I’m lucky to know some truly free spirited people who love the lockdown.
They are flexible and able to respond. They are now busy pivoting their activities and businesses coming up with creative solutions in areas of their life affected by a lockdown and future uncertainty.
They feel that a new phase of life is coming.
They use this time to focus on engaging with their life’s work or creating something new, now, making their life situation better than before.
They connect with their families, tie loose ends, finish projects and relax in preparation for this next phase.
I also know people who deeply suffer in the lockdown as it goes on highlighting wrong choices, rigidity of thinking, fears and reluctance to get prepared neither for the crisis nor for change.
Our ability to respond and related adaptability are spotlighted in a crisis. Adaptability is vital for survival and becoming more evolutionary winning than strength in our info techno society. In recent months we have all been invited to be adaptable and creative regardless of our actual profession. What’s determining the difference between people who are adaptable and whose who are not?
One of foundational though obscure reasons for differences in our efficiency at ‘life’ is an accumulated ‘clutter’ of old un-constructive behavioural patterns. Mental clutter is very similar to physical ‘clutter’ – things which outlived their usefulness/devoid of our love but present in our living space. They remind us of ‘what was’, keep us away from seeing ‘what is’ and totally obstruct a view of ‘what could be’.
Similarly, strongly opinionated people tend to get locked in past patterns and not respond to ‘what is’. While clinging to old things and old habits might seem to be an innocent if awkward little habit the reality is that we can really get lost in a flow of time.
Clutter has many faces and tends to accumulate everywhere: in our life, house, relationships, memories, emotions and projects.
These are precisely the areas the lockdown is really useful for looking into. Now as probably never before we have been facing our clutters for longer.
And this may be a good thing; we even have time (not to mention a strong incentive) to see why we acquired it in the first place and reframe the underlying habits.
The question is where do we start?
There is a saying (sorry, no idea on the source): ‘if you don’t like your life don’t go about changing it starting with your life partner; re-arrange your furniture first’ 🙂
Research into physical clutter and mental health
Here is a summary of a review of studies which show that clutter can make us:
- less able to focus on the task
- less able to fall asleep easily
- more likely to reach for junk food
- feel more anxious and stressed (seriously, with raised cortisol levels)
- less able to interpret emotions from facial expressions
- make more mistakes inputting data
Clutter clearing and house organisation can make us feel:
- less stressed
- clearer in our thinking
- capable of achieving goals
- better in terms of our self-esteem
- able to master our next challenge
- happy (seriously, with increased release of dopamine)
A tidy house means that we can locate things easily. This makes us feel less stressed and able to think clearer.
Karen Kingston in her classic book ‘Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui’ offers an elegant explanation (from Feng Shui point of view): everything we own is attached to us by invisible energy strands (we remember everything we own at some unconscious level) which you can visualise as being like thin long spaghetti. Ideally, when you think of an item you can easily and immediately remember where it is located. In case of general clutter the whole picture of your invisible energy (read: memory) strands looks like entangled spaghetti.
I find it to be a great visual to get us jump into action 🙂
Research also shows that a messy environment can make us more creative while orderly surroundings make us more likely to conform to traditional expectations. And reluctantly most clutter clearing experts agree that there might be Just One Space (a little drawer; a spare room; a folder called ‘Miscellaneous’ on you computer/in your office and so on) where you either temporary or permanently put things not belonging to any category.
These are things you feel you want to keep and use but not sure how to right at the moment. This conscious cultivation of creativity might give shape to future projects and interesting developments.
There is a certain magic in putting random things together and letting connections to develop between them. In the beginning this is just a feeling. With time this will bring a unique project to life.
Areas of Clutter
A cluttered house no matter how daunting the task looks is actually a rewarding place to start: all the clutter is fairly obvious and you can even hire a professional organiser to help. You get quick results and practice a fine art of Clutter Clearing.
The concept of Clutter goes much further becoming more obscure:
- digital clutter (backlog of never opened emails, NLs, wish lists)
- ‘expired’ address book connections
- fat tissue (and other places we accumulate clutter in our bodies)
- unfinished projects
- emotional clutter (old hurts, resentments, frustrations, non lived loves, unfulfilled expectations; non pursued dreams)
Clutter: different types, one source
Working with my patients over the years I noticed that many types of clutter (if not most) ultimately have origins in disorganised or distorted mental and emotional processing of our life experience.
This prompted me to create a program where we untangle ‘perception spaghetti’ and declutter our memory of life events. Cleaning our ‘perception windows’ is important part of organising our life experience.
My clutter clearing experiments
I did my first decluttering according to the book which said: let go of anything you didn’t use for a year; given to you by somebody you don’t like, etc.
Basically, focus on what you don’t want; get rid of it and then organise what you want to keep (with an extra twist of doing it according to Feng Shui Bagua).
Trust the process as you never know where it will lead you and what you need to let go of in your life.
Glad she mentioned that last part.
While all these sounded alien to me (I was still working in science) I gave it a go.
The results of decluttering of my then kitchen (my ‘Clarity’ area according to Feng Shui) were dramatic: my science career departed once and for all, together of my marriage struggling for many years, taking with them many of my deep held patterns of behaviour.
From my previous life I kept my children, my cats and (temporary) the house. Everything else changed.
I picked up my Personal Development journey where I left it at 16.
A little hobby of Colourpuncture sprouted into a new profession as a therapist.
Many months later I found myself decluttering the rest of that house together with my new life partner.
Needless to say, I started to take any clutter clearing seriously.
Where is your clutter?
Which area of your life feels like in need of de-cluttering and re-organising?
A computer desktop? A handbag? A bedroom? Kids’ bedrooms? The living room? The kitchen? The office? The bathroom? Entire house? Finances? Address book? Diet? Wardrobe? Paperwork? Leisure? Business plans/operations?
Keep what ‘sparks joy’ vs let go of what you don’t use
A different approach to decluttering which firmly took hold in recent years is a “KonMari” method of finding out what ‘sparks joy’. Here you tidy your home by a category instead of by a room; you pull everything out before sorting through it; take in the sight of the pile of stuff you own, then keep only things that are useful or “spark joy”.
With ‘traditional’ decluttering you let go of what you don’t use first; with Kon Mari you decide what you absolutely love first.
While end results are similar – you are ending up with well organised, useful and beautiful surroundings the approaches are hugely different.
I personally think that sometimes to start with ‘what I don’t want’ is the only option as some initial culling is needed to cut through mountains of stuff. I know people for whom to ‘put all items from a category on the floor in front of you’ would be impossible because of sheer amount of their possessions.
I found that choosing a criteria makes for easy decisions and a deeply satisfying process.
My patients’ experience
I gave clutter clearing homework (‘let go first’ as this was pre-KonMari times) a lot. Truck loads of stuff decluttered resulted in many grateful patients (and their families) and happy charity shops.
Everybody found it extremely helpful, liberating and happily integrated the whole idea of being clutter-free.
One case still makes me smile.
I lent my little clutter clearing book to a lady who really went for it – months later I received a new copy of the same book in the post with a note of apology for giving my copy with her stuff to a charity.
Few will deny that now is the best time to finish our unfinished projects. Many people say ‘I never ever had this amount of free time in my life’.
Unfinished projects drain your energy pulling it to the past (where you have no power to do anything anymore); they don’t let you be fully engaged in present and plan for the future.
Unfinished projects burden you the way debt do.
As you go about decluttering the house pay special attention to anything which falls under a category of ‘unfinished projects’:
- you thought of something but never made a first step
- you started something, made the first step and then for whatever reasons you stopped
- any project started and progressed but not completed; a course, a friendship, new profession
- anything you can’t drop, can’t let go of but can’t/won’t/don’t make an effort to carry on with either
Tracking down your unfinished projects gives a sharp snapshot into your internal patterns, deep needs and cherished wishes.
Our true needs form our ultimate core. A deep need is a spark planted in us by a manifesting Universe and is never self-centredness.
In a clutter clear life space it might be a step on our path of service.
Happy decluttering 🙂