This blog features over 300 articles by international bestselling author and leading clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy home expert, Karen Kingston

Photograph your sentimental clutter and let it go

Photograph sentimental clutter

The cute little plastic figurines of dogs in this photo are the kind of gift you may have been given as a child. But do you really still need to keep them all your life?

If the thought of parting with such items tugs at your heartstrings, there’s a very simple solution I offer for this dilemma in my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui:

If you have particularly fond attachments to things you no longer use that date back to your tender childhood years, here’s something you can do that many people find very satisfactory and liberating: photograph them for posterity and then let them go. The photos will retain those heart-warming memories for ever and can be stored digitally, taking up no physical space at all.

This technique works for all types of clutter, large and small, and especially the sentimental kind.

Sentimental items

Many sentimental items are kept as a reminder of a person or event they are associated with and are never used in any other way. In some homes, this amounts to a small box containing a few treasured objects, but in others it can take up enormous amounts of space, often overflowing into attics, basements, garages, sheds or rented storage lockers.

One man I know was so attached to the first motorbike he ever owned that when it became unusable, he refused to send it to the scrap yard. It sat in his garden for many years, rusting away and sometimes acting as a drying rack for small items of clothing. Finally, he cemented it kitsch-style into his garden wall so that just one side of the bike was visible, and there it is to this day. He’s had many cars and motor bikes since then, and has happily let them come and go, but that first one was so special to him that it’s there to stay.

Thankfully most of the things people hang on to are smaller than this and do not require permanent enshrinement in stone. But when you add them all together they can still take up a lot of room. And because they are never used in any way, except perhaps for occasionally being taken out and looked at, there are layers of stagnant energy that accumulate around them that will have a correspondingly stagnating effect on your life.

Let go of the past to live fully in the present

An exercise I often invite people to do is to calculate the percentage of items in their home they are actively using now compared to the percentage of items they are keeping to remind them of the past. When the balance is more than 50% from the past, that’s where you are living, and this makes it very difficult to really enjoy the present or create a joyous tomorrow. When you let go of some of the things from the past, it allows space for new experiences to come into your life now.

Modern technology means that these days most people have a cell phone or digital camera that can take photos, so an excellent solution to this problem is to keep a photo of the item and then let it go. For things you never use, photos are often all the reminder you need, and they take up a heck of a lot less room in your home, or none at all if you store them digitally.

You can even set your photos to display as a screensaver or slideshow on one of your devices, if you want to, which means you will see the items much more often than you ever would before. Make sure you have a reliable backup system, of course, and keep more than one copy so that if it fails, you will still have the images.

Keep the memory but not the possession

Perhaps they read my book or perhaps they came up with the idea themselves, but a 2017 study by researchers at Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas Universities used this idea as the basis for a study. Concerned that ‘consumer reluctance to part with possessions with sentimental value causes a specific bottleneck in the donation process’ for charitable organizations, they ran two ad campaigns aimed at students.

The ads were timed for the period when all the students would be packing up their belongings to return home at the end of the study year. One group received a flyer saying, ‘Don’t pack up your sentimental clutter. Just collect the items and then donate’. and the other group’s flyer said, ‘Don’t pack up your sentimental clutter. Just take a photo of it, then donate.’

The carefully monitored result was that the students who took photos donated about 14% more than those who didn’t. They also researched if it made any difference if the person who owned the item was in the photo or not, and it didn’t. What was important was having a record of the item itself.

So there you have it. Scientific proof of something that I’ve recommended to countless people over the years. If you’ve never tried it, find a sentimental item in your home that no longer has any purpose and create the space for something new in your life by photographing it and letting it go. And if you can donate it to a charity shop where it can be sold to someone who will truly use it instead of just keeping it stored away forever, then so much the better.

Related articles
How to let go of childhood memorabilia
The best way to use “before” and “after” photos when clutter clearing

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2013, updates 2018


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Willpower from a spiritual perspective

Willpower

When I first heard the theory that we only have so much willpower and then it runs out, I really didn’t buy it. In my experience, willpower is precisely what you use to overcome feeling too lazy, tired or disinterested to continue until a job is done. The whole point of cultivating willpower is so that you can keep going instead of caving in.

And I do believe it can be cultivated. Some people need to work at this more than others, it’s true, but it can be done.

The ego-depletion theory

The ego-depletion theory, first proposed in 1998 by Roy Baumeister and Dianne Tice, stated that willpower is like a muscle that gets fatigued with overuse, and when this happens, it weakens our ability to resist temptations. This was supposed to explain, for example, why someone might break their diet by succumbing to pizza or ice cream after a hard day’s work at the office. Their willpower for the day was all used up.

This theory held sway for over seventeen years and was widely cited by many self-help gurus as an insight into why we find it difficult to finish projects or stop ourselves from succumbing to instant gratifications.

People who’ve heard about it tend to use it as an excuse for why they’ve run out of steam or need to procrastinate a bit longer. It creates a helpless victim-like mentality. If everyone only has so much willpower, they reason, and when it runs out, it’s gone, like fuel in a fuel tank, well, there’s nothing they can do about that, is there? It also conveniently provides a justification for numerous self-indulgent treats whenever the going gets tough.

However, what these people are probably not aware of is that since 2005, the ego-depletion theory has been seriously questioned by repeated studies that have found no proof for it.

The willpower-is-unlimited theory

New studies have revealed that belief in ego-depletion is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if someone reads a book that tells them their willpower is a limited resource, and they believe it, then it will be.

This is not to say that those who don’t subscribe to this theory have endless willpower. It still has to be actively developed. But discarding the belief at least means you are no longer subject to a self-limiting false ceiling.

Willpower, it turns out, is a muscle that can be trained just like any other muscle, and there is no limit to what you can use it to accomplish. Habits need to be created to support and reinforce will, and the trick is to begin small by diagnosing and changing habits one at a time (The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a good starting point for this).

Be careful what you invest your time and energy in, though. The Guinness Book of Records contains some extraordinary human feats, including some completely senseless ones, such as the man who recently cut his fingernails after growing them for 66 years and crippling his left hand in the process.

Willpower from a spiritual perspective

There’s a common misconception that genuinely spiritually-oriented folk should live in caves, have no possessions and no ability to generate monetary wealth at all except by begging. This mostly comes from tales of spiritual devotees in bygone times giving up their worldly belongings to find enlightenment, the most famous of all being the Buddha, who gave up his princely heritage to follow his path.

Certainly, in our modern world, there is far too much emphasis on acquiring material possessions, and it can be a major hindrance to any spiritual pursuit. But minimalism is also not the answer. Everyone needs to find the right balance — not so much stuff that it holds them back and not too little that they are not able to do what they’re here to do.

When examined from a spiritual perspective, the most important thing to consider with willpower is the driving force behind it.

When you put willpower into worldly wantings

Willpower is often fueled by worldly wantings such as power, money and fame. Everything else may be sidelined or sacrificed to attain these material goals. If successful, you can enjoy the benefits while you are here on earth but can’t take any of it with you when you go. The best you can do is leave a document (which curiously happens to be called a will) that stipulates who will inherit your gains.

This kind of willpower is a driving force that gets stuff done. But are you in control or is it driving you? Exerting too much willpower of this type over an extended period of time can be a sure-fire recipe for adrenal burn-out or worse. And do the rewards truly bring you happiness? Is enough ever enough? For many, the answer is no. They get caught in a self-perpetuating loop that does not bring fulfillment.

When you put willpower into spiritual aspirations

Most people vastly underestimate how much will is required to follow a spiritual path in modern times. It’s much harder than it used to be because now, to be effective, it needs to be done while living in the world, not by withdrawing from it. And the pace of modern life means it takes serious willpower to work through mental and emotional blockages and scars to be able to access and align with the Higher part of yourself that knows why you have incarnated here on earth and what you are here to do.

This type of willpower is admittedly quite rare. Most people do not have clarity about what they are here to do and do not put any effort into discovering what that might be. But for those who engage this and are resolute in their commitment, will becomes a vehicle they can ride to accomplish great things.

When someone aspires with integrity to selflessly give service, to become all they can be and do all they can do, without limitation, there are high level spiritual forces that can respond and help. This may sometimes result in personal fame or gain but it’s only an incidental side-effect rather than the end goal.

You might think this requires a magnitude of endeavour that is beyond any ordinary person, but that’s not so. We are all capable of astonishing acts of will if we can unlock that part of ourselves that genuinely wants to make a difference in the world and has the determination to see it through. Willpower then becomes not something you have to train yourself to have but a force that arises with such enthusiasm from the depths of your being that it makes you unstoppable.

Related article
This myth about willpower is holding back your productivity

Related online course
Zero Procrastination

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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What bathroom clutter reveals

Bathroom clutter

It may sometimes feel as if household clutter accumulates by itself, but of course it doesn’t.

Take this bathtub, for example. The woman who owns it told me she had decluttered the entire area six months previously, discarding two full bags of unwanted items. But then life happened, and before she knew it, it looked like this again. She managed to tune it out for a while but then one day, she walked into her bathroom and saw it for the untidy mess it had become.

‘How on earth did this happen?’ she puzzled.

But the inescapable fact was, she had created it herself. At some point in those six months, each and every item had been placed there by her. To her astonishment, she counted 152 individual objects, only two of which were things that needed to be thrown away. The rest were all useful in some way. The mugs belonged in her kitchen and everything else belonged in her bathroom cabinet and needed to be put away.

Your home is a mirror of yourself

A photo such as this is very revealing because it’s an external description of a person’s inner state. What’s on the inside is not always portrayed on the outside, but what’s on the outside is always a reflection of something on the inside.

The busyness of this bathroom mirrors the busyness of the owner’s life and also shows how stressful it is, with so many things to consider and cope with. It also shows how her life is running her instead of her running it. If this is how she starts her day, then much of her life is clearly out of control.

Simplifying the number of items she uses in her daily grooming and keeping them tidy and organized will give her a completely different approach to each day, which in turn will help her to take back control of other aspects of her life too.

Bathroom clutter partly cleared

Can you spot the problem here?

This second photo shows the bathtub after she decluttered again. It looks very much better, but it illustrates a problem that I see in all too many of the before and after photos that people send me. She has cleared the majority of the items around the bathtub. But do you see those two little piles she’s left in the corners? They will almost certainly morph back into how it was before unless she gives those items a proper home and keeps them where they belong. They are like little clutter starter sets, just waiting to sprout.

Look through any interior design magazine and you’ll find glorious examples of pristine bathrooms. But in real life, when subjected to constant daily use, the bathroom is one of the most difficult rooms in a home to maintain. A quick dust, vacuum and tidy-up will keep a living room in good shape, but a well-used bathroom needs much more maintenance to keep it clean, and good organizing skills to keep it tidy and presentable.

It therefore makes no sense to add bathroom clutter to the mix. Many of the things that people keep in bathrooms don’t need to be there. They’re just taking up space, collecting grunge, and making cleaning and tidying more difficult.

What your bathroom says about you

The state of a person’s bathroom gives a very good insight into their level of self-care. So after reading this article, I invite you to walk into your bathroom and take a good look at it, as if you didn’t know whose bathroom it is. What does it say about you? If you share it with others, what does it say about you all?

Creating the right storage space, such as a bathroom cabinet, drawers for small items, shelves under your bathroom sink, and so on, is an important factor in reducing bathroom clutter. If you don’t have any storage at all, get some. Even in the smallest of bathrooms, there’s usually a way to fit in a container of some kind.

Then instead of keeping everything on view, ready to leap to your aid at a moment’s notice, give each item a designated place and keep it where it belongs. It takes only a couple of seconds longer to put something away instead of leaving it out, and it will make a huge difference to how the place feels.

If you want to go further, ruthlessly declutter any half-used grooming products you haven’t used in ages and especially those you’ve never used at all. And if space is limited, find somewhere else in your home to store the things you rarely use but still want to keep. Multiple bottles of shampoo, for example. Keep the one you are using, put the rest away for now, and don’t buy any more until you’ve used up what you have.

Your bathroom will look and feel better, and more importantly, giving yourself a calm and ordered start to each day will make you look and feel better too.

Related article
How to clear most of your bathroom clutter in one go

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Aspirational clutter

Aspirational clutter

It feels like such a good use of money to buy things that will help you to achieve the goals you aspire to in your life, to make you a better or smarter person, bring you success, or improve your well-being in some way.

Or is it?

If you have your feet firmly planted on the ground and are prepared to work to improve your life, this kind of investment can be very helpful. But all too often people make the mistake of thinking that just acquiring the tools is all that’s needed. And there the items sit, week after week, month after month, and sometimes year after year, gathering dust and waiting for you to engage whatever life-changing project you purchased them for.

The euphemistic name for this is aspirational clutter. But a more truthful name would be fantasy clutter, pie-in-the-sky clutter or even pigs-will-fly clutter!

Examples of aspirational clutter

A common type of aspirational clutter is self-help books. I’ve met people who have shelves or ebook libraries full of these, the majority of them unread. They are most often purchased online, where a click of a button assures you that you’ve made a move in the right direction towards becoming a better person. But unless you read the books and action the knowledge contained in them, they’re just another form of clutter in your life.

Keep-fit equipment is another potential type of aspirational clutter. You decide it’s time to get your body into shape. To help you do this, you purchase the gym equipment and clothing you feel you will need. If you follow through and get fit, well done. If not, you’ve just acquired clutter that will balefully remind you of your failed intentions each time you catch sight of it.

Then there are the clothes you think you should have in order to look the part, such as outfits to make you feel fashionable or feel like the perfect professional, partner, parent, or whatever. But, as in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, if this is not who you really are, they are not going to help you to create the life you truly want.

Future-self clutter

Future-self clutter is a more worrying form of aspirational clutter. It consists of items you acquire for the ultra-different person you fancifully imagine you’ll one day become, even though you’re doing nothing at all to make that happen.

A classic example of this is a woman I know of who purchased an entire wardrobe of elegant clothes to wear on book tours after she became a successful author. The problem was, she’d been accumulating these clothes for years and hadn’t ever written a thing. In reality, she’d convinced herself of this future fantasy life to justify her shopping addiction. Most items still had the price tag on them and had never been worn.

I’ve met others who take this to even greater extremes by acquiring a fabulous car or house that fits with the wildly successful person they hope they will one day be. They’ve heard that they need to “fake it until they make it”, but this can all too often backfire and turn into “fake it until the bank takes it” if they get themselves too deeply into debt that they can never afford to repay.

If you’re ever tempted to financially over-extend yourself in this way, take heart from knowing that Warren Buffet, currently the third richest man in the world, still lives in the same modest house that he bought back in 1958 for US $31,500. It’s now worth a mere 0.001% of his total wealth, but he feels no need to change it. When asked once why he hadn’t moved, he replied very simply, ‘I’m happy there. I’d move if I thought I’d be happier someplace else’. In other words, he feels comfortable with himself, just as he is, and has no need to impress anyone else.

How to tell a genuine aspiration from a false one

I don’t want to demolish anyone’s dreams. A life without aspiration is a life not lived. What I’m pointing out here is that if it only results in clutter that holds you back, that’s worse than having no aspiration at all.

Many people want to improve themselves, and that’s commendable. But there is a huge difference between being motivated to develop your natural talents to become all that you can be, and feeling driven to create a better version of yourself because deep down inside you feel lacking in some way. The first comes from the fullness of living your life’s purpose and the latter from the fear of not being good enough.

Here are some pointers to help you to tell the difference.

It’s probably clutter if…

  • You tell yourself you’ll be a better person if you have one
  • You think the kind of person you aspire to be should have one
  • You hope that people will like or accept you more if you have one

There’s a very different feeling between acquiring something you vaguely hope will change you for the better and the deep certainty that comes from putting in place the next piece of the puzzle to help you discover who you are and what you’re here to do.

When you follow a genuine aspiration, you don’t just throw money at it. You invest your own time and energy in it too and only gather around yourself the tools to help you do this as and when you really need them.

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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Reasons not to store other people’s clutter in your home

Other people's clutter

I always remember the shocked look on the face of the landlord Richard and I were about to rent a house from a few years ago. Our one-year contract was all but signed when he mentioned he’d be leaving some of his things in the attic, thinking that would be OK.

‘That would be a deal-breaker’, I told him immediately, without missing a beat.

He couldn’t believe we could possibly take objection. What would be the harm in that? Surely it wouldn’t be in our way?

How clutter affects you energetically

‘It wouldn’t physically be in our way,’ I said, ‘because we’re not planning to use the attic. But I write books explaining to people how keeping clutter anywhere in their home affects them energetically and holds them back.’

‘But the attic? You won’t even know it’s up there!’

‘It doesn’t matter if we know it’s up there or not. Any kind of clutter causes stagnant energy to accumulate around it, which will have a corresponding stagnating effect of some kind in our life. It has to go.’

This was a wealthy man who wasn’t used to being spoken to by anyone like this, let alone a woman. But I stuck to my guns, Richard was adamant too, and he reluctantly agreed.

Of course, someone with so much clutter doesn’t usually spring into action very quickly. So when it was all still there six weeks later, we brought it all down from the attic for him, load by load, stacked it in our entrance foyer, and kept calling until he finally came to take it away. It amounted to an entire truckload of stuff, consisting mainly of leftover stock from the sexy lingerie online store that had made him his fortune. It made an entertaining feature for any visitors who dropped by, but we were happy to see it all go.

Other people’s clutter in your home

Having clutter of your own is bad enough but giving houseroom to someone else’s stuff is arguably even worse, because you have less control over whether it stays or goes. Once you’ve agreed to take it, you can be stuck with it for a while.

In my Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui book, I explain,

Sometimes people don’t have much clutter of their own but they agree to look after things for other people. ‘Please look after this ugly sofa for me while I visit New Zealand.’ Two years later you are still waiting for your friend to come back and the sofa has started to grow roots.

Think carefully before you agree to clutter your own space with someone else’s stuff and if you do decide to do it, at least set a time limit: ‘OK, I’ll look after your ugly sofa, but if you’re not back for it within X months, it’s firewood/will be used to stuff a thousand cushions for charity, or whatever.’ Make a clear agreement what will happen to the sofa and when, and that way your friendship won’t deteriorate if things don’t go according to plan.

Adult children’s clutter

One of the most challenging types of other people’s clutter is childhood belongings left behind by adult children who now have a home of their own. They don’t want to clutter their own space, but they also don’t want to let all their childhood memorabilia go.

So there it sits indefinitely in the family home. It affects whoever it belongs to because they still have a connection to it, but it affects the parents even more because a part of their home is unavailable to them and a part of their life is therefore in limbo.

Items stored in the Health area of a home can also affect health, in the Relationship area can affect relationships, in the Prosperity area can affect prosperity, and so on. There is nowhere you can put clutter where it won’t affect you in some way, including attics, basements, garages, sheds, and anywhere else on the property. You can find more information about this in Chapter 8 of my book.

Is it OK to store a friend’s stuff just for a while?

People often ask me this.

The truth is that if you have a lot of clutter of your own, your life will probably feel so stuck that you’ll hardly notice the effect of adding a few more boxes belonging to a friend.

But if you live pretty clutter-free, the effect is much more noticeable. A few days won’t matter. A few weeks might. Months, definitely. Years – don’t even think about it.

Related articles
Adult children’s clutter stored in the family home
Cluttered nest syndrome

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2018


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