So, I’m a Professional Declutterer, but it’s not what I do on the job. Regardless of text-book definitions, clutter is a word that can reduce peoples’ belonging to junk. Most of my clients say I am transforming their lives, one possession at a time. I insist that all I am here to do is help them make decisions about their belongings. If this #belongingscoach gives clients a decluttering afterglow them I am all the happier for it.
Overall my clients come to me for help during significant life change: downsizing from the family home, surviving divorce, illness or bereavement, empty nesting or introducing themselves to blended family realities. In all situations, there is many years’ accumulation of belongings. And that suddenly becomes stuff, or ‘clutter’, that needs sorting out. See above!
Faced with our man-drawers, muffin-topped drawers and general shoe/coat/toy/mildewed swimsuit should-be-in-a drawer-found-this-at-Ikea-solution-if-I-find-out-who-Allen Key-is, we are oh very familiar with our objectionable, unreasonable and very lifetime/seasonal clutter.
However, to refer to it as such, particularly at these emotionally challenging times, is insensitive. You asked, so you go first, dammit. Hunched defensive stances box around treasured possessions of past relationships, beautiful objects and items of use and great importance to each competitor. Nevertheless, as fallible human beings like the rest of us, they have also accumulated a great deal of other stuff that is unnecessary and unloved. This is shrouding the things that are really important. So we might punch our way out of it until we are punch drunk. My clients need liberation from their accumulation of belongings to enable them to use and enjoy the things that matter.
People might feel embarrassed by the excess – by its sheer volume or its content or both. Equally they can feel awkward having to explain why a particular item is so important to them and holds such meaning. Unearthing special things can trigger emotional memories – whether happy, sad or those turned sour by divorce. Listening, remembering and being non-judgemental are fundamental skills for my work.
Beyond the treasured, important or useful things and things that are blatantly surplus to requirements lies the stuff in-between. And it’s this in-between stuff that is hardest to tackle. Boxes of baby clothes; shells collected on family holidays; countless artworks from proud children or grandchildren; adored clothes not quite the right size; reminders of a great career – the business cards or branded pens. This is not clutter. It is years and years of memories that helped embellish the family story. These in-betweeners need handling with empathy and understanding.
How to decide
The decision-making process of what to keep and what to throw has to be tailored to the individual and what is right for you. A woman with low self-esteem or low budget asked to discard everything from her wardrobe that doesn’t spark joy could well end up with an empty wardrobe. It is about YOUR goals and YOUR lifestyle and what is right for YOU.
I normally ask questions about people’s stuff in this order: decide what to keep first, then what to gift, sell, donate, destroy, duplicate or discard. Finding an appreciative recipient for such belongings is the holy grail/secret art of what I do.
In a world where we’re starting to realise that we’ve hit ‘peak stuff’, minimalism is an incredibly important movement. It is doing a vital job teaching younger generations to live within the means of our world and that life’s happiness comes not from things, but from experiences. Many people who have accumulated too much are deciding to adopt a minimalist way of life. This simple living is admirable and works beautifully well for many (http://www.candypop.uk.com/2016/04/22/what-are-minimalism-and-simple-living/).
There’s a BUT coming….
BUT I watch with anguish at our community trying to enforce a minimalist lifestyle on themselves. They are going through WAY too much pain to let treasured items go – this feels like ‘possession anorexia’! If it’s hurting that much to let go, don’t do it. You have probably set yourself the wrong goal and you need to set new limits before the auction house does!
Your home is YOUR space
For people in later generations who have already accumulated lots of belongings, minimalism would often not be an appropriate goal. They want their home to reflect their personality and be a space that’s right for THEM. They want to treasure their treasures and they should feel free to do so. They do however need to be liberated of the stuff that is no longer contributing anything to their life so that they can really enjoy the stuff that is.
So yes, I’m a declutterer. I talk about decluttering and I talk about clutter – it’s the language of our industry. But I consider myself a Belongings Coach. I help people make decisions about their belongings that are right for THEM. And then I get it sorted.