A litmus test for clutter

In Repacking Our Bags, Richard Leider writes about his “aha” moment while leading a backpacking trek in Africa. Although the group’s Maasai guide Koyie travels with only a spear and a stick for cattle-tending, Richard is outfitted with a backpack full of “necessities” so that he’ll be prepared for anything. The first evening, as they set up camp, Richard lays it all out for Koyie to see.

“I unsnap snaps, unzip zippers, and un-Velcro Velcro. From pockets, pouches, and compartments, I produce all sorts of strange and wonderful items. Eating utensils, cutting devices, digging tools. Direction finders, star gazers, map readers. Things to write with, on, and for. Various garments in various sizes for various functions. Medical supplies, remedies, and cures. Little bottles inside little bottles inside little bottles. Waterproof bags for everything. Amazing stuff!

“I look over at Koyie to gauge his reaction. He seems amused but he is silent. … Finally, after several minutes of just gazing at everything, Koyie turns to me and asks very simply, but with great intensity: ‘Does all this make you happy?’ “

This seemingly simple question may be all you need to ask yourself in order to de-clutter successfully. Everything in life causes an emotional reaction in us – including clutter. Tune in to the vibe you’re getting from the stuff you’re surrounded with. Ask yourself how it makes you feel.

Ask yourself if it makes you happy.

I’m a knitter, so I tend to have yarn left over at the end of any project I undertake. Over time, I accumulated an entire drawer full of small balls of leftover yarn in different colors and weights and textures. Although I had absolutely no use for this yarn, I felt obliged to use it up. I felt obligated not to waste it. It seemed wrong just to toss it out.

Here was something that wasn’t even worth taking to a thrift shop – and yet I felt compelled to hang on to it. It annoyed me that it was taking up space. The unwanted responsibility of it was irritating to me. Yes, I knew there were a few things I could do with this yarn, but I didn’t want to do them. I resented being burdened by this yarn!

Who was doing this to me? Me.

How much of your clutter elicits negative emotions from you?

• Do you hang on to your grandmother’s china because you’re afraid it will make you insensitive if you give it away – even though you’ll never use it?
• Does storing your kids’ possessions make you feel manipulated – or as if they think your personal space is unimportant?
• Do those books and magazines you mean to read someday make you feel like a procrastinator…or that you’re not doing something you “should” be doing?
• Does the anticipated regret of misspending money keep you from getting rid of something that now just brings you down every time you look at it?
• Are you keeping your mother’s paintings because you feel guilty for not appreciating them (her?) when she was alive?

The clutter is piling up – in the way – out of hand – getting dusty. How does it make you feel? Indecisive? Ineffective? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Depressed? Ashamed? Unfocused? Lazy?

William Morris famously said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” In other words – in one way or another – every single thing you own and take care of needs to make you happy. Admittedly, some of that stuff may still need to be organized and put into a place it belongs, but once you get rid of all the stuff with negative vibes, you’ll have the time and space to deal with that.

And you’ll be happier! 🙂

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