Two years ago today, I began my great decluttering journey. At that time, I was at a major crossroads. I’d recently resigned from my teaching career and didn’t have a clear vision of what was next. My youngest child was a freshman away at college. Both of my parents had passed away, and we’d just closed on their house, which they’d lived in for 32 years. I’d also recently become a grandmother and was about to turn 50.
I was in uncharted territory.
After putting so much effort into assisting my parents and clearing out their house, my own house was a mess. At the same time, I was grieving the loss of my parents and adjusting to being an empty nester. Though I wasn’t clear about what I was moving toward, I sensed the keys to moving forward were buried under all the clutter in my home. All the stuff that felt more relevant to my past than to my future and took up space in my home.
Think of your home as a giant vision board. What does the stuff you give space to in your home say about what’s most important to you? What intentions for your life do the contents of your home proclaim? What unconscious beliefs do they reveal?
Decluttering my home is a process I’ve written about previously. But my decluttering journey didn’t end there. After clutter-clearing my house, I decluttered my car, garage, computer, website, blog, and photo library. It felt amazing!
At this point, the only area I need to finish decluttering is my rented storage unit that houses my parents’ belongings and ancestral artifacts that I needed more time to process. Last year, I made significant progress by sorting through at least 25 boxes of photographs, papers, and mementos and distributing the “keepers” to living family members. I’m waiting for warmer weather to complete the job and either downsize or eliminate the storage unit.
I began my clutter-clearing pilgrimage with Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as my guide. There were some categories (such as books and papers) for which Kondo’s advice didn’t resonate, so I learned about other methods and eventually became a Certified Clutter Coach in Denise Linn’s method.
After two years of decluttering my own stuff and assisting others on their clutter-clearing journeys, I’ve developed an approach that incorporates guided inner journeys, feng shui, mindfulness, Reiki, photography, writing, vision boards, and creating letting-go rituals that honor sentimental items and the relationships they represent. I’m grateful for all these tools I can use with clients when it feels right. They make the process deeper and more enduring.
With a holistic and integrated approach like this, the clutter does not return. It’s removed, roots and all, and a whole lot of inner clearing and healing takes place through the process. It’s not just about the stuff. Clutter-clearing can be an opportunity for deep transformation and growth on many levels.
First, there’s the most obvious level that encompasses the physical living space and how it feels. I’ve written extensively about this previously and will not go into detail about it here because it’s just the tip of the iceberg. However, it’s what most folks set their sights on when they decide to declutter.
For most of my adult life, I didn’t bother to make my bed. However, since clutter-clearing my home, I’ve made my bed first thing every morning without missing a day. It’s not a chore. Instead, it’s the first gift I give myself every morning and uplifts my energy whenever I walk into the room. In addition, there are no junk drawers or piles of clutter in my home. Since every object has a dedicated spot now, I spend less time looking for things. Everything in my home either serves a purpose or brings me joy. The energy in my home feels lighter and brighter. Entering my home is an uplifting, peaceful experience. It truly is my sanctuary.
All that is a big, ginormous deal that makes the work of decluttering worth it. But there’s more! Much more. For the remainder of this article, I will describe the five greatest benefits I’ve received from clutter-clearing, to illustrate how decluttering can improve your quality of life, beyond how your home looks and feels.
#1: More Joy
Throughout the decluttering process, you go through your belongings one at a time and notice how they affect your energy. Marie Kondo asks: Does it spark joy? Similarly, Denise Linn’s guiding question is: Energy up, energy down, or energy neutral? Naturally, you get lots of practice tuning in to joy and noticing when it’s present and absent – and being mindful of the energy in your body, in general.
As a result, I have a much greater awareness of how joy feels and what sparks it. I’m more inclined to take a moment to check in and notice where my energy’s at and to remove from my environment whatever disturbs my peace of mind. I gravitate toward what brings me joy and feels like an unequivocal yes.
Because joy matters. It’s become more conscious and accessible. A way of life. I now choose joy instead of suffering and make decisions based on joy rather than on fear. (I always can feel the difference.) This includes decisions about how to reframe things so I can see them in a more positive light and avoid unnecessary suffering.
Does it spark joy? is much more than a meme. With practice, it is a major game-changer! My joy setpoint is higher than it used to be, and this is a Very Good Thing.
#2: More Confident Decision-Making
I used to be more passive about making decisions, deferring to others and sometimes even waiting until decisions were made for me, by default. I relied greatly on the opinions of others and allowed them to call the shots about decisions relevant to my life. I didn’t trust my own judgment and sought validation.
Decluttering changed all that! It helped me to tune in to what feels right for me. After noticing how objects affected my energy, the next step was to decide whether to keep, repair, donate, give away, sell, or discard each item. This decision was repeated at least a thousand times during the process and strengthened my decision-making muscles, like doing reps at the gym.
As a result, I’ve made a habit of going inward to decide what to do and enjoy how it feels to take charge of my life. I depend much less on others to help me make decisions. Now I’m more assertive and confident about decision-making and feel much more empowered than I used to.
Tuning in to how it feels in my body and what feels right extends to all areas of life. Being cued in to how things, people, and situations affect my energy allows me to trust my inner wisdom and move in the direction of what feels right – and away from what doesn’t.
And even more than that, I’m communicating what I want, like, and prefer to others rather than simply accepting whatever they do or say and considering “going with the flow” to be a virtue (which it is, within reason). The new me teaches others how I want to be treated instead of passively accepting everyone else’s terms.
All this from decluttering? You betcha. Positive changes can set in motion a surprising ripple effect!
#3: More Proactive
On the most basic level, I don’t let things like dishes and laundry sit around anymore. I take care of them right away. When I put a dishwasher load going at night, I put everything away first thing in the morning so no dirty dishes will accumulate in the sink or on counters. It’s part of my morning routine and is an opportunity to practice gratitude for having dishes and food and a home in which to store it all.
In addition, I order parts for broken appliances, take action swiftly, and don’t allow things to sit around. I pick up tiny objects from the floor and take out the broom rather than leave it for later. I attend to clutter right away because I know how good it feels to be clutter-free, and how things can build up over time and feel overwhelming. Taking a moment now saves a lot of moments later.
Scrubbing the toilet was the worst part of my decluttering experience because our well water has a high mineral content that builds up quickly and stubbornly. It had become really bad, to the point that I just threw in the towel and hoped visitors wouldn’t ask to use the bathroom. When your parents are dying and need your help, such things can happen on the home front.
As I scrubbed the toilet, I vowed I would never, ever let it get that bad again, or even close. I’d be on top of it from now on and scrub away the first signs of mineral stains. It was a great metaphor for some other things (mostly non-things) I’d let slide in my life, and the vow expanded into a promise to myself to be more on the ball in general. Which I have been.
#4: Less Wanting
This month, I will begin a two-year mindfulness meditation teacher certification program that includes a lot of assigned reading. In the past, I’ve had a wall of books. If I’ve ever collected anything, it was books, most of which were acquired inexpensively secondhand. I love books! However, I donated more than half my library during decluttering and only have a few shelves of books (and a few crates of children’s books) remaining that are especially near and dear to my heart.
I can afford to buy the books for the mindfulness program. However, I don’t have much interest in owning more books or more anything. I’m deeply interested in the content of the books for the program and plan to take good notes. Maybe once I get a ways into some of the books, I’ll want to own them. However, I’m starting off borrowing them from the library rather than ordering them on Amazon just because they’re on the required reading list.
The motivation is not so much to save money as it is to save space. I think very carefully about bringing anything new into my home – including books – because I love uncluttered living and want to keep it that way. If anything, I’d like to declutter even more, which is why I do an annual mini-declutter.
#5: More Interpersonal Resolution
My clutter-clearing journey involved going through not only my own photos and personal items, but also all my parents’ and ancestors’ photos, papers, and mementos. That really put things into perspective. It gave me a full lifetime view of each person, which resulted in greater understanding, appreciation, and compassion.
In my twenties, I attended a weekend intensive to kick off a transpersonal psychology certificate program. We sat in chairs in a big circle and started by introducing ourselves. When it was one participant’s turn, she said that she was looking around at everyone in the circle and thought to herself: If only I knew their stories, I would love them. I’ve carried that thought with me ever since.
Decluttering my parents’ and ancestors’ belongings helped me to get to know them better and learn their stories. It made me love and appreciate them more. The mere act of holding someone’s birth certificate in one hand and their death certificate in the other fosters love and compassion. Going through the family artifacts made me feel closer to my parents and grandparents. This would not have happened if I’d left the boxes unexamined.
Going through the boxes of photos and papers generated insights about family relationships and brought up unresolved feelings. I photographed many of the artifacts and journaled about my insights and feelings as they arose by dictating them directly into my phone. Photographing sentimental items and writing about the stories they tell and the feelings they bring up takes the decluttering process even deeper into forgiveness, healing, and the kind of personal transformation that happens when you finally let go of your grudges and the limiting beliefs that produced them.
Seeing pictures of my parents and ancestors throughout their entire life, and reading correspondence from periods of their life I didn’t know much or anything about, helped me to see them as whole human beings rather than as Parents who were always 30 years older than me. I could see them outside of our parent-child roles and within the context of the times in which they lived. Having a clearer picture of that context allowed me to understand that their attitudes and values were shaped by the times in which they lived, and I didn’t need to take things so personally.
The weight of family relationships that I’ve carried around all my life has been lifted. The stories I held about them have become more universal and less personal. So much energy has been freed up. All because I spent time with my parents’ and ancestors’ stuff and decided what to keep, what to let go of, and what to (sometimes literally) reframe.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to this: Decluttering has helped me to know who I am and what I want, and who I’m not and what I don’t want. Such clarity makes real transformation possible. Transformation that isn’t dependent on the opinions or influence of others because letting go of that is also part of the process. As you become aware of how everything in your environment affects your energy, you learn to make use of a valuable feedback loop that draws you closer to your true self.
That is the greatest joy and success I know of.
But don’t just take my word for it. Do some decluttering, and see for yourself!
Aaand if you’d like assistance with your clutter-clearing journey, I provide a continuum of education and coaching services, including a free Facebook page, workshops/presentations, group coaching, and one-on-one coaching.
© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.