroom closet. You have with you 3 boxes. One is for things that go elsewhere, in another room. (Not just stuffed into another closet.) One is for items to donate to charity. One is for trash. The last one should be the biggest.
You go through, pulling out one thing at a time. Where does it go? Put it in one of the boxes or on the floor, if it legitimately will go back into the closet.
You ask yourself ... do I use it? Have you actually used it this past year -- preferably, more than once?
And your other question ... Do I love it? Most material things that we own have some type of memory or sentiment attached to them. When you look at an item, how does it make you feel? If it makes you feel bad, because it has an unpleasant memory attached -- get rid of it. If it makes you feel guilt, get rid of it. A perfectly serviceable sweater given by your ex-husband that brings up unhappy memories does not belong at your house. Your goal is to have your surroundings made up of things that make you happy when you see them.
And perhaps there is someone out there that would truly love that sweater. Back when I had less children and more time, I did a lot of garage saleing with my sister. At one sale, my sister picked up a fur jacket. She had never had one, and growing up in Rochester New York, had always coveted one. The woman running the sale asked my sister, "Do you want that?" "I love it," my sister said. "Why are you getting rid of it?" "My ex-husband gave it to me," said the woman. She smiled at my sister and said, "You can have it for free."
The woman was happy. My sister was very happy. And if coats have feelings, surely it was happy, because now it was with someone that who it.
So, grab a hold by letting go ... and you'll find that you've grabbed a big handful of peace.
(Final hymn, Peace Like a River)
Lastly, if you need a good hard push to declutter your home, here's a stark visualization. Imagine that you've gone on to that great clutter closet in the sky and your Mom or your kids ... have to go through all your closets and clean everything out. They're going to go through everything. Your coat closet. Your junk drawer. Everything.
What's important is right here. Your family, your friends, your spirit. All the other stuff ... is just stuff.