Is Your Clutter Clinical?

One woman has her attic packed so tightly that she wonders if someday she’ll come home to find all that shit stuff on her living room floor. Another swears that the cabinets in her kitchen are holding her favorite cookware hostage. She won’t let her daughter open the coat closet for fear that the landslide of this-is-so-handies, here-for-nows, assorted-what-nots, and i-remember-whens might flatten her only child. Meanwhile, another swears she’ll dispatch a SWAT team to rub me out if I ever show anyone the pictures she took of her house this morning and emailed to prove that she has clutter.

We are living beyond our means. Yes, I said beyond our means, just like the federal government (in America, at least), spending more than we have to spend. Only instead of money, we’re overspending our space. I once believed that I needed space to hold my stuff, that if I had more stuff than would fit in my space, I could get more space. It meant a bigger places, more closets, more cabinets, more storage, and if that couldn’t be attained… the whole off-site storage industry popped up to reinforce that it’s not just normal but often necessary to possess more than our space will hold.

I since learned that my space is for living my life, not just storing my stuff, and all that stuff was keeping me from actually living in my space. I spent so much time managing that stuff that I wasn’t managing my actual life. Yesterday, a friend said, “There’s so much stuff in this space, I don’t have room to have a party or paint with my kids or dance. … There’s no room for us to play!”

Instead of playing, we’ve been played. That thing we were doing all this time wasn’t playing or living or loving or healing at all. They call it shopping, and beyond the basics, it’s essentially a mind-numbing waste of precious resources (think time, money, energy, attention, and perhaps most importantly in this conversation, space). Shopping is mind-numbing, which we attempt to use to distract ourselves from the realities of fear, pressure, unmet needs, and whatever else ails us. But, look around. Is it working as well as you hoped?

I bet the manufacturers, retailers, marketers, and advertisers of the world released a massive, collective sigh of relief on the day that whole off-site storage thing took off. Our houses were full to the brim and the banks wouldn’t let us buy bigger houses because we’d shopped all of our money and credit away. It looked as if the shopping spree may actually finally be coming to an end but thank goodness they came to the rescue. Now, we just outsource our stuff, instead of actually dealing with it.

We make room in our kitchen by moving not-so-regularly-used kitchen stuff to shelves (or not) in the garage, space that became available when we took the not-so-regularly-used garage stuff down the street to Pay Us To Babysit The Shit You Don’t Need Anymore, LLC, or whatever that place is called.

Next: Lots of you are Sick of Being Stuck…

Next week, I’m launching a fun little clutter clearing adventure called Sick of Being Stuck September! and last week I invited Care2 members to come play along, to lighten their load and freshen life up a bit! Interested parties needed only to send me an email that said, “I’M IN!,” and, I’m not too proud to admit that I was surprised by the response. It took me four days to process and respond to all of those emails, and they are still coming in today. For the record, it’s already easily 10 times the response I’ve gotten from every previously extended professional invitation. This issue seems to be a serious one.

The emails are full of excitement and inspired commitments… mixed with heartbreak, and a few are straight-up shocking.

The smallest space is 400-square-feet and the largest has 5-bedrooms and a pool house. Their spaces are everything from meticulously clean and organized mounds of clutter to what we might call mainstream or normative clutter. A few are just this side of the qualifying for one of those shows about hoarding and may need more help than I can offer. This is a reality that any decent professional is prepared for in a situation like this. It would be cruel and unusual punishment to reel someone in with serene stock photos and dramatic promises when we might be talking about a situation more serious than a month of emails, 2-minute video tips, expert interviews, and group coaching calls can help.

Nobody is going to be told that *this program* is all they will ever need to change their lives forever. Nobody needs to feel like a failure… again. And a couple of these emails reminded me that we must be gentle (not to be confused with easy on, don’t get excited) with ourselves while making these changes.

Clutter (like our bodies and our money) represents our inner most state of being. Lots of old emotions are tied up in those things. We want them gone but we don’t, or at least we don’t know how. Sometimes, we feel too embarrassed to speak of the reality of our situation. Clutter (or extra weight or financial challenges) seem to attract more of the same. Add in the shame, and soon we’re alone (or at least we feel alone), suffering, and unwilling to ask for the support we need to make a change.

Next: Is my clutter clinical?Is my clutter clinical?

The truth is… I don’t know, that’s for you to decide. (Or, I suppose, for others to decide if you’re seriously impaired but that’s not the kind of thing I’m talking about here, right?)

There are stories of people with little or no support who’ve changed their lives dramatically, while other people with the world at their finger tips sometimes can’t seem to turn it around. People talk to me all the time about how they want to change something–lose weight, leave the relationship or job, pursue a dream, clear the clutter, whatever–but can’t decide if they need a life coach or not. I say this, “If you want to do it, do it. If you want to do it… and can’t, then get yourself the support you need and do it.”

It always comes back to that same issue. Can you do it? Not, “should” you be able to do it? Not, do you want to do it? The question is, can you do it?

If you can’t, can you do it with an accountability partner? That’s when two people (or more, if it makes sense) working on similar goals, agree to be a source of accountability to one another. They will check in, probably daily at least in the most intense parts of the journey, to report what they intend to do each day to move toward their respective goals, and also that they actually did it. They can share resources and brainstorm together when someone has a challenge they can’t solve alone. People who need this level of support might want to share this article with their people adding, “Who wants to do this with me?” Ideas, inspiration, and accountability will be enough for some to get it done.

If that’s not enough, can you do it with the support of someone who has already won the game you want to play? If you know someone who has already done this, ask how they did it. They might be willing and able to support you during this time. Also, 12-step programs are a wonderful and welcoming place to get support, depending on the change you’d like to make. I know a few people who’ve had success working with mentors or spiritual/religious types of advisers. The program I’m starting next week probably falls in this category of support and lots of people will be able to get the support they need from a free or low cost group experience like this… if they work it, to borrow a 12-step treasure, but probably not everyone.

If not, can you do it with professional support, like a life coach? That would be me, or someone like me, whose job it is to support people throughout transformations like the one you’re ready to make. Everyone has a different style and focus, and you want to find someone that feels right in your gut. You want to think, “Yes, this is my coach.” Yes, it costs money to work with most of us. It’s what we do for a living. The KEY is: Many of us are worth what you will pay us… if you do your part.

Sometimes, even working with me one on one isn’t going to work. If you don’t really want to make the change, it’s not going to work. So, don’t hire a life coach for your daughter-in-law so she’ll be a better wife. I tell people that giving me as a gift is a lot like giving a vacuum cleaner. It basically says, “Your shit is a mess and it’s making my life a mess, too.” It rarely goes well. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. For example, if some wants to work with me, is ready to do the work, and asks for the gift, we have a pretty good chance of being productive in our time together.

Next: The key to making change is…

Again, if you don’t want to make the change, it’s not going to work. For example: They think I need to lose weight/quit smoking/clear clutter and I feel like I should lose weight/stop drinking/clear clutter. An external motivation is never going to be enough to pull you through a transformation like this. It just isn’t. To be successful, you have to find a motivation that is true for you and powerful enough to keep you moving when you come face to face with your own fears, frustration, and resistance.

In fact, some of the people who’ve signed up for this challenge already identified that they aren’t clear about their goals, which is essential, so we’ve got to find that motivation and anchor it before September even begins.

And, there are times that even if my client really wants it and they’re giving it their all, just the two of us working together isn’t enough. I’ve referred clients out to therapists before proceeding with our work together. I’ve encouraged some of them to supplement our work with 12-step program work. A handful of my clients have been working with both a therapist and me at the same time, a powerful duo when that’s what the client needs to be fully supported.

The key to making changes–whether it’s clearing your clutter during Sick of Being Stuck September! or something totally different–is being fully supported. Once again, the key to making changes is being fully supported. The question now becomes… are you prepared to get the support you need to make this change? If the answer is yes, then you can do it.

If clutter is your thing, if you are living beyond your physical means, then say yes to the SOBS experience (click here for information about SOBS) and then… freaking DO IT. If it’s not about clutter, then say yes to whatever it is that you need to make this change and then DO IT.

Just… do it? I know, that’s so Nike. What’s a cheesy, people-loving life coach to do when those are the words that fall onto the keyboard?



Sherry C.
Sherry C4 years ago


Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy4 years ago

I find I have to be in a "mood" to really de-clutter. When in that "mood" I have to act fast and ruthless and not stop for anything until it is done. I hate getting rid of books and anything fabric.

Dale O.

Some people are minimalists and live in a spartan environments. Others are hoarders and one has to mountain climb over the piles of boxes on the floor and search for an inch of free space on the bed, others are either creative or restless souls who change their living spaces every few months before they are hit with the itch yet again.

I like the amount of clutter that I have, small sparkling geodes, prisms that bring colourful light from the windows, pussy willows here and there, an old piece of a wasp nest nestled beside a pine cone, an olive tree mortar and pestle and the cat that owns me who purrsides over everything either giving it her paw of approval or tossing it off the desk and onto the floor for her disposal.

Brittany S.
Brittany S6 years ago

What superb timing! I was just writing yesterday about how much I need to de-clutter and organize, and then today I stumbled onto this article. Honestly, I like a little bit of clutter and find it sort of inspiring, but I also like to be able to walk to my bed. My clutter has crossed a line. I have stacks of books everywhere and the remnants of my college dormitory still have to be sorted through even though I graduated months ago. I would like to move to another state, but I can't possibly bring all of this rubbish with me. Relocating is my motivation for clearing out the excess stuff.

Nicole G.
Nicole Gorman6 years ago

Realizing that donations of clothes, books, shoes, etc... could be a tax write off helped motivate us to clear out some of our crap!

Edo R.
Edo R6 years ago

Great article! Thanks for this!

Bill K.
Bill K6 years ago

i would hate to live in some of the cluttered homes i see many people living in.

i saw a doctor on tv once say he can tell a person's health before examining them by looking at their wallet or purse. someone who keeps either cluttered generally tends to have the same attitude towards how well they take care of their bodies. i also find people with the most cluttered homes are also unhealthy.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

I usually go through my stuff/clutter once every so often and get rid of stuff I don't need.If people are getting rid of things it would be great to freecycle or donate to charity,up to you but would help others out.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

I usually go through my stuff/clutter once every so often and get rid of stuff I don't need.If people are getting rid of things it would be great to freecycle or donate to charity,up to you but wiuld help others out.

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you