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One of the issues that many couples fight about is clutter around the house. The old saying “One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure” definitely applies here.

What constitutes good mental and emotional health, in a general sense, is how adaptable can you be and still be comfortable and happy. When clutter interferes with safety, functional daily living or happiness, then it’s a problem.

There’s no exact right or wrong as to how much clutter is too much, as soon as you move toward either end of the spectrum, you are likely moving toward an unhealthy aspect. In part, this has to do with our very natural attachment to personal items such as heirlooms, trophies, and photographs that have a very personal meaning to them.

Whatever the item, remember it is a ‘thing.’ Personal activity and relationship happiness should be your primary focus, not things.

When we refuse to let go of items that are incidental, and if their loss causes great distress, there is an unhealthy attachment to that item. This is true even with a house lost in a fire. You may be justifiably upset, but a functional level, it can all be replaced.

If attachment to things interferes with relationships, daily life or happiness, then it’s time to make some attitudinal adjustments. Excessive neatness or clutter most often relates to anxiety. And anxiety is usually caused by fear.

When there is stress/anxiety around the letting go or loss of an item, ask yourself, “What do I actually fear?” Loss of control? Not being valued? Not being perceived as successful (symbolized by a trophy, expensive TV or car)? Why do you need that knickknack? What does it represent to you? What does its loss represent?

Growth, by definition, means both development and letting go. You can’t learn to swim holding onto the edge of the swimming pool. At some point, it’s important to let go and look forward to new things, people and adventures. You can’t add to a cup that is already full.

Remember that excessive attachment can produce an over-protective defensiveness and trigger anxiety at a potential loss. To combat the anxiety, take one step at a time to de-clutter. Discard a single, small item at a time, working your way up to larger objects until you’ve reached a place where you and others in the house are all comfortable and the house is functional. Remember that a relaxed, happy atmosphere, compromise and good social interaction need to be the paramount focus, not things.


THREE KEY STEPS TO DECLUTTERING

  1. Remember that excessive attachment to things is driven by anxiety and fear of not being in control.
  2. When you have trouble letting go of an item, write down what it represents to you. Then write down what its loss represents. Clarity will help you take action.
  3. Take baby steps. Get rid of one small trinket and work your way up to larger items.
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Daniel Rutley

Daniel Rutley, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice in Mississauga. He is also the best-selling author of Escaping Emotional Entrapment: Freedom from negative thinking and unhealthy emotions. He specializes in depression, anxiety, anger, habit control and relationship issues.