Decluttering Your Life: How The Stuff in Your Home is Keeping You Stuck in Life (And What to Do About It)
BY TISHA MORRIS
Photo: Bench Accounting
Your Home Is a Mirror: What Are You Projecting?
In my previous book,Mind, Body, Home, each part of the house is broken down into the correlating mental, emotional, and physical counterpart of ourselves. Even the fascia of a house takes on a form similar to the human face with the front door as the mouth, the windows as the eyes, and the roof as the head. It’s no coincidence that the home has been used as a metaphor for our mind or body in religions, mythologies, and dream symbols for thousands of years.
Our home is an energetic extension of ourselves with every aspect reflected somewhere in it. This is made even more exact by the stuff we possess. Every item is an expression or extension of our mental and emotional selves. This is why decluttering your life and home can be such an arduous process. You are literally letting go of mental and emotional aspects of yourself. The only variable is how active your emotional connection to a particular item is. Has it passed its expiration date in your life? Is it supporting you or keeping you stuck?
These questions may seem like a weighted conversation for a broken toaster tucked away in your kitchen cabinet or an old art project stored in the guest room closet. But not so when you consider that every item is taking up physical space in your home and energetic space in your mind. Even if it seems out of sight, your clutter is projecting this energy out into your life just like an outdated outfit or a broken car would.
Decluttering and organizing your house is serious energy work, not unlike going to an energy healer, acupuncturist, yoga class, therapist, or any other healing modality. This is why letting go of clutter is so powerful and life changing. In all my work in the holistic arts, I have found decluttering your life to be the quickest way to make profound changes. You are literally removing old, stagnant energy to make space for new, fresh energy. For example, if you’ve been sending out résumés and going to job interviews, decluttering your home office space will expedite the process. After creating space, new energy in the form of phone calls and job offers can now come in.
Clutter is the physical representation of our emotional and mental blocks, and once it is removed, change can happen fast. We ultimately manifest our life from our mental and emotional bodies. The act of organizing and decluttering your home literally frees those areas of our psyche like removing the wall of a dam to allow water to flow through once again. As you become more aware of what items are blocking your energy, you can begin to use your home organization as a manifesting tool to attract more of what you want in your life.
The law of attraction has become the predominant concept for manifestation among spiritual and self-help communities. Manifestation is the process of turning ideas and thoughts into physical form. As spiritual beings having a physical experience, we are all alchemists turning non-physical concepts into physical objects for survival and enjoyment on earth. It is through the law of attraction that we create our own reality—from the home we live in, to the car we drive, to the relationships we attract into our life.
At the root of the law of attraction is energy, or vibration. Like energy attracts like energy. If you are a vibrational match to a Mercedes, then you will attract a Mercedes to you. This also works on the emotional level. For example, if you are a vibrational match to abandonment as a result of childhood wounding, then you will attract more abandonment into your life through relationships. This will continue until the contrast becomes so stark that you consciously desire for something different. Once that desire becomes conscious, you will then attract the right people and situations to heal the past wounds. So how does this relate to decluttering your life?
When it comes to organizing your life and decluttering your home, you have manifested everything in your home with your thoughts and emotions. You wanted a comfy tan couch and made it happen by shopping, ordering, purchasing, and having it delivered. Everything in your home was a vibrational match to you at some point, and you attracted it to you. Yes, even your spouse or roommate. Your home, and your home organization, is a giant composite of you. It’s also a giant emitter of your energy. Think of it as a living vision board.
A vision board is a commonly used tool for activating or expediting the law of attraction. You can create a vision board by placing images or key words of what you want in your life onto a two-dimensional poster or mat board. In addition to consciously determining what you want, the subconscious mind responds well to the imagery on the board, similar to subliminal messages. Your home has the same effect. If you want to know what you’re manifesting, look no further than your home.
Imagine pasting your home and all its contents on a flat board. Spread it out like a map of the world. Artwork, pictures, books, closets, cabinets, bedroom, garage, office, living room—they’re all tangible representations of the energy you’re beaming out into the world. Our world is a hologram that reflects back to us what we emit out. That which you put out comes back to you, and this is true for your home as well.
Look at your home objectively, not just the pretty parts, but the closets, cupboards, and clutter too. How is your home not in alignment with what you want? What needs to go? What is stuffed, cramped, outdated? Where can you provide better home organization? What would be a better representation of you? Inspirational artwork, curtains you love instead of tolerate, current books, functional rooms? Are you in a transitional space that is currently serving you during a transitional time, or do you desire more permanence? Is it time to change some things on your virtual vision board?
If you’ve worked with a vision board or other law of attraction methods, you may have wondered why you manifest some things but not others. Either the desire wasn’t truly there or, in most cases, there’s an underlying subconscious block that is stronger. Our subconscious thoughts and beliefs that lie beneath the surface are as important as our conscious thoughts—actually, more so. Our subconscious thoughts make up approximately 95% to 99% of our thoughts and behaviors, and yet we have little awareness of them. They consist of past programming, influences from the collective conscious, and our shadow sides. These are sometimes referred to as our blind spots or shadows because they are below our conscious awareness.
The more we can become aware of and integrate our shadows, the more whole we will feel and the more precise our manifestations will become. The question is, how do we see what we can’t see? This is the power of working with our home, which is a three-dimensional projection of ourselves. All your shadows are in your home. Are you wondering what yours are? The better question is, where in your home have you hidden them? And are you ready to declutter your life and home?
Shadow Work through Space
Each room of the home represents a correlating aspect of ourselves, with the closet symbolizing what we would rather keep hidden. It’s where we hide our shadows, and is an area where home organization and decluttering is often needed. It’s no wonder we use the phrase “skeletons in the closet” to refer to things we keep hidden. And, of course, there is the common phrase “coming out of the closet,” which refers to expressing an aspect of ourselves that we have kept hidden from the world.
We all have shadows or shadow sides. These are aspects of our personality that we have disassociated from or denied because at some point in childhood it was not safe for them to be seen. These aspects have been termed shadows or shadow sides because of our inability to see them. You can also think of it as a blind spot, your dark side, or the unconscious. The collective consciousness has a shadow side as well, commonly termed dark forces, dark energy, or even the devil.
In Taoist philosophy, the duality of light and dark, or yin and yang, is prevalent in everything. It only becomes a problem when we deem it bad or wrong and hide these aspects of ourselves, which then become shame. The more we hide them, the darker they become. This causes a division within the self. This is what leads to feeling inauthentic and generally dissatisfied with life. Instead of whole, we are fragmented.
Psychologist Carl Jung was the first to bring to light the impact of our shadow sides in the field of psychology. Many spiritual and self-help teachers have since integrated shadow work into spirituality, including Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Teal Swan; and soon we’ll talk about how decluttering your life and home, can be a form of this work. Becoming your whole self, in alignment with your soul, is at the crux of spirituality. To do so, your shadows must be integrated. Our shadows are also where our best gifts lie dormant. Carl Jung has been credited in calling our shadows the “seat of our creativity.” It’s usually those shadow aspects that make us unique, and it is our uniqueness that the world wants to see.
How do we work with something we can’t see? Jung is also quoted as saying, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Our shadows show up in our home and life organization and in everyday life, including our projections onto other people. Those traits you most dislike in others are a good sign of your own shadows. For example, if someone with a boisterous personality annoys you, then you’ve most likely hidden a more outgoing aspect of yourself. You may have received punishment at a young age for acting out and this side of you was deemed bad. Being more outgoing and energetic is now a trait that not only would benefit you in some way, but would also bring more joy into your everyday life.
Unconscious shadows also show up in the home. We can bring our shadows into the light by organizing and decluttering our home, specifically with stuff we’ve stored in our closet or other storage areas. The closet is where we store items so that others can’t see them, nor do we have to look at them ourselves. For those with limited closet space, it could be other storage spaces, such as the basement, garage, storage shed, or even an off-site storage unit. I recently discovered shadow aspects of myself in the closet of my childhood bedroom.
Out of the Closet and into the Light
Before I share my experience, keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with storing items. Storage serves a really good purpose. We don’t want to see our clothes strewn around the bedroom or extra towels and toilet paper sitting out. Closets are great for keeping rooms clear of clutter, and off-site storage facilities are sometimes necessary during transitional times. But when storage becomes a permanent mausoleum for stuff from our past, then it’s a red flag that we are storing things we don’t want to deal with and that we’re in need of decluttering our life.
The phrase “coming out of the closet” is usually used in terms of announcing one’s sexuality in terms of it being different from what’s “normal.” But there’s more to “coming out” than an announcement to the world. It’s an acknowledgment of oneself. At its core, it’s self-acceptance. Imagine how amazing it would be if we all came out of the closet and accepted ourselves for who we really are.
+ I’m super short and love myself.
+ I am a big mouth and think I’m awesome.
+ I sing show tunes in the shower and think I sound pretty good.
+ I dress up in women’s clothes and look stunning.
+ I didn’t go to college and know I’m smart.
+ I can juggle while playing the harmonica and think I’m totally cool.
We hide aspects of ourselves not just from the world, but also from ourselves. What if these were, in fact, the more interesting parts of you? Most likely they are. However, we tend to believe our idiosyncrasies make it harder or impossible for us to fit in. As a result, we overcompensate for them and perhaps even have shame about them.
When I went back to Nashville due to my mother’s passing, I spent a lot more time than usual at my family’s home. It seemed like the perfect time to go through the few remaining belongings I had stored at their house. I was surprised during the process of decluttering my parent’s house when I stepped into the closet and sitting neatly on the shelf was a box labeled “Tisha crystal.” How had I overlooked this box?
It was the never-used crystal from my wedding in 1998, a marriage that ended shortly thereafter in 2001. I’d moved more than a dozen times since then and released so many items from that relationship and many others. Somehow through all my purges, online sales, and moves, that box hadn’t budged in fifteen years. The better question was, why were these items still in my childhood closet—never to have left?
I opened the lid of this Pandora’s box. It was full of crystal wine glasses, still in original wrapping, with a few notecards still tucked in. They were relics from a time I thought I had fully dealt with, but the “Tisha crystal” box told a different story:
Guilt. Shame. Failure. The gifts. The failed marriage. The witnesses. The celebration. The disappointment. Disappointing my family. The hiding. The shame. Self-acceptance. Coming out. The rejection. Disgrace. Shame. Tolerance. Rejection. The trying. The nonconformist. Self-acceptance. Self-love. More self-love. Unconditional love.
Sitting on that shelf was the last shred of evidence of an old identity. It was liberating to finally get rid of that box—one that I could never fit into. It’s a perfect example of believing that we’ve worked through issues only to find remnants or new layers we’ve not completely worked through. I share this story of decluttering a home as an example of how our stuff can represent that last remaining percent of emotional energy that is awaiting completion and integration. Instead of the whole package, sometimes decluttering your life and organizing your house represents the red bow that needs to be tied up and finally handed off.
In order to transform anything, we have to bring it into the light—into our conscious awareness. We have to see it, acknowledge it, and accept it. This is exactly why our ego shoves our shadows in the dark of our closets or other unseen storage areas and not our living rooms. The farther back, the better. And then we can remain in denial about emotions we don’t want to deal with. When these shadow aspects are kept hidden over time, they fester and become regret, resentment, remorse, and rejection. These toxic emotions are the stepchildren of guilt and shame.
The Fear of Empty Space
In addition to storing emotions in our closets, we also tend to fill just about any space we can find with our stuff. The predominant emotion in today’s culture is feeling overwhelmed, and unless we declutter our life, our homes generally mirror this trend. Most people complain about not having enough time in their day or space in their home. Our life is cluttered with time clocks, technology, and trying to maintain it all with our home reflecting this back to us. We are undergoing a cultural clutter epidemic on all levels. But it’s not really about our stuff. It’s about what our stuff is covering up. While we complain about not having enough time or space, we stay busy trying to fill up both. Most of us feel a need to fill any bit of empty space we find—silence in conversation, an empty wall, a painting with just a brush stroke, an empty calendar. Empty space is uncomfortable for most people.
In art, empty space is called the negative space. In music, it’s the pause just prior to a crescendo. In homes, it’s the area where the space breathes. In meditation, it’s the pause between the inhale and exhale. In Japanese art (one of the few cultures that value empty space), the void is called ma and is highly revered. In all art forms, the beauty lies in the empty space. Why then are we so uncomfortable with it while also craving it?
Fear breeds in empty space. It’s where we can hear our thoughts. It forces us to look at our life. We have to witness the choices we’ve made. We have to remember the ungrieved past. To avoid this, we fill our homes and lives with stuff, rather than consciously organizing our home. We fill our calendar. We put a console along an empty wall. We fill quietness with idle chatter or TV noise. Before long, our lives become cluttered all in an unconscious attempt to avoid the emptiness.
Other words for empty space are the gap, the void, the liminal, or nothingness. This scares the hell out of us. In this state, the ego clamors for reassurance that it exists. There is a rush to fill the space with anything, even if it’s not soul fulfilling. Anything not to have a black hole reflected at us. It’s like walking down a dark hallway with no end. And so we fill our calendar and home with people, places, and things. Before long, our life is cluttered, our home is unorganized, our life is unorganized and we feel overwhelmed with stuff with little or no meaning. The ego is validated, but at a high price.
I’m overwhelmed and therefore I exist.
The void is also where creation is born. The same place we find our fears is the place we find our soul. Follow the fear and you will find your authentic self. This is what we’re truly afraid of. Finding our true self comes with moving out of our comfort zone, changing family beliefs, taking risks, being seen, and feeling vulnerable. The more these words scare you, the deeper your piles of clutter. Clutter is shallow; space is deep. Filling empty space is like filling the lungs with black balloons.
What I don’t see, I don’t have to deal with. The more I distract myself, the less likely I will have to see the truth.
Another common problem related to letting go of clutter and organizing your home is when people allow others to fill their spaces. In an attempt to avoid emptiness or when we are unable to embody our own energy in the form of our own sense of power, we allow others to take our energy. This can show up in the form of other people’s stuff stored in the home, burglars, or even rodents. If you are allowing unwanted energy in your home, then you are allowing unwanted energy in your life. This is a telltale sign of boundary issues that can show up in personal relationships or even with strangers. Are you allowing others to take up your space, your energy, your boundaries, and your preferences?
Most people struggle with either having too much space or not enough space. The amount of space that feels best is personal with no one-size-fits-all rule. The best barometer is to ask yourself questions: Do I feel stuck, scared, or free? Is my vision clear or clouded? Am I filling space out of fear or joy? From ego or soul? Out of anxiety or creativity? What am I really covering up? Whatever it is, there also lies a portal of beauty underneath. We all have a different standard of how much stuff we desire—in our home and on our calendar.
How Much Stuff Is Too Much?
It’s common to think that letting go of clutter is dealing with an overabundance of stuff. However, that’s not always the case. The real problem could be a few items that are hidden away in a closet like a time capsule. In this case, the problem is harder to spot because it’s been buried so deep in the psyche and therefore hidden or disguised in the home. The further away something is stored, the more we don’t want to deal with it. This is often the location of the diamond in the rough that holds the key to unlocking the past in order to move forward.
Those who admit to having too much stuff with a desire to declutter their home and life are usually more conscious of their personal challenges. This allows for more self-growth and transformation, whereas the issues of those with organized clutter and the appearance of being clutter-free and in control of their life are more disguised and harder to consciously change. These people tend to store away their issues in drawers and closets in a neat and tidy manner.
For people who simply have too much stuff with no desire to declutter their home and lives and address their discomfort, it’s usually a subconscious tactic for covering up or distracting from the past to the point of affecting one’s present level of happiness. When one’s living space is visually cluttered, the mind is cluttered. This strategically keeps people from having to look at their life. It’s like turning the TV volume up loud so that you don’t have to hear yourself think.
We all have a different standard for what is too much and what we like in terms of home organization. Some people are minimalists and prefer sparser and clean-lined spaces, whereas others prefer more knick-knacks. What may seem cluttered to me may feel like a cozy haven to you. What may seem cold and stark to one person may feel liberating to another.
There are also cultural differences that can influence the amount of stuff we like to have in our living spaces. For example, living rooms and kitchens in England tend to be cozy and homey and could be considered cluttered to a minimalist. This is, of course, a generalization. It’s no coincidence that the Victorian style of decorating, known for its bric-a-brac, began in England. Japanese culture, on the other hand, is known for its calm and minimalist spaces. For some, these spaces could feel barren and impersonal. Even within the United States home organization and decorating styles vary, with climate being a major factor.
It’s important to recognize your particular style, which is a byproduct of your culture, familial environment, and personality type. When you know what feels good, you then know what doesn’t feel good. And vice versa. The key to decluttering and organizing your life and house is to know when too much is too much for you. When I work with clients with too much stuff, they are usually aware of it because they don’t feel good in their home. They often comment that it feels like the walls are collapsing in on them. This is always a sign of what’s showing up on the mental and emotional levels in the form of stagnation, confusion, emotional claustrophobia, regret, lack of direction, weight gain, or depression.
Your home should feel safe and comfortable and also expansive and liberating. Finding this balance isn’t always easy and requires an ongoing consciousness of your space and how you feel about it. This is the beauty of using feng shui principles for decluttering and organizing your home, not as a one-time application but as an ongoing practice of home organization. If you’re not conscious of your space, then what are you conscious of? Aside from your mind and body, it is the only space you have any control over and is always a direct reflection of yourself.
When it comes to decluttering your life, look at your home through an objective lens. Everything in your home is from the past. Unless you purchased or were given something today, then everything you own was acquired prior to this moment. Our lives are a collection of experiences up to this moment, and our belongings represent this. Our stuff contains stories, memories, and associations, some good and some not so good. At any moment, we have a choice to make a different decision, tell a different story, or take a new path.
By now you’re starting to see that your belongings are not just household items sitting around but a mosaic of you. What from your past do you want to take forward? Which items are still relevant to you now and to where you want to go? By making no decision and keeping what you currently own, you are in effect making a decision to continue on as things have been. This is fine if that’s what you want. But if you are tired of the old stories, the old patterns, the old thoughts, then it’s time to dump the past and declutter your life.
When the past is more present than it should be in your life, that’s when you know too much is too much. That’s when it’s time to organize your home and declutter areas of your life. This is when memorabilia becomes a rogue force keeping you stuck instead of a supportive platform from which to move forward. When the past is so present that your vision for your future is cloudy, fuzzy, or overwhelming, that’s when you know too much is too much. That’s when you know you’ve clung to the past out of fear of the unknown future. That’s when it’s time for a clutter intervention. This article is excerpted from Clutter Intervention by Tisha Morris. © 2017. Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., llewellyn.com