Just because a relationship ends, that doesn’t mean it stops affecting us. People who were once part of our lives remain in our hearts and memories, as well as in the stuff they leave behind. Sometimes it’s as if they are ghosts inhabiting the objects that remind us of them. These objects are clutter when they make us feel melancholy, regretful, fearful, or lethargic. When they remind us of our loss and pain, they can split us off from the things that matter to us now and can keep us from creating new, fulfilling relationships.
I work as a clutter buster. I help people let go of the things that are no longer a part of their lives. Many of my clients’ homes are affected by divorce. These clients are either in the midst of divorce or they already have gone through one many years ago, and the fallout lingers in their living spaces. Divorce is painful, and so we often withdraw emotionally to protect ourselves. But this withdrawal prevents the openness we need in order to heal and feel love again. If we leave reminders of our pain lying around in the stuff we’ve hung on to from that relationship, we can’t heal properly or completely because the wounds remain fresh. By removing and letting go of these remnants, my clients find they feel safe enough to experience joy and love again.
I worked with one client whose garage was affected by divorce clutter. She and her ex had split three years earlier, but half of her garage was filled with his stuff. The space felt dark and heavy. She didn’t even want to look at any of the things. I told her how depressed and weighed down she looked in the stuff’s presence. I said that every time she pulled her car into the garage, seeing her ex’s stuff negatively affected her. I added that the ghosts embodied by this stuff passed through the garage’s walls and came into her living room and her heart. She didn’t like this image, so she agreed to go through her ex’s things.
Since most of the stuff in the boxes was his, I asked if she could contact him and ask him to come get his boxes. She said that his place was too small to house the stuff and that she didn’t want to impose on him. I said that he was imposing on her. The presence of his stuff in her home was hurting and exhausting her, leaving her less available for her nine-year-old daughter.
Maybe, by keeping her ex’s stuff, my client was punishing herself for divorcing him. Perhaps she thought she was being kind, holding on to his things so he would feel less hurt. If so, she was trying to manage his experience. Hanging on to his things was becoming the same as holding on to the marriage, and she was suffering as a result. She wouldn’t be finally divorced until she gave all his stuff back.
I said to her, “You can’t control this. Trying to make things better for him is hurting you. Let’s call him and ask him to come and get his things.” She called him and made her request. He resisted taking back his things. But she insisted. They agreed that he would come over and get his things in segments. After she hung up the phone, her relief shone through in her smile.
It may initially be uncomfortable to take a deeper look, but the pain we’re experiencing is already in us. Taking an honest look at our stuff helps heal this pain.
Here’s a great exercise to get you going:
You’re an archaeologist in your own home! You’re going on a search for objects that were given to you or owned by people who used to be but are no longer part of your life. Your mission is to dig up the broken crockery of your own ancient history.
It helps to remember where things come from. Sometimes we become unconscious of our associations with objects in our environment. Our past, good and bad, can be displayed all around us, and we glaze over it, not realizing how stuck we are in memories of lost loves. But those people aren’t here. How would they feel if they knew we were getting rid of these things? It doesn’t matter.
It’s your home. You get to search for, find, and discard whatever you want. If you don’t like something, and the bad memories it calls up hamper your joy today, toss it. If something makes you happy, keep it.
Make sure to look through closets. Closets are hiding places for ancient remnants. Look for an item that is emotionally loaded. You’ll know it when you uncover it. Your breath may stop. You’ll feel tension in your body. You’ll want to rebury this thing. It will feel like a bully intimidating you in your own home.
The antidote is realizing that you don’t want to live with these kinds of feelings. No one wants to be in pain, physically or emotionally. Anything that warps us doesn’t serve us. Dig it out of the ground. Smooth the earth and ready it for new buildings, a living city. Don’t live on the crumbled foundations of the past.
Keep the archaeological dig going through all parts of your home. When you find these disturbers from the past, donate, recycle, or toss them. The sooner they go, the better you’ll feel.
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Brooks Palmer uses compassion, awareness, and humor to help clients get rid of things they no longer need. His latest books is Clutter Busting Your Life. He has been featured in national and local media and offers clutter-busting workshops. Also a stand-up comedian and member of the Screen Actors’ Guild, he lives in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Based on the book Clutter Busting Your Life: Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect with Yourself and Others, copyright © 2012 by Brooks Palmer. Printed with permission from New World Library.