Does Your Clutter Symbolize Success?

June 14, 2011

Three thousand pounds of paper—yep, that’s how much paper my brother shredded before he moved to his new office.  That’s 1.5 tons!

As a tax accountant for 37 years, he was obligated by law to keep clients’ returns for six years before destroying them.  I have a hunch he kept them for many more than that.  Then, two years ago he sold his tax accounting business and hung his shingle as a wealth management specialist. 

My Brother and His Paper

Earlier this year he decided to move his business from a spacious building he owned to a suite of offices near his home.  It became imperative to downsize.  Unable to join him, I heard about the move from both him and his assistant.  What they found could be called, dare I say it, “CLUTTER!”  Forty-year old accounting textbooks, IRS tax manuals from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and Wall Street Journal newspaper articles from the late ‘90s might not seem outlandish for an accountant-historian to keep—but for an accountant-turned-wealth management specialist—I don’t think so!

Perhaps the most interesting item found among the reams of paper was a life insurance policy belonging to our mother who died in 1990.  The policy was purchased in 1915, a year after she was born, for a whopping ten cents.  The annual premium was $1.40.  He’s now checking to see if he can cash it in—21 years after her death.  Good luck!

Me and My Stuff

If you’ve read my website (www.alignyourlife.net) or previous blogs, you know I held onto my mother’s stuff for nine years after she died before I could let it all go.  That was a pivotal experience because five years later I went into business as a professional de-clutterer.  Although I still hold onto more books, photos and paper than I need or can appreciate, I have refined my taste for clutter. 

But what is it that keeps me tied to my stuff?  Just yesterday I was reviewing a box of old photos, many of which were taken when I was a baby.  All the members of the previous generations—my mother, father, grandmother, aunts and uncles—are gone.  It was easy to dispense with all the duplicates and poorly focused pictures, but the majority was put back into the box and placed on a high shelf in my closet.  That constitutes CLUTTER in my book!

Is It a Matter of Identity?

It just might be.  In both cases, my brother’s and mine, the stuff we held or are holding onto represents the past.  For him it is his livelihood.  He was an accountant for 37 years, will always have the CPA credential behind his name, but is now a financial management expert.  For me, it is my family.  I was a baby long ago, had parents and extended family that loved me, and now am a parent-less middle-aged adult. 

Our focus on the past assures us we mattered and fuels us to believe we still matter.  In a convoluted way our clutter substantiates and symbolizes our past successes.  It’s tangible proof.  My brother had a thriving accounting business.  I had family who cared what I did and how I thought.  He is now in the midst of starting a new business, and I continue my quest for greater self-awareness.

Beware of Illusions

Lest you think my rationalization is a good excuse to hold onto clutter, it isn’t.  It is an illusion.  I know deep down clutter is a deterrent to living a life fully in the present.  I’ll admit I still struggle with unraveling its complex threads and their sticky nature of holding me back. 

In contrast, my brother has just freed himself of literally tons of clutter.  He has opened space in his business for new clients and new successes to enter.  He’s lifted the monumental weight of the past—past clients, projects, history—from his shoulders.  He’s launched a new chapter in his business and his life.

So, let me ask you:  Do you have clutter?  How much of it symbolizes your success?  Why do you believe you need it now?  If you answer “Yes” to the first question, then it might be worthwhile to probe the deeper answers to the other two.  So much of the stuff of our past doesn’t matter anymore.  We don’t need it and it doesn’t help us.  Dissecting our illusions may be our ticket to freedom—feeling fully free to create and enjoy our successes of the present.

Bev Hitchins © 2011

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