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What is It About Others and Their Clutter? Looking in the Mirror

A woman came to Mahatma Ghandi and asked him, “How do I get my daughter to stop eating sugar? Ghandi said, “Please come back in a week.” She returned a week later, but then asked why he had needed a week to respond. “I had to stop eating sugar.”

I continue to hear stories from people about their loved ones who hold onto things that they don’t ever use or no longer need. I enjoy listening to people about their spaces and lives. I’ve noticed how consistently I hear about other people’s clutter issues. I often receive questions about spouses, children, and parents.  

There seems to be quite a bit of challenge and judgment about other people’s clutter.

Here’s some of what I’ve heard from people over the years. Can you find yourself in any of these scenarios?

  • People I love won’t throw anything away because they are afraid they might need it someday. They hold onto everything.
  • Beloved ones went to the trash and pulled out what I had thrown away and walked it back into the house. And then they order things with a click of a button and more packages with things we don’t need or use show up at our door.
  • My beloved ones promised to build, create, repurpose (fill in the blank) for twenty years and all the materials they were going to use for these projects are deteriorating in the basement/garage/kitchen pantry/bedroom closet.
  • What do I do if I’m the orderly one and the people I live with are the messy ones and the mess is driving me crazy?
  • We were having a yard sale and my beloved ones did not want any of their items in the sale.  
  • My beloved one never plays the vinyl albums that sit on a shelf and stare at us. My partner even owns an excellent turntable/stereo system, but never plays those albums. Wouldn’t you enjoy listening to all that wonderful music?
  • My loved one owns almost every tool, gadget, dress, cosmetic, pair of boots, brand new wrapping paper that are sold at the hardware/department store along with the nuts, bolts, jewelry/bling accessories and such. Most of it cannot be located easily so they purchase more. We could create a hardware/department store out of our home for our entire neighborhood to come and shop!
  • We pay for two storage lockers every month. These storage lockers are filled to the brim with belongings we have never looked at in 5 years. Couldn’t that money go to a vacation trip or to a worthy cause? Couldn’t those belongings go to families who have lost everything after these natural disasters?
  • I created a musical instrument/meaningful object for my beloved ones and they never, ever interact with it.
  •  I want to have friends and family to our home. I don’t invite them because I am ashamed of the goat paths we now have in our house. There’s no room for people to gather.
  • There are broken computers/furniture, shelves upon shelves of them down in the basement. Technology or (fill in the blank) clutter has taken over our basement. I hear every excuse in the book as to why they can’t clear it all away. I would love to remodel the basement for our children who will soon be teenagers.

I urge you to continue to look in the mirror and be the new and best version of yourself. As you notice your frustrations with others can you begin to see the deeper commitment that you hold? What actually is your vision of the relationship between your space, belongings, and your life? What are you yearning to create in these relationships with the people you love? Your attempts to change another’s behavior rarely go well when they come from frustration, expectations, righteousness, or harsh judgments. Sometimes the choices of others and your judgments or agitation become a distraction from your vision, aspirations, and actions you could take for the fulfillment of your life. Remember that you can only be in the driver seat of your life.

Start with you. Discern what is going on with your belongings, your shopping habits, and your clutching onto belongings you no longer use, need, or love. Why are these part of your life right now? Who would you be without these “unloved ones”? What’s happening with your health, your creative expression, and your joy in being alive?

Anytime we point a finger at someone else, four fingers are pointing back at us. As tantalizing as it can be to poke around in someone else’s mess, stay focused on your own unused belongings. What other people are doing is simply none of your business. You are not a victim of other people’s clutter, even if it seems that way.

Be inspired by the idea of freedom from your own clutter-unused belongings, obligations, mental confusion, unhealthy relationships, soul-sucking activities, thoughts that make you feel small, and such. You can take gentle steps to begin to shift your space and life. Take out one item you don’t use from your home or office today. Practice quiet and stillness for your mind. Repeat these actions tomorrow and the next day.

Along with asking your dates about their languages of love, make certain you visit their homes or ask questions about their relationship to belongings in their space. Be certain it’s a good fit for you and your preferences. If your date is a packrat right now and pays for three storage lockers and that makes you agitated, count on this being the case 20 years from now. It can be a deal breaker. It’s okay. You deserve to be in a good fit relationship.

While someone else’s mess may be frustrating, I still invite you to look in the mirror and find the rich opportunities right in front of you to clear away all that no longer serves your life. As you unburden your space and life and become more joyful and less agitated, others will likely notice the shift in you. At the end of the day, you are only responsible for your life. Be determined to do the only thing you can do, which is to free your heart, space, and soul with dignity and grace.  

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