Declutter Your Life Without Tossing a Thing

No dumpsters needed


Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Our culture conditions us from birth to be busy, active people-pleasers. We all have the opportunity to take less on and say no but we often don’t. Why? Because as much as we don’t want to do something, our fear of being disliked or judged is often stronger than our dislike of the particular task or obligation. In short, it’s ego.

We fear not being enough. Of not being accepted. We accumulate tasks and obligations imposed by others that’s waaay more crushing than any pile of old clothes and books. We find ourselves saying “yes, of course I can help!” because then we can momentarily feel heroic. Or maybe we don’t want to be thought of as the lazy person who never steps up. And then we wonder why we become overwhelmed and numb ourselves just so we can get through the day. Or at the very least, become judgmental towards those with better boundaries, who don’t take on all that we do.

I used to do this a lot more. Definitely before I became a special needs parent, and even a bit afterwards. But I don’t know if it’s an age thing, or a tired-out caregiving thing, but nowadays I am less apt to take on more “unimportant to me” commitments than I absolutely have to. Because I need my energy to go about my daily life. Not to mention, for every task or obligation I take on, that means I leave less room for other stuff I would otherwise prioritize. I don’t want to live my life subjected to the whims of what others deem important.

100 years from now we’ll all be dead. Not only our possessions gone, but our triumphs and tragedies and yes, our obligations. I don’t find this a morbid thought at all. If anything, this perspective can free us to make the choices in alignment with our priorities and values. 

We spend a lot of our time spent caring for our kids and giving them what they need. Why would we want to spend our remaining time striving for others to think well of us and exhausting ourselves in the process?

When confronted with my flagging energy, I manage the smaller stuff in imperfect ways — not the way I envisioned before having kids. In the years after becoming a special needs parent, I became a minimalist. And that’s less because of the aesthetic and more about it’s easier to keep the house in order and less to clean. I want to save my strength for the big stuff — the “what do I want to leave as my personal legacy after I’m gone” kind of things. The areas I find meaning and passion in. And caring for my family, of course, and making sure to take care of myself as best I can. 

If you feel inspired to go through and trash, donate and sell items that don’t work for you, go for it! But don’t forget the clutter of people pleasing obligations. Challenge the traditional definitions of success and achievement. Having boundaries doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you actually more cheerful towards humanity. Because you’re living in accordance to your values, with integrity towards yourself and others. 

How do you want to spend your days? What do you prioritize? And how much time do you devote to merely meeting societal expectations out of a sense of guilt or ego? If we make a point to examine our obligations we may find we can do more meaningful work with less distractions. And that’s an emotional peace better than any gained from a decluttered drawer.

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