Decluttering Your Container

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I just finished reading an excellent book on decluttering. The author begins by getting clear about what decluttering is and isn’t. It isn’t cleaning or organization, decluttering is about permanently reducing what you have. She then goes on to posit that each space we have is a container and every container can only hold so much stuff.

In each chapter of the book, she takes you room by room (container by container) and shares a pattern for removal, either permanent or to a more appropriate home. You start with trash, then move on to what she calls “duhs” – things that don’t belong in the space, need to be returned somewhere else or you just don’t like. The third step is to “purge down to the (size of) container.” Once the container is full, you must either sacrifice space somewhere else or simply remove the things that don’t fit.

The chapter that I found most intriguing was one about decluttering dreams, outdated goals, “shoulds” and other things that often have both physical and emotional clutter.

As I thought more about this, it made me realize that our lives are also containers. We fill our minds with worries, our time with commitments, the list goes on and on. But just as we need to declutter our attics, garages, and guest bedrooms, we also need to declutter the more abstract.

Now you may be thinking, but fall has just begun; don’t we clean in the spring? First, remember that decluttering is different from cleaning. Decluttering is about permanent removal. And I would argue that fall is the perfect time to do this work. People often have goals they want to accomplish before the end of the year and with the holidays just around the corner, it feels like more and more wants to crowd in.

So, what can you do?

  1. Carefully evaluate the containers in your life. Are there places where things are piling up or you don’t feel like you have agency? Maybe there’s a book club that you hate being a part of or an old emotional wound you nurse periodically. If those things are taking up space in the container and you don’t want them to, the next step is…
  2. Take out the trash – We all have things that no longer serve us; thoughts, commitments, even anchoring beliefs; start culling what you can and don’t let it back in. Recognize the trash thoughts you have, challenge them and when you are ready, tell them to get in the garbage bag.
  3. Look for the “duhs” – Stuff that no longer belongs with you or could be done away with. Maybe it’s so-called priorities that really aren’t or they are someone else’s and they found their way onto your to do list. Perhaps it’s places where you are overservicing or holding an unnecessarily high expectation that is unrealistic.
  4. Finally, we need to purge down to the size of the container. You are one person; there are only 24 hours in the day and carrying burdens or worries that you can’t really change is simply exhausting. Where can you stop trying to do it all for every single person? What can you stop allowing to affect your heart, mind, and schedule?

The book was not only motivating for the short term, but it’s also made me rethink letting clutter even enter the door (of both my home and my mind). With every container I tackle, I become more convinced regarding the method. After all, there’s something wonderfully soothing about having open space, either physically or mentally.

So this year, “fall” in love with less clutter, fewer commitments, more bandwidth to think and do those things that are actually of value to you. Then sip your pumpkin spice latte, pleased with the knowledge of how far ahead you will be when it comes time to do spring cleaning.