Clutter clearing brings an exhilarating sense of new-found freedom and space, but if you’ve become used to living with a certain quantity of stuff in your life, it can take a while to get used to not having it there anymore.
One person described it to me like this: ‘Each time I enter my home and see the empty spaces on the bookcase, I’m still sort of shocked and then immediately feel very relieved. It’s so good to have some empty spaces. It’s such a new sight. I will get used to it.’
Another client I worked with reported similar emotions. The first time he arrived home after going out for a few hours, he was so taken aback by how bare his shelves looked that he thought he’d been burgled! We actually only cleared about 30% of the objects, and there were still about 100 decorative items left on three small shelves, but this just goes to show how much the unconscious mind sees all these things even if the conscious mind has long since learned how to tune them all out.
The connection between clutter and suppressed emotions
Some people find it difficult to tolerate any unfilled space at all. It makes them too uncomfortable. They use their possessions as a protective layer, and any clear space makes them feel emotionally vulnerable and exposed. They feel compelled to fill it as quickly as they can.
A teenage girl I once met gave me some deep insights into this. She lived at home with her parents in a very tidy house, except for her bedroom, which was filled halfway to the ceiling with piles of clothes and other things. For six months or more, she hadn’t opened the windows, changed the bed sheets or allowed anyone in there. ‘I don’t like it like this’, she confided, ‘and I did tidy it up once. But so many emotions came up that I had to clutter it again’.
She was going through a very difficult time in her life and this was her way of coping, using clutter to suppress her emotions. It didn’t resolve anything. In fact, it made her situation worse, because the stagnant energy that surrounds clutter made her feel even more stuck. But there it stayed until she was ready to face her problems and found a capable therapist to help her move through them. After that, she didn’t need the clutter anymore. She tidied it all up and got on with her life.
The truth is that to some degree, everyone who has clutter of any kind uses it to suppress emotions in some way. It creates a numbing effect that allows you not to feel things you would rather not feel.
But when it gets to the stage where every shelf is full, every surface is covered, and even the tiniest unfilled space feels unbearable, there are some serious issues that need to be looked at and you may need help to do so, such as working with a professional clutter clearing practitioner or a cognitive behaviour therapist, or both. If left unchecked, this can lead to full-blown hoarding, where every space in your homes becomes full. That’s very difficult to reverse, so you really don’t want to wait that long to address this.
How you look at it
The photo near the top of this article of a solitary jar on a shelf will feel artistic and pleasing to some but not at all so to anyone who sees clear space as empty space. However, the concept is well known in graphic design. Called “white space”, the area around the subject of a picture is just as important as the subject itself. It’s what makes it stand out. It’s also why the text in advertisements is usually in upper and lower case rather than all capitals because the space around capitals is not as easy for the eye to read.
Rubin’s vase is a famous example of white space, which one person may see as a black vase against a white background and another might see as two human silhouettes in white against a black background. The choice is in the eye of the beholder, and you can view any clear space in the same way.
So if you want to change your relationship to space, take a playful approach. Clear a shelf in your home, put a single item on it, and keep it that way for a day. Each time you see it, look at the item as well as the space around it. See how they fit together. If seeing the space brings up feelings, let them surface, feel them, and let them go. You’ll discover it gets easier each time.
Repeat this exercise one day at a time until empty space becomes normal and holds no fear. Most people find it doesn’t take very long. You just have to be willing to give it a whirl and begin.
Copyright © Karen Kingston 2014