Fear and Decluttering

June 9, 2011

Spring Cleaning Series, Part 1 1/2

Leigh Glenn was one of the “Not Buying It” participants in early 2009. This is a guest post about her efforts to pare down paper and other things.

Binders and stacks of periodicals—Handwoven, ALBC (American Livestock Breeds Conservancy) News, and Ecologist—dot the floor of a room that I’ve converted into an office/craft room. As I Freecycle the back issues, I’ve come to realize that I’m a “ninfomaniac”: Acquiring information turns me on, makes me feel warm and safe. I’ve spent more than 20 years denying that my paper tiger ever needing taming—or ever could be tamed. Only recently have I recognized that my home environment influences how I feel and how I view the world. This and a desire to live free of clutter have prompted me to take stock—of all the paper and, more importantly, of how I’ve gotten here.

More than a decade ago, when I used to subscribe to the Post, I didn’t have time to read much during the week, so I let the newspapers stack up. I’d spend Sundays reading through the previous week’s, or even the previous month’s, trying to “get caught up.” I remember ending Sundays and looking to the workweek ahead feeling drained. Still, I never suspected that feeling compelled to acquire information had anything to do with the energy loss. Nor did I suspect that I had a problem.

I may not be a hoarder like those on TV, but the underlying tendencies are the same. Acquiring and letting go are simply two sides of the same coin—one seems to help allay fears around lacking something or depriving oneself, the other seems to trigger such fears. Info acquisition has made me feel smart, and where I haven’t felt smart, I’ve rested on the fact that at least I had the information I needed—somewhere, if only I could find it!

What else? Take the Handwovens or the ALBC News. In the past, I’d dream of weaving something great as well as having enough land to help conserve some particular domestic breed of animal—Dexter cattle or Karakul sheep. But my loom gathers dust and I don’t have the money for land. Still, parting with these makes me feel a sort of loss, a giving up of dreams. As with fears around feeling stupid, I can linger in that space if I choose, but I choose not to. I’ve begun to cultivate a faith that, as I give these up, I’m making more room to activate new dreams, new knowledge, or old dreams I’ve yet to realize. And therein lies the major fear: that I’m somehow so inept, so lacking in tenacity, that I cannot develop a goal, make a plan to work it, and make a dream come true. Clutter-free space and the ability to develop a goal go hand in hand. The clutter makes me feel as though I never get anywhere on anything because of the “unfinished business” reminders scattered everywhere. It’s time to cut losses and welcome gains.

That may be the deeper spiritual significance of endeavors like “Not Buying It” or the “No Stuff Experiment.” If clutter is just another word for “unused stuff,” the very process of decluttering helps me by getting rid of the useless. And once I’ve done that, I can focus on those activities I truly enjoy and want in my life.

I have a long way to go. But the feeling of being swamped with stuff—coupled with an unsteady income—has spurred me to stop buying all but necessities, such as food, food-related items, or those things that will deepen my knowledge of human health and ecology. The process of trying to pare down has proven to me, time and again, that it’s far too easy to bring things in and often very difficult to push them out. Better not to buy in the first place—or at least to have multiple “stops” built into the process.



3 Responses to “Fear and Decluttering”

  1. Jen Says:

    You’ve run marathons! Of course you can develop a goal, make a plan, and make it come true. No one just happens to run 26 miles.

    As always, enjoyed the insightful, thought provoking post.

    • Julie Says:

      Haha! This is a guest post by my friend Leigh (who, by the way, is equally capable of developing a goal, making a plan, and making it come true).

  2. Jen Says:

    lol, oh I see now. My eyes tend to glaze over when it comes to italics.

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