Consider drawing a comparison between the act of de-cluttering and washing dishes.  Here’s what Geneen Roth wrote about washing dishes in her book Women Food and God:

“…If you focus on getting the dishes done so that your kitchen will be clean, you miss everything that happens between dirty and clean.  The warmth of the water, the pop of the bubbles, the movements of your hand.  You miss the life that happens in the middle zone—between now and what you think your life should be like.  And when you miss those moments because you’d rather be doing something else, you are missing your own life.  Those moments are gone.  They will never come back.”

Whether our clutter is in the middle of the living room or hidden away in a storage unit, how often have we’ve told ourselves, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of all this stuff, I’ll be free!”?  Heaving it all into a trash bag seems like such a tidy solution, but it doesn’t solve the clutter issue.  In fact, it will most likely come back and probably with a vengeance.  If we are determined to deal with our clutter, we must immerse our hands in the stuff we’ve accumulated from the past.  We must pull it apart piece by piece, admire it or disparage it, and determine what to do with it.

When we focus on the present, the clutter right before our very eyes, rather than on the shame or embarrassment for having it, we have the opportunity to be curious about ourselves.  Roth writes, “You become curious about feelings and sensations.  You start listening to your body.  You stop bossing yourself around…”  We enter into the sensual moment, what she calls the middle zone.  We touch, smell, see, hear and maybe even taste the no longer fresh or crisp past.  Is it a bit stale, maybe even rancid?  Dusty or crumbling?  Wrinkled or torn?

The Crux of the Issue

Take the example of paper clutter.  Let’s say we’re dealing with a pile of disparate papers; some are unpaid bills and financial papers; others uncompleted drafts of short story we’ve written; still others are cards and notes from friends. Just looking at that pile can evoke a tightness in our solar plexus or an uptick in our heart rate.  These physical feelings we usually ignore, or if they’re too distressing, we’ll shove them into the deepest sinews of our body.

Many of us can’t wait to jump into that pool of self-condemnation, the leap from the physical to the mental.  How am I going to pay for that water heater?  I still have to update my will.  I’ll never be a good writer, so why even try to finish that short story.  All those cards from friends I must write to or at least call!  That harsh litany of self-castigation is painful.  We want to avoid it, and this is where we get stuck!

Roth nails this situation so well in her book:  “If you get stuck, it’s usually because you’re having a reaction to a particular feeling—you don’t want to feel this way, you’d rather be happy right now, you don’t like people who feel like this—or you’re locked into [a] comparing/judging mode.”

She distinguishes between feelings, which are in the body, and reactions, which are in the head.  “A reaction is a mental deduction of a feeling…In an attempt not to feel what is uncomfortable, the mind will often rant and ramble and tell us how awful it all is.”  And that is the crux of the issue!

The Energy of Feelings

Dealing with clutter often, if not always, evokes uncomfortable feelings.  It’s dealing with the undealt with—the stuff we didn’t want to deal with when it first appeared.  Not everything has to be acted on when it first shows up, but eventually action is called for.  And if we don’t handle it, someone else will have to.  You can choose.

But what if we allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable?  Why not honor the uncomfortable feeling?  Where does it show up in our body?  Does it have a color?  How big is it?  Is it moving or stationery?  Is it hard or soft?  Does it have a shape?  Ask these questions and any others that come to mind.  Give yourself time to sink into it.  Breathe into it.  When we do that, we are in the middle zone.

A feeling has energy.  By honoring it, we allow it free expression. If we were to anthropomorphize it, it would most certainly want to speak its mind.  Once it had its say (and one time might not be enough), it would lose the air it needs to speak, like an inflated balloon whose opening is no longer knotted.  It becomes flat and lifeless, allowing us to move forward.

Asking for Help

If it still seems difficult to face the feelings clutter evokes, then get help.  If you have a trusted friend or family member who can serve as an objective witness to your facing your clutter, enlist his or her help.  If you believe a professional de-clutterer will serve you more effectively, don’t hesitate to call on one.  But sometimes the feelings blocking you are deep and complex.  If they continue to impede your progress, seek the help of a therapist.

Physical feelings and mental reactions are all part of the de-cluttering process.  Deciding whether to throw our clutter into a trash bag or “donate” box is just one aspect.  To get at the root of the clutter issue, a holistic approach is needed.  Even though our goal may be a clear, clean, clutter-free space, we benefit the most when we immerse ourselves in the present, letting the past drift off into the ethers and the future approach at its own pace.  We live our richest life when we’re in the middle zone.  Maybe we should all wash more dishes to get there.

A Modern Viewpoint

January 18, 2018

Clutter—Let me free associate for a moment:

  • Stuff not being used, but someday I’ll need it;
  • Things once considered valuable because my parents treasured them;
  • Something someone could use but since I don’t know who, I’ll postpone doing anything about it;
  • Something I could get money for, but trying to navigate E-bay is way too much trouble;
  • My children’s toys saved for my grandchildren, except my children are too busy building their careers to build a family;
  • Clothes that no longer fit, but someday I am going to lose that weight;
  • Clothes no longer in style, but I paid a lot of money for that suit (I can’t just donate it!);
  • Papers I might need to prove who I am, what I’ve achieved or what is due me but are really of no value;
  • A hodgepodge of items I need to put into order, but, gosh, I just don’t have the time to do that…

You get the idea. Note the rationales used with each one.

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing Arthur Miller’s play “The Price” at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. So moved, I borrowed a copy from the library so I could delve into Miller’s deep-felt, profound yet simple words. Here’s one quotation that hit home for me:

Setting the Scene

Victor in his late forties is responsible for emptying his father’s brownstone apartment because the building is going to be demolished. Time is of the essence. The house must be emptied within the next day or so. His father died years ago, but Victor chose not to deal with the apartment or anything in it until the moment the play begins. The curtain opens to the living area filled with furniture and artifacts that represent his father and mother when they were alive. Victor is joined by 89-year old appraiser Solomon, whom he found in the Yellow Pages of the phone book (circa 1968). We learn as the play progresses that Solomon’s career in estate sales was over until Victor called him to buy his father’s estate.

At one point, Victor is afraid Solomon is going to cheat him. Solomon explains why much of the furniture probably won’t sell:

“I’m giving you the architectural facts! Listen—wiping his face, he seizes on the library table, going to it—You got there, for instance, a library table. That’s a solid beauty. But go find me a modern apartment with a library. If they would build old hotels, I could sell this, but they only build new hotels. People don’t live like this no more. This stuff is from another world. So I’m trying to give you a modern viewpoint, and if you wouldn’t understand the viewpoint, it’s impossible to understand the price.”

Old Hotels

Solomon makes a good point: They’re not building old hotels anymore, yet so many of us are attracted to “old hotels” and what filled them. Old hotels are our rosy memories—the romantic ideal that we aspire to recreate. The not-so-rosy memories attached to those items we’ve more than likely repressed and forgotten.

But guess what? If we take a moment to examine the items that evoke a rosy glow, we discover a dark side to them as well. For example, the exquisite wedding dress that symbolizes a marriage ended in divorce or the outrageously gorgeous and expensive Stuart Weitzman shoes that are a killer to walk in for more than five minutes.

We want to sit in the lobby of those old hotels, sipping tea and savoring the grandeur of it all, but how long can we sit there? How does sitting in that lobby enhance our present life? The same is true for those items and the rosy memories we attach to them. We  might be able to recreate the happy memory for a moment, but not for long.

It’s All about Viewpoint

Those memories are ephemeral, but the items are real. We can’t bring back your father sitting in his Lazy-Boy chair or your mother wearing her mink stole, yet we’ve decided to hold onto both the chair and the stole because we’re able to slip into a rosy reverie whenever we see them. Meanwhile your wife or roommate can’t stand the stodgy old Lazy-Boy and we discover the skin of the mink stole is dry and cracked. That dark side I mentioned above keeps popping up!

Perhaps we need to let go of our illusions—things that are or are likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses. We perceive the items we are holding onto as valuable for whatever rationale we ascribe to them. When we crack the illusion, the items are just things—a dress, a pair of shoes, a chair or a mink stole. Do these items enhance our present life? If we were unabashedly honest, we would say, “No!”

It all comes back to viewpoint. Why hold onto something passed its prime? Why keep straddling the past and present? Our life is here now. Our power is in the present. We need a modern viewpoint.

Empowered or Disempowered?

September 27, 2017

Many people are afraid of Tarot card readings. They think it’s some dark omen that augurs the future. That belief always surprises me, especially when you realize that a Tarot card is just a piece of paper with picture on it. I liken it to a Rorschach test—pictures we’re asked to interpret.

I have been interpreting Tarot cards the last 12 years. If you were to come to me for a reading, here’s how I would see it:

1. You have a question. For example, Is this the right time for me to sell my house? Will I get a promotion before the end of the year?

2. You come to the reading with a certain energy around that question. You may or may not be aware of that energy. The cards have a mysterious way of tapping into your subconscious energy, which, by the way, holds a powerhouse of information. It may hold information your conscious self denies.

3. Next, you pick one or more cards with that question in mind. Each card has a certain energy and meaning. If more than one card is picked to answer the question, they may be put into a spread. Each position in a spread usually has a certain meaning. A simple spread could be Past, Present and Future.

4. You end up with a convergence of energy: the energy you bring to the reading about that question, the card’s meaning and the position’s meaning. Those three components comprise the interpretation and an answer to your specific question.

What?  You Don’t Like What the Cards Say?

Perhaps you don’t like the card that you pulled for the Future. You have choices in how to respond: You can stomp away in frustration (and say, “It’s all hogwash!”), or you can pull additional cards to explore what is meant by that Future card. Those additional cards can provide more information on how to best deal with a situation that initially looked unfavorable in your eyes at the moment of the reading.

When you pick Tarot cards in a reading, it reflects the energy of your behavior up to that moment. This is an important point many do not understand. The cards are giving you a head’s-up. If they are telling you not to sell your house even though you are hell-bent on selling it when you came to the reading, it’s worth your attention to stop and consider the issue more deeply. Perhaps there are issues you haven’t considered. What are the pitfalls? Could you get a higher return if you wait? Perhaps more repairs need to be done before putting it on the market. Or innumerable other variables you may not have considered or probed deeply enough.

We are so pummeled with bad news, hostile exchanges, and fear-mongering that when we come for a Tarot card reading or any other so-called fortune telling medium, we are quick to give our power away, especially if the reading isn’t to our liking or expectations. Laura Day, the author of several self-help books that focus on intuition, puts it this way:

“…people get really confused about precognition—telling the future. The way people use it is often damaging. If I hear I’m going to have a car accident, for example, I don’t wait in terror for it to happen. I ask, What are the circumstances? Who am I with at the time? What day is it? What color is the car? I look for those things and then I do my best to avoid the accident.”

You Are an Infinitely Powerful Being

A Tarot card reading may not be able to answer all those questions, but it gives us clues we can spot, especially if we listen to our intuition. Those clues can spur us to make different and more thoughtful choices. Those choices can then lead us to more propitious outcomes, significantly better outcomes than had we let things unfold on their own. When we take charge of our choices, we end up feeling empowered and confident for having taken good care of ourselves.

My meditation teacher keeps telling me, “You are so much more powerful than you can imagine.” Laura Day says, “…every one of us is an infinitely powerful being. So as you work with intuition, remember that you can also make choices that can change those predictions.”

So, when you choose to go for a Tarot card reading, know that the cards are simply a tool to give you information you may not be fully aware of. They reflect your energy at the moment of the reading, not necessarily your energy in the next week or next month, especially if you start making choices and taking action different from those before.

I believe the cards are meant to help you. You’ll know the next best steps to take when you let your intuition absorb what the cards have to say. Make Tarot cards your friend, not your foe. Use them to empower yourself, because you are an infinitely powerful being!

Say No!

August 9, 2014

“Whenever we deny our need to say ‘no,’ our self-respect diminishes.  It is not only our right at certain times to say ‘no,’ it is our deepest responsibility.  For it is a gift to ourselves when we say ‘no’ to those old habits that dissipate our energy, ‘no’ to what robs us of our inner joy, ‘no’ to what distracts us from our purpose.  And it is a gift to others to say ‘no’ when their expectations do not ring true for us, for in so doing we free them to discover more fully the truth of their own path.  Saying ‘no’ can be liberating when it expresses our commitment to take a stand for what we believe we truly need.”

–John Robbins and Ann Mortifee, In Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in a Changing World

The Map Analogy

April 30, 2014

“Some people seem well-suited to following maps, while others are always looking for new ways to get where they’re going. In the end, the only reliable compass is within, as every great spiritual guide will tell you.” –Madisyn Taylor, from her blog The Daily Om

Years ago I asked a friend to drive me to the airport from work. This was in the days when Mapquest was the rage and GPS systems were just a glint in someone’s eye. I had dutifully printed Mapquest’s directions. With my bag, purse and directions in hand, I hopped in the car and off we went.

It was the beginning of rush hour and in Northern Virginia. That’s not a pretty picture, especially when you’ve got a plane to catch. My friend Kathy had a meeting to attend as well.  Time was of the essence.

We seemed to be buzzing along fine at first, until Mapquest led us off the main streets and into a rural area. Kathy started asking questions, and I anxiously tried to assuage her that I had had great luck with Mapquest in the past. Their directions certainly wouldn’t lead us astray. Before we knew it, we faced a roadblock on what seemed to be a dirt road with no human habitation in sight. Where had “trusty” Mapquest led us?

I won’t share with you the panicky feelings I had on whether I would make my plane or the embarrassment I felt urging Kathy to drive the Mapquest way. The only thing we could do was turnaround and find a main road that would lead us toward the airport. We eventually felt our way back to civilization and the airport.  Kathy made it to her meeting on time and I made it to my plane, but not without a lot of anxiety.

What’s This Say about Maps

Madisyn Taylor goes on to write, “The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us. When it is time to merge onto the highway or pull up anchor, we are ostensibly on our own.”

Kathy and I had to figure out how to get to the airport on our own. We knew the general direction, but the exact route had to be discovered by our own choices. This meant taking steps we weren’t sure would lead to our desired destination. It also meant possibly making mistakes and missing our respective appointments. The pressure was on.

Maps are a good thing because they get you headed in the right direction, or at least in a direction that feels comforting to start with; however, they are based on, what Ms. Taylor calls “observations from the past.” New roads are built every day; highways cut through neighborhoods we thought were sacrosanct. That map we’ve been using could be woefully out-of-date.

With or Without a Map

A lifelong challenge of mine has been believing in myself. So, when I read Ms. Taylor’s blog, it gave me pause. For years I’ve tried following the guidance of therapists, mentors and gurus. In some cases, their advice has been invaluable, just like a map. In other instances, I wasted, or at least I thought I had wasted, valuable time and money that didn’t get me to where I thought I needed to go. I had reached another roadblock. I had to turn around and find my own way.

That stirred up feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. I wanted someone else to tell me where to go and how to do it and then I would discover that’s not where I wanted to go or how I wanted to do it. I had to deal with those feelings and learn that that was just another bend in the road, one that wasn’t on the map I was following.

Ultimately, I had to decide for myself which way to go, what would serve me best, and how to honor my true self.  Ms. Taylor describes this awareness as “moments when we learn to attune ourselves to our inner compass, following a map only we can see, as we make our way into the unknown territory of our own enlightenment.”

Attuning to Our Own Inner Compass

Perhaps the best thing we can do before we embark on any new project or direction is to check in with ourselves. This may be difficult when some expert has had so much success with his/her approach to the same issue we are wrestling with. We see the possibility for our own success using that person’s step-by-step approach.

Our enthusiasm for it can be blinding, so much so we can’t see the compass needle, which is telling us to do whatever we are seeking in another way that uniquely works for us.  At the same time the enthusiasm for following another person’s path drowns out our own inner voice–a voice that always speaks the truth.

Essentially it’s a battle between the inner voice and the ego. Discerning which is which takes time, practice and perhaps a number of missteps. For some of us, it takes many missteps before we slow down and start listening.  Maps are good, but we are the only true experts on our individual journey of life.  By believing in ourselves and paying attention to our own inner compass, we’ll get to where we want to go, perhaps with more ease than expected.

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

Are You Ready?

March 1, 2010

Have you set an intention to clear your clutter?  Many people do, but I suggest you take one more step and ask yourself whether you are ready to deal with it—touch it, think about it, and then take action with it. 

A client recently invited me to help her de-clutter.  When we approached her bed linen-covered dining table, I was unaware of her feelings about what lay under those sheets.  Because I had been asked to help her de-clutter, I approached the table ready to address whatever was before us.  As I helped her unveil the hidden contents, I sensed her reluctance to start the process.  Mounds of disparate papers confronted us—booklets, brochures, junk mail, catalogues, and files. 

“What is the System?”

“What is the ‘system’ for dealing with this?” she asked.  Perhaps it is a matter of semantics, but I don’t have a “system” per se.  Instead, my approach is this:  sort one item at a time into like-piles (e.g., junk mail with junk mail, bills with bills).  Once everything is sorted, you can see how many duplicates you have, what magazine issues are missing, or what bills have to be paid.  You can then begin to determine which items need immediate action, which can be filed or archived, and which are to be tossed or recycled. 

In the end everything must leave the dining room table and reside in its proper home, be it a filing cabinet, a bills-to-be-paid file, a reading pile, or in the trash.  Every item must be picked up, looked at and dealt with.  Decisions have to be made.  Once I described the process, my client concluded she could do this herself.  Our session ended shortly thereafter. 

Taken aback and feeling dismissed, I wondered why I had been invited to help.  What had just happened?  My client thought she was ready to de-clutter her dining room table, but in the end, she wasn’t.  What could she have done to spare herself the expense of a failed session with a de-cluttering consultant?  Below are my suggestions:

A Step-by-Step Approach

Step 1:  Assess your clutter 

  • What is it (e.g., papers, clothes, household items, artwork, vehicles)?
  • How big is it (e.g., in one room, throughout your home or backyard)? 
  • Where is it (e.g., outside, in your attic, in your home office)? 

Take time see how widespread it is and how you feel about it.  If it seems overwhelming, ask yourself if it is because of the amount of clutter you have, the large size of the objects you consider clutter, or the location of where your clutter resides that deters you.  Does one or more of these factors cause you to resist handling your clutter?   

Step 2:  Assess your willingness to address it

  • Why now?  Is there a catalytic event that causes you to deal with it?  One of my clients was confronted with inviting her daughter’s future in-laws for dinner before the wedding date.  Frantically she had to clear the dining and living rooms of all their clutter before her guests arrived.  She later described her preparation as “traumatic.”

 

  • Are you willing and able to devote time to de-cluttering?  So many of my prospective clients want to clear their clutter, but they devote the majority of their waking time to their work or their jobs.  They don’t, and claim they cannot, find time for de-cluttering.  They proclaim, “I’m just too tired to deal with my clutter after work.  I need to veg.”  That may be true, but if you can see that de-cluttering is a form of self-care, you may then make space in your schedule to de-clutter a small area to make more space in your home and in your life for YOU. 

 

  • Can you make a commitment to do the work?  The work I am referring to is setting a goal of clearing your clutter, breaking the task into small steps, and beginning the process.  Many people who express a desire to clear their clutter want to believe they can do so with the wave of a wand.  They forget it took months or maybe even years to accumulate all this stuff.  The hardest work is making decisions—to keep or not to keep, that is the question.  If you decide to keep something, then you must ask yourself, “Why?” and “Where does it go?”  There are other questions, too, but these are the most pressing.  Answering honestly is a must, because holding onto to something for bogus reasons will not serve you well. 

Step 3:  Getting help, if you need it

Shame, embarrassment, and depression can be deterrents to your moving forward.  If you find you cannot make the necessary decisions mentioned above then help may be required.  Is there someone you know and trust who can help you?  Perhaps a friend or family member can support you throughout this de-cluttering process. 

If you can’t identify someone in your own circle, consider hiring a professional.  Professionals are objective, know how to approach your situation, and can accelerate your work.  They have seen a multitude of clutter situations, so yours will not surprise them.  If you go this route, know that it will be an investment in time and money, and will probably take more than one session to get the job done.  Budget yourself and your resources.

Final Note

I advised my client who decided she could handle the clutter on her dining room table by herself to spend time looking at her clutter.  Up to this point she admitted ignoring it.  If she were to make a commitment to look at that table and all that covered it for an extended period of time (5 minutes a day for 21 days), lots feelings inevitably would surface.  Those feelings, if respected, could galvanize her into action.  She would at last be ready. 

So, whenever you set an intention to clear your clutter, take a moment to assess your readiness.  Sometimes we think we’re ready, but we aren’t.  Review my three steps.  If your answer is “No!” then give yourself more time.  If your answer is “Yes!” then go for it!

If you decide you need a professional to help you de-clutter, call me at 703.998.0880 or send me an e-mail at bev@alignyourlife.net.