My own decluttering journey is what inspired me to start my organizing business. In this post, I talk about my own story and how it informs not only why I do what I do, but also how it influences my process.
I moved around a lot growing up (before you ask, no we’re not military). For most of my childhood, we stayed in the same town and I went to the same school, but our physical address changed several times. It wasn’t until after middle school that we started moving to different states, requiring changing schools and learning new the quirks of different US regions (no, most Texans don’t ride horses as a main mode of transportation, and most Alaskans had never heard the word “y’all” in 2004).
It was a unique way to grow up, and I’m grateful for those experiences and how they’ve shaped the adult I’ve become. But, it also gave me a very complicated relationship with my stuff.
Apparently, I was a very messy child (sorry, mom!) until about age 10. For unknown reasons, one day a switch flipped and my room went from a Barbie accessory-strewn wasteland to neat and tidy. And, no my mom didn’t finally make good on her threats to throw out all my stuff if I didn’t at least clear a path to the dresser so she could put away laundry. I just suddenly needed order. Maybe this is a thing in childhood development, or maybe it was just the emergence of my all-or-nothing personality trait of making big changes seemingly out of nowhere.
I suspect that the chaos got to me. I do not thrive in chaos. I’m not known for having the most easy-going personality, and my fuse was short and unchecked in childhood. The baffling, maddening frustration of not being able to find a thing you just had in your hand one second ago because you set it down and now it’s been absorbed by the clutter monster must have finally gotten to me.
Hard to say, I have a notoriously bad long term memory. The point isn’t that I did it, it’s how I did it. And it was not by decluttering.
My apparently inherent but untapped spatial reasoning skills emerged to save me. Or, perhaps more accurately, to save my stuff. Because, you see, my stuff was home. Even though the container changed, I learned somewhere along the way that the house wasn’t “home”, the things in the house were what made it “home”.
The deep emotional significance that I subconsciously placed on my stuff, when combined with the facts that I’m crafty person who sees “potential” in everything, and that I like to be Prepared for Anything, made for the perfect clutter storm.
Except that, if it was organized, if my room looked tidy and the floors were clear and just about everything had a designated home, it wasn’t clutter, right? Well, at least that’s the mindset I had until last year!
With every move, the meticulous (and then frantic last minute) packing never inspired me to get rid of stuff, because I knew that a set of drawers or a particular bin or extra closet rods or under-the-bed container would allow me to fit it all in the new space. No sacrifices necessary. Technically, I became an organizing expert.
And I liked doing it! The time and energy spent arranging and rearranging and trying out new solutions didn’t bother me. As I grew older, that became my new solitary play time (I’m an introvert, so I was the kid who could entertain herself alone in her room for hours and was happy to do it). It didn’t feel like a burden. Plus, every new house needed some specific storage item I didn’t have so I got to go shopping and bring even more stuff home!
Because I liked it, I didn’t challenge the insanity of it all. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t used those scrapbooking stickers I bought years ago for a project in high school, or that I rolled my eyes every time I came across the souvenir keychain collection I cultivated as a kid, or that I hated the way that product made my hair feel and had only used it once. It all fit in my space, my space didn’t look cluttered, and I could usually find whatever I was looking for. So what’s the problem?
It wasn’t until I moved into the house where I live now with my husband that the shift happened. This is the first home that is mine to manage. Let me stop and clarify: I’m not saying that Bill doesn’t help with household stuff; he’s incredibly involved on the home front and I’m so grateful for the fact that he cares and will devote time to improving and running our household. What I mean by “mine to manage” is that I was in control – and therefore responsible – for more spaces than ever before. It wasn’t just my bedroom and office, or my bedroom and a common area, it was every room in our house. And it’s a lot more work than I was prepared for.
Not to mention that we planned to do improvements in every single room of our house. And the fact that we both worked full time. And we had to feed ourselves, and acquire the things that enabled us to feed ourselves. Plus there was laundry, a never-ending stream of dishes, toilets to clean, and a cat to keep alive. And it would be nice to, like, go do fun stuff on our days off and even take a trip or two.
And I adapted, as we humans are so capable of doing. But my mental and emotional health was being affected to a degree I only recently grasped by years of junk I’d been hauling with me. Not to mention all of Bill’s stuff was merging with mine. And as I worked on creating this new space, our home, our entire home, the energy I used to spend maintaining all the stuff was being used up painting and caulking and hanging artwork.
The stuff truly felt like a burden for the first time. And while the house wasn’t bursting, every drawer, closet, cabinet, bin, and basket were stuffed with crap I’d forgotten about, thought might come in handy someday, or that belonged to a past version of me that just didn’t exist any more.
And that’s a hard thing to acknowledge. There’s a particular sadness that happens in our 20s. I think everyone goes through it, some version of mourning for the relative freedom of our childhoods as we settle into the responsibilities, stresses, and pressures of adulthood. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me this was compounded by the fact that I did not grow into the person I thought I’d become. So the mourning over youth was compounded by the realization that I no longer do the things I used to love, and accepting that I probably never would again was really hard to admit to myself.
So for a long time, I didn’t. I kept the art supplies, and the critical film theory handouts from college, and the High Minded Literature that I thought made me look intelligent to anyone who saw them on my shelf.
I’d heard of Marie Kondo on the internet a few times, but I resisted, as so many seem to resist more “radical” theories (She says to get rid of my books! But how will people know I’m a Smart Person if I get rid of that unopened copy of Anna Karenina?!)
And then I actually read her book. I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed everything.
Her wisdom shifted my perspective toward decluttering from believing that it’s a desperate act that only the most unorganized among us need to do when they can no longer see their kitchen counter, to understanding that it’s about being intentional about what you allow to surround you in your most intimate spaces. It’s about knowing what you want for your life and for your home, so you can stop wasting your time, money, energy, and precious space on anything that doesn’t align with those goals.
It made me realize that my lifelong habit of stuff shuffling wasn’t a harmless activity, much less a necessary chore. It was a way of enabling myself to not make those hard decisions, or confront difficult emotions, and not take responsibility for what I wanted to make of my life.
The more stuff you own, the more you are a slave to keeping up with it: you move it, you organize it, you clean it, you feel guilty about it, you let it make you feel ugly or fat or stupid or full of regret. You spend your free time maintaining it. You spend your hard-earned money storing it, and then you go buy more of it, and then spend years paying interest on it. You believe it will make you happy, or that it will solve your problems, or help you reach that goal. You start to believe that it represents you, and then it defines you. But all it does is confine you.
Forcing myself to confront every possession I owned was simultaneously exhausting and energizing. It filled me with hope, and required me to mourn lost dreams and forgotten plans. The process of admitting to yourself that you’re not the person you thought you were, or that you thought you would become, is emotional and it’s so damn freeing. Because the next question is: Who are you now, and where do you want to go from here?
Hint: Not someone who needs a copy of Anna Karenina gathering dust on her shelf to recognize her intelligence and inherent worth. Not anymore!
I’m not a minimalist, and I still have stuff that I couldn’t let go of the first time that I plan to re-examine soon. But I can say that I wouldn’t be starting this business if I hadn’t gone through the decluttering process, because that’s what gave me the clarity that enabled me to move forward toward goals that actually align with who I really am. I had to let go of the past and what it represented go in order to make room for my destiny. By letting go of the things that represented who I used to be or who I thought I should be, I was able to discover and embrace who I truly am.