Recently I’ve been exploring the stress, emotions and insightful moments that can arise when decluttering. Research says clutter is bad for stress and mental health for women. It leads to higher levels of stress hormones circulating in your body. Maybe this explains why you frequently feel tense about an uncontrollable mess around you? Maybe you don’t even realise what it’s doing to your nervous system. You just know you feel on edge.
Of course, minimalist home spaces have become a thing, although I’m not a convert to that. Even conference discussions and academic articles have been looking at the value of empty space in our homes (see links at end). At one point I wanted to declutter our whole house because I was fed up with all the stuff I could see. That was three years ago when I left my “day-job” to expand this business. But I never got round to clearing more than a few shelves and drawers. It was much more exciting working on the business!
However, everything changed recently when we decided to get our living area wood floors repolished. That kickstarted something very interesting, if unexpected. We suddently realised (derrr!) that for floor renovations we’d have to move ABSOLUTELY everything out from the kitchen, living and dining areas. That meant multiple cabinets with their hundreds of books, far too much glassware and crockery, and lots of mementos, photos and knick-knacks.
I’ve read that you should regularly declutter. It’s said to open up new possibilities as you make space for new energy to flow in and through your room, house and whole life. I don’t do that – I love the thought but not the practical tasks to get there! But later we realised we hadn’t appreciated the feeling of freedom that could come from a big clearout. Not the changes we could see, but the changes we could feel.
But.. the stress of sorting our books
As we moved all “the stuff” into boxes and other rooms, we realised it was a great opportunity to get rid of many dusty books. Maybe you also have this issue in your home, office or workspace? Some books we’d only ever read once, while others had no sentimental value. Some we had no idea why we ever kept them. So immediately I took four boxes of books to the second-hand bookstore. That felt really good.
As we moved other “stuff” out too, especially all the large furniture into other parts of the house, the whole area felt so light and airy. It had a really new expansive feel to it. We loved it!
Of course, once the floors were beautiful again we had the task of fitting everything back in. Umm – big downer! But… as we did this, I had several interesting experiences as I noticed how I felt about the remaining books and a bookcase. These helped me uncover hidden emotions and past unresolved past experiences. Although, knowing the work I do with EFT (emotional freedom techniques), I shouldn’t have been surprised that this opportunity showed up!
Marie Kondo, it’s impossible!
After the four boxes given away, our two bookcases now probably housed about 300-400 books. Yikes! So I was looking online for some guidance. I found that Marie Kondo – the Japanese Organising Specialist – recommends keeping just 30 books, but that didn’t feel at all feasible for us.
I then discovered Marie never actually meant 30 as a strict number. It was a ballpark figure. She said later she actually meant don’t keep “stuff”. She says, assume you’ll throw all of your books away. Only keep books that bring joy or have sentimental value as you hold them in your hand to test that.
Well, there’s the problem Marie! We felt we had probably all 300-400 books in the “keep” category. A few books for example that really bring back the feeling of that era when I first met my husband. Feminist motherhood books that I’ve picked up along the way and will get round to reading some time. Large coffee table books full of beautiful pictures – you can’t replace browsing through a book of large lovely photographs by looking online. A French cookery book a dear old neighbour had given me for my 21st. And more…
One simple solution would have been attic storage. But you guessed it – it’s already full! Then I thought, “Do I need the actual book to keep the memory alive?”. When I tapped, I found that I do want to keep some of these books. Even though I may only look at them once in 5 years. Because when I do, I can bring up the feelings and images of lovely times again that I can’t get any other way.
Insight from a bookcase
The other related activity was ditching an old wooden bookcase to get a lighter-feeling or white one. I decided to give it away on a local community online page. It had been in our corner for 25 years and felt cosy and familiar – literally part of the furniture. But after someone said they’d collect it, I started to feel a resistance. I felt emotionally uncomfortable about it going but didn’t know why.
So, of course, being an EFT Tapping Practitioner, I tapped on this resistance feeling. And I discovered as we say in the EFT world that “the problem is rarely the problem!”. I started tapping generally on “Something’s bothering me about letting this bookcase go“. As I unravelled it – as tapping always does – I realised that actually the resistance was triggered by a memory several decades ago that I was unaware of. It was when we’d gotten rid of a lot of our belongings before migrating to Australia.
Hidden grief and regret
I followed that thread with tapping. Eventually I got a mind’s-eye image of Heathrow Airport departures lounge. Tapping on that, I uncovered unresolved emotions about leaving England and moving to Australia. The tapping focus was on some grief that came up for things we’d left. I found some regrets about household objects we’d sold but afterwards wish I’d kept.
It also brought up a feeling of wanting to hold onto things in the present day to feel safe. I guess when you’ve upended everything and moved far away, that’s not surprising. What I was giving away wasn’t even a bookshelf we’d brought with us but purchased here. It was just symbolic but triggered similar feelings to those I’d had decades ago. But I hadn’t consciously recognised that today. This is something we often find out when we tap! That’s how we can uncover stresses or traumatic experiences that lie underneath current-day unsettledness or anxiety in our nervous system.
So I’d encourage you if you’re decluttering to not just throw everything out straight away. Unless it really is old junk stuff. You can use the objects as an opportunity to tap and explore the emotional side of what these things mean. Taking this time to clear out the emotions helps you also clear out your life in a way that you’d otherwise miss.
Emotional freedom – yes please!
So now I’m excited that I wasn’t just tapping to reduce stress about decluttering or not being able to decide what to ditch. The tapping took me down deeper pathways to re-evaluate the past. As it often does, it opened space for new possibilities in future.
I’m also now free of unresolved experiences of migrating that were still unknowingly shaping my current level of peace. My nervous system is free from putting energy into the “archival storage” of those experiences – yeh! So I can internally relax more and re-purpose that energy for better things. And the tap-and-release process only took an hour or two. Obviously I’m quite experienced in this. But do seek help from a practitioner if you need, because subconscious blocks can stop you making progress.
As I always say to clients:
“If you could have solved this with your thinking logical brain, you’d have done that by now! That’s why we need to work together with EFT tapping to work through the emotional side. Then you’re just left with the factual experience afterwards. The blocked energies have been released. Now they can no longer contribute to unsettled feelings, stress, anxiety, illness or disease”.
How EFT Tapping helped Sue
My experience reminds me of one of my recent clients who was getting ready to move house. Let’s call her Sue. She is happy for me to let you know that she contacted me for some stress-release sessions to reduce the overwhelming thought of packing. After some tapping, we discovered that the packing wasn’t the real problem. The thought of packing was bringing up difficult emotions about making a break with that stage of her life.
Through tapping, Sue realised that the thought of packing brought up deep fears. Fear about leaving the familiar area she’d lived in for years. Fear about all new places and new people around her, new roads, new shops, new services. She only recognised this as we were tapping. And she had some really insightful moments that her packing resistance represented a deeper resistance to relinquishing the past and embracing the new. Two weeks later Sue reported that after tapping away those emotions in the sessions, the packing had been really easy and straight forward. And after moving into the new house, she’d been pleasantly surprised to have really friendly new neighbours. She was settling in much better than she’d expected before the tapping sessions. This is why I love tapping – it can truly transform your experiences and how you live your life.
I’ve now started to declutter our CD collection. Are you sighing with me at this thought? I’m more excited than with the books. Because I’m now looking forward to some more helpful insights. And I’m getting similar feelings with some of the CDs already. Some are easy to chuck. Others have an emotional charge (even though I never listen to them any more now we have Spotify!).
We’ve done the first easy-cut. But now I’ll be doing more tapping to see what’s really going on at a deeper level with some of the other CDs. Maybe it’s grief for lost happy times, maybe it’s sadness. Maybe it’s fear, maybe uncertainty about losing solid objects with touchable covers now everything’s in the cloud… I’m excited to break free from anything holding me back!
Inspiration and Help
Maybe we can all take inspiration from Mother Teresa. She lived extremely simply so that she could focus on her purpose to help the poor. The sisters in her mission only ever owned 15 items that could fit in a small box. She herself was said at the time of her death to have only owned a bucket and two saris.
So if you’re decluttering, or you’d like to be, and you’re hitting some blocks or don’t even know where to start. Or you’re daunted about packing to move house. Or if you’ve been putting off decluttering for some reason, do get in touch with me. That might be for a workspace, home area, or complete home, or certain categories of things. Or maybe you have to sort out someone else’s things. Or perhaps you’d like to grow your emotional intelligence a little more? Then check out my article about getting to understand your negative emotions Suffer no more! I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Lareen Newman is a Women’s Coach for Stress Release and Emotional Therapy. She likes to write about her work and life experiences and those of her client group and how they have helped her learn more about emotional wellbeing and improved personal growth. At Tapping Into Serenity, Lareen helps professional and academic women who are struggling with stress or burnout at work or home to better understand their stress, negative emotions and unhelpful self-talk and offload them so they can re-energise and open to more joy! Check out Lareen’s homepage for more information. Or go there to sign up to her mailing list for notice of future articles, news and special events.
ACCESSIBILITY – Hear or watch my podcast summary of this article on Youtube at: https://youtu.be/98-tZW0o_t4
LINKS – HAPPY READING!
The Link between Clutter and Your Mental Health (2020) Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, reporting UCLA study
The Value of Empty Space for Design (in homes) by Eujeong Cheon & Norman Makoto Su (2018)
The Organised Self and Lifestyle Minimalism (2019) by Michele Zappavigna
3 Things We Can Learn From the Life of Mother Teresa VaticanPost.com
Photo credits – thank you to:
Article header pic: Rodnae Productions on Pexels.com
Book piles: Shiromani Kant on Unsplash.com
Books on shelf: Beazy on Unsplash.com
Freeflowing scarf: Aditya Saxena on Unsplash.com