Commitment: You write about how our inner clutter causes the outer clutter in our lives. Can you explain this, and how can we get in touch and identify the inner clutter causing the outer clutter in our homes?
Brooks Palmer: Inner clutter includes anxiety, worry, and fear about the future, or guilt about the past. It’s suffering. It’s the feeling that things should have gone, or should now go, or should in the future go in a particular way. It’s loud and it’s distracting. It’s exhausting.
Because this inner clutter diminishes people, they can’t think as clearly and of course their actions will turn into outer clutter. People often shop when they feel out of sorts. They will bring home something that is not inherently essential to their life.
The way out of this is to look at your own life. Watch your thinking process. Listen to the things that you dwell on. See what kinds of action that leads you toward. Everything I talk about is a concept until you look into the way you live and see how this applies to the way you operate.
Commitment: If most of us hate clutter, why do we hold on so tight to it and find it hard to let it go?
Brooks: The feeling of hate is the frustration of the experience of being stuck. We like to have the natural feeling of flow in our lives. Blood flows through our veins, electrical impulses flow through our nerves, thoughts flow through our mind.
Clutter is all the things in our lives that are no longer supporting us. They don’t give us the feeling of flow.
We often hold onto the clutter because of the memories that we associate with these things. We think of the person who gave it to us, or the experiences we had with the object, or the excitement we felt when we purchased the thing. These feelings are often deep and hidden. Because we’re not aware of them, they often control our actions. That’s why I ask my clients, “Do you like this, or can we let it go?”. It’s matter of fact and brings them into real time where their source of strength is. If they start to go, “I don’t know, maybe, but what if…”, I realize they are not present; they are involved with the memories.
Then I’ll go, “Would you buy this if you were in a store today?”, or “Would you wear this if you were going out tonight?”, or “Would you eat lunch on this today?” They get their strength back and they go, “I can let it go”. They mean it. I go into more details on why we hang onto things in my book.
Commitment: You begin the book with the quote, "With all the things you have in your life, are you any more happy than your dog?" by Ramesh Balsekar. Why did you start the book with this quote and how does it relate to clutter?
Brooks: That quote sums up the book. Dogs are happy with things as they are. If they do need something it’s immediate and simple like eating, or going outside to poop, needs that are easily met.
People can witness a dog’s inherent happiness with how things are, and compare that to their own unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the way things are. I wanted the readers to see the contrast and be aware of their situation. Awareness brings solutions.
Commitment: What advice do you have for those of us who are sentimental and cherish keeping mementos from our past? How can we declutter without abandoning parts of our lives we still cherish and want to always remember?
Brooks: You can’t throw out a memory. We try to extend our memories into material objects, but a memory is by definition alive in our mind, not out there in the world. A lot of my clients have multiple memory items all over their home. It ends up having a museum feeling that seems stagnant. It feels like a part of them is lost in the past. I go through all their items with them to see what things are still fresh for them and what things have lost their immediacy.
I’m not for stripping your living space of all traces of the past. It’s simply taking an honest look at each of the things in your life and asking, “Do I like this, or can I let it go?” And when you let something go, you won’t lose the memory. You actually recover the energy from the item that you had once invested in it, and you become more present.
The amazing thing is the memories that we have of the past, the ones we want to remember, are of those moments where we were most present. There’s a palatable joy in being fully present.
Commitment: Chapter One is titled: 'You Are Sacred-Your Things Are Not.' Can you explain what this means and how it relates to clutter?
Brooks: A lot of us believe that things will make us happy. “This thing will make me happy.” “Having this person, situation, or thing in my life will make me happy.” We’ve been trained to think this way. We see it in advertising, in movies, in the way people communicate, and we don’t question it. We often overlook the simple parts of our lives that bring us joy in this quest for things.
We end up surrounding ourselves with things that distract us in the long run. This makes us feel more agitated and we get more things to feel better. It’s an exhausting process that has no end.
That’s why in the book I talk about ways to question what you’ve surrounded yourself with. What do you actually really enjoy, and what doesn’t serve you?
As you let the clutter go, you end up seeing and feeling the natural and inherently joyful part of yourself. That’s the sacred part. It’s simple and quiet. It often goes unnoticed. When you clear the weeds and tall grass, you get the chance to see what really matters to you.
Commitment: How does clearing up the clutter in our lives bring clarity to our minds?
Brooks: When the clutter goes, you get back your peace of mind. I see it all the time when I work with clients.
As they let their clutter go, they get happier. The color returns to their faces, they have enthusiasm, they look younger, they feel stronger. They didn’t buy anything. They got rid of things that are no longer essential to their lives.
Clutter drains people, because it takes a part of ourselves and invests it outside of us, into something that doesn’t feel right any more. There are things in your home right now that are draining you in this way. When these things go, you get parts of yourself back. You’ll feel more like yourself. There’s clarity.
Commitment: What advice do you have for those who own piles of books and don't want to get rid of them?
Brooks: You don’t have to get rid of anything. But through experience I’ve found it’s worth asking yourself, “Does keeping this book make me happy now, or would I feel better if I let it go and perhaps donated it to the library?”
You can make it hard for yourself to look at your piles of books as a whole and ask about getting rid of them. When you see anything as a whole it can seem insurmountable. You feel all the memories you associate with each of the books.
On a deeper level you covet those feelings as a source of joy that you are trying to maintain and protect. That’s why it’s better to go through each book and ask. Some you’ll keep, others you’ll toss. In the end you will feel better and that’s the main reason to clutter bust.
Commitment: Can clutter keep us trapped in the past?
Brooks: When we hang onto things because we are attached to the memories we associate with them, we are trapped. It keeps us living in the past. We disassociate ourselves from our lives today and this reduces our ability to experience joy right now. My book talks about ways to spot and let go of those traps. It’s worth dismantling the things that hold us back.
Commitment: How can we balance honoring our memories and yet knowing when it is time to let go of something?
Brooks: You honor your memories by letting go of the things you purposely hung on to so you would remember. My experience working with clients is that they have a healthier relationship with their past when they let go of things that aren’t serving them in their life now. You will have a lot more great things happening in your life that will end up being happy memories in the future.
Sometimes we hang onto certain things that remind us of a happy time because we think those times are rare. By hanging onto them we perpetuate that belief and it makes us old inside. We get what we believe.
The thing is there are a lot of really beautiful things going on in your life every day. When you eliminate the distractions, you get clarity, and with clarity comes joy.
But don’t take my word for it. Investigate the things in your life. Maybe some of the things I talk about bring up a defensive feeling. That’s a good thing. That represents a part of you that doesn’t want you to see something. But you’re reading this because you want to feel better. You want your life to unfold. With the power of your awareness, take a look and see. That’s the sun that will illuminate things and make your life blossom.
Commitment: What do you want to say to those who hold on to memories of past lovers?
Brooks: It’s worth taking a look and asking yourself the declutter questions. If it turns out that it serves your life, great. If not I’d let it go. There is no thing that is universally clutter. What’s clutter for one person, isn’t for another. I have worked with clients for whom past-lover clutter was interfering with their lives.
There’s a great story in my book in which I talk about a woman who has an suitcase of old-lover artifacts underneath her bed. We took it out and investigated each item. It turns out they made her feel sour. She let them go. Later that day she went out on a first date that turned into a great marriage a few years later. Clutter stands in the way of great things coming into your life. That’s why it’s worth the investigation.
Commitment: In Chapter four, you write that clutter represents fear of change. Can you explain how clutter can symbolize this fear of change?
Brooks: Clutter for most people gives them a false feeling that they are successfully resisting change. Change can be scary. None of us know what will happen next. So if we surround ourselves with artifacts from the past, it gives us an illusory feeling that things haven’t changed…even though they have. It’s like being drunk.
Clutter makes you misinterpret the present moment. This reduces your awareness and makes you less flexible to the change that is happening all the time. This is the source of most problems that people encounter in their life. My book is the antidote to that.
Commitment: You write that the place where a person lives is an "accurate barometer of their state of mind." What are some of the emotions that clutter often expresses and represents? When you go into someone's home, what are some clues as to their state of mind that you find their home reveals?
Brooks: Clutter often expresses sadness, disappointment, anger and fear. I can feel it in my clients’ homes. There’s a tangledness in the disorder that is tangible. There tends to be a disarray to their things that I can tell they are feeling inside.
I go into more details of clients’ clutter situations in my book. The main feeling is that the clients feel overwhelmed. I don’t get into their feelings with them. I found its most effective to start right into the clutter busting process. Some of those emotions come up during the questioning of the items. It feels like an evaporating of those emotions which are being released.
A person at home right now feeling these emotions can stop and say to themselves, “I don’t have to figure this out emotionally, I can start to take a look around my place and look for the obvious things that I don’t need anymore. With each item that I let go of, I will get back more clarity. The most important thing for me is to have peace of mind. I’m going to start now!”
Commitment: Do we sometimes hold on to clutter as a way to punish ourselves?
Brooks: Sometimes we have built-in ways of doing things that reduce us rather than help us. Some of us have been taught that punishment is a way to motivate ourselves for the better. As you clutter bust, you might recognize that as part of the motivation behind the clutter.
There’s no need to make a big deal out of it.
Quiet recognition has built -in compassion, and that allows healing to happen. You can trust that the process of letting go that I wrote about in my book has a way of bringing back balance to your life and living space.
Brooks Palmer has been helping clients clear clutter from their homes, garages, offices, and lives for nearly a decade.
He also performs stand-up comedy regularly in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. He is a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild and has appeared in several commercials and films. Palmer divides his time between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Visit his clutter-busting website and blog at www.clutterbusting.com and his humor and creativity website at www.BetterLateThanDead.com.
To Purchase Clutter Busting click here