I worked with a client yesterday who was feeling stagnant in her home office. She had difficulty regularly dealing with papers and getting things done. My clutter radar spotted a wicker container that was buried underneath notebooks, journals and books. When we don't want to deal with something we often try and cover it up. It's presence causes us pain and it's an overwhelmed way of trying to feel better.
I took the items off the wicker container and opened the lid. It contained files. I said, "Let's go through these." I had her go through one file at a time. The first file wasn't bad. It was for travel. She had put photos in there of all the places she wanted to visit. It turns out she had visited most of those places, so she tossed those particular photos.
Then we came upon the problem file. I noticed she looked instantly weak. Her voice dropped to a whisper. She was hunched over. She seemed drugged. It turns out the papers in this file involved her ex-husband. He owed her thousands of dollars in child support and alimony from over twenty years ago. I asked if she planned to sue him for the child support. She said she didn't. She said she decided to take care of herself and not rely on him. She told me that it was a turbulent relationship and that he had problems with drug addiction. I asked if she could let go of this file. She wanted to hang onto the files.
I think sometimes we hang onto things that were dangerous or harmful to us in the past. A deep part of us feels that it's a protective device. This is a reminder that this situation is bad. That works when we remember not to touch a hot skillet. But it doesn't help us when it keeps us in a perpetual state of fear by keeping alive a harsh memory. I talked about that in a recent blog post with a client who had wanted to hang onto 9/11 newspapers.
I told yesterday's client the effects this file was having on her. It was a toxic file. It intruded into and disrupted her life now. If she discovered something in her home was poisonous, she toss it out immediately. This file was equally harmful, but she wanted to hang onto it. I had to be strong with her. When we emotionally hang onto something, we go into a clutter trance and don't notice the negative effects.
Then I noticed my client got sober. She came out of the trance. I sensed that her clarity had returned. She seemed strong again. She took this file out of the wicker file box and decided to let the papers go. That sense of strength stayed with her through the rest of the clutter bust.