red winkle picker regret and the dark side of decluttering

Get rid of your stuff.  It's all the rage.  Has been for at least the
last 10 years - and it's only growing. There are books, magazines,
blogs, professions devoted to it. Maybe you jumped on the bandwagon
because all the cool kids are doing it. 

I have decluttering DNA. I've been doing it since long before our
culture began worshiping at the church of the purge. Long before there
were books, magazines, blogs, and Oprah shows devoted to it. Growing
up, decluttering and organizing the hallway closet (my family's chosen
junk repository) was one of my favourite stress-busters. When I was done
- ah! I had restored control and order to one tiny little spot of the

I have no doubt I inherited this from my dad – who so loves to declutter
that we have numerous family stories about him throwing out something
valuable or treasured in one of his decluttering frenzies. Like one Christmas when he
was so quick to clean up the wrapping remnants that he tossed out a
present I bought for my sister that she hadn’t even opened yet. And then there was the Bay City Roller records incident - I still can't go there.

Now decluttering has gone mega mainstream. It's almost religious. It's
rarely questioned. There are gurus and gospels to follow. Salvation
shall be yours through decluttering.

It's something my clients often want to work on - and no surprise
that it is often an essential part of many coaching programs. Now, I
have nothing against decluttering in and of itself.  I just think when
anything becomes unquestioned, it's time to start asking questions. When
I started questioning, I noticed something - The Religion of
is the kissing cousin of The Religion of Thinness.

Both have at their core the original sin of too-much-ness.  Both
have congregations that are filled with a large majority of women (no
surprise since the teachings are largely directed at women). Both have
their morality tales (Hoarders, Clean Sweep, Biggest Loser). Both have had me as a devoted member.

And, I will audaciously claim, both of them have a well-hidden
shadow side that is about pathologizing the feminine in favour of celebrating the
masculine. Think about it - bodyfat is inherently feminine because of it's necessity for
pregnancy and childbirth. Yet women with uber-low body fat percentages
are admired (even though many of them stop menstruating).  Gathering
beauty, making a cozy home, aka nesting- no matter whether it's done by a
man or a woman - is an activity flavoured with the feminine. Yet
shelter porn makes us think that a lived in house is unattractive. Think of the energy of throwing out and discarding compared to the energy of taking in and welcoming.

I call this the attack on the breasts and nests - part of a subtle
backlash against the re-balancing of the feminine and masculine. It
asks us to detach from our inner feminine knowing and give in to a
higher authority.  Many of us (me included) buy into this without even
realizing what that we are giving away a part of ourselves. It feels so
easy to think somebody has the answer.

There are some other really obvious reasons why the declutter cult has taken off -

1. Control - In a world that seems out of control, decluttering and
organizing can provide an illusion of control. (This is my hall closet).

2. Guilt - as the world continues to shrink, we can more and more see how
our unconscious consumption is linked with developing world living
conditions and climate change. To purge our possessions can feel like a
cleansing confession. (Go in peace and sin no more - and throw in three
Hail Marys for good measure.)

3. Perfection/Salvation - all my problems will be solved, my life
will be perfect and I will find eternal happiness when I get rid of all
my clutter and get organized. (This is a variation on "I will be happy
when I am skinny.")

4. Freedom - getting rid of stuff can give us a temporary hit of feeling free. When our lives feel full of obligation, this is alluring.

When you dig deeper into any of these, you will likely find fear. 
And if you do have a lot of junk in your life and dig into why you ended
up with it in the first place - guess who's coming to dinner? - fear. 
So if you are purging from the same mindset that you had while procuring
- well, that's just the other side of the same coin, honey.

As a developmental coach, I'm not interested in surface changes that
aren't accompanied by an inner shift. If you don't look at the
underlying thoughts beneath the desire to declutter -
then you may just end up a serial declutterer like I was (I also have a great history as a yo-yo dieter).

My invitation to you if you want lasting change is to let go of the
declutter mindset - a variation on the diet mindset. Both are just
hollow pursuits of something we think will make us happy. Both ask us to
embrace a masculine paradigm based in external control.  Move to a
place of letting go consciously.  Be aware of the shadow side.  Take the
time to reflect and do it from a place of loving creation, not fear.
Letting go is part of the conscious creation of the life you want, not a
scramble for salvation or perfection.  My experience is that when you
are living from the place of loving, conscious creation you will
naturally and effortlessly begin to let go of that which is no longer
serving you - it will be a process, not a project.  And you will
discover what is worth keeping and what is worth adding to your life in the first place.

A story. When M and I left the prairies for the coast we put all out
belongings into our little blue Dodge Colt hatchback. A perfect
opportunity for me to go on one of my crazy fling-fests. Not conscious,
not thoughtful, not self-aware.  In the process I gave away a pair of
red patent leather winkle pickers to the little girl across the street
to put in her tickle trunk.

The shoes were one of the few things I had that belonged to my
dead mother.  As I grew up without her, I would occasionally pull them out and stand in them - my way of feeling connected to her. I would imagine she was there in my bedroom with me, smiling down at me. Bending over and kissing me on the cheek. I would imagine her wearing them as she rocked me as a baby. It helped me feel less alone. As the years passed, I grew into the shoes - they fit me perfectly when I gave them away. And that scared me a little. Like
Annie Gallup's song about her mother's blue dress:

And I'm not sure I ever meant to grow into this dress for real

As much as I rehearsed it I still don't know how to feel

In your blue dress on a summer night when I turn the page

And step into a photograph of you when you were my age

For all the time gone by and everything I've grown into

Sometimes being me feels like pretending to be you

In your blue dress

I used to like your blue dress and I still do, but in a different

I like the inkstain on the skirt and how the hem is frayed

I see it on a different scale and from a different angle now

Than when I'd look up at you looking down

In your blue dress on a summer night, going out for the evening

Well, I still cry sometimes when I think about you leaving


Your blue dress

I miss those shoes.  Of course, I've done okay without them, but many times I have yearned to slip my feet into them again. I gave them away thoughtlessly, carelessly. At the
time, there was no practical reason to keep them.

But I know this about myself, now - I cannot live with practical alone, my life
needs poetry.  I am sensual - having things to touch and feel makes me
feel connected. I am nostalgic - it is important to me to have some
articles from the past, to feel a sense of the history of my life. Some
of my belongings bring me great joy. I don't fear that attachment.
Knowing this, I am able to temper my urge to purge. Now when I let go,
it is a letting go from a place of self-knowledge and love, not a place of fear and false belief.

The point is to know yourself well enough so that whatever you do,
it is right for you.  Follow your intuition. Learn from others, but live from your own heart.