Clutter is information. It has a story to tell if you can get past its negative, overwhelming energy. When I walk into a client’s home or office I look for the story that the clutter tells. Some of the stories go like this:
- I’ve got too much on my plate to have the time to attend to my space.
- I have too much stuff.
- I shop for entertainment, and to relieve stress.
- I got behind in cleaning up and doing daily maintenance tasks, and could not catch up.
- My job takes everything out of me, and I don’t have the energy to do daily maintenance tasks like putting things away, cleaning up after myself, sorting mail.
- I’ve had a very stressful week.
- I’ve been through a very tough time in my life (e.g. caregiving responsibilities for parents, deaths of family members, health problems, etc.) and couldn’t hold everything together.
- I really have no idea how to set up and maintain an organized space.
- I am sentimental. It’s hard for me to get rid of anything that reminds me of a special person or time in my life.
- I have ADHD and have never been organized. I can’t make myself clean up after myself, put clothes away regularly and go through my mail.
- I need more help from others, particularly those who contribute to the mess.
- I spend very little time at home, and when I’m home I just drop things and plop on the sofa.
- I have no clue how to manage all the paper pouring into my house.
- I have too many responsibilities and need support from others to maintain an organized home.
- I am overwhelmed by how much clutter there is and don’t know how to start clearing.
Do you identify with any of those stories? You cannot address a clutter problem if you aren’t conscious of the story it tells. For example, if your story is, “I shop for entertainment and to relieve stress,” that awareness makes it possible for you to focus on finding other ways to reduce stress and have fun.
If your story is that you have ADHD and have never been organized, you can research what works for people with ADHD to get clearing done and sustain order in their space.
If the truth is you have a family of five and are the only one who is trying to create and sustain order, you can acknowledge the impossibility of doing that successfully and negotiate with family members for their participation in tasks that keep your house organized and feeling good.
Instead of beating yourself up because there is clutter or avoiding it, look at it with curiosity. Tease out the story it tells. Then take steps to change the story.
Stories are much more interesting than piles of clutter. Focusing on your story can motivate you to make take action. Be aware that many of the above stories, particularly those that involve large quantities of clutter, can only be changed with some type of outside help. Hire a professional organizer or enlist supportive friends and/or family members to help you change your story.