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Clean vs. Clutter – How to Let Go

As the chill of winter fades into the freshness of spring, the urge to clean and refresh our living environment becomes incredibly strong.  The idea of “Spring Cleaning” inspires many people to open their windows and start scrubbing and dusting and putting things in order. For others though, the idea of digging in and cleaning comes with a heavy heart because it can also mean letting go of things we once treasured. How do you find the balance between the need to be clean and the need to cling to those things that are special to you?

Strategies for Cleaning

There are many great books and articles dedicated to the methods and motives for cleaning. Just take a cruise on the internet to find a plethora of titles all promising ways to help you get organized. Curious about what type of cleaner to use? Books on the wonders of baking soda abound. Are you a methodical person? Many articles are available to help you formulate a daily, weekly, and monthly plan to rotate your cleaning chores. The choices are as varied as the homes that need cleaning. Don’t give up! If one strategy for cleaning does not work for you, a little research can lead you to another one to try. The key to success is practice and perseverance. Don’t let one failure demotivate you into inaction. It may take some experimenting before you find the right cleaning strategy for you.

What Does Clean Mean to You?

The definition of “clean” varies from person to person. A good plan is to come to a common understanding with those who share your life and personal space. Roommates, family members, co-workers, etc. all have their own understanding of “clean”. Talk about it together so everyone is on the same page. For some, clean means once-a-week deep cleaning of every surface in the house – floors, counters, walls, windows. For others, if the windows get cleaned once a year they are pretty happy! Neither definition is wrong, but if members in the same household have different interpretations, conflict or frustration can develop. Make cleaning easy to identify by defining parameters for everyone that shares the space.

“I’ve found that the less stuff I own, the less my stuff owns me.”
~ Nathan W. Morris

Emotional Attachments

Going beyond surface cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, etc.), deeper cleaning of an environment can often include getting rid of things – from old magazines to clothes that don’t fit anymore. What are your reasons for keeping things? You may need it later, it was your youngest child’s first toy, you found it on sale, it represents a loss that you are grieving… There are so many reasons we keep things. For many, attachments form when a physical object connects them emotionally to an experience or another person. Memorabilia is just that – items that help us recall meaningful moments from our past. These kinds of items are particularly hard to discard. Even though logic tells us we can no longer make use of them, our hearts make it hard to let go.

So, what can be done? Start with some basic strategies:

  • Box things. Putting items in storage containers and then putting them out of sight can help you determine how important they are to you. Take the clothes out of the closet, put them in a box, and put the box in storage. If you get to the next season without ever searching for anything in the box, you can be assured you won’t miss anything in the box once you let it go.
  • Take pictures. Sometimes the items themselves take up too much space and we can’t store them. Taking a picture can help. Are you saving all those art projects from when your college student was a preschooler? Preserve them in a way that will allow you to appreciate them without the clutter. Take pictures of each item, then arrange them in a digital photo book.
  • Get outside help. Have a friend or loved one you trust help you go through some of the items you are having trouble parting with. They may have suggestions that can help you see why you feel the need to cling to something that really no longer means what you thought it did.
  • Focus on the future. While keeping items to remind us of past events is normal, keeping too much does not leave room for what new experiences are awaiting us around the corner. Refocus yourself to not just live in the past, but to make room for what the future might bring.
  • Remember that when it comes to stuff, less is more. With less clutter, we are free to enjoy the most important things in life – our families and friends, time that we’ve recaptured by not having to clean around and reshuffle the clutter, enough space in our homes to easily work and play.

In the end cleaning and clutter are constant dance partners. There is rarely one without the other. The ability to balance orderliness and our desire for emotional attachment is key. It is one that many people work for years to find. Don’t give up. You too can find the peace and joy of what “clean” means to you.