We Tried It: Clearing Clutter
Clutter is like an invisible cloud that permeates and suffocates physical spaces while subtly sapping the energy out of life. What is clutter? Think boxes and closets jammed full with unused stuff or all those clothes and books you keep around “just in case” but never wear or read. Even if you’re not consciously thinking about this accumulated junk, it will act as a nagging feeling of unfinished business in the back of your mind. For many people, they don't even realize how much clutter they have in their life that's negatively affecting them in this way. I know that was the case for me.
About five years ago I had left a lucrative but ultimately unsatisfying job, making a leap into the unknown to pursue better things. At the same time I started reading a lot of books about Feng Shui and "clutter busting". Although some of the ideas can seem out there, there was something that made sense on a very practical level, that clearing out “stuff” would make space for the new things and new opportunities.
I decided that I had nothing to lose, and that if I really wanted to move forward I needed to put all my effort into it. So I took a class on clutter clearing. During the course I religiously followed the instructions and purged a mountain of garbage bags worth of stuff from my life — old art I had made, love letters, clothes, books, paperwork and all kinds of things I had lying around that actually had no meaning for me anymore.
It was far from easy, though. Being that I’ve always been a kind of a collector, this act of offloading all this seemingly precious stuff made me very uncomfortable — it felt like I was throwing my life away.
But then a funny thing happened. While my situation did not get perfect overnight, new opportunities seemed to pop up out of the blue, and my life began moving in a decidedly more positive direction. Within that time around taking the class, an internship I was working at quickly turned into a job that I loved, I got into a new relationship and picked up more DJ work on the side.
To go through this clutter clearing process, I took my time over the course of a week, tackling each room (and each section of the room) of my apartment one at a time. It’s nice to imagine wiping out all of your junk in one fell swoop, but trying to blaze through all your stuff in one day is a recipe for disappointment.
For each section of my apartment that I was purging, I took everything out of its home to be able to see it in the clearest possible light. When your possessions are in their normal spot, it’s easier to gloss over them and not really be critical.
The biggest stumbling block to clearing my clutter was the emotions that would keep popping up around seemingly sentimental mementos. A book from an old girlfriend or an old photo (both of which were stuffed in the bottom of a box) begged to be kept. Although I did not use or really care for these things, a fear of loosing something would pop up when I thought about trashing them. Once I realized that I’d still have the positive memories even without the physical objects, it was easier to let them go.
It’s also very important to make sure you schedule and follow through with trashing or giving away the clutter you’ve collected. I’ve had bags of stuff I meant to take to Goodwill sit around for two months.
Before I started this process, I took a clutter clearing class from Tracey Stanton, who trained with clutter clearing expert Karen Kingston. Karen Kingston wrote this great book called Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, where she explains it succinctly:
1. Things you do not use or love
2. Things that are untidy or disorganized
3. Too many things in too small a space
4. Anything unfinished
These categories will mostly apply to physical clutter, but mental clutter (any kind of unfinished business) and digital clutter should be considered as well.
It’s simple but not always easy to do. You need to examine all your stuff and ask yourself “Do I love it, do I use it or will I use it in the near future?” And that’s really it. If the item in question does not fit that criteria then throw it away, give it away or recycle it. The hard part comes when your mind tries to come up with all kinds of reasons to hold on to that thing you actually don’t care about.
In that case, it’s OK to make a “maybe” box that you can put aside and reexamine in the future. In my experience, that stuff will always end up getting chucked out.
Who’s to say exactly how this all works? There are various theories that say the act of clearing out clutter frees up energy or chi, but I think that it also works on a much more basic level. By eliminating this excess junk from our lives, we’re better able to think clearly, while simultaneously time and physical space get freed up, making life easier and more open to new options.