Decluttering Your Entire Life

overwhelmed woman sitting in the middle of a messy room

I interviewed a colleague of mine, Karen Needham (www.clutterbustercoach.com), on the topic of clutter for my The Military Spouse Show podcast. She helps women who are overwhelmed with physical and mental clutter find PEACE. Don’t you love that? Anyway, I had a lot of fun interviewing her and will share some of the insights and inspiration that I received along with a recap of our interview here. If you are interested in hearing the full podcast I did with Karen, click here.

I learned a lot by talking to Karen! I thought she would be giving tips on how to tidy my kitchen and closet, but Karen inspired me to dig deeper and think about why we let clutter interfere in our life. I loved her approach.

Karen suggested that we look at our mental clutter in addition to looking at physical clutter. And I know she is onto something. Often, if a client is stuck I have them do a decluttering task to shift their energy. Karen starts with addressing the feeling of “stuckness” and trusts that fixing the physical clutter issues with follow suit.

After I introduced Karen, we talked about how amidst these COVID times we’re all very overwhelmed. I was excited to hear that she had some tools that can help us conquer the messiness that surrounds us rather than providing just a quick fix. Of course, many of us had to declutter our kitchen, office, or car, only to find that our bad habits have these spaces messy again a week later. Karen shared how to solve this issue so we aren’t in a constant cycle of being surrounded by too much stuff that doesn’t serve us.

Karen said, “Right. Have you ever seen the hoarder show (that’s an extreme) but if you notice when the producers go back, the mess often returns.” She explained that we need to figure out why we are uncomfortable and why we fill voids with things that we don’t need.

I explained that I have worked with military spouses who have found they accumulate clutter during a deployment, perhaps as a way to self-sooth with shopping and putting off organizing. It’s pretty normal, but the good news is that Karen has some solutions that can fill this emotional chasm.

Karen explained, “So, there’s a hole, right? The spouse is obviously left with a hole; their significant other isn’t there anymore. So it’s a change, to something different. And a lot of  times, the best way to take care of that is to buy more stuff. Right. It feels comforting at the time. But then within a couple of days (maybe when we get the bill), you’re probably saying, why did I do that?”

We chuckled because I could relate! But I liked where Karen was going; it’s about recognizing that we are doing this and working to try and view our clutter differently. We should look at the what is clouding our minds as much as we look at what is clouding our physical space. Karen suggested we look at “What is coming at us” and “What’s overwhelming us” The interesting thing about all of that is a lot of us are pretty good about saying, no, I can’t do X anymore. We’re also pretty good about decluttering our homes and getting rid of some of those things. But again, quick fixes don’t always work long term and we can’t understand why after that initial “I cleaned up and feel great” high, we are right back where we started.

Again, I could totally relate. I explained to Karen that I am pretty good at declutter and even notice that I am a more mindful shopper after decluttering. I told her that I noticed myself getting rid of a lot of my “As seen on TV” products, so I stopped buying as many. Karen pressed me to dig even deeper than becoming a mindful shopper. She encouraged me to explore the concept of allowing myself the space to simplify my life. This is what Karen helps clients do; clients who are coached around the issue of mental clutter are able to find peace.

Karen explained, “We are born a clean slate and we have that peace. And then life happens and we start school, engage with others, layer after layer develops and we tend to lose that initial peace.” Karen helps her clients find peace through her assessments, powerful coaching questions, tools such as like guided meditations, and the like. Karen also suggested deep breathing. Karen gives her clients the tools to achieve that same peace they once had.

I could tell that Karen doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all coaching approach. She helps her clients who collect items find balance and figures out what simplistic means to each client. She isn’t about making someone a minimalist; instead, she looks at what is required to quiet one’s mind and help them live in flow. Karen didn’t brag about not having too many knickknacks; she just explained that her home and business are organized because she has a system.

What I witnessed in speaking with Karen is that she has learned to value herself enough to treat her personal organizing system as a form of self-care.

I thought of self-care as a manicure or a massage, but Karen explained that self-care is also not letting physical and emotional clutter accumulate. It’s about mindful shopping and not being impulsive. Little things like stopping to ask ourselves, “Do I really want this? How is this particular item serving me, serving my values?” This exploration helps us to focus back on our purpose.

I like how Karen distinguishes internal and external clutter. She explained that the external takes care of itself as we explore the internal. I love that! Instead of trying to figure out how you are going to get all of that stuff out of that “storage room,” you clear the mind and solutions almost magically appear. What appears to be synchronistic solutions were rewards you for your self-exploration. Just imagine how good it will feel when you aren’t held back by clutter. You feel better and your relationships flourish knowing anyone can stop by at any time. You notice you aren’t thinking of clutter; you are “just being,” and your energy goes into what really matters to you.

Karen reminded me of Tony Robbins’ saying we shouldn’t major in minor things. After talking with Karen, I didn’t want to spend time cleaning my closet. I wanted to spend time serving other military spouses. She inspired me to get what is in my head out of my head and onto paper.

She said, “Jot down if you’re feeling uncomfortable with a certain situation or even with a certain family member. Perhaps you are stressed about the current COVID situation, jot that down…” She suggested using the life wheel (I will post a photo below) and looking at each of the areas and then considering the internal clutter you are facing in each section. Assessing the wheel gives you a starting point, and Karen can help you let go of each and every one of those blocked areas so that you can achieve peace.

I included an image of the life wheel below. In a nutshell, the wheel includes all the areas of our life. Karen suggested that we take a moment to look at the mental clutter in each of those areas and write it down. She explained that awareness is a key step towards managing the overwhelm and moving past it to find peace.

wheel of life diagram from The Coaches Training Institute

Karen suggested coming up with solution-oriented tasks that will serve us. For example, if one of your mental stressors in your physical environment is that you can’t find your keys, you would make a special spot for them and come up with a system, such as using the new key hook and having a spare key in your dresser. Coming up with tasks in one area creates a domino effect and increases your mental bandwidth, which allows you to deal with the next task.

Each task completed leaves you with more mental free space. Karen suggested filling this mental free space with some fun, such as joining that book club that always piqued your interest or starting a kickball league in your neighborhood. Becoming more organized and creating more mental space will help you drown out mental noise or avoid living in a sloppy home that depresses you.

Honestly, when I was interviewing Karen, it felt like toxicity was melting away. Clutter can seem insignificant, but I have seen it take a toxic hold on my clients. Living in chaos isn’t fun. You can’t be yourself when you are consumed with mess, procrastinating, and spending all of your precious time looking for or keeping too many things because you’re fearful and living with a lack mindset. You being to really live, lower your depression and anxiety, and even sleep better once you start only keeping what serves you. I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

I am so happy Karen was willing to let me interview her on the topic of clutter. If you want to keep in touch with her, her website is karenkneedham.com. You can download her clutter buster worksheet from her website and then keep in touch. I know she has definitely changed my prospective on clutter and increased my desire to live with less. Karen was open to having any military spouse reach out and ask more questions and keep in touch.

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