DECLUTTERING TO CALM THE MIND
Decluttering the home - what to keep & what to remove
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
WE HOLD ONTO MOST THINGS FOR DEEPLY PERSONAL REASONS.
THE PROCESS OF ‘LETTING GO’ REQUIRES TIME AND SPACE.
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.