Mar 9, 2012

Psychology of Clutter - Guilt

I'm pleased to introduce a guest writer! In this blog entry, my dear friend and fellow blogger, celebrates the success of examining the psychology of clutter.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

The Low Level Hum
- Laura K. Nicholson
The beginning of the year is always my purge time.  Something about the gluttony and chaos of the holiday season tends to send me into an organizational rebellion.   I must donate!  I must create some empty spaces!  Where do those Christmas presents go?!  Every year it’s the same gleam in my eye and at least a week spent going through closets. 

This year has been different and much more intense.  It’s now March and I’m still full-steam-ahead.  This year, I started sorting out not only the “what” of my things….but also the "why."  Why did I still have unworn clothing from 1997?  Why have I carried around the same unused items through four homes in the last decade?  One night, after a particularly long day of sorting and recycling, I finally looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and asked aloud "What exactly is it that you’re holding on to?"

The answer came back quickly and with shocking clarity:


Many of the things I've been keeping are scarred by guilt. Guilt over spending too much money...guilt over gaining weight...guilt about the memories associated with the item...guilt over the fact that I didn't get my lazy butt to the post office to return the thing when I knew I wouldn't want it...guilt over the gift that was incredibly thoughtful but I *know* I won't use. There was guilt hiding all over my house!  It was usually a low-level vibration…a negative hum that I’d ignored for years.  The guilt was there, humming away and tethering me to the spot, making sure I stayed stuck.

The moment I had the "why", I wanted the "what" gone.

So I started editing again, but with this revelation in mind. For the past three months, I’ve been antennas-up whenever I consider an item in my home.  I’m actively listening for the hum...feeling for the ugly vibe. If there's the faintest trace of a negative hum, that thing, whatever it is, goes in the donation pile.  I’ve literally donated truckloads of my belongings…and it’s more liberating than I ever could have imagined!

Even better, I’m finding now that I’m clearing out the tangible stuff (and ridding myself of their psychological ramifications), there are some delightful second- and third-order effects.  Cleaning is less of a mental hurdle.  I’m eating better and sleeping more soundly.  I’ve finally started taking yoga classes (after at least ten years of thinking about it).   And the more “stuff” I deal with, the more I want to work through.  Without the low-level hum of guilt and stuck energy surrounding me, I’m finally feeling lighter and more capable.  I’m finally feeling free!

…and you can create that sense of freedom for yourself!  There are a number of online resources that can help you find a path to home organization (like this site!).  If you’re interested in reading more about the psychology of clutter, you might also take a moment to look at the Unclutterer’s website ( for some additional insights and references to help you create a home that sings…instead of hums.