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.
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.
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. Richard’s Personal insight sessions are one of the best ways I know to do this..
Another great resource is the Grief Recovery Method that’s explained in The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman. You may not think these types of losses are associated with grief, but 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.
For anyone reading this who doesn’t feel they need personal help but could really use some motivation to tackle their clutter before it gets out of hand, my online clutter clearing courses are open to people from all over the world. Highly effective and great fun too!
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2014, updated 2022
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