Clearing my (psychic) clutter: a 21-Day Salute™


It is all very well and good to go on mad tears through your household, weeding out that which is no longer useful and beautiful, and passing it along to its next stop on the train, a person, a holding bin for persons unknown (a.k.a. Goodwill, Out of the Closet, the consignment shop, etc), the recycling station or the city dump. For anyone. I’ve not met a single person who doesn’t feel new winds blow in where old stuff leaves.

For a sector of us, though, it truly awesome in the non-new-millenial sense of the word: huge, inspiring and, the part the hipsters and lazyfolk tend to blip over when bandying the term about over everything from naked ladies to a McFlurry, not a little terrifying. (Although both of those things can be kind of terrifying, if you’re paying attention.) Because serious weeding or decluttering or whatever-you-call-it means addressing some pretty deep attachment issues for pack rats and clingers and other absolutely human folk whose response to a great and scary (or awesome) world is to stuff the cracks and fill the holes with stuff.

I get this. I do. While an almost irrational fear of vermin stops me just shy of hoarding, I feel a strong attachment to the stuff I imagine will anchor me in time and space. Or, as my alcoholic mother was wont to say when she’d show up to my place of work looking for money (to pay the rent, not buy booze, although in retrospect, I’m sure I was contributing to the Franzia fund, as well) and see her fancy-schmancy ad gal daughter with the corner office literally down at heel, sporting a 12-year-old shirt I’d bought new for five bucks, “You do like hanging onto things.” And this was a lady who in her richer days had an entire room devoted to crap which we literally called “The Junk Room.”

But this project of physical de-cluttering has had an interesting, not exactly intended tangential effect: noticing the less tangible clutter that clings to me just as tenaciously as the rest of it. Some of it is emotional (jealousy, or, as it was expressed to me recently, “lack of sympathetic joy”), some of it is digital (four Macs plus 6 hard drives, I’m looking at you) and some of it is mental.

Okay, all of it is mental.

This particular “salute” is about acknowledging the intellectual roots of my clutterphilia, and hopefully, addressing them in a way that will be helpful to you as well as to me. I have no particular expectations of curing myself in three weeks (although I live in hope!); as I say in the intro and new footnote to the main 21-Day Salutesâ„¢ page, these little exercises are meant to focus my attention on something, which in turn serves to kickstart a new program of…whatever. Looking on the sunny side. Cultivating gratitude. Or even more mundane, cleaning-type stuff like scraping a layer of filth off my apartment or tackling the hive of old photos and memorabilia that fills me with dread rather than love.

Fall, with its crisp weather (hallelujah!) and its new school year shininess is as good a time as any to start a project like this. And I’m hoping that shaking a few more things loose will make this year’s sabbatical in the PacNW even more fruitful. It’s all about laying groundwork, baby. Plus, I’m moving. There! I said it out loud. And while I’ve let a lot go, I’ve miles to go before I sleep in another place, unless a gigantic windfall blows in and I can suddenly afford two homes.

I don’t want two homes, though. I don’t want two of anything anymore, except original equipment like eyeballs and kidneys. (And boobies. Let’s not forget, we’re smack in the middle of breast cancer awareness month.)

One small thing I am going to add, rather than subtract, and that I would like your help with: treats!

They can be time-based or physical, but I would like to tie them, the additions, to the subtractions, in a way that’s mathematically responsible (i.e., a sound ratio) and that honors these actions. So, for example, for every four bags of clothes or goods I haul off somewhere, I allow myself one coveted, precious object to remind me of this step forward. Or for every boxful of books, I allow myself an hour to browse for one new one. You get the drift.

I’m welcoming ideas now, to help me keep my enthusiasm up and my eyes on the prize, as it were. And I will likely ask for help on individual entries, as well. Because I have good ideas, sure, but lots of them are still buried under mountains of crap.

Let’s get to it then: away with files and clothes, ideas and notions, bric and brac. With a little luck, enlightenment and fine ideas (and a few truly delightful doodads) will breeze in to take their place.

After all, nature abhors a vacuum. Of course, that phrase was coined pre-Dyson. But still…


Image © rgdaniel via Flickr.


  1. Okay, I’m in and will support you on the rewards strategy. Setting up a wish list could be fun, maybe there’s some cooler site than, and we could hook you up when you hit milestones. Gift cards to your fave PacNW coffee shop also seem fitting.

    And YES, you said it out loud and I heard it–way to Decide.Design.Dive right in, communicatrix. Rock it.

  2. It’s always like taking an expansive breath to read the way you “put things.” I wrote about do-it-now tidying on my blog a few days back. Must be the season or what I was calling a surge-eancy to tidy. Ever wonder at birds and their universal gift of building just the right amount of nest and making the messy look so cute and tight. Are there any messy, junk collecting among them?

  3. Dude, you are brilliant. I just moved (back to LA and apparently the surfer language is already re-infiltrating my voice) and the packing and unpacking gets more mental every time I do it. I’ve been noticing that it’s easier for me to declutter and let things go while I’m kinda doing something else at the same time – talking on the phone, participating in a teleclass, whatever. Cheating? Definitely. Is full presence required for the psychic energy boost of decluttering? Hope not. I’ll be brainstorming ideas, for both of us.

  4. Reading your blog is like hanging out with the smartest girl in class. You think with precision. I hope I’m a little sharper at my own job for watching you excel at yours.

    But maybe not. I didn’t even get your last line of this post at first, because I own a Dyson–and it’s so much better than any other vacuum I’ve used that I don’t even think of it AS a vacuum.

  5. I salute your salute! I am doing something of the sort myself – moved apartments about a month ago, and pre-moving tried to really use it as an opportunity to release many Things. This was successful, until I got to the end and ran out of time and the glucose in my brain ran low from making too many teeny decisions and I just threw the remaining stuff into boxes and resolved to deal with it on the other end. Which is where I am now. The Other End. So, yeah – I have some boxes of non-essentials to make these hard choices about too.

    Regarding the idea of rewards – please also to remember the non-tangible reward options. Like visiting someplace beautiful, or playing with a friend at an unlikely time of day, or physical pampering of some sort. Just in case you have a moment when the idea of bringing new objects *in* seems to go counter to the larger project.

    Looking forward to your dispatches!

  6. Make piles according to whatever categorization scheme you like. Post photos with narration. We will then provide moral support for what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. It will also inspire the rest of us…

    In no way mandatory. Just would be fun from this side.

  7. Ah, the universal tap on the shoulder to remind us all that it IS mental. Argh!

    I’ll admit that I love the clearing, not the middle of it as I can feel that clutter voice saying “don’t bother, it’s just too much”. It’s that moment when the physical and mental dust begins to clear just a little.

    My best offer on rewards is to allow yourself along the way to take note of the beautiful things you have remaining. You might find that your ‘something stunning’ got lost in the mix and now deserves the chance to be highlighted – that painting that just needs a light to reveal it, the favourite books that have earned a special bookcase or the great earlobes that rate new earrings (it could happen). Or even that greatest of luxuries … space for the ‘new’ to come into your life.

    I too am looking forward to your reports.

  8. My advice is to burn it all. Seriously, I also am doing this because I am reclaiming a studio that became a junk room. Years of drawings, ideas, files of things cut out of magazines or copied from books, lots of half finished concepts, tons of things I found that were incredible at the moment because this discovery was someone else’s realization of a concept I had also thought of but never worked out, books and more books, art supplies, boxes of ideas and samples that I have been collecting for years to be used when I finally get around to carrying out these grand projects. It reminds me of what I read about the way Albert Pinkham Ryder lived, surrounded by his junk piled so high in his apartment that he had to make a path, like through a maze, to get through it. The dust was so thick that when he wanted to show someone a painting he would pour an open bottle of varnish on it to make it viewable. Anyway, what I did was to rent one of those storage pods. I went through the piles and handled everything once. It either went in the garbage box or it went in the storage box. If it was possible to keep like categories together I did, but the main purpose was to move it out of the room. once I got everything out it was easier to think. You realize what is most important as you need things. Those things come out first. As time moves on you need other things and the keepers identify themselves. Once you are settled in and functioning it’s time to go back to the storage pod and make the hard decisions. Here again it is either back in the house or out in the trash. If it’s too nice to throw away, Goodwill, consignment, etc, anywhere but in the house. It takes hours, is hard work and painful because in a way it defines your future. What concepts are you giving up on, which ones are worth investing your time in.

  9. Dyana – Thank you! That’s a lovely resource. Right now, I think I’m’a focus on shedding, and gift myself with playtime/space/etc. Brooks Palmer, whom I mention in the post, makes a strong (but gentle!) case for allowing your space to remain clear for a bit just after the decluttering. I know from past experience that I’m inclined to rush to fill the void. As in, I drop off the old stuff at the back of Goodwill, then head inside for the new stuff. Which would be fine if I didn’t have a little clutter problem, but I do.

    Time to break patterns.

    Noni – Definitely something in the air. Fellow Virgo, Adam Kayce, also mused on this a bit ago. This is good air!

    Briana – Dude! Welcome back! I think there are different levels of clutter. I can definitely (and prefer) to do something mindless but physical to ward off spilkes when on the phone. Dishes, usually, or cleaning, but really low-level clutterbusting works, too.

    For the super-sticky stuff, though, I need my full attention and focus. That’s just me. But if you find yourself getting stuck (haha) in certain areas, maybe give it a whirl.

    Maureen – You rock. Thanks for that awesome-of-awesomes comment. And I love my Dyson, too. In fact, I created a space of honor for it!

    Amna – Thanks for pointing out the beauty of intangible rewards. Can’t believe I blipped over that. Oh, wait—yes, I can. Old habits die hard.

    LPC – Great idea. Thanks. Should have taken more “before” shots, but I’ll get on it.

    Anne – You’re right! It’s what I’ve found myself doing naturally—admiring the stuff that remains. I feel happy and grateful and so supported.

    Mike – Ingenious solution, my friend. Brooks (can you tell I’m obsessed yet?) will do that with clients’ particularly “sticky” areas. He just wrote a post about how with a really overstuffed, Fibber McGee closet, he pulled eeeeverything out and laid it out on the floor. Removed some of the power of the stuff, made it easier to view it in a new, objective way.

  10. Scraping a layer of filth off my apartment only happens when I’m expecting company, so I totally relate. But recently, I scraped more than a layer – I like totally went digital. Here’s what happened: I decided to join the Peace Corps. And since it would seem absolutely silly to rent a storage space to hold all kinds of stuff that I didn’t really need, I either sold it (yard sale or online at Amazon), gave it away, or threw it out. WOW. I didn’t know I could feel so light. Especially getting rid of two full bookcases of books.

    Unfortunately, I can’t make my move to the Peace Corps now because (doh!) you can’t have any outstanding financial obligations, and well, the economy really put a ding in my plans to pay off those credit cards these past 6 months.

    But I am still lighter for it. And still on a strict NO-BUYING-stuff-I-can’t-eat diet. I am determined to use any spare dollars to pay down my debt. And keep my life lean.

    I found my motivator: adventures abroad. You must have one or two big ideas too, right?

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