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Years ago I became the organizational expert on a television show called Clean Sweep. The premise of the show was very simple. A team of experts – including me, a designer, a carpenter, and a crew that assisted in the painting and redesign plans – was given two days to help a family dig out from under their overwhelming clutter.
What started out as a program to help people deal with clutter quickly morphed into something very different. It became obvious that the clutter represented something much deeper going on in many of the people's lives and relationships. For those people, and many of the clients I work with, a shift had taken place – almost without them realizing it. They no longer owned their stuff; their stuff owned them.
For some, it went even further. Their "stuff" was the way they defined themselves – "I am what I own." They were unable or unwilling to separate themselves from what they owned to the point that their living spaces became partially – or in some cases totally – unusable. To break this pattern is an intense challenge. It's not just about putting things in garbage bags or finding the right photo boxes. I help people confront and redefine their relationships with what they own.
The important role clutter can play in the story of your life
Each of us has one life. You. Me. Our friends and family. But I have to ask: Is it the life you want? It may be unexpected, but this is the question I always start with when helping people declutter and organize their homes – and ultimately their lives. What is the vision you have of the life you want to live? Are you living the life you want?
The transformations I have seen are speedy and amazing. As soon as people have space to breathe, their spirits lift. They have new energy and hope. At the end of the process, almost without exception, people tell me, "This has changed my life." Those are amazing and gratifying words to hear. By helping my readers and viewers and clients redefine their relationships to what they own, I have some small part in helping them look differently at their lives. Not in a superficial way, but at a level that has altered their relationships with everyone and to everything around them.
Page 1 of 4 -- Clutter doesn't just affect your physical being -- it can affect your mood, too. Find out more on page 2.
With all my work decluttering homes and watching the resulting transformations came two critical revelations:
1. It's not about the stuff
The first step in helping people deal with clutter is to get them to look at things other than the clutter itself. I know this sounds strange, but if you are struggling with the things you own, and focus exclusively on these things, you will never tame them. Believe me, it's rarely about "the stuff." Clutter is about fear of losing memories, or worry about the future, or a sense that something bad is going to happen. It's a way of dealing with loss, or even a way of masking the pain of some past trauma. The woman who couldn't let go of family memorabilia because of the sudden and tragic death of her brother, the father who hoarded all of his children's schoolwork because it represented what he felt were the years he was closest to his sons and daughter, or the couple whose home was overflowing with personal paperwork because they were so fearful of identity theft.
Looking beyond the clutter for answers means addressing the underlying issues. I learned long ago that if you focus on the stuff, you will never conquer the clutter and deal with the fat and excess that fills your home. This revelation is the key to the success I've had in helping people reframe the way they look at what they own. It is fundamental to helping people overcome years of clutter and disorganization in their lives.
2. Your home reflects your life
Your home is a reflection of you. Not in some airy-fairy way, but in a real and tangible sense. It's no accident that at the same time we are struggling with the "epidemic of obesity," we are also living in homes weighted down with clutter and filled with "stuff."
Dealing with clutter and regaining a sense of harmony and organization in their homes touched many people I worked with in ways that I don't think anyone foresaw. Suddenly "clutter" meant so much more than an overstuffed closet or garage.
For most, changing their relationship to their stuff became the first step in a larger process of adjusting the other relationships in their lives. Couples reassessed their relationships and removed the hurdles that had cluttered up their emotional lives. A few couples went their separate ways. Others realized that major changes were needed if the relationships were to continue. People lost weight, changed careers, reassessed the way they spent their time, and reorganized their priorities.
Removing the clutter from people's lives was more than just clearing a desk of unwanted paperwork or getting all that junk out of the garage. Decluttering and organizing had an impact on every aspect of the lives of the people I worked with.
Page 2 of 4 -- Walsh says your relationship with clutter can mirror our relationship with a messy home. Find out more on page 3.
Clutter and fat -- they're not so different
Now I want to work with you on a different relationship, another relationship that we lose track of when we're overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of busy lives. Another relationship that is intense, even potentially life threatening, and, when redefined, has the power to change your life.
In our culture, the relationship most people have with their bodies hinges on size. And the size of your body is where my expertise as a declutterer comes in. Your relationship to food is complex. If you're fat, your problems are real, and there are no miracles. Changing is going to take some straight talk and I'm here to give it.
Our need for "more"
The person for whom clutter is not a problem is extremely rare. So many of my clients seem to have lost focus in their lives and live with a nagging but poorly defined yearning for something they can't quite grasp. In accumulating more and more stuff or eating more and more food, they are attempting to meet the need for "something more." No matter how much more they accumulate, however, the need remains. For others, there is an element of boredom combined with a simmering sense of frustration, even anger. Again, it's something that many find hard to put a finger on, yet whatever it is lies behind their need to fill their lives with things. The hope is that material things will bring meaning and fulfillment. It never works.
Related: Be a better couple by clearing relationship clutter
All of us deal constantly with the urge to consume more. They're just not very different – clutter and fat: I see it. I want it. I'll have it. Consumption is king. We spend too much, we buy too much, and we eat too much. In the same way that we surround ourselves with so much clutter, we overwhelm our bodies with caloric clutter consisting mainly of sugar and fat. Almost all of us are carrying extra pounds that we just can't seem to shake. The stuff in our homes becomes too overwhelming to deal with, but we keep shopping.
Similarly, the increasing weight of our bodies becomes more than we are able to handle, but we keep indulging. I'm not saying that if you're struggling with clutter you'll be fat or that a weight problem automatically means there is clutter in your home. It's not that simple. What is clear, however, is that we have a weight problem in this country and it is killing us.
Look around -- in all of those fat houses, fat malls, and fat cars are fat people. Clutter and fat -- one is a reflection of the other. If you hope to deal with either, you need to change the way you look at things.
Page 3 of 4 -- Ready to take control of your home... and your body? Walsh shares expert tips on page 4.
It's not about the food
As I learned in cluttered houses across the country, when you've collected too much of anything, including fat, you can't get rid of it without facing the underlying issues. To lose weight, to achieve the body and look you desire, you have to consider the many aspects of where and how you live. You have to consider the life you want to live. You have to look at your body the way you look at your house and say, "Do I honour and respect this body? Does it reflect who I am?" If your goals aren't clear and your thinking isn't focused, you can't break the habits that stand in your way.
Clutter or weight? Weight or clutter? What is the solution? We have to take a step back and look at the total picture. It's a huge mistake to draw arbitrary lines and to put different parts of your life into separate little boxes. Your food. Your career. Your relationships. Your schedule. Your buying habits. Your diet. Consider for a moment that where you live, what you own, how you interact with others, what you eat, and how you spend your time are all intimately linked. You can't change one piece without affecting all the others.
The ripple effect of decluttering your home
Declutter your mind, declutter your home, declutter your relationship to food. Then watch the ripple effect this has on every aspect of the way you live. Clear out the junk, and in doing so clear out the patterns of thought and behavior that prevent you from living the life you want. If you try to clear the clutter by focusing on the stuff, you will fail to get organized. It's not about the stuff. If you try to lose weight by focusing on the food, you'll never change your body for good. It's not about the food.
First define the life you want to live. Acknowledge the issues that clutter that vision. Clean up your priorities. Create a world where those priorities can thrive. Learn how to honour and respect yourself. When you do, the ability to take control of your body will follow.
Look at your life. If you and your family don't mind the consequences of your weight or if you have a clean bill of health, maybe you should stop harping about those extra ten pounds and enjoy your life. I don't believe in weight loss for the sake of weight loss. I believe in living a life that makes you happy. However, if your butt looks fat and you don't like it, it's time to get rid of it.
Related: 5 sneaky things that make you gain weight
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Excerpted from Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, copyright 2008 by Peter Walsh. Excerpted with permission from Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.
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