by Carol C. Wheelock
"Clearing out is causing a lot of anxiety!" declared the voice on my answering machine. On the surface, Anne (not her real name) didn't even appear to live in a cluttered environment. As the first step in the feng shui process, her challenge was to clear out the many closets in her house, each filled with clothes, shoes, and accessories, many of which no longer fit and had not been worn or used in years. Letting go of all these belongings was not an easy task.
The emotion that Anne was feeling is not at all unusual for someone embarking on the clearing process. Although there is much written today about clutter clearing, there is little information about the psychological implications of the process.. Not only is it common to feel varying degrees of anxiety, from mild apprehension to intense fear, but other emotions - loneliness, anger, sadness - are also apt to surface. In addition, many people actually feel it in their bodies. Where does all this come from?
Feng shui teaches us that our surroundings affect us and that we are reflections of those surroundings. Feng shui also teaches us that everything is alive, connected, and always changing. We cannot separate ourselves from our surroundings. When you clear out a space, you are also clearing out part of yourself. In addition, you are creating the space in which to feel and be your true self. This is what makes the process so powerful; it is also what can make it so difficult.
If you are someone who does not trust the future, you may be holding onto things "just in case." Sometimes this comes from having grown up with Depression-era parents and/or grandparents. Whatever the origin, it comes from a place of lack, rather that abundance. These people are quick to point out how glad they were that they saved everything when a use for one item occasionally arises. They then use this as justification to continue to hold on to everything, causing energy blocks in their environments and themselves and an energy drain on many levels as they try to manage all the clutter. Keeping in mind that thoughts are very powerful, it is important to focus on believing that your needs are being met. As you realize that the Universe is indeed providing for you, it becomes easier to let go of clutter.
Another common cause of clutter is a desire (often subconscious) to keep people at a distance, to feel safer by keeping the world at bay. These people fill their homes with all sorts of clutter until it is out of control and they are totally overwhelmed by it. I have had clients who reached the point of not letting anyone in their homes because they were too embarrassed by their clutter. They have created situations where there literally is no room for anyone else in their spaces. By building up this wall of clutter, they have limited or eliminated relationships and created isolation.
Related to this is the suppression of emotions. If your space is filled with stuff, there is no room to feel anything. All your energy goes out to manage the clutter, leaving none to think about how you feel. I have seen this the most in people who are fearful of loneliness, intimacy, or feeling loss. Overcrowded and cluttered spaces can block the awareness, as well as the feeling, of true emotions. They also block new circumstances and/or people coming into your life. Empty spaces create room for all these and more.
Lack of self-respect and a poor self-image also play a part in many clutterers' lives. People who don't honor themselves often do not honor their spaces by keeping them clean and orderly. The more their spaces get out of control, the more their feelings of poor self-worth are accentuated and reinforced. This ends up being a form of self-sabotage and adds the feeling of being overwhelmed to the feeling of a poor self-image.
Another frequent cause of clutter is the inability to say "no" to people who ask you to do something, store something, be somewhere, make something, etc. With no clear boundaries, it is easy to become overextended and overwhelmed. If you are over committed in your life it can translate to being over cluttered in your space and vice versa. It takes a lot of energy and effort to manage all those responsibilities and projects. Mental clutter, lack of time, and a failure to honor yourself all add to the clutter scene.
Most of us have a collection of souvenirs and memorabilia acquired and saved over a lifetime. This only becomes a problem when you are not selective and everything is saved. Sometimes peoples' identities are so tied up with all these objects from the past that they fear they are throwing their identity away when they start to get rid of things. It is important to remember that your true identity is inside you, not in a dress you wore 20 years ago or in a ticket stub. By holding onto too many objects from the past, there is no room for you to be wholly in the present.
I have also had clients try to convince me that they can work more creatively in a cluttered environment. There is a mythical association between creativity and a cluttered space. The reality is that these potentially creative people spend too much time looking for things and are totally distracted by the clutter on all levels. The fear of losing creativity by being too organized actually creates a situation where creativity is stifled.
There are numerous other psychological reasons why people hold onto clutter, but I have found these to be the most common. It has also become clear to me that people create cluttered spaces for a reason, even though those reasons are often not known or acknowledged on a conscious level. John Harrison, in this book Love Your Disease: It's Keeping You Healthy (Hay House, 1984), explored the theory that peoples' physical illnesses fill a need and when they no longer have the need, the illness goes away. Similarly, when the need for clutter is acknowledged and released, the clutter clearing process can begin, making room for desired changes. It is also easier to maintain a new clutter-free lifestyle when the reason behind the clutter is known.
If you have been holding onto old magazines, clothes that don't fit, every picture your child ever painted, unfinished projects, objects you don't even like, things that remind you of an unpleasant event or person, and other clutter, ask yourself why you are holding onto these things. If you are not sure, pay attention to the feelings that come up when you think about letting go of them. What are you afraid of? That is the clue to determining the underlying cause of your clutter. Give yourself permission to move on. If you have major clutter issues, proceed slowly, giving yourself time to adjust to the new you that you are discovering in your cleared space. As you shed clutter on all levels (often including weight loss), do so with conscious intention and visualize what you want in your life. By improving the energy flow in your surroundings, you have begun the feng shui process and are on the way to creating a space that brings you balance and harmony, a space that truly support you.
Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed. of Feng Shui Vermont is a certified feng shui practitioner who has studied in the United Sates and China. She practices Black Sect or western feng shui. Carol does private consultations for homes, schools, libraries, and businesses; clutter counseling and clearing; spaces clearings; phone consultations; presentations; and teaches workshops throughout the United States. She also does personal clearings.