It’s not about the stuff – how organizing can heal your soul

I have become quite entranced by the power of organizing this year and I am recommending it to several of my clients and many of my friends. I have been waxing lyrical about discovering the almost magical healing properties of this seemingly mundane activity. Ironically, given that it is all about the physical detritus we accumulate over a lifetime, I have found that organizing is, in fact, very good for the soul.

    Want to know the biggest secret about organizing? It’s not about the stuff

To say organizing is about the stuff is to say that kissing is about moving your mouth around next to someone else’s. Which is to say that the sum of the whole is far greater than the parts. It’s a process, people and within this process there are many profound revelations and hidden benefits to be had.

To begin with, it’s an eye-opening indicator about just how much attention (or not) we have been paying to what surrounds us. Some people say that the state of your surroundings is a direct reflection of your state of mind and I have to say, that for me at least, there is a lot of truth to that. To begin with is the fact that the times I start to get messy coincide with the times I am feeling overly stressed or rushed. Of course, this easily becomes a vicious cycle if you find it stressful to be in disorderly surroundings.

I happen to think there may actually be some scientific merit to the idea that de-cluttering reduces stress, if only because it must take more energy to be in a cluttered room because each time our eyes survey it, our optic nerves and brain have to fire off so many more times to relay the information about all the stuff they are seeing.

So there’s something to be gained from the end result but what I haven’t heard so much about, is the healing that can happen along the way. Having recently gone through all of my possessions, I looked at, touched and made a conscious decision about the value and benefit of keeping each thing. In my case, needing to decide whether each thing is worth the cost of either storing or shipping pushed the stakes quite a bit higher.

What was astounding to me, given that I have moved a fair bit and most recently within two years, was the embarrassing amount of stuff that I really didn’t even know I had in my possession. I wish I had kept count of the astonishing number of trash sacks of stuff that got thrown away, not to mention all the things that were donated or sold. And at the end of all that, I still look at what I ended up with and feel that there is more to be let go.

Looking at mementoes from the past can be bitter-sweet. Reading love letters from someone who no longer shows us that they love us – for whatever reason – brings grief as we remember and re-experience joys and love lost and feel the pain of its absence.

Organizing gives us the opportunity to come face-to-face with a literal manifestation of how much emotional baggage we are carrying around.

The letting go was at times incredibly painful but when you stop to really think about it, totally irrational. Why do we get so attached to things? Of course, what we are really attached to is the meaning we ascribe to that thing, for a really good explanation of this, check out what my friend Jon has to say about Essentialism here.

What I came to realize was that the reason it was so hard to let go of certain things was because I greatly valued the meaning that I had attached to them. I realized that my reluctance had to do with feeling like I was letting go of experiences and emotions I wish were part of my present.   So I understood that it hurt because it was very important to me to be able to remind myself or perhaps even to prove to myself that at this time I felt loved, at that time I felt happy or successful, or creative or whatever that emotion was that I want to be able to hold on to.

One of the most difficult parts of the experience was realizing that I needed to acknowledge that not only certain relationships were over, but also that certain phases of my life are over. That there are roles I wish I were playing in my life and other people’s lives that simply don’t fit or exist anymore. I realized I had been holding on to the props required for the movie set of the life I wished I was living.

Letting go of the things shattered my denial and resistance to being fully in the present – which of course is the only place we actually exist in. When I am able to drag myself (sometimes kicking and screaming) into fully being in the present, which perhaps I fear will be just too painful to even survive, I always experience relief.  I need to try to remember that just like throwing up, once I finally submit to the inevitable, I always feel so much better afterwards. And the present is where the rebuilding can begin.

So this, dear reader, is how I came to discover the little known fact that organizing is in fact, a sort of spiritual practice since just like meditation it brings one into the present. Organizing facilitates a healing whereby we can review the past and acknowledge its gifts and lessons. As we take the gifts and lessons into our minds and hearts, we can let go of the stuff and without all that baggage it is so much easier to gracefully move on and grow towards a better future.