Decluttering your life for a refreshed you
Illustration by Carole Hénaff
If you’re like me, along with the stirring of springtime comes the urge to open up the windows and clear out the clutter that’s accumulated over the winter. Make that over the past year—or over the course of many winters, many years.
Wandering into my home office, I get an instant headache as I survey the bursting bookshelves, overstuffed file cabinets, and piles of folders and papers on every available surface. I’ll deal with it another day.
But that day would never come without the compassionate guidance of master organizer Carole Cline, who looked at my office recently. Her first comment immediately makes me feel better about its sorry, cluttered state. “It’s not so much that your office is messy,” she says. “It’s that your life is bigger than that. You’ve got more creative energy than the space can hold.”
So you mean it’s not my fault that I can’t stay organized? I can stop beating myself up about that?
Yes, Cline assures me. The trick is to clear out old stuff so that you can make room for what’s “hot”—what’s alive and growing right now.
“First of all, start with the trash, the stuff you’re not attached to. Put that in a pile for the dump. Then look at what you have that might go into recycling, or be taken to Goodwill for someone else to use. Make another pile of that stuff. And then you get into the stuff that you have some attachment to. That’s harder, but I go by the ten-percent philosophy,” she says. “Everyone can give up ten percent, or one in ten, of any category of stuff they have.”
De-cluttering is really about making decisions, Cline says, which can be especially hard when you’re stressed (on deadline to vacate a home, for instance) or going through an emotional transition (after a divorce, say, or going through the accumulated possessions of a deceased parent). “Making decisions is like exercising a muscle,” she says. “The more decisions you make, the more actions you take, the more you start to get into a flow and it becomes less painful, less emotional.”
“The letting go is the hard part,” says Lori Plager. Plager hired Cline to help her pare down the belongings in her four-bedroom house, including two attics, a basement, and a shed filled with all the “stuff” of her now-grown three children. “We worked for two hours once a week for three or four months,” Plager says. “Carole was so good at helping me prioritize what I really needed without getting overwhelmed. Like who really needs ten pairs of black pants when you probably only wear three of them? I was able to give things away to people who could really use them. And when it was all done, I felt so much better.”
It turns out that de-cluttering one’s physical space has a very positive effect on one’s mental space, too. Cline applies her background in the healing arts to her role as an organizer. “After I work with someone—never more than two hours at a time—I have them lie down with an eye pillow, put their feet up, relax, and energetically let go of whatever stuff we’ve begun to purge,” she says. “When we let go of things that are not working for us, our environments will start to nurture us and make vibrant, new creative energy available to us.”
Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, a wellness coach and yoga teacher who offers workshops at Kripalu in the Berkshires and around the country, agrees. “Carole came in, not judging me but supporting me in sorting through years’ worth of stuff that I had accumulated, in order to make space to create the mental clarity that I needed to work with clients here at home,” she says. “It was miraculous. Once we had cleared up the clutter, it gave me a new sense of grounded spaciousness that allowed me to be more effective in my work.”
Cline was in the process of packing up her own life to move from here to the West Coast. She and her new husband are thinking of joining the tiny-house movement, where her talent for keeping clutter to a minimum will surely come in handy.
Staying organized is a never-ending project, so I ask Cline: How do you keep stuff from accumulating again?
“Once you start to have more space, you develop a different attitude toward stuff,” she says. “You realize what’s important to you. It doesn’t matter if things are beautiful or full of sentimental value or even if they’re made of gold, they still take up space and prevent us from trying something different, something new.”
Tips to Stay Organized
- The 10% rule: Eliminate one item in ten.
- Start with a half-hour a week of decluttering one small area, like a closet shelf.
- Start by getting rid of trash—broken things, stained clothing, old receipts. As you exercise your decision-making muscle, it will become easier to purge stuff.
- Think altruistically: What might someone else enjoy?
As you continue to purge in small increments, notice the resulting mental clarity and energetic boost that decluttering gives you. It’s not just about a clearer home, but a clearer mind as well.