Unit 2: Thinking
In this unit, we’ll be confronting some thoughts that make decluttering difficult. If you find yourself dealing with these thoughts, listen to this lesson on repeat and check out the additional resources below.
Think & Tidy Unit 2: Thinking (Audio Recording)
- Unit 2 Worksheets
- Listen to Hoarding Podcast
- Watch Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)
- Tidy Task: Get rid of at least 5 things you have struggled to get rid of. Share on the group.
Unit 2: Thinking
Welcome to unit 2! In the last unit, we talked about the importance of having a vision for, not only your home, but your family. You established family values and created a family mission statement to help guide you as you declutter.
With these values as your foundation, let’s prepare to purge your stuff by discussing your thoughts and feelings. There may be some parts of this lesson that resonate with you and some that don’t as much, since everybody is different! But, be sure to take note of the things that do resonate with you so that you can begin to work through them.
Do you remember a time when you were excited to move into a new apartment or home? As newlyweds, my husband and I moved into a little apartment that had 60’s cabinetry and some old-school closets. And, yet, I felt so excited to have my own home that I could do whatever I wanted with!
I was thankful for my home because it was ours (even though we were renting), and, even with what little we had, we loved our family’s first home. In this and in other things, gratitude was the key to contentment.
Decluttering your home with a heart of gratitude will take you further than resenting it, so, take some time to complete the Home Love worksheet. Think of all of the reasons you are truly thankful for your home. There may be many!
Now that you’ve warmed your heart to your home and its strengths, it’s time to bravely face some areas for home improvement in regards to your clutter.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife said, “One of the hardest things in life is to honestly face who we are without regressing into self-judgement and self-hatred. That alone takes a tremendous amount of courage” (Room for Two podcast).
So, while holding space for the gratitude you have for your home, muster up some courage and honestly complete the “Stuff Check UP Worksheet.”
In this section, I’d like to introduce you to your brain. Your brain is an amazing organ, meticulously wired to keep you alive. Naturally, your brain wants to excel, improve, avoid trauma, and in general, thrive and survive.
Subsequently, your brain sometimes panics when you feel things. Depending on your thoughts, you may feel certain emotions about your house, such as ecstasy because you’re on top of the laundry, or exasperation because of all. of. the. mess. You might think “feelings are great, as long as they are happy, excited, good emotions,” but what of anger, discouragement, and sadness? If you think about it, all feelings are our brain’s way of helping us get what we need. This is all obviously really good, but sometimes your brain gets a little overprotective and keeps you from doing what you deeply wish to do.
The good news is that you can teach your brain to think the way that you want it to (the fancy word for that is neuroplasticity). That means, the way you think now does not have to be the way that you think forever. Of course, this all takes time and practice, but, overall, that’s a really good thing!
So, as you go through decluttering your home, remember that your feelings are neither good nor bad. Sadness is ok. Anger is ok. Anxiety is ok. Uncomfortableness is ok – just a little uncomfortable. Feelings are simply your mind’s way of letting you know that you need to act or get help with something. This can be very informative, especially when you are faced with something that is tricky for you to part with. Your stomach may twist into a knot, you might feel sick at the thought of getting rid of something, and this is all normal. Throughout this unit, when something strikes a chord, take note and remind your brain that it’s ok to feel all the feels. It is those feelings that will help you pinpoint what thoughts you personally need to work on.
In order for you to really be happy, your home needs to be absolutely spotless at all times. Everyone who lives in a messy, tiny, cluttered, or disrepaired home must be and will forever remain miserable.
Now, wait a minute! Wait a minute! Do you have any red flags going up right now? How do those thoughts feel to you? If they don’t sound or set right with you, it’s because they’re flat out lies. Yet, these are thinking errors that we sometimes believe in the quiet moments where we feel less-than because our home doesn’t look the way we want it to.
Now, you may still want to aim for perfection because the thought of that seems appealing. You may drool over the parade of homes and think, “If only my home looked like that, then I’d really feel content with my home. If only there weren’t five billion holes in the walls, I would be able to feel peace. If only there were no toys, messes, chaos, or curiosity in my home, then I would be a sane person. (If that is all true, I am in big trouble!)
You probably know that behind every bright and gorgeous home photo is a team collecting sponsors, decorating, cleaning, repairing, taking and editing photos, and doing all of the other things. You realize that it would be stressful to try to actually live with such immaculate ideals because the moment so much as a crumb falls to the floor. Poof. Perfection gone. Or, to live in such a world, you would have to spend your whole day following those little sticky-fingered mess-makers wherever they go to clean up every mess left in their wake.
So, why do you measure yourself and your family to those beautifully curated, impossible ideals?
The reason we get trapped in those cycles of comparison is really because, remember, our brain wants us to grow and improve (it’s a matter of efficient survival!). The fact that our brain is trying to help us become better is such a good thing! The trick is remembering our own and our home’s worth as we strive to improve. When we notice ourselves getting caught up in this cycle, we can remind ourselves that that’s just our brain’s way of trying to improve. Then, we can decide what we want to do about it by harnessing motivation instead of giving into self- or home-loathing.
The traps of comparison and perfection are tricky and I would be lying if I said I didn’t fall for them at times. I have felt frustrated at the holes in my walls or the amount of damage in our home compared to the relatively short amount of time we’ve lived here (not even a year). I have even stormed around and huffed, “This is ridiculous!” And, where does that all lead? It has led to more discontentment in my home and resentment towards my children. It has stolen even more of the peace in our home.
Why do we get so frustrated when our homes seem less than or when our kids act like kids? If we really get down to it, it’s because we want to have a beautiful, comfortable, inviting, safe, happy place for our family to be. We sometimes choose to believe that in order to have that happen our homes need to look a certain way. So, the next time you notice yourself getting upset about the clutter, remind yourself WHY you care about the clutter… And then try to act in a way that will actually help you to have that safe and happy home that is really the core of what you want.
All that said, I want you to know, you can have a flawless home if you really want it. But, please consider just what such perfection would cost you, not only in money, but time, energy, and sanity. Think about the cost to your relationships as you hover around everyone and lose it when one thing gets out of place. Is perfection worth the cost to you? You decide.
Thoughts & Circumstance
In this section, we’re going to help your brain to recognize the difference between circumstances and thoughts.
“The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act.” ― Rick Warren
You’ll notice that the way we feel and act first begins with the way we think. And, thanks to neuroplasticity and our own agency, we can choose how we think!
We are always making choices, even though sometimes we like to believe that we are being forced to do something. In an effort to keep us from getting in trouble, our overly protective brain sometimes likes to put the blame on someone or something else than ourselves. For example, you can choose to believe that you are trapped in a cluttered and chaotic home. This thought may lead to frustration, irritation, and resentment. Or, you may believe that you are choosing to live with your family and then find meaning in the chaos.
We may also choose to believe that our clutter means something bad about us or our families. For example, are you a terrible, messy, lazy person if there are dirty clothes all over the floor? I sure hope not! Clutter or lack of clutter in your home does not have to define you and your family. You can choose to believe that the condition of your home doesn’t mean anything good or bad about you.
When we acknowledge our ability to choose, we start realizing our own potential as a choice-maker, and that’s when it starts getting fun! In regards to your stuff, since you’re taking this course, I imagine you would like to choose to live in a home with less clutter. So, let’s get down to why we hold onto things.
Why We Hold Onto Things
Now that I’ve gotten all of that out, let’s just dive all the way in and go straight to hoarding. You may be thinking, “Woaaah, there, Brittany! I mean, I have clutter, but I am no hoarder!” Or, maybe you’re thinking of someone in your home or family who you think does struggle with hoarding.
Just in the way that those without diagnosed anxiety disorder can benefit from anxiety research and techniques, so can individuals without hoarding disorder benefit from hoarding research and techniques. That said, regardless of your situation, I highly recommend the American Psychological Association’s Speaking of Psychology podcast episode “Why People Hoard” (linked below) for some extremely useful information.
For now, we’re going to simply talk about some general reasons why people hold onto more things than they really need to function. I’m going to go through these pretty quickly, but when something resonates with you, take note so that you can practice improving your thoughts (remember – neuroplasticity!).
For starters, buying or collecting things can feel exhilarating. We get a little shot of dopamine when we get something we’re excited about. Conversely, some of us may feel the opposite rush (stressed, sad) when faced with getting rid of something that is, in our opinion, perfectly good and useful. (Let’s just say your brain does a really good job of ensuring your survival!) As a fun side note, the main character in the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic is a perfect example of this exact struggle.
We may hold onto things (or certain things) because we’ve experienced something traumatic. Big or little trauma can have an impact on us and holding onto things may give us a sense of safety and security. Keep in mind that trauma for one may not be traumatic for another. Major life stressors like times of want, unhealthy family dynamics, natural disasters, or, hey, even a worldwide pandemic, can kick our brain into survival mode and make us want to hold onto everything that we feel is valuable, even if not actually essential for our survival. (I’m looking at you, toilet paper!)
Perhaps, someone comes along and criticizes the clutter in your home. In your own embarrassment and shame, you may hold onto your things even more tightly as a way to protect yourself. Or, if someone has ever come in and taken your stuff without your consent, even thinking they’re being helpful, you may hold onto things more tightly in order to protect your stuff from getting taken again. Again, think of our brain – it knows we’ve been through some rough stuff and it’s got to make sure we can weather whatever storms come our way. (This is why I never recommend decluttering FOR another person!)
Maybe you are afraid of getting rid of the wrong thing… Or, you get so overwhelmed by it all that you never actually start. You might just sit there staring at the closet stuffed with clothes for way too long until you decide to throw in the towel and go do something less staggering.
If you grew up in a home where there was a lot of stuff, you may naturally follow that same pattern. This is neither good nor bad, but understanding this can help you address your current clutter.
You may also have felt lonely at times, and found comfort in having things you adore to keep you company. With these things serving as your emotional connections, getting rid of them can feel very difficult.
Some people view their stuff as an extension of themselves. Imagine how you would feel at the thought of losing a limb. That could be pretty traumatic. Yet, some of us view our things themselves in a similar way, making the thought of getting rid of them, at the very least, uncomfortable.
Sometimes, we hold onto things simply because we don’t want to deal with them… We may have procrastinated getting rid of things because it’s too much hassle, only to find that the lots of little things have now become a monster-sized collection of stuff that needs to be addressed yesterday.
One other reason we hold onto stuff is out of pride. (Remember, this is neither good nor bad!) Maybe, we take pride in our collection of toe rings, carpentry tools, or the number of books on our shelves. We somehow choose to believe something impressive about ourselves because we have so much of something. While this may not be good or bad, it is worth considering as you go through your stuff.
You might be sitting there thinking, “YES! BUT WHAT DO I DO ABOUT IT?!”
I’m happy to tell you that the concepts we are covering right now are ones therapists use to help with this issue. These concepts include: aligning your life with your values, increasing self-awareness, acting out of love, improving thought patterns, and gradually exposing yourself to the uncomfortable decluttering feelings. Still, this is obviously not a replacement for therapy, so if you are really struggling, therapy could be a great option to help you work through your thoughts.
Now that we’ve talked about general reasons we hold onto things, we’re going to dive into more specific clutter-loving thoughts. These thoughts are summarized in your workbook so you can refer to them as you declutter.
If I get rid of this, (something bad) will happen!
Try instead: “If I get rid of this and need it later, I can improvise or borrow.”
For me, it was a cherry pitter. I had to remind myself that if the world fell apart, I could simply borrow one from someone in my neighborhood, or live without it (which is an acceptable thought because I have only used a cherry pit zero times in my life). Problem solved!
I can’t break the set.
Try instead: “There are no rules about keeping things in a set.” I can choose what to do with my stuff.
For example, what if you have a set of books or dishes, but you only use one? Why not pass the others on to someone else who will appreciate and use them so you can have more space? Or, sell them one by one and make good money! Again, you get to decide what matters more to you. Space? Or the extra pieces?
It would be rude to give it away – it was a gift!
An alternative thought could be: The joy was in the moment it was given. My relationship isn’t defined by this object. Holding onto this grudgingly spoils the giver’s intent.
This can be a difficult thought to overcome, especially depending on the health of our relationships. You can decide that your relationship is not defined by objects and pass it on. You can also focus on the joy you and the giver felt when it was given and let that be enough as you give it to someone who will actually use it.. Depending on the item and your relationships, you may decide to offer the item back to the giver. Don’t spoil the intention of the gift by grudgingly storing it. Let it give someone else joy.
I spent a lot of money on it -getting rid of it would be a waste.
My husband often says, “Sunk costs” to me when we’ve spent money on something that we can’t get back. It’s already happened, there’s no turning around. You can only decide what you do from here on out.
You could say, “The money’s gone, but I can minimize my future costs by passing it on. Holding onto unused stuff is more wasteful than giving it someone who will use it.”
It’s irreplaceable! If I get rid of it, I’ll never be able to replace it if I need it.
In a world of Ebay and online shopping, I assure you, nearly every tangible thing is easily replaceable. If it is something that you don’t dearly love or regularly use, you’ll soon realize that it’s ok for it to be irreplaceable in your life. Your house will thank you.
If I don’t have (this thing), I’ll look (poor, ugly, boring, tasteless, etc.).
Please, please focus on what you need, want, and enjoy and not what others think that you should hold onto. I know it can be so hard, but work to develop that inner voice that is strong enough to hold to what you think and not others’ opinions of you and your stuff.
A different thought could be: I have worth. My value does not depend on the things I own.
If I get rid of it, I’m not honoring my loved one.
This may take time and space to work through and that’s ok. Remember that your memories and relationship are not contained in an object. You can choose to hold onto something practical that holds real meaning for you that can help you still honor that relationship without too much extra stuff. Or, you can choose to be content with photos of your loved one that don’t take up much physical space.
Now that we’ve gone through these thoughts, on the “Cluttered Thought” workbook page, mark which thought(s) you want to practice changing.
Practice Makes Progress
Changing your thoughts takes time and practice. Start by focusing on just one thought that you want to change and once it’s second nature to you, choose another.
Practice may not always make perfect, but it will make progress! Cutting the excess out of your life will happen layer by layer as you strive to live in line with your values, address the reasons you’re holding onto things, and slowly learn to let go, first of the easy stuff, then, the harder stuff. Improving your thoughts will help you declutter effectively to create a home that truly supports you and your family’s purpose.
Conclusion & To-Do’s
That’s the end of Unit 2! Feel free to re-listen to help yourself internalize these concepts and to determine which thoughts you want to work on.
This lesson’s to do’s are to complete the Unit 2 Worksheets which include the Home Love, Stuff Check Up, and Cluttered Thoughts pages. Listen to the Hoarding Podcast. And, for fun, watch Confessions of a Shopaholic. For your BONUS Decluttering Challenge, I invite you to get rid of 5+ things you have struggled to get rid of & share on the group.
That’s all for today. I’ll see you in Unit 3!
Q&A's and Feedback
What questions or suggestions do you have? I’ll get back to you within 72 hours!