Reflection on the Clutter Busting Workshop

On Saturday I facilitated a clutter busting workshop in Chicago. My girlfriend Julia attended. I asked her to write about her experiences.

"Brooks requested that everyone bring a bag or box of clutter to the workshop, so I had brought two bags of photo albums to go through. I had been cleaning out the closet in my office, and I knew these photo albums were stuffed with photos that were duplicates, were blurry or had been poorly developed.

When Brooks started, he treated me just like any of the other participants. That scared me because I knew he'd be challenging me to let go of more than just the blurry photos. After going into some description about clutter and its whys and hows, he asked me to take a few photos out of the first album and look at them.

I had a "meh" feeling about each photo. I felt that I could take it or leave it. Brooks told me that this neutral feeling means it's a "leave it." I started to get into the flow and went to the corner of the room to take all the photos out and sort through them, looking for ones I particularly loved. I had a recycling bag to my left, and I just sat on the floor and listened to Brooks talk with the other participants about clutter.

I was doing fine -- it was easy to get rid of photos that I didn't need (because I had doubles) or that were unflattering or blurry. But then I found a picture that a professional photographer had taken of my family before I had gotten a divorce. We were all smiling in sort of an awkward way, but I remembered my feeling when the picture was taken. I was thinking, 'We did it! We're a happy family! We're getting a portrait taken! We'll get one of these taken each year!' It was like when I took the picture, I had accomplished something. I was the mother of a happy suburban family, and that family would continue being happy and together ad infinitum.

As I held the picture, I remembered how a few years later I was in such pain from the divorce. I remembered mourning the loss of that happy family -- not only the one in the picture, but the one I imagined we could be in the future. Only now we couldn't.

Brooks saw my pain and gently asked whether I wanted to keep the picture or let it go. I said I might want my son to have the picture, and maybe I would ask him whether he'd like to keep it. In his kind way, Brooks was okay with that plan as long as I was okay with it.

I continued on with my project, listening to other peoples' insights into their own processes as I worked through my albums. In the last few minutes of the workshop, Brooks said something about pain that really struck me. He said that when we have pain in a connection, in a relationship, we feel like we have to hold onto the connection anyway because connection itself brings joy and we know that. We ignore the accumulating evidence that this particular connection brings pain, and we continue to hold on, causing ourselves more pain.

I heard that and something flipped inside me. I looked at the photo again and put it in the recycling bag. I realized I had so many other pictures of our family together, pictures in which we were all happy -- and they documented events that really happened, not events that I was artificially planning, like this staged, happy-family future.

Today I finished the project. I got rid of three photo albums and their photos. Now when I see that shelf, I know that the pictures I will look at if I open one of the books are pictures that remind me of real, joyful, important times. What a gift."