Breaking The Rules
Zen and the Art of Decluttering
One woman’s quest to change how we think about stuff
Laura Moore, M.Ed., founder of ClutterClarity LLC, part home organizing, part life coaching service, has been helping people declutter their lives–since long before the KonMari idiom, “if it doesn’t bring you joy, toss it.” In other words, she’s been in the game since long before professional home organizing became big business. Laura credits having taken a “non-traditional path through life” as the reason why her services are so unique and effective. Her motto: “Putter through your clutter, don’t attack it,” underscores her philosophy that simply tossing things away will not solve your problems. Laura doesn’t believe that quick tips and trips to the Container Store are the real solution to freeing yourself from clutter. Here’s what she does believe, including how you can help yourself without feeling overwhelmed.
Make it a habit, not a project
Laura works almost exclusively with women—of all ages, but typically they’re going through big life changes: moving, divorce, aging parents, dealing with a death. Through her years on the job, she’s seen a correlation between clutter in the house and women leaving the home for work—women still carry the burden of cleaning and organizing the domestic space, but when you work, there are fewer hours to dedicate to it. “Entrapment is the number one feeling I [hear from] my clients,” says Laura. “They feel trapped by their circumstances and are trying to [declutter] all by themselves.” She says women also think the ability to organize and declutter is an innate talent rather than a learnable life skill so they often get stuck. We feel we have to do it perfectly or just not do it at all. She says: “You don’t need to have all the answers before you start but you need to start in order to find answers.”
It’s not about the stuff, it’s about your mindset
“Most organizers start with the stuff, I start with the person,” says Laura, who designed a strategy to help women simply “rearrange their thinking” about the power of stuff. The core of her method is to empower women to make their own decisions about what stays and what goes. “There’s nothing innately motivating about getting organized–you have to think about the higher purpose of it.”
A potential client must be willing to learn and enjoy collaboration in order to be successful. Many of them have personalized the problem of accumulating clutter: they feel something is wrong with them. But there’s nothing wrong with them, says Laura: “Everyone who has called me has reached a point where they need some help.”
Laura spends 30 minutes, free of charge, on the phone with potential clients to assess their precise needs and the applicable costs. Then she works both hourly or on retainer because some people need her over the course of three months while others have been with her for over three years. “It’s better to think of me as a coach or consultant,” she says.
If you can’t afford a professional service, Laura recommends recruiting a friend who you trust but doesn’t have the same obstacles around decluttering. There are also free services and communities for those looking for help getting rid of items.
Go slow and steady
The biggest mistake Laura sees women make is failing to give themselves enough time to purge. Laura compares the compulsion to rush through decluttering to trying to get through college by skipping sophomore year–it just doesn’t work. While it’s natural to want a fast solution that kind of unrealistic expectation creates hurdles. “You don’t want to attack your clutter, you want to respect it,” says Laura. “It’s the stuff of your life.” Furthermore, if you speed through the process unconsciously, you’ll miss the opportunity to make a lifelong change in your habit of acquiring. For best results, she recommends making decluttering a steady weekly routine. Start by devoting two hours per week to the process. Chunking the time into regular bite-sized portions will create momentum and a continuous sense of progress.
Follow a system
Before decluttering is possible, however, you need to sort through your stuff and organize it by category. For example, you could create zones or piles based on the following criteria:
- Still Love It
- Still Use It
- Have Space for It
- Fits Current Lifestyle
Most importantly, says Laura, you want to pay attention to your feelings as you do this– which decision feels better for each item? Remember: It’s not about right or wrong. She calls this “sensory-based decluttering and organizing.”
Question the value
“Mess and clutter are related but not the same: Clutter is what no longer adds value to your present life.” Many things become clutter because they lose relevance as our circumstances change. There are three essential criteria for determining the value of stuff: emotional, financial, and time. You must ask yourself questions about your ability to keep things based on your home’s square footage, whether you have the finances to pay for storage, and if the items are relevant to your life today. “Make decisions based on the present,” says Laura. “Don’t indulge past miseries by living with [old] stuff and don’t fear your future [by holding onto it]. Prepare for the future [by letting go].”
Respect what others value
Our kids don’t really want our stuff. They’re living in a completely different culture–they move around a lot for jobs, they don’t own big houses. Laura sees a lot of parents that don’t even ask, they just force stuff on their kids. “I ask them, ‘you wouldn’t force this on a friend, would you?’” While there’s no right or wrong way to get rid of family heirlooms and stuff you’ve accumulated through the years, Laura has seen a few techniques that make the experience enjoyable for all parties.
- Make a box or two (or three) for each child and fill it with items that you treasure and are associated with them individually.
- Start taking pictures of items around the house and text your kids asking if they want them and to respond with a simple “yes” or “no.” If you get a “no,” then it’s time to toss it.
- Host a “Pick and Choose Party”: Put everything out, including family photos, that you want to pass on and let everyone in the family enjoy picking out items while reminiscing about family events. (The party itself can become a novel family memory.)
And if your children don’t want your things, remember that they aren’t rejecting you, says Laura. It’s understandable to feel emotional about it because you worked for years to acquire stuff you believe has value. But their values may tell them something different.
“Decluttering in the Digital Age” (May 2018 issue)