Decluttering in spirals

I’m still not done with my decluttering project. Can you believe it? I’ve been at it for over a year now and I have made a lot of progress. Oddly enough, though, it feels strangely cyclic instead of linear. I guess maybe it’s because just as we grow in spirals we declutter in spirals. Not in one straight line.

I vowed to declutter my place in April last year. The intention was not just to make my home more light and airy but also, and more importantly, to deal with the hurt and pain that I associated with some of the stuff I had accumulated. It wasn’t that much. By normal standards. If you had visited my place a year ago you would never have guessed that it actually needed a decluttering project. Only I knew it did. I did.

First, there was my guest room which, in fact, I rarely showed to my guests, let alone let them stay in there. It was my dirty secret, my storage space for all the boxes that I couldn’t quite muster the courage to face yet. And then there was the basement. It’s not for no reason that some psychotherapists believe that the basement represents your subconscious. Let’s just say it was even worse than my guest room. I shivered at the thought of even just going there.

And then I started, semi-following Mari Kondo’s Konmari method. Semi-following because some of the stuff was distributed throughout the guest room and the basement and some drawers in my actual rooms and I just couldn’t face the prospect of, say, attacking the huge quantities of photos and letters all at once. Too overwhelming. And logistically challenging. Marie Kondo is, I must admit now, right at this. I very strongly suggest you do follow this specific advise of hers. Sort through each category in full in one go. Get it over with once and for all. Else, you end up like me.

I still remember the big sigh of relief I let out once I had sifted through a huge box of photos and letters from the guest room. Only to be horrified and paralyzed by an equally large amount of the same category that ambushed me in the basement. And having to start over. It’s truly exhausting. Not just because of the sheer volume but because of the internal process, the emotional rollercoaster, that goes along with the decluttering, especially that of sentimental items. It’s downright depressing to have to go through it twice. Or even thrice.

So, where do I stand with it now? I’ve made a huge dent in my clutter. If not to say I’ve probably let go of 99 percent of it. But the last percent is unnervingly persistent, just as the last five percent were. It seems to grow bigger when I’m not looking. Take my cloths, for example. I’ve decluttered my wardrobe months back. Yet looking at it today I feel I could do it all over again. And before you assume I have relapsed and refilled my closet with new stuff, no, I haven’t. (Well, maybe a teeny-tiny bit…). Instead, my definition of clutter has changed. Or my resolve.

Whereas a year ago, when I first went through my cloths, I had no trouble throwing out items that no longer fit or that looked really worn out or that I really disliked. I did however not, then, really adhere to the “does it spark joy” mantra that Marie Kondo advocates. I let guilt and remorse and I-just-can’t-possibly-let-this-go-it-was-so-expensive thoughts interfere with my decluttering and actually kept stuff that didn’t spark joy.

The funny thing with guilt, though, is that it is a “gift” that keeps on giving, as Erma Bombeck once cunningly observed. And I realize that this is what I’m wrestling most with at the moment. The demon of my guilt. Guilt of having wasted so much money on cloths that weren’t quite right for me from the start. Shirts that were suggested to me because someone else thought the color suited me. Or suits that I knew were appropriate for my work place but that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in.

I still keep a maybe drawer with items that even after all this analysis I have trouble letting go. Which reminds me of one, if not the most important, realization that I have come to in the course of my decluttering process: It’s not the living without that is difficult for me. It’s the actual parting with things. The letting go as such.

Interestingly, this seems to be the case for a lot of declutterers, even though the reasons might vary. I’ve just finished reading A year of no clutter by Eve Schaub, a book that I can wholeheartedly and warmly recommend. It’s a very refreshing read in that she never hides her astonishment and sometimes disgust with herself. And she never ever, unlike so many other declutter authors, suggests that she has found a magic pill. Other than maybe a good sense of humor. And forgiveness for herself.

She takes you on a painfully honest ride through her decluttering project. Which also never seems to end. I can relate to that. And you know what? Maybe it really doesn’t. I still somewhat resist that realization but part of me already knows.

The decluttering process, I can tell now from my own experience, is not unlike a therapeutic process, in that once I’ve worked through one layer of my psyche and think I am finally done the next layer magically presents itself. And off I go on another merry-go-round. And then another one. And another one. I’m never actually quite done because the goal post just keeps moving.

It’s the same with decluttering. On the one hand there is definite progress, it’s visible and measurable in the numbers of boxes I have put out on the curb and donated, and the space that has become visible and usable and enjoyable. And on the other hand I go around in what feels like circles. Maybe it’s because decluttering happens, just as learning does, in spirals.

Just as we keep revisiting similar situations in life to learn a certain lesson, say unhealthy relationships, we keep revisiting our stuff. And maybe, just as with our inner growth, the challenge of decluttering becomes more subtle, the solutions more refined. And while we tread along the path of the spiral with our gaze fixed ahead just a few inches, we miss the astonishing fact that we are, in fact, not just moving in circles but also ever so slightly higher with each cycle.

I’ll try to remember this when I have another fit of “Goddammit, will I ever get this done?”


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28 thoughts on “Decluttering in spirals

    1. Thanks for your encouragement. I can’t believe you remember. It’s really looking good around my place. Truly. But sometimes I feel like I want to get to an end point. Maybe I should relocate, too. 🙂 Decluttering on steroids sounds challenging but ultimately rewarding. Good luck with your spiral, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Congratulations on all your decluttering. I have been decluttering for more than 20 years and there is always more!
    I find placing salt in little dishes in each room for a few days then discarded down the sink, really lifts the CHI and invites positive change.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, this is reassuring. And I thought I was weird for one year not being enough. But as you say, there is always more. It’s more of a continuous process and practice than an actual finish line. I can’t wait for the moment when all obvious clutter clusters are gone for once, though.
      And thanks for the salt tip. I will certainly try it out!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve had trouble decluttering, too! At first I was on a roll with my clothes, but when I got to the papers, oh boy, I have so many boxes of school work that I don’t want to just toss away because I feel like I spent so much time on them. 😬

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the papers…. Yes! One of the toughest parts for me, too. I’m still not totally done but I try to give myself a pat on the back for every bit of progress. I adds up over time. Good luck with your further decluttering!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that you say “adopt a minimalistic lifestyle” instead of just “become a minimalist” because it really is a lifestyle, the adding up of decisions and habits, not a one-time thing that once you say it out loud it’s magically done. It takes effort and commitment. But it’s ultimately very rewarding.

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  3. I like your point about decluttering being a cyclical process.

    And I love that quote about guilt being a gift that keeps on giving, hahaha!

    It’s perceptive of you to want to get rid of things that are associated with hurt and pain. Perhaps guilt is part of why we hang on to things a long time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Carol, for your thoughtful comment and sorry for the late reply. My life (those parts that I was in the process of decluttering) has caught up with me a bit. Another reason to declutter faster… And yes, guilt is a strong glue. So is grief, I find. It’s hard to let go of something that is related to someone whom we have let go off physically, but not yet emotionally.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A perceptive post. You’re right, living without is the easy bit. And for most mere humans, decluttering is cyclic , even those who graduate to a pure minimalist way of life. I have met two or three such people so far over 78 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Rachel. It’s a very strange experience indeed. But very worthwhile. Two or three in over 78 years aren’t that many. I wonder how they graduated. And I wonder how it must feel. Like a big relief, I imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the idea of it being a spiral, especially with each level being a little higher. I picture a spiral as being in 3D so we’re going round in circles, & it extends into time as well… from some viewpoints it can even look like we’re going backwards. It’s a constant battle to stay on top of paperwork especially because it just keeps coming through the letterbox!

    I doubt I could do all of one category in one go because each box I open is a fresh surprise! A lot of my clutter is digital (I barely own any printed photos) & that’s another matter entirely! Maybe I will look at the book you recommend. Maybe there are other projects I will finish before I go back to decluttering 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the idea of time as a third dimension in this. I’ve never thought about it this way. And it certainly does feel like going backwards sometimes. But in truth it’s all forward.
      The book is great. One of the most entertaining and honest I have read about decluttering. I think you might enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m really proud of myself, the easiest way to remember I want this book without just buying it was to add it to my Amazon wish list 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am really enjoying linchpin, I haven’t found the thread where you recommend it. & it’s “only” a kindle book so it’s not really clutter. Thank you for recommending it 🙂 I’m off to draft a post about it now…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I just popped by to tell you I’m reading “The no spend year” off your recommendation, & it looks like I went to get “A year of no clutter” by Eve Schaub (which is mentioned in your post) & added that to my wishlist, & bought “the no spend year” by Michelle McGagh instead. In some ways that totally entertains me, in others. Whoops, I’ve just committed to not buying any more books til Easter! The one I bought was the kindle version so at least it’s not adding to the physical clutter 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nik, I just listened to an excerpt from “The no spend year”. Sounds intriguing, especially since I’ve recently started budgeting seriously, too. As she says, it kind of becomes something not unlike a military operation. You just keep finding new ways to cut down. I think I might get the audiobook, given that I have an audible subscription. So no clutter. But a lot more money saved in the process, I guess. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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