Getting rid of what no longer serves me is the motto I’m working from these days. I’ve been fascinated with learning about how physical objects can invade our ability to live fully since I first read the book, Clutter-Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back, and I’m extending those principles to other aspects of my life now, too. I still have a long road ahead, though, so I thought I would re-post this interview with the book’s author, Brooks Palmer, to serve as inspiration for those of us working on decluttering our lives.
Carrie: Brooks, thank you so much for writing these books. Your message and unique way of writing has had a huge impact on my life. Can you give my readers a summary of how you got into the position of helping people clutter-bust? Were you one of those children who never made a mess and then grew up with the mission to help others keep their homes orderly (half-jokingly)?
Brooks: I’m glad to hear my book has had a positive influence on your life. I wrote it hoping to inspire the person reading it to set down the book and start letting go. There’s very little preparation to clutter bust. The insights, support and momentum come in the doing. There’s an intelligent and supportive energy that kicks in once a person starts. You reconnect with yourself by asking of each of your things, “Do I use and love this anymore, or can I let it go?”
I became a clutter buster by chance. I didn’t set out to do it. I clutter busted friends because it was helpful to them. They got a lot out of the clutter bust and recommended I do it for a living. I didn’t see that it would lead anywhere. But I put up some flyers anyway and I started getting calls from clients right away. I was happy to learn that I could help also people I didn’t know.
I was a messy kid. I left stuff on my bedroom floor. My mom used to yell at me to clean up. But that made me want to leave the mess where it was. I don’t think of messiness as clutter. I leave things out now that I like to use. I like to be surrounded by my favorite toys.
Carrie: You speak a lot in both of your books about the deeper meaning that clutter carries and how it weighs us down emotionally and keeps up from living spontaneously and in the moment. When did you realize that the process has a deeper meaning than what it might seem and does clutter always have this hidden message?
Brooks: I knew right away that people’s clutter was loaded. My clients initially would have a hard time letting go of things that were no longer a part of their lives. I could see the emotional turmoil and tug in their faces and bodies. They often didn’t know what was behind those feelings. I didn’t dig deep to find the ways. I’m not a therapist. I don’t think we need to know why. It helps to ask, “Do you love this thing, or can you let it go?” “Would you buy it if you were in a store today?” I find it helps to get a person in a matter-of-fact state. I want to help them side-step the emotions so they can see with immediacy. I want it to be as if I gave them a plate of food and asked them to take a bite and then tell me if they liked it or not. I want to see if they care about this thing now. I’m helping them make a decision. Clutter are decisions that haven’t been made. Once people make the decisions, they feel freedom, because they are no longer burdened. They get their life back because freedom is our essential nature.
Carrie: I found Clutter Busting Your Life to be a great sequel to the original Clutter Busting book because it focuses on our relationships and how to do the process with a partner. What can you tell my readers who say that they can’t get rid of anything because their partners or housemates won’t let them?
Brooks: I would say that it’s your stuff so you get to make the decisions about what’s yours. In the same way that it’s none of your business regarding their stuff. You can live with other people and still have healthy boundaries. It helps to set the record straight on respecting those boundaries. If you have shared property, it helps to ask of each other, “Are we still using this, does it support us and our home, or is it time to let it go?” You want to listen to each other and avoid trying to control an answer. Remember, your relationship is a thing too. If you like your relationship with the other person, it’s important to treat it well.
Carrie: One of my biggest challenges in clutter-busting is getting rid of things that I paid good money for but later realized I don’t really love, want or need. How can I get over the financial guilt?
Brooks: It’s harder to hold onto things that you spent a lot of money realizing it’s clutter, than to let it go. Its just there’s a part of us that says it’s going to be harder to let it go. The part of us that is making us hold on is like a bully. It puts up a show. But that’s because it’s scared of being hurt. We’re sensitive creatures. When we start to get overwhelmed in life, we become over-cautious and start to surround ourselves with things we think will protect and serve us. Something that costs a lot seems like it should be taking care of us. We equate money with power. But when something wrecks havoc on our peace of mind like clutter does, it doesn’t serve us. Our peace of mind is more valuable than anything else in this world.
Plus it’s hard to have a constant reminder in your life of a purchase that didn’t work out. You keep seeing the thing, you are reminded of the money you spent, and you feel badly. You’ll feel quieter inside when the thing goes.
Carrie: In your latest book, Clutter Busting Your Life, you speak of your experience of doing stand-up comedy and how you got over worrying about what other people will think of you. Is it possible to find humor as we get clutter-busted and what are your recommendations for keeping the process fun?
Brooks: I’ve had clients laugh at something they assumed for years they needed and it turns out they didn’t. I think the laughter was a feeling of relief. I remember clutter busting for myself and finding some old car stereo speakers in my closet and laughing at something so out of place.
It’s more fun when you begin the clutter bust with a feeling of curiosity. “Hmmm, I wonder what clutter I’m going to find today?” You’re going to find clutter. Everyone’s got clutter. No one’s wrong for having it. We change, and so do our needs, so it’s natural you’re going to find things that no longer fit your life. Knowing that ahead of time helps you to have more fun in the process.
Carrie: I can’t help but ask about the inspiration for your drawings in Clutter Busting Your Life. Do the figures represent anybody in particular or different parts of our psyche? Am I trying to find a deeper meaning in them or are they simply meant for comic relief? (By the way, you can buy products with Brooks’ drawings on them here).
Brooks: I don’t know the inspiration for the cartoons. A bunch of years back I started drawing a circle head saying something funny and insightful. Then I found myself drawing square heads doing the same thing. Then triangles. The things they said were similar to things I would write and say as a standup comic. For some reason my humor comes out in really short philosophical ways. As I was writing the second book, I thought that the cartoons would find a nice home in the new book because the things they say are clutter busting insights. Plus, they would make people laugh and that helps with clutter busting. There’s often a lot of seriousness in letting go, which is not essential. The cartoons lighten the experience.
Carrie: Once I was inspired by your books to get rid of the physical objects that I was no longer using, I started noticing other “clutter habits” in my life such as overeating. Is this a common phenomenon for people to start taking better care of their health once they clean out their living spaces? Does one have to happen before the other?
Brooks: Once you start the process of clutter busting, you are in the frame of mind to find the clutter in other areas of your life. There’s a particular discriminating energy that comes to life and starts doing its job. That’s why I encourage people to start because it contains the tools to do the job. I’ve seen this happen to many people. In the middle of going through the clothes in their closet, they’ll have a clutter busting inspiration about an aspect of their life-style that no longer fits them. That inspiration comes with a certainty that it’s true. That sense gives them the courage and energy to make the change.
Carrie: How far does clutter-busting go? Is the ideal situation to live in the forest with no belongings and no responsibilities? Do you ever buy anything just for fun or are you the perfect anti-clutterer?
Brooks: Clutter Busting is not about living with less, or being a minimalist. Things are not bad. You can have a lot of things that you love and be happy. While some other people’s nature is to be happier with a minimum amount of things. The only qualification for clutter is the holding on to anything in your life that is no longer serving you. Clutter busting is about finding and removing those things. And then living with and enjoying the things you love.
I do buy things that I love. I love the things I own. I love playing with them. It makes me happy to interact with them. I encourage people to do and own the things they love. Life is fulfilling when you enjoy and experience the things that matter to you whatever they may be. And then when any of these things no longer do it for you, you remove them from your life. Meanwhile, new things that you love come into your life. There’s a great flow at work!
Carrie: Lastly, what can you tell someone who feels the pull to clutter-bust, but isn’t sure if he or she is quite ready? Is there a way to motivate someone to start the process?
Brooks: Sometimes at the beginning there is trepidation. It can seem strange to clutter bust. We’re taught to acquire, but not to let go. Plus, through ads we’re taught that we need things to be happy. It can seem wrong to question your things.
But I like to think that it’s your home and life. You get to make choices of what can stay and what goes. It’s your right. Your right to choose may have not been used for a while. But the ability to ask and make decisions is inherent in you. I’ve never worked with anyone who wasn’t able to ask, “Do I like this, or can I let it go?” and then make a decision. They often surprise themselves with their abilities. I encourage you to wade into the clutter busting waters and see what happens. Something wonderful awaits!