Less is more

Clutter causes disorganization and stress in both adults and children so learn how to throw things away.

Clutter 370 (photo credit: MCT)
Clutter 370
(photo credit: MCT)
Ienvy my beloved cousin Rita, who lives in a clutter-free world.
Her tabletops are empty, and she has very few email messages saved in her inbox, none flagged for later action. Rita helped declutter our house before we made aliya, persuading me that this was the time to get rid of all sorts of things. Rita creates order from chaos.
While we all have stories about family “heirlooms,” clothes we’ve loved and held onto even when they haven’t fit us for years, material for books that never got written, and numerous other things that simply weigh us down, we can choose to simplify our lives by finally parting with them. Decluttering your parents’ “stuff” can make you realize that your children probably want little of what you think is important.
Letting go of possessions can be painful. After all, the object to which we are attached is often associated with a story, and purging the object may feel like erasing or letting go of an important memory. So while, for example, you may associate wearing a particular item of clothing with an important event in your life and feel good every time you wear it, if that item no longer fits you, you may still keep it in hopes that it will again, someday, make you feel good. Keeping it may bring a certain sadness when you remember what once was, but throwing it away hurts.
Thus begins a trend of “just in case,” in which you hold on to an entire closet full of clothes that bring less happiness than owning just 10 items that were loved and worn would. Add to it drawers, shelves and boxes of “I couldn’t possibly part with” and “I once...,” and you can see how clutter in every form can overtake your life.
NOW IMAGINE that you recognize that you no longer need to hold on to that item from someone who died years ago (especially since you never liked it), simply because of whom it came from or the memories associated with it. Understand the meaning that these objects and their memories have for you and ask yourself how long you need to keep something that you don’t like, can’t use, wouldn’t wear, that looks ugly and no longer gives you pleasure.
This can actually be quite liberating.
There are other ways to keep alive the wonderful memories of things you once loved without holding on to the actual item. When something no longer gives you happiness, and instead evokes negative feelings and creates a sense of heaviness or lack of calm, it feels good to get rid of it once and for all.
Clutter causes disorganization and stress in both adults and children.
Hillel in Pirkei Avot 2:8 states, “The more possessions, the more worry... the more charity, the more peace.” That’s a real recipe for happiness – give things away! A simple and clutter-free life brings calm, clarity and serenity. Achieving a sense of balance between being a pathological hoarder and an obsessive declutterer, and feeling in control of, rather than controlled by, your possessions, is a recipe for sanity. Just imagine the greater implications for your life when you learn to let go of things that you no longer need.
Of course, after all the recent Passover cleaning, this might be a topic you can’t bear to think about, but then again, you may have realized, while you cleaned, just how much unnecessary stuff you have accumulated. So let’s get started.
Take inventory. Walk around your home as if you were a first-time visitor and notice what you see and how you feel. What do you like about your friends’ houses? Do you prefer an empty coffee table or a stack of books? What do your computer inbox, your purse, your refrigerator, your closet and your night table look like? If you are happy with what you see, send this column to a friend and go enjoy yourself.
If not, read further.
Pick a place to begin. Start with something you don’t care about. Make the job achievable: You are not going to clean your entire study – just one shelf of one bookcase. Set realistic goals and declutter for only 10-20 minutes a day.
Continue like this, knowing that this is a gradual process. If you declutter too much, too soon, you’ll burn out or have regrets.
Pick up the object. Hold it in your hand, or just look at it if it is too big.
Do you love it? Does it give you pleasure and make you feel good, or does it weigh you down? Do you use it? Does it have meaning? Do you need it? If you were to move into a much smaller apartment, would you keep it? Make three piles: throw out, give away, and keep. Once you have a pile to get rid of, get it out of your home before you change your mind! Ask yourself what you need to do in order to let the items go. Would taking a picture be enough? Can you visualize someone else using or benefiting from these objects? Can you see yourself as only a temporary dweller using possessions that come your way and then passing them on for someone else to enjoy? Can you breathe and appreciate the lightness that comes with lack of clutter and a more open environment, and see your new environment as a reflection of the “new you”? Physical decluttering can go hand in hand with emotional cleansing. As you get rid of some things (or even relationships), you allow room for growth and for other things that are more important in your life. Relinquishing control or your need to always be right enables you to give up your need to make excuses, blame or punish others.
Finding room in your life for the positive comes with letting go of negative, self-defeating thoughts, complaining and criticism. Change allows for growth and room for new and better things in life. Having just finished your Passover cleaning, you might just discover that less is really more. ■
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. She has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000, and her book, Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts, has recently been published. www.drbatyaludman.com.