The #1 Secret to Decluttering
As a military spouse, I am accustomed to moving states every two years. In the last decade, the longest we have spent at a duty station is our current one. As I type this, it’s been 2 years and one month. Some of them have lasted less than 6 months, but the cap has always been 2 years. This duty station happens to be a slight anomaly. When we move from here it will be just under 2 and a half years.
You might be wondering how that is possible or how we handle that. (You might think it’s normal too). I have learned many things about moving — hacks and quirks to make each move as seamless as possible.
If this is not a life you are familiar with it will sound funny to you, but you do adapt and grow accustomed to it. So much so that it becomes an itch of sorts when it grows closer to time to move. A brief rundown of the process is basically that each family has a weight allotment of HHG (household goods). Anything outside of this allotment must be moved by us personally or paid for out of pocket. I have a strict policy for making sure we are under this allotment.
If it has not been used at the last 2 duty stations, two states, and two houses, I get rid of it.
Sounds simple enough on the surface, right? For us, it is simple enough. We have tangible means to an end here. What if that isn’t the case for you? How do you declutter when your end goal isn’t meeting a weight allotment or moving every 24 months?
Let go of your guilt.
I won’t pretend that life isn’t on my side here. “No, I’m so sorry we cannot take Grandma’s wedding china because it may get broken”, is a phrase we have repeated more times than I could attempt to quantify. Still, we end up with a barrage of strange acquirements. Farewell gifts from the previous duty station that we’ll never use, family hand me downs from when we visit our home state and cousin Jan has cleaned out her basement, or curtains that fit a house five years ago but never one since.
The truth is many of us hold on to tangible items from family and friends out of guilt. We tell ourselves we cannot sell or donate an item because so and so gifted it to us and the feeling of hurting their feelings or letting them down transfers from the relationship to the tangible item. A decorative ceramic bowl becomes a vessel for which the emotional ties are held.
I spent years holding onto items I would never use, despite my strict ‘2-state’ rule. So much so that I filled an entire closet with plastic totes full of these knick-knacks and other such items. Most of them were items given to me under the guise of each one holding some relevant significance. My biological dad’s baby shoes, for example. I do not have a relationship with this man or his family. Why did I agree to take a 50+-year-old pair of baby shoes?
The answer, because I was conditioned to believe I had to. More specifically, all the emotional wounds from this relationship with a man and a family that chose to walk away from me when I was a child were somehow reincarnated in the form of old baby shoes.
Last year, in the aftermath of losing my first child to a preventable pregnancy complication, I hit rock bottom. Whatever is below rock bottom actually. There aren’t quite adequate words for the experience of recurrent pregnancy loss and then a late second-trimester loss while your support system slowly falls apart and you live states away. Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will though and that’s exactly what I set out to do. I often posted on social media that I was committed to healing in all the ways because that was true.
I set out to attend intensive trauma therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. I read an embarrassing amount of trauma books (you can find the list here). All that led me to deal with abandonment, old trauma, and a lifetime’s worth of emotional trauma. And after that, no closet was safe at my house.
Every piece of clothing, blanket, knick-knack, and what-not was sorted. I discovered that I no longer felt an emotional tie to those baby shoes and an untold amount of other items. When I had addressed the guilt I carried from believing I was required to hold on to items that meant nothing to me, my HHG got a lot smaller. And in that, I got a lot happier.
Many of us hold on to items or even go so far as to decorate our houses based on expectations instead of what we, as individuals, actually want or like. We get overwhelmed every time we attempt to sort through our things. It can feel, well, yucky for lack of a better word.
It’s like this because of the unhealed emotional wounds that we unknowingly attach to the pair of baby shoes. Discovering the root cause and working towards healing these wounds in ourselves is the key here. Or at least, it was for me.