The Dilemma Of Clutter


Last year I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things ( on Netflix and fell head over heels in loooooooooooooove. I have since watched it about five times, which reminds me that I’m due to watch it again..Even as I write about it, I’m tempted to grab the DVD’s that have been collecting dust in the hall closet, the Winnie the Pooh humidifier and the extra 30 mugs we don’t use and donate them.

I remember years ago reading something that said that each object you own has a tiny spider web thread that is energetically connected to you. The more stuff you have, the more of an energetic drain it is on you. I think many of us sense this and this is why we go through stages where we want to clean our entire lives, and get excited about reading books like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, or feel tempted to read articles titled “10 Brilliant Spring Cleaning Shortcuts” (who doesn’t love a shortcut?!). 

So how is it that even though we want to be free and live “uncluttered” lives, we remain in the hamster wheel of accumulation? The exorbitant amount of pillows in my home and my willingness to look at and think about purchasing even more pillows is a perfect example of this! Dan Harris, the author of “10% Happier”, points out that we have a lot of automatic habitual behavior, and that much of our time is spent on the hunt. I believe that the “hunt” is the search for purpose and meaning in our lives. Somehow this search for meaning gets tangled with our experiences of pleasure. It feels nice when we get new things (dopamine received thank you very much!). Even the word “new” feels exciting and fresh! Over time we end up with more things than we need, and the dilemma of clutter. 

These ideas of habit and the hunt resonate deeply for me. Naturally there are many layers to these ideas, but I think to truly address this issue they must be examined and uprooted.

With some honest self reflection I can see that many of my own automatic habitual behaviors start at the level of thought. Many of my criteria of why I should buy something have roots from beliefs I had as a child. For instance, “If I want something, then I should get it.” This is a very young way of thinking. As children we relied on our parents to regulate our wants, for instance we couldn’t stay up all night or eat ice cream for dinner just because we wanted to. Using the outdated criteria of I want it = I get it, doesn’t allow for a lot of discernment around whether or not having this thing in my life is truly justified. After the initial high of attaining the object is over, what value does this “thing” bring to my daily life? Is this worth the space it will take up physically and energetically? Not to mention, is it even worth my hard earned dollars? Three quarters of the things I have purchased from Target or The Home Goods store would go right back on the shelf if I had asked these questions (and actually listened to the answer!). So much of our current belief system is based on a model that we created from the ages of 3 to 8 years old! Recognizing the underlying belief system we have is monumental in shifting and ultimately updating our habitual thoughts. 

I remember saying to my dear friend Malia, “I just want to buy shit!!” and she responded with her big beautiful laugh with something along the lines of “And fill the giant gaping hole in our soul!”. When I look closely, many of the times I go out and buy things, I am in a place of discomfort (mild, medium or intense). Something feels out of place, I am feeling insecure or irritable and I turn to the classic retail therapy to temporarily distract and/or soothe my discomfort. Many times this is unconscious and sometimes I know damned well that if I buy a new dress I will feel a little more excited about life for a minute. 

Also, the process of shopping/looking/hunting for the perfect mug/dress/pillow/rug/whatever can give us a feeling of purpose. Once it is found, purpose is fulfilled, and a checkmark can be placed on the ‘to do’ list. This accomplishment feels concrete. Purpose and meaning in life however, present themselves (in my experience anyways) in subtle ways that can shift, and require an unhurried presence of mind. This type of presence requires that we are taking good care of our bodies and minds. We are eating healthy foods, getting out in nature, moving our bodies, getting sleep, laughing, having times of stillness so that we can be with our shifting emotions (pleasant and unpleasant) and connecting to our loved ones. As we all know, taking care of ourselves can be difficult with all of the external demands in our lives (how much of those demands require that you make enough money to fuel the hunt for stuff?). If any of this resonates, give me a high-five, I am right there with you.

None of these reasons: An outdated system of thoughts/beliefs, soothing discomfort aka retail therapy, or finding temporary fulfillment in shopping/looking/hunting are things to feel shame around. We are human, intrinsically and beautifully flawed. THIS is the shit we can connect over! This is the type of thing that can WAKE us up to the many ways we can clean up our lives mentally, physically and emotionally. It is not about living a ‘perfect’ existence, it is about continually expanding our awareness. When we start to shift our awareness closer inward THIS is where the decluttering really begins. Another thing worth mentioning is this is a gradual and continuous process. We are dealing with a pattern that for many of us has been repeating itself for YEARS and years! It is so easy for the mind to slip back into autopilot. In this case, any time we catch ourselves back there, it is a win! We noticed! We have the rest of our lives to improve, so no stress, ok?

Operation Declutter:

  • Create a list of “How I justify buying things” What is my current criteria?

  • Update my criteria for making a purchase…just because it is “on sale” doesn’t mean it is worth the space in my life!

  • Notice when I am feeling the urge to shop. Am I getting sleep? What am I eating? Am I feeling uncomfortable? Am I getting outside, my bare feet and hands in the dirt/grass? Do I have PMS or IMS (Irritable Male Syndrome...much less talked about, but oh so real)

  • Get a friend or family member on board with you. A decluttering buddy.

  • Watch Minimalism - A Documentary About The Important Things on Netflix. Also check out The Minimalists website

  • Check out Mr. Money Mustache for further inspiration

  • Read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo (It can go to the extreme..but she has great guidelines for organizing and getting rid of stuff)

  • Dedicate a month to slowly declutter your physical belongings

  • Start to go through your home and donate anything that no longer resonates with you (ahem the outfit you spent a lot on that no longer fits, or just doesn’t do it for you anymore. Does it deserve the energy it is taking up in your mind and closet?) Donate any items you no longer use or like, throw out broken things(be sure to dispose of electronics properly), expired things, things you can’t donate.

  • If you are having a hard time getting rid of something because of the money you spent on it…sell it! Craigslist or eBay. Making money is not the primary goal however, just an added bonus. Don’t get caught up in making a certain amount of $$ this can cause further stress and take up precious energy of yours!

  • Rigorously apply your updated criteria for purchasing anything new

  • Rinse and Repeat for the rest of your life

You are Nature

With Love, Nicole

P.S. I would love to hear YOUR favorite decluttering tips/insights please share in the comments below.