Peeling Back the Layers

Guest post by Tara Causland

Have patience in all things—but first of all, with yourself.
— St. Francis de Sales
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I’ve had a long term intention towards decluttering.

I’ve read articles and books on simplicity. I’ve watched everything from TLC’s Clean Sweep in the mid-2000s to Netflix’s recent Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I love seeing the before and after transformations of people’s living spaces. Watching these, I feel renewed in my motivation to make my own space as lovely and clear as these professionally organized nirvanas.

Here’s the thing, though: my clutter hasn’t gone away in one phase of decluttering frenzy. Things accrued over years of filing without purging and piling without reviewing. Over years of putting off deciding what to do with this gift or that purchase. Ridding myself of all of it can’t be shown in a single, tidy episode of televised glory.

And that is okay.

When I began participating in Genevieve Parker Hill’s guided minimalist opportunities, like her 30-Day Map to Get Rid of Your Crap, it provided me clearer structure in how to address my clutter. The frequent catch was—not unlike friends, family, and many of you reading this—I had emotional hurdles to overcome before I was ready to let go of certain things.

At one point, I talked to Genevieve about how each round of decluttering felt like I was peeling back the layers. Each time I went through the effort, I was able to let go of more. It felt like a process of emotional and physical excavation.

Pulling off one layer of things gave me space to examine whether I was ready to send off other things. Plus, decluttering became easier as I’ve made it a habit.

The emotional toll of going through old paperwork can be especially challenging. I’ve found things in old files or boxes that felt like an internal bomb went off. You know those sorts of things—letters from someone who’s no longer in your life, a note from a family member, a paper you wrote that earned you an opportunity, goals you’d listed that didn’t happen when you’d hoped.

Those heightened good and bad emotions swirl. They can delay your ability to decide how to handle the item while you’re too overwhelmed with handling your internal response to it.

On top of all of that, decision fatigue is real. Going through multiple file drawers’ worth of paperwork taxes your mind and energy. Papers, which can cling tightly to each other in a tiny space, manage to be the densest of clutter. One thing I do for decision fatigue when I go through a file and realize I’m hesitating a lot is to put aside the things I am certain I don’t want to keep. Then I put the things I’m having a harder time deciding about into another pile.

Then I get rid of the pile I am sure I don’t want or need! Shred, recycle, toss it. I don’t want to let it slip back into a space where I will have to go through it again. I’ve peeled back that layer and it’s OK to let it go.

On the next round you’ll be able to let go of some items you couldn’t before. Sometimes you just need to be ready to acknowledge that something is no longer serving you. Other times, you may realize a good use for an item that you hated to throw away or thought of someone else who needs it.

As you declutter, you learn what you really need. You can gain confidence and perspective in making decisions. Just take it one layer at a time. The weight that’s lifted will help you breathe again and make the layers to come less daunting.

Knowing that I’m doing the best that I can and at least getting closer to the goal I want gives me comfort and motivation to keep going.

The truth is decluttering needs to remain a lifetime habit. It is all too easy to tuck away papers in file cabinets and other items in drawers and cupboards and end up with decades’ worth of things you didn’t look at again.

So keep at it and be kind to yourself. A little progress is still progress.

Tara Causland is a freelance writer and script analyst who appreciates compelling storytelling and loves to make people laugh. When she emerges from decluttering escapades, she enjoys visiting gardens, traveling, rabbit advocacy, and adventures with friends or family.

You can find her on Twitter @taracausland.

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Finally, if you haven’t signed up yet for the free 3-Day Decluttering Challenge, you have a chance to do so below.