I read an article recently that promotes a new spin on decluttering. In it, the author states that the best way to declutter your home is to make sure you don’t touch any of the items. Her theory is that once you touch things, you assign emotion or purpose to it and will never get rid of anything. She suggests you go through each room, look over everything you own, decide what you do and don’t want, and then come back to sweep those things you’ve assigned as “unwanted” into it a bag so the items never touch your hand.
I don’t know about you, but that approach would produce a hand-delivered anxiety attack in me. I can’t imagine looking at everything I own, mentally assigning it a “keep” or “sweep” designation, and then, armed with a big bag, get rid of it all. Not to mention, how in the world do I dispose of it without actually touching it? Well, she does mention playing “Hot Potato” with it by only touching it for 2-3 seconds. For the most part, I disagree with this segment of her approach.
I do, however, agree with her suggestion to “find a decluttering buddy”. Most of our customers just need an objective person to help them make decisions, which is why they turn to us. Unless, on the rarer occasions, they want us to do all of the decluttering without their input, they usually prefer to handle their own items and make decisions as we coach. I’ve seen, literally first-hand, how making hands-free decisions can frustrate and virtually paralyze a decluttering project.
You may have heard of the international best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I read this book when it first came out and it inspired me to change the way I work with my clients. The basic philosophy from which Kondo’s process stems is this: “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”
By extension, this philosophy suggests that we should keep only those items that spark joy in us. Our bodies, hearts and minds, have the power to react viscerally to certain items we handle and our physical response to each item is different.
A central part of Buddhist teachings is that liberation lies in freeing oneself from attachment to worldly things. In everyone’s life, there is something on which we place too great a value. When we’re evolving in a spiritual realm, we feel this attachment begin to wane. We realize things are things and really don’t define us or help us to become wiser or more pure. We learn to value that less is more and so we rid ourselves of a lot of the junk that weighs down our bodies and minds and keep close to us those things that make us joyful.
I think the key to resolving the dichotomy between the teachings of non-attachment and keeping things near us that spark joy, creativity, or gratitude is that we don’t wind up a sobbing mess if one of our treasured items is broken. We might mourn it’s passing for a moment and then move on.
So, while decluttering and organizing, we will surely come upon a great many things of which we’re unsure. We might feel indifferent when we’re looking at something specific and this makes it hard to make a good decision. I think taking the item into our hands and asking ourselves, “Does this spark joy in me?” is extremely useful. Does it spark joy? If so, I say keep it. If not, get rid of it.
Sounds simple enough, right? Take it from me and countless clients that we’ve helped here at Lighten Up, it really is that simple. I’ll give you an example and perhaps you can relate:
There’s one specific mug I look for whenever I decide to have a cup of tea. It brings me clear and present joy. Otherwise, any mug in my cabinet would do, right? It’s just holding, temporarily, a beverage. It’s fleeting. Temporal. It’s not as if other people exclaim over the beauty of this particular mug. It’s nothing special to anyone but me.
My favorite color is blue, blue and white being my color favorite combination. And I am my most peaceful self when out in nature. Gardens and beaches are my happy places. The flowers and butterflies remind me of spring and summer, an especially lovely feeling when in the depths of a cold winter.
Another thing I love about the mug is that it’s made from bone china. It’s delicate. The handle is dainty and it feels exquisite when I’m holding it. To me, the whole mug is ethereal.
For our daughter, Erika, it’s this bowl.
It’s literally an egg cracking bowl. She calls it “ridiculously frivolous” but Erika enjoys it just for that task; cracking eggs. It never leaves her stove unless she’s cleaning it.
It makes her happy when she looks at it in the morning. She loves the look of the design and that it’s raised and bumpy so it’s got a tactile thing going on. It’s one of the few things that she has bought for herself, as opposed to for her family or the home.
Our granddaughter even likes to crack eggs into it too when she helps to make breakfast in the morning, although, as she tells it, she’s more partial to her mom’s spoon rest.
You may have something like my mug or Erika’s bowl that you always reach for first. It might be a certain sweater or pair of shoes, a plate, a blanket or a towel. Every one of us has that thing that we want to use more than anything else. Those things you don’t even consider getting rid of, unless, of course, they’re broken or ripped… and we cover what you can do about those kinds of things in our article, If It’s Broken, Toss It – 3 Reasons You Should.
This practice of picking up and touching our items helps us better consider what to retain and what to release. Does it spark joy? If not, thank it for its service in your closet, your cabinet, your basement, your home, your office, wherever.
Then, give it to someone else. Gratefully.
Allow it to move out into the world, and perhaps become the very thing that brings someone else clear and present joy.