Many organizational experts offer advice and best practices for eliminating clutter. But at the heart of every uncluttering method lies the same simple truth: the things you keep need to be meaningful to you. The items that get to stay in your house stay because they “spark joy” for you, or because they are something you know that you really need to keep. The question is always about you – your priorities, your loves, your own personal sense of what is meaningful or not. Personal meaning is the key.
The One Uncluttering Tool We Need
Unfortunately, deciding what is and isn’t personally meaningful can be really hard – often, so hard that we give up. We leave the pile of papers as it is. We shut the closet door. We stop asking what’s meaningful to us. We drift further and further off-course, and the clutter eats up even more of our energy and space.
The simplest way out of this downward spiral and into a less cluttered life is cultivating self-connection.
Self-connection is all about muting the distractions of daily life, and paying attention to who we really are at our core. What do we actually value most? What makes our spirits soar? What are our truths, and what are our delusions? Greater self-connection makes it easy to decide what belongs in the “keep” pile, and what’s just a diversion getting between us and our goals.
Connection is the lens that lets us see what matters, and what doesn’t.
Self-Connection Helps Us Answer the Hard Questions
People often view their possessions as a reflection of who they are, or who they like to think they are. This is why letting go can be so hard…we don’t want to let go of the part of ourselves the object(s) represents. Understanding who we truly are – our most cherished values, goals and priorities – is the first step to liberating ourselves from this trap.
Take the time to reflect on your values and goals. Step away from considering specific objects for a few minutes, and mindfully think about what matters most to you in the bigger picture. Write down what you value, and what you want to accomplish in your life.
When we understand our values and motivations, we are much better at finding effective, non-cluttering ways of advancing our goals.
We might see, for example, that saving every magazine article that’s piqued our interest isn’t helping us finish the project we most want to complete. We may realize that squirreling away “useful” things in every available space actually makes it harder for us to be prepared and efficient. We can recognize that our clutterbug habits are actually poisoning the relationships we cherish above all else.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
There are so many practical benefits to uncluttering our lives: easy access to essential items and areas, easier cleaning and maintenance, a healthier environment, reduced conflict with housemates, more efficient use of space, etc. But I believe the #1 benefit of uncluttered living is the way it helps us live in alignment with our values.
In a clutter-free space, everything around us has meaning. We reconnect with our most cherished values every time we see what we have chosen to keep – and we see those things often because they’re not buried in clutter, competing with countless other things for our attention. When we have cleared clutter properly, our living space becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop of self-connection. And that makes it easier to keep new clutter from taking root.
Just as self-connection is the most effective tool we have to fight clutter, uncluttering is an essential practice to foster greater self-connection and build lives rich with meaning.