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Clearing Physical, Mental & Emotional Clutter Reveals Hidden Abundance

When my husband and I moved into our house in southwest Minneapolis, there was a collection of about ten boxes that sat in a corner of the basement for well over year. I can't really say why. We just sort of ran out of steam in the unpacking process. Every time I went down to do a load of laundry or feed the cats, I'd look over at that corner and just think, Ugh. When are we going to take care of that stuff?

One rainy September day, 18 months after we moved in, we went downstairs, and in an afternoon, we just plowed through the task. We wound up donating or tossing about two-thirds of it. We hadn't needed it for a year and half; we certainly didn't need it then! Now that corner is clear. When I look over there, I notice the light pouring in the window. The physical space is clear -- but so is the space in my head that was perpetually occupied whenever I looked at that unresolved pile of boxes.

It is an interesting and difficult issue to address, this intense emotional connection we sometimes have with the things we own, including our "intangible" possessions -- our health, our beliefs about ourselves and others, our old grudges and unresolved pain. All these things take up space. Sometimes they take up so much space that there's isn't much room for anything else. We wish for simplicity -- but letting go can be difficult and sometimes even painful for a number of reasons, even when hanging on is to our emotional detriment.

One reason is just how our brains process input. We have one neurological path that could be considered "the path of reason." That's the part of our brain that looks at a chair and sees an item made of wood and fabric. The other neurological path is one that is profoundly and instantaneously linked to emotion and memory. When it sees the chair, it remembers all the things -- pleasant and unpleasant -- associated with that item. So something as simple as a chair could, for its owner, be deeply symbolic of experiences like suffocating guilt, a failed relationship, grief, or a sense of being constantly overwhelmed. It's easy to see how a house or a heart filled with these triggers can become a tough place to live peacefully.

My friend Heidi DeCoux is a professional organizer specializing in home organization. She explains the cycle of physical and emotional chaos like this:

The problem, everyone says, is the clutter. Actually, the real problem is ... the lack of space. When we don't have space, there's nowhere to grow and no room for anything new. Instead, we experience more stuffing and filling versus positive, beneficial growth.

I recently listened to a wonderful interview with coach and author of the book Throw Out Fifty Things, Gail Blanke. She explained that the point of clearing things out isn't so that you can live in a pristine, sterile environment without a speck of dust (preoccupation with "perfection" can be its own type of emotional clutter). It's so that you can make space for new ideas and new possibilities, clear a path for forward movement. Heidi echoes this philosophy in her own work: "Organizing is not so much about organizing things as it is about seeing the transformation of people."

Blanke has what she calls the Rules of Disengagement, a kind of litmus test for releasing the things that can wind up binding us:
• If the thing, the idea, the feeling, the person weighs you down, consistently hurts you, holds you back -- let it go.
• If the thing, the idea, the feeling, the person just sits there, takes up space and contributes nothing -- let it go.
• If you have to debate endlessly, forever weighing the pros and cons -- Should I let it go? Should I keep it? -- then let it go. As Heidi puts it, "Stuff you feel guilty about getting rid of creates an environment of guilt -- who can grow in that?"
• Don't make it so hard. The things that are meant to be in our lives will not cause us such constant confusion and pain.

This is the time of year when we start consuming and accumulating in earnest. It seems like the perfect time to stop and breathe and ask: What could I be letting go of? What in my physical or emotional environment is no longer helping me move forward in my life? What might there be room for in my life if I let go of these items, this broken relationship, this disappointment, this fear?

The human tendency is to move toward and fill in space. The larger question becomes, What do I want to fill it with?

Heidi DeCoux is a professional organizer, speaker and creator of The Fast-Filing Method home office filing system. For more info and to receive her FREE Report: The Fast & Easy Way to Get Organized and Stay Organized Forever, visit ClearSimpleLiving.com. Siri Myhrom is a writer, educator and therapeutic writing facilitator. To find more info and to receive a complimentary subscription to Siri's e-Magazine, Winter Oak Weekly -- full of relevant articles and easy writing exercises you can do at home – visit winter-oak.com.

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About the Author

Heidi DeCoux, Clear Simple Living, LLC
Minneapolis, MN 55419

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