Clutter as a form of self-protection

Can clutter protect you from life’s inevitable knocks? No, but some people mistakenly hope it can by creating clutter cocoons around themselves in an attempt to feel safe and secure.

Self protection

Building a wall of clutter

An extreme example of this is someone who has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused or bullied. In addition to putting on physical weight to create layers of protection in their body, there is often a tendency to create a wall of stuff around themselves as a way of keeping the world at bay. If this continues unchecked, whole rooms can disappear under a sea of clutter, until the person becomes confined to living in just a small area of the home.

They may feel safe from the world, but they also feel isolated. They may feel comforted by their possessions, but they also feel lonely. They may feel secure, but they also feel trapped.

Comfort shopping

Of course, it generally takes years to reach this stage. Clutter builds up item by item, one decision at a time. So what are the early warning signs?

Comfort shopping when feeling depressed is one. Items are purchased, brought home, and never used. Years may pass, and the price tags are still attached. In some cases, the bags are never even opened. Each time the person feels down, shopping is seen as a way to help themselves feel better. However no amount of stuff is ever enough. And too much so-called retail therapy can cause debts to mount up, which causes yet more depression and despair.

When clutter is used as a form of self-protection in this way, clearing it will only bring a temporary reprieve. It is always necessary to source the emotions that caused such a deep need for self-protection in the first place. This is why attempts by friends or family to help clear the clutter are rarely successful, and can even make the person more entrenched if they feel their sanctuary is being threatened or violated. It is usually only a crisis of some kind such as ill-health, needing to repair something in the home that has broken down, or being at risk of losing their home that will cause such a person to seek help.

Negative owning of space

Another way some people attempt to use clutter as a form of self-protection is deliberately creating mess to keep others away. For example, I once met a woman who felt so dominated by her husband’s gregarious family that she kept the house knee-deep in clutter so they wouldn’t ever want to visit. She didn’t like the chaos, but it was the only way she knew to keep them away. Children sometimes do this too, by creating mess in their bedroom as a way of asserting their own territory. It’s called “negative owning of space”.

In a work situation, you can see this same strategy in the person who keeps their desk piled high with papers because it is the only way they know to prevent more work than they can handle being dumped on them. They build a wall to give the impression of being busy because they don’t know how to say “no”.

In all cases, it’s important to realize that these techniques do not bring the solace that is being sought. The stagnant energy that accumulates around the clutter makes the person feel more and more stuck, and less and less free. It’s a bit like the war-time tactic of barricading yourself in, only to realize you are safe from the enemy but will slowly starve to death.

What can you do?

The lasting solution to all these types of situations comes from first understanding that creating a fortress of clutter around oneself creates more problems than it solves. There needs to be a change of focus from self-protection to self-discovery. The real source of the issue needs to be found, which will often turn out to be a traumatic event that caused deep-seated feelings of betrayal, loss of safety, loss of self-confidence, or loss of self-esteem.

There are a number of therapies that can offer help with this. The most effective I have found is the Grief Recovery Method described in The Grief Recovery Handbook. You may not think of these types of loss as being associated with grief, they most certainly are. The book guides the reader through tried and tested steps to engage the recovery process and move on in their life.

Another excellent therapy, best suited to people who have an interest in meditation and want to do personal development work at very deep levels, is the Clairvision IST technique. This involves doing a series of sessions with an experienced IST practitioner, or attending a group intensive. Samuel Sagan’s Regression book is a good starting point for understanding how this process works.

And for anyone reading this who doesn’t feel they need personal therapy but could really use some help to tackle their clutter before it gets out of hand, I teach Fast Track Clutter Clearing online courses that are open to people from all over the world.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2014, updated 2021


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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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3 Responses to Clutter as a form of self-protection

  1. Thank you for this blog – I wanted to share my experiences. I’ve had a phone consultation with Karen, which helped identify my clutter issues; took the Zero Procrastination online course and Fast Track Clutter Clearing online course; completed the Grief Recovery Method program (with a trained specialist); and had approximately three months of weekly ISIS sessions with a practitioner. It took about eight months to clutter clear my apartment (while listening to Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui), after which I had it space cleared by a practitioner trained by Karen. I also participated in three months of weekly ISIS training at the Clairvision school. I’ve done all this within the past year.

    These were the most helpful to me: (1) the call with Karen, (2) the Zero Procrastination Course – I still use the teachings daily, (3) the Grief Recovery Method (my specialist consulted with the program’s founder on my behalf), (4) the rigorous process of clutter clearing, and (5) the space clearing. There was definitely some benefit to ISIS, but it’s a slower process for me. I don’t feel that I’ve gotten yet to the “real source of the issue.” However, I feel everything was worth trying, and it all had some benefit.

    I’ve just ordered the Regression book (on Karen’s recommendation) and may resume ISIS with another practitioner (the person who space cleared my apartment and is also trained in the Grief Recovery Method was not available earlier). Thank you so much for everything, Karen! I am eagerly awaiting your new space clearing book.

    1. That’s quite a journey you’ve been on, Lisa. I’m very glad to hear all your feedback, and to hear that you are making good progress. I often reflect what a curious thing it is that our quest to resolve our issues opens so many doors for us that we would never have opened had we not had the issues. Looked at in this light, our issues are blessings in disguise.

      1. Hi Karen,
        I am constantly tempted to try leaving comment after each article or contact you via e-mail every day. You are such a TREASURE!

        I didn’t read what Lisa said above, really, whether true or false, geniuine or fake, does not matter. Other people’s judgement might be impaired, especially if you are a victim. All that matters is what Karen Kingston says, which is an amazing revelation of CLEAR, CLEAN, PURE wisdom.

        I keep record of some of your thoughts, almost like Bible verses quotation, which I refer to on a daily basis. Tonight I’m gonna add one more:

        “I often reflect what a curious thing it is that our quest to resolve our issues opens so many doors for us that we would never have opened had we not had the issues. Looked at in this light, our issues are blessings in disguise.”

        Thank you, thank you, thank you…

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