‘If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present’, Lao Tzu
This is my friend’s five year old. While I was talking to his dad about future projects, our worries and the state of the world, this young man decided to enjoy his surroundings. While the grown-ups’ talk was getting darker and depressive, this child found my Venetian mask and said he would put on a ‘funny face’. As soon as we saw him, we all started to laugh. The present moment was alive again. I realised we were having a dinner party and we weren’t actually enjoying it. We were drawn back to the present, thanks to the intuitive wisdom of a five year old!
I have just come back, having spent a couple of weeks decluttering my elderly and disabled parents’ home. One of the triggers for this was watching a Youtube video where someone was describing house clearing after their parent’s death. Don’t get me wrong- I am not wishing for an early death of my parents but this is was a practical necessity as my parents do not have the time and inclination to declutter now. They were brought up in extreme poverty and have got into the habit of extreme saving. They have kept everything from scraps of rags, my school books to letters, just in case, even though they no longer had any use for these. There was a danger from not only vermin infestation and hygiene issues but also the clutter was in the way of them getting about their lives- my mother often fell down as she hit something. I have often helped other people after their deaths to declutter but with my parents, I wanted to do it now to help them to make their lives easier.
The decluttering was physically and mentally very tiring- I had to stop often and rest. It is also very interesting to see what people collect towards the ends of their lives. In the case of the people I had helped in the past, I remember a man with over 40 mirrors and a lady with a room full of scented soaps! In my parents case, while they used only 20% of the space and contents, the rest was full of books and stuff left by my siblings. They also had huge amounts of kitchen paraphernalia and crockery- mostly not needed now as they only used one or two plates. While I was clearing the stuff, I also went through my own therapy. I saw how what my parents had collected was also reflected in my own home- too many books and crockery! Why did I do this? Even though my parents must have influenced me, I cannot blame my parents as I have had enough time to correct this tendency myself. But I found it very interesting to see how my childhood in a cluttered home had led to my own clutter and disorganised home.
Some people react in different ways to their childhood environments- some children grow up to be very organised as an antidote to their parents’ disorganisation. In my and my siblings cases, we had all become very disorganized and cluttered as we grew up. So when I returned home, I started to take a deep look at what was in my home and where. My mother is especially grateful to me as we managed to sell some of the stuff and make some money. However, I am even more grateful to her for letting me do this and also take the decluttering further and clean up my own environment. For those who want to declutter, it might be a useful thing to examine the place they grew up in- it might offer clues as to why you are what you are now. This decluttering of my own place has had effect on my own children- they have naturally begun to give things away and keep their bedrooms tidy- a small trickle effect. This is much better and more effective solution than nagging at your children to be tidy.
Now the clutter of my parents has a very different origin to my own but the effect is the same. My parents wanted to save every scrap of thing that they had because they were poor while I just have too many things. So regardless of the intention, the effect manifests in similar ways. Some people believe that by treating the cause, you will cure the problem. But I believe that just like how you can change your mental attitude by forcing yourself to smile, in a similar way, this problem can be tackled by just removing the clutter. As soon as I moved her stuff outside to the yard and the rooms began to look clear, my mother began to clear up other areas of the house herself. She needed to experience the clarity of the space to get clarity of her intention. It is said that making people clear up their clutter is impossible but I think through this experience, it can be done. In fact, each person comes to the point when it all gets too much and they want someone to help them. It is at this point that this kind of help can be given, not before. My mother wasn’t ready before. The fear of letting go of things is tied to the fear of dying, as people relate their possession of things to their lives. Letting go is very freeing and empowering- that relates to both possessions and people!
I have recently been revisiting videos and writings on decluttering. Why? Because I forget to clear up and then I find more clutter when I am busy with other things but why is clutter collecting anyway? Here are some things I have found out about reasons for clutter collection with some useful tips. According to Oxford psychologist Stelios Kiosses, ‘There’s a bit of the hoarder in all of us … it’s when it gets out of hand, there’s a problem.’ My thing is once I have cleared up, it builds up again and then it gets out of hand. I don’t have a cleaner, manager or organiser. How can I stop cluttering? I have tried so many methods. As someone who is actively working in the environmental and ecological fields, I feel ashamed that I have so much stuff in my own house and office.
I have tried the Marie Kondo approach but you have to be very careful with that as you might end of throwing away useful things and also that approach doesn’t go far into why one creates clutter in the first place. You have to know yourself in order to find out why you create clutter or collect. So here is what I have learnt-
- Look around to see what it is that is cluttering up your environment. In my case, it is definitely paper in some form- books, documents, paper, cuttings, etc. I spent more than £5000 on headed paper and have hardly used those and they clutter up my office storage. Then there is also stationery that I have never used- dried up pens, rubber bands that have crumbled away, tags that don’t fit and so many items that don’t work. Kiosses also believes that hoarding comes from suffering owing to a loss of some kind. But then we all have had loss of some kind and yet some of us hoard more than others.
- Hence you need to think about why you hoard that particular thing– again in my case, it was always ‘just in case’. I write a lot so there are books and cuttings. But there is also my fear of appearing ignorant, so I keep the backing for ‘ my proposition or thoughts to prop me up intellectually. In other words, I need these bits of paper to help me because I can’t be bothered to think for myself or challenge an argument. It is also a habit that is built up through our education system, with constant referencing that is required for any essay or paper you write. But there is no need to store references- most are available on the Internet. My headed paper also reflects an insecurity and an allusion to scarcity- I kept those sheets for the future. Then the future arrived and everyone is using the internet and so paper sent by post is getting scarcer in every discipline.
- Be kind to yourself as you decide to change- I realised I had to treat myself gently in order to draw me away from drowning in my clutter. The more harsh you are, the less workable decluttering is; which is why many give up on the Kondo method. Rome wasn’t built in one day and the clutter wasn’t created in one day. Clearing up one small area that is bothering you works best as the clearing ripple spreads. I am also now less harsh towards others- I recognise the hoarder that Kiosses talks about exists in me and others too. There is no need to look down on others. Also, I recognise that it is precisely because of this reason that you can’t clear someone else’s clutter. That is why you can’t have decluttering theories that apply to everyone and follow ‘how to declutter’ books by someone else. It is all in your mind. Just as you are unique, your style and method of decluttering will be unique.
As one website says, “When you get rid of the vast majority of your possessions, you’re forced to confront your darker side:
- When did I give so much meaning to possessions?
- What is truly important in life?
- Why am I discontent?
- Who is the person I want to become?
- How will I define my own success?”
The aim of decluttering, should not in fact be to purge your belongings but to enjoy the objects and environment you’ve chosen to live with. That knowledge comes with knowing yourself deeply and well.
Being wrong is human, being perfect is the quality of gods. The reason we humans make mistakes is because we need to learn, we need to polish our lives and we need to grow. All these reasons are valid and yet often we are ashamed of admitting our wrongs- mostly because of our ego and also because society is not accepting of wrongdoing. Of course, reckless or deliberate wrongdoing is criminal but unintentional wrongs are right. I have been reading a lot about ‘wrongness’ (for example, see the book below) and it has made me reflect on things I have done wrong and how I tried to conceal my mistakes instead of learning from them.
Earlier this week, I went to a great presentation on medical mistakes and these are some of the six points I noted which made the most impact on me-
- Best people can make worst mistakes
- Systems will never be perfect
- Humans will never be perfect
- Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them
- Consider a way of working that is not wholly reliant on individuals
- Share your stories widely
Unless we learn that personally and collectively as a society that failures and wrongs are good for us, we will never grow as empathetic and creative human beings. That is why sharing our ‘wrong’ stories are good too- hope you will share some of yours and what you learnt from them.