Homes can be wonderful sources of joy, relaxation, and support. They can also be shrines to the past, consistently wearing us down as we walk around piles of unfinished projects, unrealized dreams, and distant memories. Instead of helping us embrace the possibilities that today might bring, piles trap us in an unpleasant "should have, could have" state of mind.
Various long-forgotten objects create piles of missed opportunities, regret, and mixed-emotion nostalgia. A client might take a deep breath as we unearth clothing from a departed loved one. Sometimes they cringe as they rediscover self-help books authored by "heroes" who have recently fallen from grace or are currently serving time in prison. Sometimes they chuckle as they pull out pants with impossibly tiny waistbands or tops with implausibly large shoulders.
All these items carry physical and emotional weight. It can be hard to let go, but all the unread books, unfinished craft projects, dust-collecting china sets, and twenty-year-old resumes weigh us down. They catch our eye and sometimes even seem to taunt us, especially when we do not have time to deal with them:
"Hey, what about me? What's next? Remember how frustrated you got when I became too overwhelming? Well, that's irrelevant; we're still not finished!"
"Hey, I see you looking at me. I know you feel guilty about not finishing, even though you moved on to more exciting projects. I'm still here, and every time you see me, I'm going to make a point of giving you a guilt trip that there's work to be done here!"
"Hey, remember, when you picked me up, and I told you how drastically I could improve your life? My pages are filled with tactics that will make your life amazing! You want an amazing life, right? Then why don't you read me?"
If enough of these objects are within view, they can collectively dampen our moods, even if they only momentarily rise to consciousness. We already feel stressed with the current load of activities that need our attention, and these piles from the past are not exactly helping us feel good in our daily lives.
Sometimes we become so accustomed to the long-term piles of clutter that we experience "clutter blindness." From an evolutionary standpoint, we apparently scan our environments looking for threats to our safety. Once we understand that particular objects are harmless, we stop noticing them. In this way, piles of clutter can become part of the scenery.
Additionally, clutter has a way of attracting more clutter. Our eyes see a pile of out-of-place objects, and on some level, we acknowledge that this must be the place where those types of items belong. Eventually, piles increase in volume and frequency to the point that we can no longer comfortably sit on our couches, have friends and family over for dinner, or have an office that supports our daily work.
So how do we tackle these unforgiving piles of clutter? There are too many tactics to list here comprehensively, but the strategies below are a great start:
You can take photos of the clutter to remove "blinders." Clients who send me "before" pictures are frequently shocked by the state of affairs, not previously realizing just how impacted the area had become. The photo's lack of three dimensions has a way of forcing the viewer to see the space in a new light. Take pictures from various vantage points to get a comprehensive perspective. It might feel uncomfortable, but it can also be incredibly empowering: along with awareness comes the power to decide that we are no longer willing to live with the status quo.
Another tactic is to ask yourself a few challenging questions:
"Has my home become a mausoleum to a past? Is it no longer coherent with who I am today?"
"What do I want my home to be: a space that supports a decade-old version of me, or one that supports my current version?"
"How much precious square footage am I willing to sacrifice to the past or some improbable future at the expense of my present needs?"
These tactics may not be easy, but they can cut through the visual noise straight to the true heart of the matter.
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.