Doctor Heal Thyself

When talking to friends and family about what kind of problems I help people with, I’ll often bring up examples from my own life. I’ve struggled with all the usual issues: buying useless things, accepting dumb junk just because it’s free, stuffing my drawers so full they won’t shut, keeping sentimental items I don’t really need, keeping non-sentimental items out of guilt, etc. People often laugh at first, surprised that someone who declutters professionally could possibly have a problem with clutter. But that’s exactly the type of person you need.

I didn’t come to this decluttering ability naturally. Like any child I loved to hoard my treasured possessions. I responded to the targeted advertisements for toys like everyone else, I longed for the beautifully colored bath products in the drug store even though I didn’t end up using half of them. It’s a natural human tendency to desire things, and it’s encouraged in a modern capitalist society to constantly acquire new possessions.

The thing I did have that may have set me apart was a strong desire for order. So while I did keep every issue of Seventeen Magazine I ever received, I kept them all in perfect chronological order. I liked sorting my loose change into bank roll sleeves. I was the only one in the house with a strong desire to re-alphabetize the VHS collection.

It was sometime right after college that I started to see how my desire for order was at odds with my need to own things. I had to move apartments seven times in ten years, and each time I grew more and more frustrated with the sheer volume of stuff I had. I started to get rid of a few things and realized how much happier I was when there was less around. But it wasn’t easy. This wasn’t a bunch of junk – every object was there for a reason. I had to figure out why the things I swore I wanted to own were also making me miserable.

It was little by little, one step at a time. Actually using up my bath supplies, ending my $10 DVD habit, deciding that I didn’t need to keep every scrap of fabric that crossed my path, etc. I had to fight all those battles myself, usually by myself. Until one day I looked around and realized that not everyone had gone on that journey with me. Some people didn’t know how to fight those battles alone. They needed help, and they needed it from someone who understood what it was like.

I own much less now, but I still struggle with my own clutter. I’m still not sure about a few of those DVDs, a couple of those books. I still have an awful lot of fabric even if it’s way less than before. I still fight those battles, and I remember what it was like when I faced them the first time. I think that’s why I love helping people with this particular kind of problem. Once you’ve found something that makes you happier, that makes your whole life better, all you want to do is tell everyone you know how to do the same. And that happiness, I’ve found, doesn’t come from a set number of books or one fewer kitchen appliance. It’s not about which things stay and which things go. It’s about looking at your bookshelf and smiling. It’s about sitting down at your desk and actually feeling like you can do your work. It’s about owning an object more than it owns you.

That’s what I spent the first 30 years of my life learning, and what I hope to spend the next 30 years teaching to others.