In a perfect world, we would not fritter away our time or our money acquiring possessions that don’t help us attain our true desires. Cluttering, and its advanced stage, hoarding, is the act of burying our true hopes and needs under junk. The junk may look pretty and be neatly organized, or it may look trashy and be thrown helter-skelter throughout our living areas, or it may be secreted away in rented storage spaces or garages or attics. How we maintain the stuff is hardly meaningful. What counts is why it is there.
I could go into a long diversion and discuss our stated intentions of honoring the value of the work put into crafting these items, or of the sentimental value of retaining every possession once owned by a beloved relative, or of the possibility that these objects might one day prove of practical use to us. But what’s the point? We’re completely fooling ourselves if we play this game. The reality is that if our lives are scary or empty or too difficult to face, retreating into a passionate relationship with possessions is one method of temporary escape. Some people hide behind alcohol, drugs, food, or sex with strangers. More and more Americans hide behind massive quantities of possessions, because they are legal, cheap, and easy to acquire. The very act of obtaining them gives us a measurable high. That’s right; researchers have proven that a part of the brain lights up when we get new stuff. Unfortunately, that pleasure area of our brain does not stay lit, and we have to keep replicating the experience to get the same high. It’s exactly like drug addiction.
Meanwhile, what we truly want in life is buried somewhere under the rubble. That’s why it’s important to talk about what we want our lives to be, and not about the clutter itself. Sensitive therapists and decluttering experts ask us what we want our home to look like, how we want to feel when we walk into our bedroom, for instance, or our kitchen. They want to know what we see ourselves doing in an ideal life. They want to draw us out of hiding, and empower us to have the courage to live authentic lives, and free ourselves from the cycle of addiction.
How do we identify our true desires so we can acquire what we most want in life? We ask ourselves what we want. What would make us happy? We make lists, if need be, of all the things we want to do before we die, of all the places we want to visit, or people we want to meet, or accomplishments we want to achieve. Then we consider, logically, which ones we can do, and how to do them. It’s that simple and that scary. Instead of living in a haze of confusion brought about by constantly collecting new possessions, we face the reality of who we are right now, and who we want to be tomorrow. Of course it’s frightening. Buying a new blouse or a new chair or trash picking an old bookcase or yard sailing a completely unnecessary lamp might be a lot easier. But we’ve already discovered that things themselves do not bring us lasting satisfaction.
Sometimes we need to fine tune our dreams. If we dream of travel, we need to pick a place to visit, and research how we could get there and what we would do there and every other detail. A trip to Paris is not that expensive compared to a weekly trip to the mall or the discount store. If we want an education or to live somewhere different or to learn the piano or even to start dating, listing these goals and breaking them into their component parts makes accomplishing them easier. Everyone has goals, although some of us will deny it until pressed. None of us wants to wake up tomorrow without a sense of purpose.
Cluttering our lives with possessions obscures our true desires, and that’s why cluttering usually has to stop before we can achieve those desires. People in the throes of addiction have to go through rehab. They have to stop the addictive behavior and then get the toxins out of their system. Then they have to learn their triggers and practice substitute behaviors that will help them to cope with the stress that previously has sent them to their drug of choice. No one expects an alcoholic to get sober while living in a bar, and clutterers can’t continue to live in their messes and hope to get their heads straight at the same time. It might seem possible that a clutterer could simply lock the door and walk away from a mess and start a new life. But that doesn’t happen. Clutterers need to deal with their stuff and get it off their backs.
If you think you aren’t quite a clutterer or hoarder yet, but are headed in that direction with your collection of this or your collection of that, now is the time to ask yourself if your collections are helping you attain your true desires. If not, it’s time to be diligent in shedding the excess.
More about reducing clutter next time.