‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ (Nelson Mandela)
The spare room in our home is really supposed to be my study. We all have one of those places in the house though that everyone uses as a ‘dumping ground.’ You take all the clutter and mess out of one room, make it beautiful and lovely, only to dump said clutter into the ‘spare room.’ Over recent months this ‘clutter’ has consisted of unwanted furniture, ill-fitting shoes, conference posters, shoe boxes, clothes dating back to the 90s, paintings which haven’t quite found their right hanging place yet….and so on.
So as you can imagine, my ‘bolt hole’ where I am supposed to be productive and creative was starting to look more like Steptoe & Son’s backyard! Admittedly I am a chronic sentimental hoarder and I ‘accidentally’ end up with clutter even though I have an appreciation of minimalism and tidiness, and also pride myself on a generally tidy and comfortable home. Certainly in work I know I get very angst-ridden if my desk and office are not ordered with everything easily to hand. Therefore my home working environment has been causing me distress as I looked around the room and noted the many things lying visible and crying out to be sorted and dealt with. An untidy space is definitely comparable to a rather lengthy ‘to-do’ list. I’m a huge fan of a ‘to-do’ list and love the satisfaction as I either put a huge tick on a written notepad or click my outlook list as ‘done’ (this triggers a time to smile and time for coffee).
Therefore this week, I set a goal to declutter my study. I quickly realised that this was going to be a mammoth task and will take some time, so I may well have to report again on my progress over the coming weeks. Certainly going through the piles of work papers revealed my need to hold onto things ‘just in case’ has become a serious problem as I found documents dating back to 2001 and had the pleasure of uncovering a floppy disk (what is that pray tell?) and a cassette with no cover (Spandau Ballet Parade, 1984). Even though I have no computer to insert the floppy disk into to retrieve the documents on this, I still have this item sitting on the shelf beside me as I type this blog. This in itself is possibly very telling as I am finding the ability to chuck things out more and more difficult. What on Earth am I clinging on to? I have not looked for, nor needed this floppy disk in perhaps 15 years so why is it not in the bin? I certainly have no emotional attachment to this item, but it represents something from my past, something my subconscious is making me cling to, and I suspect this is maybe not the healthiest thing for me mentally and emotionally.
If you merely google the word ‘decluttering’ the search reveals a wealth of articles on the benefits and how this process not only results in a beautiful room, but also a clearer and healthier mind. There are quotes, book recommendations and e-books galore all on the subject and the positive outcomes that can come from decluttering your whole life emotionally, mentally and physically. Here are some of the outcomes allegedly promised to me once I complete this process:
- An increase in productivity with a razor-like focus;
- An increase in self-efficacy which is your belief in your innate ability to achieve your goals;
- Enhanced creativity;
- A decrease in my stress levels;
- A better mood;
- Improved self-esteem;
- More money in the bank (if I can sell some items instead of throwing them out; any takers for that floppy disk or 80s cassette?); and
- Letting go of the past.
It certainly looks like a ‘win-win’ task, but it has actually proved to be so incredibly emotionally challenging as I inadvertently realised some ‘clutter’ I was keeping close to my desk was also very close to my heart. This is the type of ‘clutter’ I will most certainly keep whilst trying to rationalise and process the emotions that arise via sorting and finding these items a more suitable forever place within my home environment.
The first thing I found amongst my academic textbooks on a book shelf was a ‘Tie Rack’ case for storing ties filled with some I had salvaged when my dad died and my mum was transporting his wardrobe to charity. Once I had gone through them all and managed to stifle the tears, I posted a photo of these on instagram. The colours and patterns of dad’s ties were varied and bright and reflective of his unique style and love for clothes and shoes. In our house it was dad who sneaked a new pair of shoes or clothes into his wardrobe and commented “what this old thing? I’ve had it for ages?” when we had clearly noted a new, beautifully-cut suit! I admittedly inherited this from my dad and my love for clothes and always having my own unique take on fashion has stayed with me over the years. My dad died in 2000 after a short fight with cancer and I confess I have never truly dealt with the loss of someone who laid such firm foundations in my life. Losing him was literally like having the rug pulled from under my feet and I know some of my subsequent struggles in life are firmly rooted in my unprocessed grief.
So here began an emotional journey which has dominated my mood and emotions over recent hours and days.
I proceeded to open a box file to again reveal items unrelated to my work;
letters, cards and notes again from family and friends, some of whom are no longer with us. Tears triggered again, this time so bad, I had to completely stop the process for the day. What was lovely though was to find hand-written notes and letters which now look like an historical craft from olden days. Do you miss sending and receiving letters? I know I do. Whilst social media has enabled me to reconnect with old friends and make new connections all over the world, the interactions are almost exclusively via posts, likes, comments and messenger and no doubt will eventually be buried in our newsfeeds perhaps never to be retrieved. There is now something incredibly special about reading hand-written sentiments and a profound joy when receiving such an item in the post as it seems to proffer a deeper sense of sentiments, time taken and effort. Don’t get me wrong! I’m as guilty as the next person for taking the handy way out and sending a quick greeting on Facebook, but I think it would be lovely if some of these traditions were not lost for good.
In this box I again found items linked to my dad and appreciated locating a note he wrote on behalf of both my parents on my 18th Birthday. Another trait I inherited from him was sentimentality and the need to mark every momentous occasion with thoughtful gifts and notes. He was the most sensitive and loving soul. No wonder mum and I struggled so much after this incredible loss.
‘Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.’ (Steve Maraboli)
Having been side-tracked by these items and feeling emotionally drained I resigned to trying the tidy again on another day.
On Saturday afternoon I proceeded to clear out mountains of paper and started to list some rarely worn shoes and clothes for sale. However, I still felt like I was holding back on doing this and felt a knot in my stomach. Clearing the clothes rail sitting in the study which is serving no real purpose other than to block the beautiful view from my study and genuinely hold me firmly in the past, was unexpectedly presenting another mental obstacle.
I have been told by a friend that this is fear-based and I fear that by letting these things go I may find myself unable to replace them. This is entirely understandable and relatable for me as someone who has gone through difficult times where all seemed to be lost, especially material items, with the fear I would never earn or own such items again. I know I MUST release this fear and clear these items both physically from my home and mentally from my mind. It is entirely acceptable for me to keep the sentimental things linked to my dad and other people I loved. I know it is NOT OK for me to attach unnecessary fears and other negative thoughts to items which I clearly don’t need or use any more.
‘When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two; an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.’ (Marie Kondo, author of ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever’).
It’s incredible how much I am discovering about myself as I clear this room dealing with fears, grief and memories; it’s an emotional rollercoaster but I sense that once completed, I will feel lighter and more able to continually welcome the good things into my life.
I posted the note from my parents on social media asking others what sentimental items they have kept and what memories are linked to them. I’m interested to know more about how you feel when decluttering and looking through items with strong emotional attachment. Do you relate to what I have been feeling this week?
The Swan Doctor