Well, to be fair, I should call this post Post-Clutter Busting Workshop, because I haven’t done any actual Clutter Busting just yet. But I will. Oh yes, I will.
So, I show up (early, as always) to the Clutter Busting workshop, immediately scrape my knuckles on a fast-slamming screen door (Ow!) and am greeted by the most wonderful Colleen, the brilliant Brooks, and a woman who refuses to shake hands (but likes to “touch elbows,” so you have to kind of get even MORE into her personal space to do a weird greeting), and another who says by way of greeting, “You brought a shitload of clutter!”
Um… wasn’t that the point?
See, the workshop included instructions that we bring a bin of clutter. So I did. And I didn’t just go for the easy stuff — the stuff that even I wonder why I keep and know could easily be thrown out if I just took the time. I put some challenging things in the bin. I wanted to learn why I ever felt the need to hang on to any of this stuff.
Realizing I was already — just 30 seconds in — focusing on lots of “noise” of my environment to try and distract myself from the big work we were about to do, I moved across the room to pet our host’s cat, I chose a seat, and I reached for my trusty journal, in which I write about all things I experience as I live my life.
Only… the journal wasn’t in my purse. I totally forgot it. I was so excited about the Clutter Busting that I neglected to bring my journal and “right colored pen” (because each entry must happen in another ink color than the one before it, so it’s always easy to tell where one meeting ends and another begins) and was stuck, journal-less.
“How am I going to take notes about this?” I asked myself. Suddenly, I remembered that one of the bits of clutter I put into that bin they told me to stash by the door (the same door that bit my hand) was paper-based! I went over, reached in, fished out a few pages from the clutter bin, and happily began scribbling notes about how this process was already feeling, right there on the best desk I’ve got: my thigh.
I laughed at myself for the ways I was trying to derail this experience already — laughed again as I found myself distracted by the professional “expert” who came (Why pay to take a workshop if you already know everything?), the unsolicited-advice-giver (We ain’t here to hear you, lady.), the smoker, the latecomer, the noisy eater, and the woman who took notes so loudly I felt as though her aggressively darting pencil was a device meant to punish her ridiculously loud and crinkly paper.
Every time I felt myself focusing on any of this “noise,” I reminded myself that it was okay to be scared about what breakthrough was on the other side of the good information I was about to receive. And these tactics to avoid feeling truly open to hear and experience and GET the lessons are just defense mechanisms.
“Be here, Gillespie,” I told myself. And I — finally — tuned everything else out.
Brooks was brilliant. Let me just say that, now. I knew he would be, because of the impact I’ve seen him have on Colleen, who is also brilliant. She already has so much good stuff in place for navigating her life (and sharing it all) that if she felt great impact from Brooks’ teachings, I knew I certainly could.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have lots of clutter!
More importantly, I have lots of justifications for keeping what I keep.
As we spent a half-hour on the first person, then five minutes on the next, and then twenty minutes on the third — always allowed to interject questions that each person’s process brought up for us — I realized not everyone’s bin would be dealt with, here. So, I began reviewing in my mind each of the pieces I knew I had put in my bin (which was still over by the door).
I had chosen each thing to represent a “theme” I seem to have. Like, this piece is here because it goes with an art project I never really finished, and I wanted to finish it and this would be how I could do that. And, this is in here because it’s a placeholder, a to-do list item, and by having the thing in the way, it reminds me — more than a note on a list could remind me — that I have this thing to do. The three biggest themes represented by junk in my bin were these:
2. Empty boxes.
3. All-or-nothing items.
Let me elaborate.
Gifts. Well, that’s easy. That’s something that Brooks covered with a couple of the night’s participants. And I asked a clarifying question to help me get at what kept me so bound to things that have been given to me.
We keep gifts that others give us because we have a need to please. We worry so that we will disappoint the gift-giver by not liking the thing they’ve given us that — in addition to not liking the thing (which is already the case) — we hang on to the thing we don’t like because to let go of it would be somehow more insulting.
That makes perfect sense. And if I consider the intention of the gift-giver, it gets very easy. “She gave me these earrings because she loves me and wants me to have these nice things. She hasn’t been observant enough to realize that I don’t — can’t — wear earrings. I can either force myself to wear these earrings — causing horrible infection and great pain — or I can keep ’em in the box on a shelf and feel like shit for not wearing them every time I pass by the box. Or I can squirrel ’em away into a place where I never see ’em and they’ll continue to fester at my psychic energy just by being here and keeping space occupied, preventing something that I would actually love, wear, use, and find great joy in from coming into my life. Or I can clutter-bust. I can say, ‘Wow, thank you so much for the gift,’ and then give the lovely earrings to someone who will treasure them. Because the giver did not give me the earrings in an attempt to make me feel like shit — which I do, every time I look at them and think about not wearing them, which is all I will EVER do, since I cannot wear them — it is my gift back to me and to the giver to be free of all that psychic — and physical — baggage.”
Empty boxes. A little stickier, because the boxes I used as an example are the cute iPhone boxes (3) that I still have, years after having first purchased iPhones. They’re cute. And fun. And well-crafted. And a piece of marketing genius. So, the lesson Brooks drew here was that I keep the empty box because it reminds me of the joy I got when I first brought home my new iPhone.
He asked if I could get to that place of joy without the box.
Absolutely! Just holding my iPhone brings me that joy.
Okay, cool. Then the box can go, right?
(Ah, crap. A but. You knew that was coming.)
I also really think the box is cute and I could maybe store something little in it. It’s such a well-made box and I have a lot of little things. Couldn’t that be a good use of the box?
“If you use it like that.”
Got it. And that brings me to the second half of the “empty boxes” item, because I also keep a fuckton of less-lovely empty boxes (like shoe boxes and the big boxes the printer paper comes in from Office Depot or Staples) and that way I always have a box when I need one.
Think about that.
I always have a box when I need one.
Who fucking cares?
Why do I take up a full eighth of a room with a Matryoshka Dolls-like configuration of boxes inside boxes inside boxes, just so I’ll have one handy when I need one? When I need to store another mess of actor headshots or postcards — which I’m desperately trying to dispose of, with the help of casting interns working with me — I’ll have another damn box, allowing me to KEEP stuff I’m trying to get rid of. Right? Oh boy…
Out they go. Got it.
All-or-nothing items. This one gets even stickier, and I didn’t get a direct answer to this question, when I posed it early on in the session, as Brooks was going through Dyana’s awesome bin. “What about self-imposed rules about ‘all or nothing,’ when it comes to getting rid of stuff?”
That’s what I asked, and I didn’t realize until the end of the workshop that the entire concept of Clutter Busting is the answer to that question.
See, I have this “all or nothing” issue. With lots of things. It’s sometimes very difficult for me to do something that’s only “a little” done. If I get rid of a headshot an actor tossed into a bin for me at a speaking event, I’m convinced I have to get rid of every headshot that actors tossed into that bin for me, at that event. And then all similar events come into question.
If I delete an email that’s a part of a conversation that has six back-and-forths, I am convinced I must delete all emails from that conversation. Once I’ve deleted one, they all must go. And if I keep one, they all must stay.
If I throw away a holiday greeting card with a sweet, sentimental message scrawled inside, I must throw away all cards from that holiday. I can’t keep any of ’em. Because once I hang on to one special card, I have to keep them all. It’s only fair.
Didn’t I go through this exact issue when I Embraced Inefficiency four years ago? Yes. Yes, I did.
And I also do this with people — and Brooks tells us that clutter is defined as anything that’s holding us back — by saying, “Well, I’ve invited showcase alumni to this party. I have to invite all of the alumni. Not just my favorite people.” Why? Why invite people I don’t enjoy to parties I’m paying to host? Why do I let this “fairness voice” overrule happiness? That’s messed up.
But here’s what was really fantastic about what Brooks taught me, through his every query of a participant in the hotseat, going through his or her bin of clutter: “Address one thing at a time.”
And, hey, that takes care of the “all or nothing” issue, every time, because you’re only ever considering one item.
“As you hold that one thing, ask yourself how it makes you feel. Ask, ‘Do I need to hold on to this or can I let it go?’ And if your answer gets long-winded, it’s a piece you need to deal with.”
More importantly, if your answer gets long-winded — like, “I have to keep this because it’s an heirloom,” or, “I can’t get rid of this because it was a gift,” or, “I’ve never liked this, but it meant so much to my mom,” for example — you need to know that that very item is constantly pulsing at you with that energy. Even from its box, hidden in a closet! And far more importantly than even that, if you’re holding on to that stuff, you’re preventing new stuff from coming into your life! You’re holding on to things that you think have the potential of making you feel great (like you felt when you first got ’em, for example), it’s like chasing the dragon. You can never get that first high back, so you keep trying harsher drugs or weirder combinations. And it still falls short. But by keeping that “old drug” with “potential” to make you “feel good” hanging around, you’re keeping away the NEW thing that has absolute ability to fill your life with joy in THIS moment.
You’re basically telling your life — by holding on to stuff — that the old stuff, the old “you,” the stuff that you collected as that person — is all more valuable than the you now, the stuff you could invite into your life now, the happiness you could create today.
Now, I wanted to know why I keep the things I keep. Brooks says the WHY is not important. “Look at the effect it’s having on you,” he said. “The reason it’s choking you doesn’t matter. Just stop the choking.” I love it. The why is less relevant because the why is that we’re taught to attach meaning to things. We are not taught how to let go. And when we watch others go through their stuff — stuff to which WE have no attachment — it gets very simple. Just like producers selecting top actors for a role. There’s no attachment other than “what’s gonna work, right now.” Brooks also suggested we ask, “Would I buy this today, if I had a gift card?” I like that! I also really loved his analogy about how these “treasures” are like a nail made of gold. We step on it, and instead of realizing we are being HURT by the nail, we focus on, “Oh, but it’s made of gold! It’s valuable.”
Is it so valuable we’ll let it keep us apart from the better stuff we have headed for us, as we’ve evolved and expanded our capacity for inviting goodness into our lives?
So, as I go around my house, I touch a thing. I ask, “How do I feel about you?” And if I feel thrilled to have it in my life, on display, out for the world to enjoy with me, it can stay. If I am embarrassed or worried or anxious or feeling like I will someday have a house in which this thing will be appreciated, I have two choices.
1. Toss it.
2. Put it out and on display to enjoy RIGHT NOW. Not someday.
And if I cannot enjoy it, if it causes me stress to look at it (perhaps because it is a reminder of how I don’t yet have the space to showcase it the way I would like to), OUT it goes. Because holding on to it not only keeps that anxiety in my life — that “loss of clarity,” as Brooks puts it — but it also prevents the very thing for which I’m hanging on to it (that future house) from coming into my life.
So, Keith and I had a big talk last night over dinner after the workshop. We agreed that even if we have to buy stuff all over again, if the keeping of the “stuff” is preventing us from getting the house that is where we want to showcase the “stuff,” we would rather have the house and have to buy stuff all over again, than to have the “stuff” and no house.
We’re ready to have a space into which we happily invite people. About which we don’t apologize for the state of it. “Oh, we are storing that for when we get our house,” is something we no longer want to say. We’re ready to live here, now. And addressing each item all by itself, asking whether it makes my heart sing… that’s a ONE THING I can — and will — do.
Because if it’s not filling me with happy, right this second, what am I doing hanging on to it?