When I sold my 3 story, 4 bedroom house and moved into a 2 bedroom apartment, I had my fair share of excess items that I couldn’t possibly part with. I was in the mindset of “I may need that someday” and “I paid so much for that,” so I packed… and packed… and packed… and moved almost everything into my new digs. Needless to say, I had no room to unpack everything, so I unpacked the essentials and lived with my cardboard box décor for longer than I’d like to admit. I even moved to another state with all of my boxes (that were still packed), making sure to choose a new home with lots of storage space.
Occasionally, I’d hunt through a random box and find something(s) that I never remembered I had. Eventually, I started donating items (just one at a time to avoid the pang of regret) to charity. With every item that left my home, I felt a sense of what I can only describe as relief. I noticed that my mood would brighten just a bit, but not enough to realize that a transformation was taking place in my state of well-being. So, I continued to store and clean and dust around items.
The worst was the paper. All of the accumulated papers that one keeps that one doesn’t necessarily have to… i.e. paid bill stubs… or necessarily know what to do with… i.e. things I was going to read some day, old ticket stubs to remind me of things I’d done in my life, etc. Most times, that paper mountain seemed too steep of a climb for me. I felt overwhelmed just looking at it and so I’d pretend it wasn’t there and go on with life.
A few years ago, I noticed I felt like I had no energy at the end of the day, but couldn’t figure out where it had all gone. I felt fine while at work, but when I’d get home and think about all of the things I wanted to do, I was just too tired to do them. On days off, it seemed like I’d be busy multi-tasking all day, yet get nothing accomplished, or if I wanted to do something just for fun, a nagging voice popped into my head reminding me that I had to clean the house. This was interesting to me because my house was essentially clean, but somehow I always felt like there was more to do. In the back of my mind, I knew that “clean the house” really meant DECLUTTER the house. This nagging voice constantly guilted me with “How can you even think about doing anything else when the house is cluttered with stuff?”
Understand that I have been an avid fan of fitness for 20 years. I was a body builder, a runner of 5k, 10k, ½ marathons and full marathons, in addition to just spending an hour each day working out because I loved doing it. But somehow, I’d gotten to the point of just wanting to lay on the couch and do nothing to avoid the guilt of feeling overwhelmed by and not wanting to declutter my excess baggage.
To put in perspective just how overwhelmed I was and how much I really did not want to engage in the tedious task of going through every item I owned, I researched chronic fatigue syndrome and all of the other reasons why I might have no energy and no drive to do the things I loved. I knew none of the conditions would ring true for me, but I looked for whatever “out” I could find to not have to face my possessions. In the end, it turned out that I just had to make a decision. Either lose the guilt about living with a lot of possessions that I didn’t need or face the clutter head-on and get the job done.
I researched how to declutter one’s house. Yes, I actually had to do this to work up the motivation to do it (not to mention that research is another way I avoided actually doing it). I found that the suggested techniques I’d read about just caused me to be overwhelmed even more. “Set aside 10-15 minutes every day,” “have 5 bins to separate it out,” “turn your clothes backwards on the hangers,” and more. Although I’m sure those work for some, the suggestions just caused me more anxiety.
So, on yet another day that I missed doing something fun because I had to “clean the house,” I was trying to decide where to put one of my possessions and it hit me. I realized that I had seen the exact same item at a nearby store. It didn’t even cost a lot of money. As I stared at the object, I also realized that, other than occasionally switching the spots where I would store it in my house, I hadn’t even used it or noticed it for years. I just moved it and forgot about it until the next time I moved it and forgot about it. That’s when I realized that it might not kill me to get rid of it.
So I did.
And I lived.
And I was happier.
After that, every time I cleaned, I donated an item that’s only purpose was to challenge me to find a new spot in which to store it.
And I was happier.
And, in exchange for every item that left my life, I got a bit of energy back in return.
And so the process continued. Eventually, I even tackled the paper mountain. Every time another paper disappeared into the shredder and the metal teeth ground it down to nothing, I felt lighter. More relaxed. Happier.
My process was just to get rid of items piece by piece as I did routine cleaning. I didn’t set aside time to declutter (except to drive a load of donations to their new home). Admittedly, there were two things (only two) I got rid of that I wished I hadn’t. It took awhile, but I found a replacement for one of them. The other? Well, honestly, I only occasionally remembered it with a little sting of regret until I forgot about it again and moved on. And that occasional little sting was no match for the abundance of peace I felt while in my clutter-free home.
The reason I’ve shared this story is because I want to emphasize that health and well-being are more than exercise and nutrition. We know that eating right is good for us and that physical activity lowers stress levels and increases energy. Decluttering one’s space has the same effect on one’s mind. With every item that I physically got rid of, a thought that was cluttering my mind went with it. My stress decreased and my energy and focus increased. For me, it was like meditating while not having to take time out of my schedule to “sit quietly,” something I admit I’m not exactly good at. With this new-found freedom from physical and mental clutter, I could once again focus on doing things I love. And isn’t that what living well is all about?