Clutter, Clutter Everywhere

September 28, 2015

Everyone has clutter. For some it’s not visible, but the mental residue of unwanted thoughts and worries rests in their mind. For others, a pile here and a pile there are periodically swept away and then a new pile is born.

But what about the person who feels the need to cover every flat surface in her home with a multitude of crystals, knickknacks, and tchotchkes? Or the person who has so many clothes, she cannot fit them all into her closets and bureaus? Or the person who cannot get through the endless stacks of paper that confront him in his home office, on his kitchen counter or covering his coffee table?

Why does clutter exist?

What I’ve learned during the past 10 years of helping people de-clutter is to listen to each client’s back-story, because in that story lie the reasons why the clutter exists and persists. In most cases there is loss or trauma hidden underneath all the stuff. How much clutter there is at the present time and how it is handled depends on the degree to which the trauma has been dealt with.

Those who have undergone a loss or a trauma have a critical need to feel safe. Job loss, death of a loved one, a sudden disability, or a violation of any sort is an example of such trauma. Tangible, physical items, like clothes, shoes, cars, or even paper, can give the illusion of safety and control. Since most of us determine what we bring into our home, the single act of buying an item we want but don’t need can give us a sense of control—control that didn’t exist when or after the trauma occurred.

Why is there such resistance to addressing clutter?

Most people don’t realize there is a whole lot more to clutter than just stuff. Having possessions is a wonderful distraction. Anything you own means you have to manage it, store it, maintain it, repair it, use it, clean it, or display it. When you have too much of it, it becomes clutter. We Americans have the wherewithal to buy lots of stuff we don’t need. Why do we do it? Because we can and because it soothes us temporarily. I suspect, though, there are other reasons.

If we were to probe more deeply, we might discover the feelings that propel us to acquire unnecessary, excess stuff. If we were to face these feelings squarely, we might call a halt to the endless influx of stuff we allow and usually welcome into our homes. This is not easy to do. In fact, this is a profound realization, and when people get it, they are willing to start dealing with their clutter in a deep and lasting way.

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