Clues in the Search for Clutter

When I show up at a client's home, I don't have a plan of attack. I don't think about where I'm going to start. I keep it really lose. When they greet me, they are usually nervous and tense. I think part of it is the fear of what they think will be hard decisions, plus having a stranger see them in a vulnerable state, and mixed in with that a worry that they might be judged for their current state of things. But then I'm curious and friendly and they start to relax a bit.

Perhaps I'll talk about the drive there, or I'll ask them how long they've lived in their home, or I might ask for a tour. I stay relaxed because I'm looking for signs. Sometimes its an indicator of tension about something in their voice, other times it could be how they tense up when they are taking me through a particular room. Whatever it is that lights up based on a particularly strong reaction on their part is where I go. I want to go to the heart of the matter.

I remember once a guy hired me as I got off stage from a clutter busting talk I just gave at a church. He came up to me and said, "What are you doing now?" I said, "Nothing." He said, "Great, I want to hire you to come to my house right now and help me clutter bust." I said okay.

We took our cars over to his house. As we came in the front door, he called out to his wife, "Honey, the clutter buster is here to help us!" She came into the room very puzzled. He said, "He helps people let go of their clutter." She was startled but agreed. I sensed a tension between them. But it wasn't a strong enough clue.

He goes, "We can start in any room you'd like, but one." The clue.

I said, "What one?" He said, "The first room at the top of the stairs, but you can't go in there." She concurred. A strong confirming clue.

I walked up the stairs towards that room. They both tried telling me that room was off limits. I opened the door and every space in the room was filled about four feet high. They had attempted to cover up everything with broken pieces of white styrofoam. They probably felt it would make it inconspicuous. But it looked like a frozen white sea. Or actually a close up view of a cake with vanilla frosting. Clutter makes people do unnatural things. It's often an attempt to cover up something that is too overwhelming. But I don't think about that when I'm working. I just follow the clues, like I did from their instructions to not go in that room, and get to the clutter and start.

If you've heard this story before in my blogs, bear with me. I'm using it to bring out some new points. They were living with this clutter situation, and even though they covered it up, and didn't go in that room, it still affected them. There was the tension between them. Tension is a great clue. You can use it when clutter busting your own space. You can hear it in your voice or in your body. You can follow it and it can lead you to clutter.

The stuff in the room was their son's. He was off in college, a few miles away. It was his artifacts: old clothes he no longer wore, vintage school book reports, books he read from a ways back, and a lot of old various things he was no longer using. He had his own place now, with new things. I had them call him. He said he didn't want any of it. They actually hesitated when he said they could toss it all. They were so used to being parents, and being in the role of raising him, that they didn't see that this particular job was over. I said they would be doing him a favor by no longer preserving their image of him as a kid. It wasn't serving him or them. Once this kicked in, they pretty much dumped all the stuff in an empty dumpster they happened to have in their yard. I noticed that they seemed much more relaxed. It took away the tension between them.

So, this week, have your attention on possible clutter clues in your living space. Look for indicators in your behavior or in your feelings about a place in your home. See where they take you. Clutter busting is an intuitive process. The curiosity you approach it with helps you find and toss out the clutter.