“Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Guilt is the stickiest reason why we keep things we don’t want. It’s the heavy gooey energy that convinces us we’re bad people if we let go of heirlooms, sentimental items, knick-knacks, unwanted clothing, unwanted gifts, and grandfather clocks that no longer work. These items clutter up our lives and keep us in a comfortable – but draining – place where we never have to decide what we do want in our environment.
Beyond guilt, the reasons we hang on to stuff are less sticky. But no less convincing. Below are nine seemingly logical reasons we cling to clutter.
Clutter Excuse #1 – “I spent so much on it!”
This is a different kind of guilt. It’s self-flagellation guilt. You unconsciously punish yourself for having made a bad choice by keeping the item around. You convince yourself that you’re going to get your money’s worth – even if it drains the hell out of you.
You won’t. And it will.
We’ve all done stupid things. And we’ve all had to let them go. Now it’s your turn.
Clutter Excuse #2 – “I might need this someday.”
I often wonder how many idle telephone cords exist in the world. Perhaps tossed in the back of a desk drawer. Or stuffed on closet shelves. They can’t be gotten rid of. Why?
Because we might need them some day.
Evidently, some day, in spite of all the cellular wireless cordless progress out there, you’re going to need that particular grey phone cord that came with a phone you bought in 1989 that doesn’t even exist anymore. That cord is going to make it to the grave with you.
Throw it out. Now.
Same thing goes for: Rusty screws, the extra wine opener, the extra fax machine, light-switch plates from your last house, the three extra flashlights, any and all of those multi-cabled red and yellow stereo cords, extra book cases, IKEA clocks you no longer use, all the glass flower vases that came with flower deliveries, bowls and plates people left behind at dinner parties never to be claimed again, and any machinery or equipment that doesn’t work.
Clutter Excuse #3 – “I might do this someday.”
I know. I know. You’re certain that someday you’ll take those broken pieces of china and pottery you’ve collected, and you’ll create a beautiful mosaic birdbath. And you’ll go through those stacks of magazines and make that collage for your sister’s 30th birthday party three years ago. And don’t forget the quilting project! You’re bound to get to those fabric scraps lying everywhere!
Now – I don’t mean to deny you the right to plan and dream and create. However, if these items are constantly in your environment – and if you notice them often – then I urge you to consider experiencing the vast amount of relief and liberation that appears when you let them go. No one ever expected you to finish these things. Except, perhaps, you.
Call your sister and tell her the collage isn’t gonna happen. Go out and purchase a mosaic birdbath from an artist who makes her living from creating such treasures.
And then, get rid of all the clutter of “someday projects.”
Make space for what you want to do. Don’t fill your space with what you should do.
Clutter Excuse #4 – “It looks good if people see that I have this.”
One woman at a recent retreat admitted to keeping things around because she wanted to appear intelligent when she had parties. Books, CD’s, and media are typically the things that add to our perceived intelligence.
I had a hard time letting books go because I didn’t want guests to think I didn’t read. Then I realized that I only invite people into my home who love me and who I love. Anyone I love knows that I — A] can read, B] have diverse tastes in music, and C] am not stupid. I keep only the books that are relevant to my teaching or writing or songwriting. Everything else gets given away.
Remember this: we are motivated by two things: Fear or Love. Which of these keeps you clinging to items because of appearances?
Clutter Excuse #5 – “I Don’t Know Where It Goes.”
When items don’t have a home, it’s harder to determine whether or not they are clutter. Some things may seem like clutter – like the cute card that your daughter made that floats around from drawer to drawer – but they’re not clutter. They’re just homeless.
When things have a defined place to go, then it’s easier to see what is clutter. Look at your house in terms of zones. What’s a logical and easy place to keep cards made by your kids? Where’s the best place to store stationery or projects to be done? (Even some of the projects in #3 can be managed if they are in a well-defined space or box.) One extra phone cord might belong in a box labeled “Extension Cords and Extra Cables.” Once you start defining spaces for items, then it’s easier to see when something doesn’t fit anywhere and should just get tossed.
Clutter Excuse #6 – “Things have energy?”
This is more about unawareness than about making excuses. Some of us never knew that things have energy and meaning. Even if it’s just the meaning you assign to something – old divorce papers, sweaters you feel guilty about not wearing, or projects you’ll never have time to complete – every item in your home has energy. It’s either fueling you, or draining you. Some things might be neutral, of course. But if there’s anything that triggers you or that you just don’t like, then that is your barometer. Let it go. And trust that the right thing will come in to fill that void. Or not. Maybe you need the space right now!
Clutter Excuse #7 – “But I never wore it!”
See Clutter Excuse #1. Holding onto something to punish yourself for never wearing it because A] you didn’t like it after all, or B] you never lost that extra weight, only serves to drain you. You are allowed to forgive yourself and move on.
Clutter Excuse #8 – “There’s too much stuff!”
Overwhelm can stop us in our tracks. If you are a pack rat, or if this blog makes you aware that there are lots of items in your life that you don’t like, then go slow. Read this post about baby steps. Take action slowly. Divide your house into segments, and assign small chunks of time each day. You don’t have to do this all at once.
Clutter Excuse #9 – “I don’t know what I love or want!”
When you begin to realize what you don’t want, then you may realize that you don’t know what you do want. That’s okay. You simply had never allowed yourself to consider this option.
At my last retreat, I designed a new writing exercise to help each woman get clear about what she wanted in different areas of her life. Some of the women – even the ones who had come to my retreats several times – looked at me with stunned expressions on their faces. For a moment I thought I had designed a really bad exercise. But then I realized that these women had never allowed themselves to ask what they wanted. They never knew this was an option.
If you don’t know what you do want or love, try creating a vision board. That’s a great place to start. Lots of time, when you allow yourself to clear out what you don’t want, you will slowly learn what you do want just by getting comfortable with the space that’s there. If you typically rush to fill space with anything, then it may be wise to live for a time empty. This is a process, not a destination.