Let go of clutter and live your life to the full

What would your life be like if your home were completely clutter-free and you were totally up to date with everything you need to do? Can you even imagine that?

Let go of clutter

The goal of clutter clearing

Most people who start clutter clearing have this as their goal, and it feels wonderfully exhilarating to achieve it. Their home environment starts to supports them rather than holding them back and they are able to focus on what’s important in life rather than feeling stuck in the past.

But some people reach a point somewhere along the journey where they suddenly realize, ‘Whoa. This is actually happening. What is it really going to feel like if I keep going until all my clutter is cleared?’

Consciously or unconsciously it dawns on them, ‘Without the distraction of clutter to sort or an endless To Do list to work through, I will be left with myself, and then what will I do?’

To some people, this feels gloriously liberating, but to others it can be a very scary proposition, and the whole clutter clearing process can stall because of the anxiety it brings up.

Clutter suppresses emotions

What needs to be understood is that, to some degree, anyone who has clutter of any kind uses it to suppress emotions in some way. It provides a protective layer to numb emotions you’d rather not feel, such as emptiness, loneliness, loss, hurt or fear.

This numbing can take many very socially acceptable guises, such as acquiring things that look nice or may come in useful someday, collecting things that have a perceived value, or filling time by helping others, creative pastimes, watching TV, engaging social media, or mining the internet for interesting or entertaining nuggets. Some people take this further and also use food, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, gaming, or other addictive behaviours to keep their feelings under wraps.

A study conducted by psychologist Timothy Wilson at the University in Virginia in 2014 showed just how uncomfortable many people feel when they have clear time and space. Hundreds of students were recruited to sit alone in a room for 6-15 minutes with nothing to do. It turned out that 67% of the men and 25% of the women preferred to deliver an electric shock to themselves as a way to pass the time, even though they had all said before the experiment began that they would pay money to avoid this.

Keeping clutter for later

A very poignant example of stalled clutter clearing came from a woman who took my Fast Track Clutter Clearing online course and has given me her permission to share her story here.

At the time, she was caring for her husband, who had some very serious health problems and it seemed likely he would soon die. During the course, she had an “Aha!” moment when she realized she was deliberately delaying finishing clutter clearing her home in order to have something to keep her busy after his death.

I pointed out to her that my experience of working with clients whose partners have died is that not one of them was ever inspired to do clutter clearing in the weeks that followed. In fact, many of them told me that their real clutter problems started from that time, when they felt paralyzed by grief and were unable to function normally.

So my advice to her was, ‘Don’t delay. Do your clutter clearing now’.

We rest our consciousness on the place where we live and the things we own, and I felt sure it would help her enormously to have order in her home as she went through this. I explained that she would be able to hold the space for her husband in a much better way and the process would be easier for her too.

She took my suggestion to heart and re-engaged clutter clearing with renewed enthusiasm and vigour.

She involved her husband in the process too. ‘I told him that I had decided to intensify my efforts to get our home in better order so that we could be more comfortable,’ she said.

At one point he said, ‘I don’t know how to explain it but what you are doing makes me feel hopeful.’ Another time he said, ‘Thank you for what you are doing. It makes me feel better.’ It made her feel more hopeful and better too.

Most surprising of all, she contacted me seven months later to let me know, ‘My husband is better! So much better that we are now going on trips again, which is his great love, and I love it too.’

‘Your guidance was on-target,’ she confirmed. ‘It transformed my perspective on leaving any portion of clutter clearing unfinished. You helped me see with fresh eyes what I knew in my heart – that saving clutter was not going to help, it was going to hinder. Clearing it helped to create a more nourishing environment for my husband to heal and thrive.’

Let go and start living

The important thing to understand is that clutter is never the problem. It is only ever a symptom of an underlying issue. Emotions that have been buried in your clutter will naturally surface as you sort through your stuff, but don’t let that hold you back. Get support from a therapist if you need it, or work with one of the clutter clearing practitioners I have trained, who are skilled at helping people through this.

What you need to remember is that there’s a fine line between fear and excitement, and it’s easy to mistake the two. When you start to feel scared or vulnerable or exposed, it could actually be the stirrings of excitement about how your life could be.

Many people tell me that after clutter clearing their home, they feel so much more alive. Some describe it as changing from black and white to technicolour, or from 2D to 3D.

As one woman said to me, ‘I think I was afraid of becoming available for living. After clearing my clutter, it gave me the courage to pursue a more meaningful life and become the person I’ve always wanted to be.’

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2018, updated 2023

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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 fifth 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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9 Responses to Let go of clutter and live your life to the full

  1. Why do you say that “creative pastimes” are numbing? I would not agree! I enjoy several such pursuits that are, well, displays of my creativity, involve problem solving, beautiful, not expensive, I complete them rather than filling my home with unfinished ones, and sometimes gift them.

    1. Hi Jennifer – You’ve misread my article. I’m not saying that creative pastimes are numbing. I’m saying that many people use socially acceptable pursuits to suppress their emotions and this can sometimes take the form of activities such as helping others, creative pastimes, and so on. It’s not what you do but the reason why you do it.

  2. Michele – I’m so sorry about how things went down between you and your mom and siblings. I am sure you were just trying to help, and it is difficult to feel like your hard work was not appreciated (or in this case, was actively fought against!). At least you now know (via learning it the hard way) that it’s pointless/fruitless to try and do the job for someone else… as Karen says, you can lead a horse to water, leave her clutter clearing book out on your coffee table for them to see and hopefully read, etc., but in the end, it’s their job to do (until they die and THEN it gets dumped on you, haha). Please don’t feel guilty… what’s done is done. I wish you luck in your future dealings with your siblings! *hugs*

  3. Boy this is timely. I am definitely at that point in time. I have decluttered to the point where I actually think I might finish and I will have very little left. I am freaking out, thinking: Who will I be then? Where will be the proof that anyone ever loved me? Will I still remember my loved ones without mementos around? Was I bad to get rid of all that stuff they gave me? Am I going to feel poor without all the beautiful decorations I used to have around my house? What will I do with my time if I actually get caught up with my life? These questions do bother me and sometimes impede my progress, but my inner self knows this is what I want to do and I get re-motivated and carry on decluttering. Your article was very helpful in making understand the feelings that can come up during this process, so thank you very much!

  4. Thinking of my now-deceased mother who had a messy guest room in her house. The mess grew to be knee-deep after my father died. I was eventually elected by siblings to clear the clutter with Mom, much to Mom’s chagrin. The job took a week and grew to include the rest of her house. After the job was done, Mom did not speak to me for months and, basically, punished me up to her death. Further, she would not do anything new; rather she sat and fretted, seemingly overwhelmed by the empty and open space. In time, she and my sisters undid much of what she and I had done to clutter clear her house. She ultimately said she believed that by engaging in new life and doing new things/projects, she would be shortening her life because, having spent that time, she would actually have less time left to live.

    1. Hi Michele – In Chapter 14 of my Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui book I explain, ‘Nagging, arguing, threatening and issuing ultimatums only ever makes clutterholics more entrenched, and NEVER, EVER, EVER clear their clutter for them unless they specifically ask you to do so. People have very deep emotional attachments to their junk and can get very upset or even go berserk if it is tampered with.’

  5. Thank you for this article. I lost my husband suddenly just a year ago, and you are very correct about the stall in clutter clearing. I release things all the time, however, since his passing, and with all the decluttering I have done these past few months, I feel more in chaos right now than ever. There is still physical clutter to go, but I have attracted being ill four times in the last 4 months, now with pneumonia. I was just thinking it is a type of stalling. And lately I’ve been having guilt come up over my husband’s death, this is new.

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