Clare’s Clutter Clearing Story – Fear of the Void

Clare Clutter Clearing

I didn’t like it when I learnt, realised and accepted that I had been wasting most of my clutter.

As a former Project Manager working on a £250million hotel refurbishment project (the largest project of its kind at the time) I was good at working out how to estimate / guesstimate how long things took. I always added 20%  – 25% contingency.

So when it came to estimating / guesstimating how long it would REALISTICALLY take to use all the things in my clutter I used my tried and tested formula.

Step 1:  Take a pile of clutter.

Step 2: Working through that pile, estimate / guesstimate how long each and every item in that pile of clutter would take to do / read / action.

Step 3:  Add up those estimates and multiply by the number of piles.

Step 4: Add on 20% contingency.

Step 5: Work out how many days / weeks / years it would take me to do everything I intended to do with the things in my clutter if it were a full time, 37 hours a week job.

For clothes, it was slightly different.

Step 1:  Take a pile of clothes.

Step 2:  List how many of each type of item of clothing I had.

Step 3: Categorise according to; Season / Holiday, leisure/home wear / formal evening wear, shoes / boots, jewellery, coats…… you get the idea. Yep – I made piles. I was already an expert piler.

Step 4: Work out how many outfits I had for each pile. e.g. 2 tops and 2 skirts = 4 outfits.

Step 5: Based on each season being approximately 3 months / 12 weeks / 60 working days + 24 ‘leisure’ days, work out how many days and weeks in a season I could wear a different outfit without wearing ANYTHING twice.

WARNING: What you discover may be uncomfortable

You may not be surprised to know I re-sorted the piles several times before I finally accepted that the answer was uncomfortable. I tried to convince myself that if I did this or that I could justify keeping it all or it wasn’t that bad – was it?

Even just a single book could, I worked out, with an average of 10 minutes to read each chapter (I’m not a fast reader by any means) and an average of 10 chapters per book, that’s 100 minutes per book. Rounded up that’s 2 hours of continuous reading per book.

2 hours per book. 1,2,3,4,5…………… OK. How many months?! Then the justification began.

Maybe I could get the audiobook version instead and multi-task while I did the ironing.

Maybe I could…….maybe I could…………

Eventually, I had to accept that I either spent the rest of my life ‘doing’, ‘using’ and ‘reading’ all the things in my clutter, many of which I now didn’t want or need to do, use or read (so what was the point other than guilt) OR……

Here it comes….. OR……

I could let them go and have a different present and future to the one I imagined I’d have by now, years ago when I accumulated all this ‘stuff’.  I could focus on the future I ‘could’ or ‘might’ still have if I let go of all this stuff from my past NOW. That’s scary.

So, if I let go of this clutter that represents my comfort and security, then what? What’s left? What have I got to show for my life?

As I researched why I was so afraid to let go, so afraid that if/when I die I’d have nothing to show for my life, nothing to prove I’d lived my best life, no evidence of my potential, that I wouldn’t have mattered to anyone or anything and I’d have no legacy (other than clutter the would end up in landfill when my friends and family blitzed it after my death)…….

I learnt about the Fear of the Void

That was one heck of a lightbulb moment.

The fear of the void is why we fail to clear our clutter and keep it clear. Even if we have a blitz and make some space, the clutter soon ‘grows’ back as if like magic.

That’s because your brain doesn’t like emptiness (regardless of what the minimalist ‘experts’ might say). You brain is designed to fill voids.

If you don’t believe me, try to practice mindfulness – the art of ‘emptying’ your mind of thoughts. Then you’ll know this first hand.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who isn’t good at small-talk? Long pauses, uncomfortable silences. That’s a void.

Think about the empty shelf or cupboard. You can’t tell me you haven’t looked at it and immediately thought ‘what can I put there’ rather than enjoying the ‘void’.

When you’ve tried to make decisions about the things in your clutter, I guarantee in the past you’ve thought ‘what can I do with it, where can it go’ rather than ‘do I need it’, let it go and potentially create a ‘void’.

We fill the void with ‘stuff’ rather than sit with the uncomfortable feelings and space.

That’s why, on the TV programmes the hoarders don’t want to ‘get rid’ of their clutter, and even if they do, if you went back 6 months later you’d see they’d filled the ‘void’ with new clutter. That’s why the TV programmes never follow up.

When you’re ruthless with a blitz you create a void. Your brain then spends the next x days and weeks and months slowly yet surely filling that void, whether it’s moving clutter from corner to corner, room to room or accumulating more clutter. Sometimes it’s all done subconsciously.

Newsflash: You’re an expert void filler.

It’s an even stronger urge to fill – or rather avoid – the void in a clutterholic or hoarder because to us the clutter represents safety and security for the past, in the present and for the future.

A Clutterholic or Hoarder is driven by the need to Avoid the Void

So how do we overcome this natural tendency to fill voids?

We focus on the future.

We make sure that clearing our clutter won’t create a void or take away the safety and security that the clutter provides us NOW.

  • You don’t want the clutter – but what do you want instead?
  • What do you want to do in the future that you haven’t been able to do in the past because of the clutter?
  • What will I see you doing and hear you saying that you don’t do or say now?
  • What will you be feeling that you don’t feel now?

Get really clear about what’s going to fill the void.

Focus on a future full of positive feelings, experiences, and memories rather than ‘stuff’.

Until you get clear and specific about how you want your life to be better than it is now – I mean really specific so you could create a check-list from what you describe – you will never succeed at clearing your clutter and staying clutter free forever.

You need to face the fear of the void.

Find out more about the Clutter Clearing Journey that Clare discovered here:

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