De­clut­ter­ing the home - what to keep & what to re­move

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr Ash Nay­ate

De­clut­ter­ing and min­i­mal­ism are hot top­ics right now. Based on their pop­u­lar­ity, it seems that many of us feel that our homes are too clut­tered or dis­or­gan­ised. While it may seem that the prob­lem is sim­ply an ex­cess of ‘stuff’, we hold onto most things for deeply per­sonal rea­sons. We are crea­tures of emo­tion, not logic. One of the big­gest hur­dles in the de­clut­ter­ing process is sen­ti­men­tal­ity. We are emo­tion­ally tied to our be­long­ings, which is pre­cisely what makes de­clut­ter­ing so chal­leng­ing. De­clut­ter­ing forces us to be in­tro­spec­tive and ques­tion our emo­tional ties. Our pos­ses­sions can con­jure up many emo­tions, like guilt, ex­cite­ment, or tran­quil­ity. Sen­ti­men­tal items elicit an emo­tional re­sponse, pleas­ant or un­pleas­ant.

The crux of de­clut­ter­ing and min­i­mal­ism is to only hold onto items that elicit gen­uinely pos­i­tive emo­tions. Marie Kondo (cre­ator of the KonMari method) en­cour­ages the ques­tion, ‘Does this spark joy?’. Joshua Fields Mill­burn and Ryan Ni­code­mus (The Min­i­mal­ists) ask a sim­i­lar ques­tion, ‘Does this add value?’.

It’s easy to iden­tify those items that gen­uinely spark joy and cre­ate value in our lives. For an ath­lete, it may be the work­out clothes and run­ning shoes. For an avid reader, the col­lec­tion of eBooks. For a painter, a va­ri­ety of art sup­plies.

How­ever, what of those items that don’t quite fit the bill? We all have pos­ses­sions that cause us to rem­i­nisce or re­mind us (per­haps painfully) of a per­son or re­la­tion­ship. This is where de­clut­ter­ing can be­come chal­leng­ing.

Over the last twelve months of full blown min­i­mal­ism, which was pre­ceded by sev­eral years of de­clut­ter­ing), I’ve elim­i­nated around 80% of my be­long­ings. I de­scribe this as a process not be­cause I’m in­her­ently bad at de­clut­ter­ing, but be­cause the process of ‘let­ting go’ re­quires time and space.

The first 10% of the items I elim­i­nated were easy, be­cause I held no strong at­tach­ment to them and I was sim­ply hold­ing onto them through habit. It was the re­main­ing 70% of my be­long­ings that took the most time - be­cause it was hard to let go.

My sen­ti­men­tal be­long­ings rep­re­sented my past. Past events, friend­ships, re­la­tion­ships and people. It was chal­leng­ing to re­move these items al­to­gether be­cause I felt as though I was eras­ing the mem­ory associated with it.

Sen­ti­men­tal­ity is per­haps one of the big­gest rea­sons we hold onto pos­ses­sions. Not be­cause of the items, per se, but be­cause of what we’ve associated to it. Many of us have sen­ti­men­tal items dis­trib­uted through­out our home and in many cases, we pos­sess multiple



items that con­jure up the same mem­ory. Tak­ing in­ven­tory of our sen­ti­men­tal items re­minds us of just how many things we own and which memories we’re striv­ing to hold. Is it nec­es­sary to keep fifty items from our child­hood, when per­haps just a hand­ful will do? Through the de­clut­ter­ing and min­i­mal­ism process I learned a lot about my­self. I had held onto cloth­ing that re­minded me of go­ing out to clubs with my friends, of trin­kets that re­minded me of my trav­els over­seas and stuffed an­i­mals that re­minded me of my child­hood. To be hon­est I didn’t need any of it to re­mem­ber those times. I won’t lie, it took weeks and some­times, even months to let go of these sen­ti­men­tal items that weren’t adding value to my life.

Of­ten, we find greater joy in pass­ing along our be­long­ings to people who need them more than we do. Or, we re­alise that our items de­serve bet­ter than to sim­ply lan­guish in the back of a closet. We find joy in pass­ing them along to people who will get more value from them than we do now. In my case, I ended up do­nat­ing all my child­hood toys to a women’s shel­ter, ex­cept for my one most cher­ished toy, a plush mon­key, which I gave to my tod­dler. I sold or gave away my trin­kets from trav­el­ling, ex­cept for a hand­ful of fridge mag­nets which I con­tinue to use each day. I also elim­i­nated all my pa­pers and books from my grad­u­ate stu­dent days, ex­cept for a travel mug that I still use and a hardcover bound copy of my the­sis.

Some­times, in de­clut­ter­ing our items, we re­alise that we don’t need any phys­i­cal items to hold onto the mem­ory. Per­haps a pho­to­graph of our items is suf­fi­cient. Per­haps ex­press­ing our feel­ings cre­atively, such as through writ­ing, po­etry, or paint­ing, is a way for us to hon­our that mem­ory. Com­pared to the phys­i­cal items them­selves, artis­tic ex­pres­sion takes up far less space, or none, if stored dig­i­tally.

De­clut­ter­ing, down­siz­ing and min­imis­ing are pro­cesses that are chal­leng­ing and can be down­right tur­bu­lent. It’s a worth­while en­deav­our, not only for our phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and emo­tional health, but also for the clar­ity that it brings to our think­ing. The process causes a height­ened self-aware­ness and self-in­sight to think crit­i­cally about our emo­tional paci­fiers and se­cu­rity blan­kets. Best of all, de­clut­ter­ing of­ten causes a res­o­lu­tion of the past, so that we can fo­cus ahead on who we want to be in the fu­ture.

Dr. Ash Nay­ate is a clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­is­ing in brain func­tion and re­sult­ing be­haviour. She has al­most fif­teen years’ experience work­ing with chil­dren and fam­i­lies, sup­port­ing them to feel hap­pier, more confident and more re­silient. To con­tact Ash please visit her web­site.

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