I’ve been preoccupied with space lately, physical space. To be more precise, I’ve been hyper-focused on the stuff that shares my physical space with me. I just moved, and while not the biggest move of my life in terms of distance, it still constitutes a major life change. There is so much that shifts during a move (and not just the items in a truck); identity, community, routine, relationships, opportunities for business development and more. Still, I found myself unable to think about any of those things until I found a way to deal with my stuff.
Even before the move I’ve been noticing that, when my physical environment is disorganized and cluttered, it’s similar to a constant and loud noise – I feel distracted, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted and generally stressed. This move was particularly “loud”, as it involved co-mingling two households into a home with less storage space. This means two coffee makers, two blenders, etc., adding up to too many of everything.
A few months before the move, two pieces of culture helped me to shift my focus to decluttering my life.
1. Netflix highlighted the documentary Minimalism, which is all about simplifying one’s life by having fewer possessions. It was a perfect reminder at the perfect time.
While I’m far from a “minimalist”, I do aspire to be one. The freedom and simplicity of a minimal lifestyle has always appealed to me. More importantly, the ability to actually “let it all go” is a skill that I’m constantly trying to cultivate. I have my work cut out though; I still have a lot of stuff.
2. A neighbor, out of the blue, recommended the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Reorganizing,” by Marie Kondo. My initial reaction was to wonder why my neighbor made this book recommendation in the first place: aren’t I the organizing queen?! So I didn’t think much of it at first, figuring that I had very little to learn on the topic! Despite my reservations, I still found myself picking it up in a book store recently as I was both curious, and feeling compelled to knowingly dismiss the book.
After reading it I must admit that I was intrigued by her lessons and yes, put in my place. The book taught me a whole new way of seeing ‘stuff’ and about the process of uncluttering my space. It also reminded me how physical space can have a direct impact on mental space.
Finally, Kondo’s book inspired me to undertake a full-on purge and declutter as soon as I arrived and unpacked into the new house. I understand that it may sound odd to wait until after the long move to lighten the load, but my belongings were widely scattered in storage and other places, so they would not all be in one space until after the move. I needed all of my possessions in one place to go deep into the purge.
Upon arrival to our new home I had a week by myself to unpack and begin my purge project before my husband arrived. Although unpacking alone is not fun, it did allow me to create unruly messes in every room in order to work through the process. This was a HUGE project. So I got to work.
The question: Does this spark joy?
This is Kondo’s recommended question to ask when holding and inspecting a possession. Admittedly, the question seemed odd to me at first. I don’t often think of kitchen items as “joy makers”; a knife is a knife, after all! But as I started to use this question as a framework, the figurative lightbulb went off. All knives are not created equal - I have a favorite knife (actually knives) that I use often and other knives that I typically avoid. So those less used knives ended up in the donation pile.
For me, the process became less about finding possessions that spark joy and more about identifying my go-to items. However, I was also surprised to discover that I have some possessions that do indeed spark joy.
I was also surprised by how many items that I’ve held onto just in case I or someone else needed them. I realize now that I was trying to plan for every future need while ignoring my current one, i.e. the need for clarity and quiet in the form of a decluttered space.
This process created an unintended result: I now feel more connected to the items that are left in my home and thus want to cherish and care for them. The realization of these possessions bringing me joy reinforces and creates a deeper level of joy.
The Purge Process
Here are a few tips to help you get started on your personal purge:
Don’t Rationalize - Go with your gut response when you pick up an item. Don’t ask yourself if you’ll use it someday. That thought will only derail progress and slow you down. Instead, start from the perspective of purging all possessions, then choose what to you must keep because it gives you joy.
Start Easy - Kondo recommends going through your possessions in a very particular order. For me, I felt going room by room was easier. Also, I started with the room that I felt would be the easiest: the kitchen. For me, the kitchen has the fewest emotional attachments because most items are easily replaceable.
From there I went through my office, and then the guest bedroom. I continued the process by assessing and purging: linens, books, collections, travel mementos, other memorabilia and photos; progressively evaluating things that I normally struggle with discarding. For example, I ordinarily see clothing as representing a lifestyle or life that I used to have (such as business suits that I no longer wear after leaving the corporate world) or a life that I hope to one day have (colored tops and dresses to be worn on a hot tropical island). So I kept coming back in each room to the joy question to provide insight.
Now I’m happy to report that I can actually see what I own without struggling (and yes, I did keep a few of my favorite suits and some tropical clothes for my next trip; no one can be expected to purge everything at once!).
Start your purge project to declutter your mind
If your physical space is cluttered, dirty, or in any way not the way that you want it, there IS a direct impact on your long-term emotional and psychological well-being.
Physical space has a direct correlation to mental space and mental space impacts how we view our physical space. If you’re stuck mentally, a good place to start may be by purging your physical space of unneeded items.
Studies show that there is a benefit of owning fewer possessions: less to clean, less debt/more money, less to organize, less stress, and more energy for your greatest passions.
Tips that worked for me
- Start with the items/area that have the fewest emotional attachments. This will give you a greater sense of satisfaction and strengthen the “purge muscles”, making it a bit easier as you go on to deal with progressively more difficult (i.e. emotionally attached) items.
- Don’t rob yourself of significant results – be ruthless and make the cut deep when you purge.
- If you feel a particular attachment to an item but it doesn’t bring you Joy, take a picture of it and know you will always have it, even if not in the physical form.
Results from the Purge Project
I gave away or recycled MANY boxes of items. Besides having a cleaner home, my mind now feels much less cluttered and distracted. I also feel like I reclaimed energy that was previously spent carrying around old possessions that represented a belief or idea that no longer suits me. This new energy can now be focused on my immediate future as I build new community, rituals and routines in my new city. I’m particularly excited about using this new energy in service of my clients and to also focus more energy on my business because that is where I feel most fulfilled and full of Joy.
If you want a partner to help you claim lingering energy so you can apply it to the future you want, I'm here.