Clare’s Clutter Clearing Story

Clare Clutter Clearing

Just like those who are on their Journey, I began my Journey by understanding WHY I had my Clutter Challenge.

Which is harder than you think. I had always told myself I had my clutter because I didn’t have enough space, enough storage or know HOW to organise it all.

But of course, it wasn’t because of those reasons.

Once I decided on Millennium Eve to stop trying to cut the top off my iceberg of clutter, I had to figure out where to begin. My mind and memory was full of all my failed attempts and regrets, so I decided to start with some mental ‘decluttering’.

The advantage with starting there of course was that I didn’t have to lift, shift or make decisions, although being with my thoughts and feelings was just as uncomfortable as my physical clutter.

As I started to capture the ‘facts’ about my past and my clutter, I realised my life had become focused on doing things outside of my home rather than spending time IN my home. It was the same when I lived in my flat in London.

Yet the irony was I dreamed of having a home that felt like a retreat, my safe space where I could go when the going got tough in that big, bad, unpredictable and uncontrollable world outside.

But I suspected there had been other types of clutter throughout my life, some well buried.

So I invented a LIFE Timeline.

As a Project Manager it seemed the obvious way to capture everything I knew about my life and literally see what evidence I could find about had been going on.

At a simple level this is a timeline of my life looking at it from various different angles. The homes I’d lived in, things that had been going on in my family, school, work, career. Personal Challenges I’d had, places I’d been – a whole host of different things. It included all the types of things I knew about my family, childhood and so on, but I’d always thought about them separately, never intertwined.

So I got to work creating my LIFE Timeline, and what surprised me was how much was going on in my life when I had struggled to deal with my clutter.

Having studied child psychology as part of my degree, I knew that what a child experiences between the ages of birth and 5 define their social and emotional skills. So I was fascinated to see what had gone on with my life in those first 5 years. Cluttered doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I was a Rainbow baby (although they weren’t called that back in the 70’s), born into a family who was struggling – and failing – to grieve the loss of a still born child at 5 ½ months of pregnancy, 6 weeks before I was conceived.

I was born to parents brought up after the war who knew huge financial hardship and lived through post-war rationing. Both sets of grand-parents had to work; my grandmothers both worked in service. Yet as baby boomers my father had a fast-tracked career, he wanted my mother to be a stay-at-home mother, and they became very wealthy. They were the epitome of success.

Yet my parents upbringing values of financial fear and never waste anything never left them and were passed on, which led to a confusing home life of mixed messages for my brother and I about emotions, money and ‘guilty’ affluence. No wonder my brother and I ‘rebelled’ as we started to earn money by spending all our spare money.

I wanted my home to be a place where I could just be myself, do some self-care, not have to look at piles and piles of ‘stuff’ and feel guilty that I ‘should be dealing with that rather than resting and recharging my mind and body.

Of course that was just a dream. No, literally a dream. I’d never really felt as if any home I’d lived in had been an emotional retreat. Why was that? I started to get curious. I wonder…..

To cut a long story short, I got to work working out WHY I had my clutter challenge. What ‘evidence’ was hidden in my past? Time to play Detective Draper (my maiden name).

I knew I’d had the visible clutter at least 4 years. and not thinking about our futures. My parents had done the complete opposite with values of spend little, you don’t need luxuries, keeping up appearances is priority. Oh, and save everything you can for fear of the future.

Below: Me aged 4 in my favourite dress!

Clare As A Child

And what about the first 5 years of my life? At the age of 4, a crucial time in a child’s attachment and emotional development, my brother was sent away to boarding school because my mother ‘couldn’t cope’ with him (her words). How did I – aged 4 – make sense of that? Did I learn that things you love get taken away? If I wasn’t good enough I’d be sent away? Could that be part of my clutter challenge?

My Glandular Fever and M.E. in my teens – could they have been childhood depression, an attempt to connect at an emotional level with my unemotional mother, a reaction to her repeated assertions that she wished she’d never had children and would have been happier without them? Yes – there’s a definite pattern to my life!

My brother attempting suicide twice during my finals at University. Did that have anything to do with why I got into a very unhealthy relationship that year with a man who became my fiancé.  Could that relationship have been a cry for help and emotional support – a welcome distraction from the family feelings and issues that weren’t being talked about, much less dealt with?

It was a powerful exercise that raised as many questions as it answered. The most important thing it literally ‘showed’ me was that I’d had a cluttered life with patterns and triggers.

It showed that when my emotional needs weren’t being met I sought comfort in ‘stuff’. Having been brought up in an unemotional family where ‘emotions’ was a dirty word, never to be acknowledged, shared or talked about, I learnt unhealthy coping strategies to deal with them.

And so in my teenage years I turned to ‘stuff’ to fill the emotional void. My brother did the same when he returned home at the age of 14.

Yes – my LIFE Timeline was throwing up questions and answers. I was starting to understand the WHY of my clutter challenge and I could literally ‘see’ that it wasn’t just about the ‘stuff’.

It helped me see that my clutter was a way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings that I hadn’t been taught how to process, deal with or been allowed to talk about without fear of judgement.

Putting all the facts and memories down on paper, in chronological order, and using photos of myself at different ages was emotionally challenging, triggering a whole range of emotions but which ultimately brought huge comfort when I noticed patterns and triggers. I didn’t understand it all, but I understood myself better.  I went to a therapist and started exploring so I could learn new coping mechanisms.

As I compared what I had learnt at Uni, researched more, looked at my LIFE Timeline and saw my therapist I began to understand what had contributed to my clutter challenges since I was born and how my inability to make an emotional connection or bond with my parents was a factor.

My LIFE Timeline exercise was helping me declutter my mental clutter. It was a way of starting to let go of the guilt and failure I felt about my life. It wasn’t about finding someone to blame. It was acknowledging and forgiving my past to enable me to move on with new coping strategies.

Of course MY clutter was MY response to MY life experiences. Everyone who has a Clutter Challenge has their own unique LIFE Timeline with their own unique experiences, triggers, responses and habits.

For me, spending the time to capture and record different aspects of my life brought me comfort, understanding and the ability to forgive my past and my parents. I started to understand my parents behaviour, their values, and how that had affected me. And I mentally thanked them for doing their best. My anger was gone.

My LIFE Timeline exercise started the healing that was needed so that I could forgive myself for responding to life the only way I knew how to at the time – by forming strong emotional attachments to ‘things’ much more easily than most. My Clutter Clearing Journey had begun…….

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

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