This is our garage. Once upon a time it was a useful room. Venue for enjoyable family snooker matches, organised tools storage and space to overwinter the garden furniture.
Then, about 9 months ago, I decluttered the house. Room by room, I discarded junk we hadn’t used in years and items we had 4 of and only needed one.
But I couldn’t let go of most of our stuff. I tend to get emotionally attached to lifeless objects and some items were treasured souvenirs of happy times. Most of it belonged to my husband and it didn’t feel right to get rid of it. And I didn’t want to waste money by tossing out perfectly good, fit-for-purpose things. It's fair to say I resisted the idea of parting with our possessions.
So I shifted the problem from one area of the house to another. And now the clutter is mocking me. Every day I enter the garage, it reminds me of my failure to declutter. It condemns me for my weakness and it shames me for the ever increasing chaos, mess and dirt.
I attempted to declutter but the task is so overwhelming, so massive and unmanageable that it is suffocating me. I don’t know where to start, feel anxious at the thought of wading through the mountains of junk and dust.
I know it has to be done. I worry that other people will judge me, I beat myself up for procrastinating. And every time I sit down for a well-deserved rest I feel guilty and embarrassed about the lack of progress. And I think “I should really declutter the garage”.
It weighs on my mind non-stop. And it made me wonder.
Why do we accumulate so much clutter? Why is it so hard to let go? And what is the best way to ban useless clutter once and for all?
So I did what I do best. I researched. And here is what I discovered. May it help us both to declutter for a simpler, happier life.
Clutter is sneaky. It creeps up on us. It hijacks our home when we are distracted and can’t defend ourselves. When we are paralysed by grief after losing a loved one or incapacitated by illness.
It weasels its way in when we are too busy to notice after a new baby arrived or a stressful new job started. And it can instantly swallow our house when we downsize, merge several households into one or inherit a lost relative's possessions.
But the main reason why we keep buying, collecting and hoarding is low self-worth.
Low self-worth has become an epidemic. Most people are affected by it to some degree. And it causes many common symptoms, such as social anxiety, negative thinking or self-doubt. As well as compulsive buying, hoarding and cluttering.
You see, our society focusses on materialism, fame, prestige, wealth, competition, achievement and success. It teaches us that we are inherently worthless. We can earn worth by gaining qualifications, through a thriving career and exceptional beauty, riches or popularity. The more we achieve, the more we own and the more we can afford to buy, the higher our worth in society.
But let’s face it. Most of us aren’t famous, rich or “very important”. We can’t afford the lifestyle that would make us worthy in society’s eyes. And we never achieved the exceptional greatness and success required to “be somebody”.
So we live with the conviction that we aren’t good enough. That we should work harder, be better and have more. We feel unworthy compared to others who “made it”. Irrelevant, unimportant, inferior.
And it’s this devastating feeling of worthlessness that causes most of our clutter problems.
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Society convinces us that we are worth more if we possess more. And it’s easy to comprehend how low self-worth will trick us into buying and accumulating in the hope it will increase our worth. But not all self-worth related causes for cluttering and hoarding are so obvious:
And so the clutter wins. Every time. Sucking us into an endless circle of guilt, shame, self-condemnation and anxiety. Making things worse than they ever were.
We accumulate clutter to boost our self-worth. But a cluttered, chaotic environment looks untidy. Cleaning becomes increasingly difficult and we start to feel disgusted with the state of our house. Our self-respect suffers and we are too embarrassed to invite guest. The mess drains our energy, leaves us unhappy, joyless, breathless and isolated.
We accumulated our clutter to increase our feeling of worth. But now it is proof of our worthlessness. We aren’t good enough to have our life under control, not strong enough to juggle all the tasks. We hate ourselves for all the clutter and feel useless and inadequate.
The clutter is damaging our self-worth. So we buy more to provide another self-worth boost. And so it goes on.
But how can we break this cycle? How can we let go of useless stuff, find the strength to tackle the decluttering chore and stop accumulating things we don’t need?
We need to put 3 systems in place if we want to escape the clutter habit:
Starting an overwhelming task can be almost impossible on your own. Motivation fades rapidly if progress is slow and the job is boring and lonely.
It is therefore imperative to find support. A way to motivate ourselves and keep ourselves accountable. Here are some ideas how we can make the chore easier and ensure we stick with it:
Once you’re on your way, it is important to be nice to yourself. Take your time, tackle smaller areas more often. Make a plan, set yourself achievable goals and don’t beat yourself up if things don’t move as quickly as you want.
Even if, after first successes, you catch the decluttering bug, don’t burn yourself out. Slow but steady wins the race.
Give yourself two or three options every day so you can choose the one you fancy most on the day. And plan in catch-up and rest days so you aren’t getting stressed if you fall behind and don’t need to force yourself to declutter if you really don’t feel like it.
But keep going, be patient, see the difference the disappearing clutter makes in your life. Feel the freedom, the lightness and be proud of yourself.
Yes, we can declutter. But the clutter will return sooner or later and all your efforts would have been in vain. Because while we addressed the symptom, we haven’t dealt with low self-worth as the cause.
We need to realise that society’s view of our worth as dependent on our attributes, achievements and possessions is a dangerous misconception. An unfortunate case of global amnesia.
The truth is that we ARE worth personified. We are born 100% worth and we die 100% worth. What we do in between, how much money we have, how many things we can afford and how much stuff we own does not change anything about our true worth.
It is inherent, infinite and unconditional. You ARE worth, no matter what. You just forgot all about it. We all did. And it is our task in this life to rediscover the knowledge that our worth is absolute.
No matter what we do, no matter what we have, no matter who we are. Whether we own nothing or everything, whether we are rich or poor, whether our home is spotless or cluttered. Our worth remains the same. Always.
I’ll be honest. I am still not looking forward to decluttering my garage. But I can’t wait to have my room back, with all its intended uses. With all the enjoyment, organisation and storage space it used to offer.
I will do it, step by step. I can cheer myself on, be proud of my achievements, even if they seem tiny. And I can feel the sense of calm, peace and relief increase with every corner, every shelf I clear.
I know I am not alone, I am not the only one who struggles. And it is ok. I am good enough. And the fact that my garage is such a mess doesn’t make me a lesser person. I don’t need to be ashamed.
Because I AM worth.
And so ARE you. I know you can do it.
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Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Download her free guide Instant self-worth: an easy 4-step solution to heal your self-worth in under 5 minutes a day” and start to boost your confidence today.