Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Decluttering: Releasing the Regrets of the Past

It’s almost time for Chinese New Year, and for the past month or so Chinese households have been busy spring cleaning. The tradition is that before the festivities of the New Year, the house needs to be cleaned, and dusted, and freshened in order to provide a fresh start before the start of the new year. All old and frayed furniture and furnishings are thrown out, all the clutter that has been accumulating for the past year are thrown or given away, and the negative energy that has accumulated along with the unwanted things is driven out - making room for the flow of positive energy.

This year I decided to (or rather was nudged in this direction) embrace the timing of the Lunar New Year and undertake my own clutter-be-gone program. I have in the past done something similar, usually when I'm packing to move, and appalled to discover how much stuff has actually accumulated over the past couple of years. In that case, usually my decluttering efforts are relegated to going through the piles of paper I have somehow managed to accumulate, and my enormous amounts of toiletries, and try to pare it down to a manageable amount - but somehow they manage to mushroom back to previous proportions within a few months.
This time I was determined to do it properly, to really take stock and try and organise everything.  Or everything that I could. I was profoundly impacted going through my grandmother’s things after she passed away late last year, seeing how she had held onto things for years that we were forced to throw away in a matter of days. The horror of that experience really opened my eyes to the true nature of clutter - regrets holding us back. In this case, I'm classifying anything as clutter that has outlived its usefulness, either because it’s a gadget that doesn’t work, or make-up that I don’t use, or papers I no longer need.
As I started to look around the house with this new perspective, I was horrified to see truly how much I was holding on to, and how much stress it was causing me. My kitchen pantry was a complete mess, and I could never find any spices or pastes when I needed them, and I didn’t really know what I had or didn’t. Every time I opened the door of the pantry and things threatened to spill out on me, I simply quickly closed the door again. The same story was repeated elsewhere - my drawers were full of make-up that I wasn’t wearing because they were the wrong shades - too light or too dark. I had spa-at-home products that I weren’t using because I forgot about them, since I had to tuck them away for lack of room. My house isn’t that messy, but mainly because I have mastered the art of hiding the clutter; I did it so well, I hid it from myself.
Over the past few weeks, an hour at a time, I have been tackling the offending areas. So far I have re-organised my kitchen pantry, my make-up and toiletries, including some I had completely forgotten about and found new ways to use them (details in another post), the store room, my stationery collection, the cleaning supplies, and many other little nooks and crannies. Since I did in fits and starts, it didn’t feel like a huge burden. And my home is looking and feeling much better and nicer, all set to face the rest of the year.
I have decluttered and organised before, but this time I did with a whole new philosophy. Whilst earlier I tackled my things trying to see what I didn’t need anymore, this time I tried to focus on what I did need or like the most, and tried to pare down the rest. I used to hold on to everything, just in case I needed it someday. Or I was holding on to some for a special occasion. But when the special occasions did come, I always forgot to use it. So now my motto is that life is a special occasion, so why not use it today?
And the best part? I've let go of many things that I have been holding on to for many years, because they were gifts, or purchases that were mistakes but I have spent good money on, and didn’t want to acknowledge they were mistakes. Letting go of them has made me feel lighter, less stressed. I can actually feel the difference in myself, however corny that sounds. And I'm not done - I have committed to this process until I have really pared everything down to only the things I need on a daily basis and the things I love the most - that way I can appreciate them better.
I would love to hear the experiences of others who have decluttered or are trying to - please leave your comments below.
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