Last night I worked with a client in the home she shares with her father. We sat on the floor of her small bedroom. It was the only clear space because the bed and chairs were piled up with things. There were also boxes piled up on boxes along the walls.
She said, "It's not bad. This is only temporary. It's really not that bad." Her face and body said otherwise though. She seemed pained and distraught. I asked how long she'd been living like. She said, "Three years. But before this I had my own place and a lot more space. It was pretty nice." She looked and sounded very uncomfortable. Our minds can rationalize pretty much anything. But our voices and bodies are honest. They get pulled along for the ride by the mind, and they show their displeasure.
I said, "But you're here now. This is where you live. And you don't seem happy about it." She said, "Yes, but I haven't always lived like this." I said it was easier to be basic and honest about things as they are now. If she was eating food in a restaurant and it tasted terrible, it wouldn't help to talk about something she once ate, or that one day she won't be eating this. It's okay to admit discomfort and then start to do something about it.
She said, "But there's so much stuff, besides this there's the basement which is packed to the ceiling and then I have two storage lockers." I told her that it didn't help to think about it all because it only served to shut her down.
I picked up a small box stuffed with pieces of paper and plastic cards. I took out a piece of paper that had nothing written on it. I said, "Do you need this or can we let it go?" She said, "Well, I might need it. I mean, what if I want to write a note to myself?" I told her that her mind is going to see a use for everything and that's why she was living this way. But it wasn't serving her because it was making her miserable. She said she was reluctant to let it go. I said that's natural because it was a habit. But habits change with a simple repetition in the other direction.
We kept going piece by piece. She defended some more pieces. But then her impulse to want to hang on began to fall away. She seemed calmer. Within a half hour we had our first full bag of clutter. I had her hold the bag. She was amazed how heavy it was. She was smiling.