Someone wrote me an email about their clutter situation:
"The topic is guilt. Not at getting rid of things (although that is
present), but guilt at letting the situation go THIS long, and having it affect
my children. How do you work through that guilt?
The fact that the clutter does NOT include things that are literal garbage
or dirt is irrelevant as the clutter’s sick purpose seemed to be emotional
insulation from hurts in life or preserving moments in time (you addressed these
beautifully in your books). As layers of clutter get peeled, very
unpleasant anxiety surfaces! But to take a quote from a Star Trek Voyager
episode (“Cold Fire”) I try to “focus on the goal, not the task”.
I'm sharing my response because what she brought up is a common situation.
Here's what I have to say:
Guilt involves self-blame. It says that "I could or should have not done what I did. I could have done otherwise, but I didn't." It's a crippler, because it doesn't inspire a different action that would bring the beneficial results. It doesn't encourage.
It's like pointing and accusing at yourself to make you feel badly so you'll change. But it rarely works, and it takes a toll on oneself.
It helps to have compassion when being affected by clutter. The presence of clutter exhausts. It creates anxiety. It's depressing. It makes a person sluggish. Plus there is often an insulating effect from clutter (as you mentioned) that makes a person cling to what no longer supports them. These are two powerful forces. While under their influence, it's very difficult to make a change. The compassion is seeing the effect for what it is. It helps bring understanding into the situation.
When I help people let go of clutter, I never feel they are wrong for being in their clutter situation. I understand how clutter can shut down a person's ability to take action. I think that helps them let go of their own feelings of guilt about the situation. There's a feeling of, "This clutter situation happened, let's see what we can do about it now."
When you remove guilt for being in this or any situation, it allows the space for change to happen. It inspires the energy and courage for change.
Since there's no way to go back in the past and take action, now is a good time. Actually it's the only time.
The guilt is the real clutter. When you see guilt for what it is, you can see how debilitating it is. You don't want to have guilt about the guilt. But compassion for yourself in the situation is what's healing.
This compassion can help you say to yourself, "I understand I'm in the midst of a clutter situation. I can see how it's restricting me in many ways. It's making me unhappy in my own home and life. I care about myself and want to help remove this pain so I can start enjoying my life."
This compassion can also help you when any anxiety comes up while clutter busting. "I understand that it's natural to feel all these emotions. I'm very open and vulnerable right now. Nothing bad is actually happening to me. I'm releasing old feelings that were trapped under the clutter. I'm going to take a deep breath, and put my hand on my heart, and say to myself, 'I love you.' and feel them pass."
Remember this element of kindness. There's energy in being kind and gentle to yourself. When you see someone fall and hurt themselves, you rush to their side to help them up. You can use that same compassion for yourself in this situation.
Give it a chance and try it on and let me know how it goes.