One of my blog readers wrote and asked me a really good question:
"Why do we feel the need to punish ourselves with stuff? The piles of New Yorkers we "should" have read (says who?) but never did. The piles of magazine clippings or photographs we "should" have organized but didn't. The clothes that "should" fit but don't. The kitchen equipment we "should" use but don't. The gift we "should" love but don't. I'm starting to think the real clutter is a big old bunch of "shoulds"."
Should is a powerful word. It has an impact on us. It makes us feel we are wrong. "I am wrong for not doing this." Or if we use "shouldn't" we criticize ourselves for something we did. You got it right when you used the word "punish". There's a harshness in should that is painful. When I hear clients use the word, I can see them wince. It feels like they are chastising themselves with the feeling that it will make them change their ways. But it only results in them feeling badly. It's the old way of doing things by force and it's not effective.
I find it's a kinder way by seeing what is. The kindness is taking your feelings into consideration. "I'm not reading the New Yorkers. There's a feeling that I ought to. But I notice that I'm still not reading them. I don't like that the New Yorkers sit there everyday, and I get this uncomfortable feeling that I should be reading them. That should feeling makes me feel tired and resentful. A part of me shuts down. It feels mean. I think this situation's clutter because it's not serving me in anyway. I want to feel happy and okay in my home. I think I'm going to toss the New Yorkers."
It's an interesting experiment to watch yourself when you feel should come up in your thoughts or in your words. You can notice the diminishing effect it has on your body and feelings. When I tell myself I shouldn't do something, I suddenly feel tired, like an engine was turned off inside me. I feel confused and uncertain of what to do next. I'm not in any place of clarity to make a good decision. If I happen to have an awareness of what's happening, I feel the tension fade and the should starts to lose its hold.
We can't control ourselves with intimidation. Maybe people tried using it on us when we were growing up. But we can do things differently now that we are in charge of our lives. Should can become a great indicator of clutter. It can point us in the direction of what needs to go. "I'm feeling like I should love these gifts. Normally this would make me hang onto them. But then I feel terrible because I don't love them. It's like owning a shirt that I hate and having to wear it. But I think I'm going to trust myself that I don't like these gifts and I'm going to let them go."