How Decluttering Let My Demons Out
Tidy Home, Tidy Life, Tidy Mind.
Anyone who knows me or who reads this blog regularly will be aware that I consistently witter on about the benefits of tidying, organising and simplifying your life.
It’s not just about making things look pretty and it’s definitely not only about throwing things away. In fact, it’s never just about he physical ‘stuff’ at all. At it’s crux, it’s about a shift in mindset. It’s about streamlining your environment and letting go of thoughts in order to feel better. Ridding yourself of unnecessary baggage which takes up space and time. Creating a sanctuary – both in your home and in your head.
When with my clients, I focus fully on their lives and put all my energy and empathy into them. On my website I talk to ‘you’. What I don’t normally do is talk about myself, especially my inner feelings and it struck me that I should be open about my story and how it relates to the Tidy Mind concept. After all, how can I expect others to share with me if I don’t do the same? Writing this feels uncomfortable, personal and vulnerable and I’m unsure whether I’m even going to post it – I guess I’ll find out at the end!
So, I was my own first client…
The process and journey that I encourage my clients to take – I went through that myself. I used to have too much stuff. ‘Just in case’ items, ‘keeping out of obligation’ items, ‘delayed decision items, ‘fantasy self’ items. I had them all. Eventually there was a point where I reduced my possessions down by about 70%. It was freeing, cathartic and empowering – all the things of which I sing the praises regularly.
But it was merely the tip of the iceberg…
It’s never, EVER just about the stuff! I had to face my demons too – the negative thought patterns and behaviours which had formed and developed in my early years. And tidying my mind assisted me in doing this by dealing with the following Big Guns:
Prone to this since I was a child, I never realised how many signs I exhibited until much later. Nail biting, fidgeting, racing thoughts and at one point a rather odd twitch. I learnt to hide most external symptoms but the internal ones probably intensified. In response to feeling like a ball of nerves, my main motivation was to try to control things. If I could do that, I’d always know what was coming next and the certainty would protect me from feeling anxious – right? Well, no because as Baz Luhrmann spoke in the Suncreen song “the real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind. The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday”
It’s impossible to control everything and I’ve accepted the necessity to let that need go, but by creating a clutter-free, organised home and only allowing positive people and pastimes in my life, I can apply appropriate control in a valuable way. So when the unexpected comes along, I have more energy in reserve and am better placed to deal with it.
American research professor Brené Brown, says that we are divided as humans. Some of us naturally and fundamentally feel worthy of love but others have a core belief of not being good enough and have to fight to achieve this sense of worthiness.
I am definitely someone who falls into the latter category. And living with this core belief caused me to adopt all sorts of unhelpful behaviours in the past – trying to people please in order to be liked, being a chameleon, pursuing perfection, filling up my time too much, trying to control everything, being in destructive relationships and self sabotaging.
It took me a few decades of life to work out that feeling good enough isn’t something I have to earn and that imperfections aren’t inadequacies but simply part of being human.
For me, the ‘tidying your life’ concept is wholly connected to overcoming insecurity. To go through life analysing the possessions, pastimes and people within it and asking questions such as ‘does this add value?’ ‘does this bring me joy?’ allows me to let go of what is dragging me down and perpetuating the feeling of not being enough. Whether that is clothing I’m never going to wear or a relationship which is all take and no give.
(If this all sounds a little self centered, consider the oxygen mask theory. It is only by filling myself up sufficiently that I can be of any use to anyone else in terms of support, strength or even just being nice to be around.)
Life tidying is not only cleansing and restorative, it’s part of accepting myself and the fact I don’t need the excess stuff to fill a space – contentment comes from within. Best of all, the practice of regularly tidying my life means I have become far more intentional about what I buy and how I spend my time. And I aim to things which feed my self esteem rather than erode it.
At a size 8-10, I am aware that I’m setting myself up for a shout down if I talk about food issues. People often comment on how slim I am and I’ve been asked whether food is that important to me. Important!? I’m adore the stuff. I’m a total foodie and am the sort of person who starts planning what she will have for dinner even before she finishes lunch.
The ugly truth is that I spent way too much time thinking about food and my weight in my 20’s and at times displayed pretty disordered eating. I put my poor body through the mill in pursuit of the perfect figure, from forcing it into ketosis on Atkins, to killing myself with exercise, to binge eating one day/fasting the next, to drinking a glass of wine (or three) to stave off hunger pangs. I’ve been 8 stones and I’ve been 10.5 stones until I settled at somewhere in between when I finally changed my mindset.
The mindset change I made was the decision to be healthy as a priority over anything else. Because I had people relying on me to make it to old age unharmed.
There is definitely a connection between creating a clutter-free life and managing weight (read more about why). In the same vein as I cut the crap from my life, I did the same with my diet. I decided it was okay to actually feel emotions instead of stress scoffing or emotional eating to mask them.
I started asking myself what value the food or drink was going to add to my body. And whether actually it would be better to stop eating now because I was, in fact, full.
I’m still not perfect! I regularly eat a bit too much chocolate and drink a bit too much coffee (naturally I make sure it’s a good quality kind) Just as I don’t beat myself up when the house doesn’t look flawless, nor do I feel guilty for having pizza and wine. I just get back to the baseline the next day. And I don’t self sabotage and eat ‘all the cake’ because I had an extra slice of it.
My early need to be liked and validated by people caused something to surface which ironically is the biggest turn off to others of all. Inauthenticity. People can sense it a mile off. I realised that the people pleasing was such a waste of energy mainly because it was not making me feel good about myself and therefore not adding value to my life – but also because it was achieving the opposite of it’s aim.
Tidying my life has been instrumental in feeling authentic both to myself and to others. Now I try to avoid activities which are not ‘me’ and no longer leave social events drained wishing I hadn’t bothered to leave the house.
I remember a particularly miserable day in my early 20’s. A large group of an ex-boyfriends friends on a ‘sports adventure’ day out filled with competitive games, orienteering and taking it in turns to lead the group. I’m a softly spoken introvert who blesses the day the sat nav inventor was born and has bad memories of playing rounders aged 11. I would never put myself through that today.
My biggest challenge yet, mothering was probably the thing which forced all the hang ups previously listed out of their hiding places and demanded they be dealt with. I always felt that being a mother was the ultimate achievement so when I experienced (an albeit short compared to some) period of infertility, I was knocked sideways. The loss of control sent me spinning into free-fall.
I am truly grateful at now being the mother of twins but that didn’t reduce the exhaustion, the overwhelm, the guilt of not being able to split myself in two and the shame at just not dealing with it very well sometimes. Throw into the mix the fact my daughter has a rare and complicated medical condition and life sometimes felt like watching a musical whilst riding a roller-coaster.
My coping mechanism was to simplify life as much as possible. Bin liner after bin liner went to the charity shop and I started analysing how I spent my free time – I had so little of it – I needed to make it count.
Luckily children are totally inspirational when it comes to life simplification. From preferring to play with the cardboard box over the toy, to never getting bored of going to the same park. Sure, they act as though they WANT a new toy but once they get it they often lose interest – they don’t actually NEED it and they give you a real life demonstration of that fact. In reality, they don’t care much about ‘things’ at all – their deep need is for time, attention, connection and love – even if they don’t consciously realise it.
Do I have any regrets about anything I’ve ever decluttered from my life? Well yes, one or two. I’ve discarded the odd piece of clothing which would have come in handy and I let some friendships lapse which I’m sad about. But honestly, it was worth it because you can’t have, do and be everything.
I had to edit down to a manageable level in line the energy I have available. It wasn’t enough to simply survive and keep my head bobbing above the water but limbs frantically flailing about.
I needed to create a life in which I can breathe, think and thrive.
Thank you so much for reading