Strategies for Decluttering Your Space ... and Your Sense of Self

Strategies for Decluttering Your Space ... and Your Sense of Self


If you are triggered by the prospect of decluttering, here are three gentler ways to ponder it.

Decluttering is trendy these days, thanks to the Netflix series starring organizational consultant and bestselling author Marie Kondo.

Her strategy — which she named "the KonMari Method," after herself — starts in the heart.

"If you want to lead a life that sparks joy, there is only one thing that you must do," Kondo asserts in a promotional video. "And that is tidy your home. Choose to keep only the things that speak to your heart, and let go of everything else."

Yes, but —

Some of us are so stuck in self-hatred, disconnected from ourselves, that we have almost no idea what "sparks" our "joy."

And even if we know, we automatically declare ourselves unworthy, undeserving. Whatever "sparks joy," our impulse is to wreck it and/or run away.

Then add the fact that, for some of us, the topic of tidiness is triggering.

Was your childhood self punished for having a messy room? Did your peers ridicule your prized collections as excessive or absurd? Did you never invite anyone over, fearing mockery or worse?

Was your space cluttered because you loved what you loved? Did your stuff become barricades, your facsimile nest or fort? Were piles of possessions your only boundaries? Did they help fill or guard or hide some hollow spot inside?

Did your messy room mirror messy places in your mind? Bad memories? Trust shattered? Desires denied? Were both your inner and outer spaces so packed with unprocessed stuff that soon it felt too dangerous to touch?

Did a time come when you could no longer tell the difference between your clutter and yourself — and wished both would just disappear?

I know that feeling. I first felt it when my fourth-grade teacher used a yardstick to fling the entire contents of my crowded desk onto a classroom floor, letting my classmates laugh as pencils, crayons and beads bounced and skittered amidst books and toys and balls of string and sheaves of drawings, drifting downward with a spooky sound.

If you are triggered by the prospect of decluttering, here are three gentler ways to ponder it.

• Neatness, like music, is a talent, which not all of us possess. Some folks are born, as Kondo claims she was, with an innate ability to organize. But some of us find it forever challenging — just as, however hard we try, we might never master the harp. Being unskilled at music spurs no social stigma, but being unskilled at neatness does — perhaps because our forebears occupied small crowded spaces where clutter attracted vermin, thus could kill.

What if we told ourselves It's OK, I have certain skills of which neatness is not one. Do I hate fumbling flutists? I can declutter — with help.

• Clutter confines us — mainly in our pasts. Many of our possessions are relics, reminders, souvenirs — of places visited, things done and people known, but also bygone versions of ourselves and current aspects of ourselves we hope to change. How many relics do we need? And why?

As our real-world environments, relics sustain our semi-loyalty to things irrelevant, broken and gone. Do we want to encounter, every time we use a certain bowl or towel, the person we were at that school, during that phase, in that relationship, back then? Maybe it's time to give these things "a proper send-off," as Kondo suggests: "Express your gratitude and say goodbye."

Choose joy. Kondo's method is beautiful and radical because rather than just urge us to fold clothes efficiently, she also advises examining each item individually and saving only those comparative few that "spark joy." (And yes, even toilet brushes can.)

It's scary-hard for those of us who, tasked with cleaning, tend to think:

You idiot! You wasted tons of money on these pans and skis you never used. You are a shopping addict and a hoarder and a perma-child who can't move on. Who wants this many action figures crowding every surface? Who lets drawers get so stuffed?

What if, instead of yielding power once more to those voices that made — and still make — us hate ourselves, we summon the courage to consider the strange but amazing subject of our happiness?

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