I like to think of myself as an open-minded, progressive person who respects tradition but is willing to learn and change. But when my wife asked me to join her in a serious decluttering of our home, including the basement, garage, and outdoors, I can’t say that I responded with a great deal of enthusiasm.
I guess getting rid of junk was appealing and I thought I knew exactly who was responsible for most of it (and it wasn’t me). I could see it all tucked away in closets, kitchen cabinets, and in boxes in the basement. Give me a shovel and some big lawn and leaf bags and I’ll get it done, I thought. Well, I was in for a few surprises and amazing discoveries about who the real guilty party was when we started the process, and some very pleasant surprises when it was finally all said and done.
I had seen a few articles here and there about the psychological benefits of organizing one’s belongings and ditching unneeded stuff, but it all seemed too New Age and dainty for me so I was pretty much focused on clearing out to have more space and feel less cramped, to heck with Feng Shui, “mindfulness,” and the latest from Oprah. I was therefore very surprised to discover that decluttering had a huge impact on my state of mind. It was actually liberating to let go of so much stuff. Apparently there is a lot of emotional baggage (some innocuous, some deeper) tied up with our material possessions. That’s probably why we accumulate so much stuff to begin with.
It turns out that decluttering is not primarily about organizing and storing your things more efficiently. It is about letting things go that you just don’t use or need, excess items that you have accumulated, or things that just don’t make you feel good or you keep out of guilt (like unused family heirlooms and wedding gifts, old exercise equipment, and unread books). The decluttering experts I worked with challenged me to ask a simple question of every bit of stuff, big or small: “how does this make you feel?” or “does this item bring you joy?” (questions inspired by the advice of the best-selling author and decluttering expert Marie Kondo and other authors). It felt strange at first, but quickly became a simple acid test when deciding what and what not to keep. I realized that much of the stuff was just holding me back and making me have to play endless catch-up with long-ago plans, resolutions, trends, to-do lists, ambitious ideas, other people’s aspirations, and passing interests. They even tied me to things/places/social relationships I had long since move past or hadn’t enjoyed that much in the first place.
Now that I have freed up so much space I feel like I have rid myself of a big weight. And now that I don’t have so much junk to define me or scold me or crowd out anything new, I feel like I am much more focused on who I want to be now and in the future. Without all the clutter I can actually see the sky, and that is the new limit (even though I still insist I am not a New Age convert!)
I should have known my spouse was right all along. She usually is!