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May 24

How Clearing the Clutter Can Lead to Relationship Clarification

by Michelle Santaferraro

In my work, I have seen that when clients get organized, it can often lead to greater empowerment in other areas of their life – taking control in one area breeds the desire to take control of other areas of life.  The previous president of the NAPO Association (The National Association of Professional Organizers), Mary Dykstra Novess, concisely stated what we as professional organizers do for people: We give them a decision-making process.  We help them in clarifying what they might bring into their lives, where they might put it when they let it in, and when they are ready to let it go – how to responsibly release items to the greater humanity.

Getting clear on possessions involves several criteria – keeping what is useful and beautiful.  Additionally, if something does not serve a purpose then it needs to be released.  Now there are, of course, mementos and memorabilia that simply do not fit these categories and some things to be kept for posterity.  Yet, I always encourage my clients to keep this in perspective.

As possessions are evaluated, ‘shoulds’ emerge, becoming a collection of reasons by which possessions are accumulated.  Sometimes, the item was ‘gifted’ from a relative or friend.  That friend or relative may have traveled and found something to capture the moment of their trip, but often times, it holds no special meaning to the receiver.  Other times, there are possessions that are gifted because other friends and relatives don’t have the guts to let it go. Every time the possession is passed around, the letting-go decision is postponed by the giver.

How does clarity of possessions relate to clarity in relationships? 

Many times the same ‘shoulds’ exist in the relationships we maintain.  Sometimes people try to manipulate us by using guilt, anger or fear. When we know what we want and how to ask for what we want, we are getting a clearer sense of our boundaries.  I like how Brene Brown describes folks who have good boundaries: “They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it.” She goes on to say that their boundaries keep them out of resentment.

There is process I begin to see in the questions my clients start to ask and the observations they make. They alert me that the ‘wheels are turning’ towards greater clarification.  One client recently stated she had never taken real thought to the contents on the bookshelf in her living room until we started working together. When I asked her about the items, she was slow to admit many of them had been chosen for her (i.e. were ‘gifted’ to her).  When she mentioned that one particular item was kept since her ex-husband gave it to her, she began to view the other items that were also given by him.  She said, “I don’t even like that!”

I start to see the wheels turning when they look at other items around them and start making observations about relationships that hold ‘shoulds’ – just like possessions can. I’ve seen this process reveal which relationships are obligations or may be energy sucking.

It may start by simply getting rid of items that don’t mean anything, but it often leads to greater clarity around what a certain relationship adds to life or takes from it.

Posted in Organization