Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 7: Process and purpose


From the almost universally stunned reactions to my current wave of decluttering, especially around the family photos, which started last week, I'm feeling that perhaps stepping back just a bit to review my own process with this process of unloading stuff in general and really sticky stuff in particular.

First, because it cannot be reiterated enough, this is a process, not an event. There are significant milestones here and there (me heaving blurry and/or grim snapshots of Mom and Dad into the trash can was one); there are even significant stretches of processing here and there (although the stretches are really clusters of events, but so close together, they feel like an unbroken stretch).

But this is no more a magical occurrence of me waking up one day, walking into a class and deciding to let go of 48 years' worth of emotional baggage than a brilliant performance is the result of an actor waking up one day and walking onto the stage, or a brilliant book the result of a writer waking up one day (or series of days) and banging out a 50,000 words in the right order, or any other peak experience of an endeavor. This shit takes time, and the time can't just be hours logged mindlessly: it's me, looping around a mountain much like the one depicted on the cover of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, over and over again, at a slightly more elevated level each time, and eventually hitting enough laps that it becomes impossible not to realize "Hey! I've seen this view before, I know what comes next!"

Even the most cursory of searches, for "we're only renting," a phrase I came up with several years into my personal quest to rid myself of the well-intended but burdensome physical and emotional detritus of generations, conducted solely within my blog archives turned up three separate entries on the process of divesting: a poem, from this summer; a post from a month ago; and, embedded in the post, a year-and-a-half-old link to an article for actors about the necessity of purging their shite, something I'd been-there/done-that to a long, long time before. A search for the "clutter" tag pulls up additional pieces, from March of this year, about the beauty of white space, and from January of last year, about the "I want" trigger that helps you fill up that white space before you get the chance to enjoy it. And that's just what I've organized well enough to tag: who knows what crap is buried in this rat's nest of archives I've yet to go through and weed? Or what I never even got around to mentioning there? I know how many times I've checked out decluttering books from the library and started clearing out my crap (and subsequently stopped, and subsequently slid backwards into acquisitive behavior). Well, actually, I don't, but a lot. Quite a lot.

The times I've been most successful at decluttering, or pretty much any endeavor, come to think of it, is when I had a purpose fueling my intent. Sadly, I was probably most productive in the tossing department when I decided it was time to leave my marriage; it's rather amazing how much you can relieve yourself of, not to mention accomplish in two weeks, if you've got a meaningful goal behind it. People routinely declutter by force when they flee encroaching floods or fires or quakes. Not the way you want to do it, but boy, is it ever effective.

So if you're a little stuck with your decluttering efforts (and that clutter is sticky, tricky stuff), maybe try another tack. Maybe instead of saying, "UGH. I really want to get rid of this sh*t!", try thinking about what you do want that's really, really important and could conceivably not only make your life better, but even make the world better. For me, it was mobility in the long run and the clarity in the short run. I think better when there's less stuff, and I know for sure that I move around better. I remember when Merlin went through a major decluttering phase. I've no idea how it worked long-term, but we all learned after the fact that it was sparked by the impending arrival of the delightful Eleanor (those cheeks alone are reason for decluttering!)

What are you after? What's stopping you from getting it? What would you need to get started?


Image by Orin Zebest via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.