Decluttering as Spiritual Practice

A great deal of attention has been paid lately to the process of decluttering as a way to liberate space to make room for things in our lives that spark joy.

Marie Kondo’s runaway bestseller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has readers sorting and tossing with incredible enthusiasm and gusto. Many of us are motivated to tidy up because it’s just so much more aesthetically pleasing to live in a decluttered home. But, being decluttered is more than just an aesthetic. A decluttered space is doesn’t just make us feel good because it is clear of visual distraction; a decluttered space makes us feel good because it is clear of the emotional distraction that our clutter represents. When I stand in a room that is decluttered, I feel a lightness that comes from having what I love out in clear view, where I can easily see it, touch it, and be inspired by it.

So it’s not at all a stretch to say that decluttering is a spiritual practice that frees us of distraction and puts what we love and what’s ultimately important well within reach (and isn’t this at the core of all spiritual practices?). The more we declutter what’s not important, the closer we draw to all that is. Decluttering as a spiritual practice is guided by the Ten Principles of Spiritual Decluttering that form the basis of Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home, a book that I co-authored with Dr. Melva Green, expert psychiatrist on the Emmy Award nominated show, Hoarders.

If you are ready to find room in your home and your heart for what truly matters, remember these Ten Principles:

#1 — Don’t Attack. Clear with Compassion

Have you ever enthusiastically declared, “I’m going to take the weekend and attack the clutter in my garage!”? Well, if attack is what you intend to do, I’m afraid your enthusiasm will be very short-lived. I’ve personally seen this all-out strategy fail more times that I can say. Here’s why: The energy of attack is adrenaline-infused. And as with all things adrenal, your initial burst of energy will be quickly expended. Instead of attacking, begin with compassion. Instead of girding yourself for battle with your clutter, think of yourself gently and kindly ushering out those objects that have overstayed their welcome.

#2 — Out with Consuming Emotions. In with Sustainable Emotions

Our clutter more often than not drains us because of the fact that it represents consuming emotions — those emotions that we pour our energy into, but end up giving us nothing in return: emotions like guilt, worry, regret, bitterness, anxiety, despair. When we let go of objects that represent these emotions, we make room for sustainable emotions, those emotions that give back as much as (or more) we put into them: emotions like happiness, contentment, joy, and love.

#3 — Letting Go with Grace And Gratitude

We have a choice: We can cling to our possessions and struggle to let them go or we can open our hands and let go with grace and gratitude. Every object we have in our possession is there because we had hoped it would give us happiness, ease, or freedom. Not every object fulfills our hopes. We can thank the objects for showing up in our lives — and then gracefully and with gratitude, let them go. It’s so much easier than having them wrestled from our hands.

#4 — Accept Where You Are

Running from your clutter or shoving it in a closet and shutting the door will not solve the problem. If we are to remove clutter from our homes (and the parallel consuming emotions from our hearts), we need to compassionately accept where we are. Our habits of running and stuffing have created the clutter. More running and stuffing will only make it worse. We start where we are, with compassionate and loving acceptance of the starting place. Love and embrace where you are, because the place where you start is the place where it all starts to change.

#5 — Just Say No to Clutter Enablers and Clutter Dumps

If you are cluttered, you likely have a clutter enabler in your life: that well-meaning person who drops of bags of clothes and discarded kitchen items on your doorstep (leaving them with a sense of relief and you bags of stuff you don’t need). This person isn’t doing you a favor, though they may think they are. And the same can be said for emotional clutter dumpers, those people who dump their emotional baggage on the doorstep of your heart. Learn to smile at clutter dumpers and say: Thanks, but no thanks.

#6 — Pass Your Clutter Through the Three Gates of Meaning

Ultimately, everything you decide to keep in your home should be intentional, useful, and kind to your heart (clutter on the other hand is the opposite: it doesn’t fulfill our intentions, it’s not useful or useable, and it’s a burden to your heart). So when you are trying to decide whether something should stay or go, pass it through the three gates of meaning: Does it fulfill my intentions for my home? Do I use it? Is it kind to my heart? If an object doesn’t make it through all three gates — it goes!

#7 — The Three Standards of True Value: Happiness, Freedom, and Ease

When we get stopped in our tracks while decluttering, it’s frequently because we are misled by its perceived value. The true spiritual measure of value is whether an object provides us with happiness, freedom, or ease. No object — no matter how much you paid for it or who gave it to you or how long it has been in your family — is truly valuable if it is eating up space in your heart. It’s truly not worth it.

#8 — Consider Your Legacy as You Live

Some day, we’ll all depart from this world, and we’ll all leave behind some of our belongings. We’ll want to leave behind things that speak to the life we led. If we declutter, we won’t leave people in confusion wondering what was important to us, it will be made clear by those items we chose to keep in our lives. And remember this: a few boxes of beautifully curated objects is a gift to our loved ones. And attic full of stuff we were afraid to sort through becomes a burden. Start sorting now so you live with only what you love, and what you love is what you’ll leave.

#9 — No More Hiding Places

I’ve been to many houses that are neat as a pin and clean as a whistle. That is, until I open up the closets and drawers and find them jam-packed with clutter. It doesn’t matter what your home looks like on the outside if you know that there’s chaos lurking underneath. Your closets and drawers will be a source of anxiety if you are always afraid that your hiding places will be exposed (the same is true of your heart, by the way!) Indecision is not your friend. Don’t hide your stuff hoping you’ll make a decision later. Decide what’s important now. Commit to living out in the open.

#10 — Your Home is Already Uncluttered. It’s in its Nature to Be That Way

Underneath all that mail on your kitchen counter is a beautiful, shining surface. Underneath all of your consuming emotions, your heart is at peace. The purpose of decluttering is uncovering your home and your heart’s true nature. Sure it get’s covered up, but ultimately the beautiful, shining, peaceful nature of home and heart are there, waiting for you. Choose to let go of even one object or emotion, and you have drawn that much closer to the life you want.

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