Julie Sherman (julieswn) Thu 22 May 14 08:23
This week we welcome Lauren Rosenfeld to the WELL, to talk about her new book, co-authored with Dr. Melva Green, "Breathing Room, Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home." Lauren Rosenfeld, M.A., M.Ed, is a Soul Declutterer and a Spiritual Treasure Hunter: Since childhood, she has been a spiritual intuitive who is able to see spiritual lessons shining even in life's most challenging situations. This is Lauren's second book to guide readers toward finding miracles within the mundane: "Your To Be List" was published in 2010. Lauren blogs about everyday miracles and mysticism at lgrosenfeld.com. She lives in Asheville, NC with her husband and their four children. I, Julie Sherman <julieswn> will be doing the honors as interviewer. Julie has been on the WELL since 2004, she grew up in a family of packrats, but not hoarders, and has been a procrastinating declutterer all her life.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Thu 22 May 14 09:48
Welcome to the WELL, Lauren. To get us started, please talk a bit about the title of this book. There are so many books out there about organizing, decluttering, etc. but your book comes from a different place than those other titles.
Lauren Rosenfeld (lgosenfeld) Thu 22 May 14 09:59
The title of "Breathing Room" came from a dharma talk given by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh that I heard while on retreat with my family in the summer of 2010. He said that every family should have a breathing room in their home -- a room dedicated to compassion and reconciliation. Following the retreat, feeling it was essential for me to create such a room for our family, I found that every inch of the house was either dedicated for usage or storage. There was literally no breathing room in my home. So I began to declutter -- letting go of decades of stuff that had accumulated in our lives and in the process, I came up against some very serious emotional attachments driven by a range of emotions -- from guilt to regret to anxiety to worry to shame. Ultimately, I came to understand that all of my external clutter was simply an outward manifestation of the emotional clutter I carried within my own heart. And I found that by releasing the clutter within, I could release the clutter in my home. And when I opened up breathing room in my home, I created breathing room in my heart. In this book I -- along with my co-author, Dr. Melva Green -- give readers a deeper understanding of why they are holding onto the stuff they are holding onto in both home and heart -- as well as tips on how to let it go.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Thu 22 May 14 11:08
So I know that when I think about decluttering, I usually get overwhelmed by where to start, how to start. You mention some tips, can you explain a little more about your method?
Lauren Rosenfeld (lgosenfeld) Thu 22 May 14 13:19
Well, the first thing I tell everyone who begins to decluttering is to start small and start with compassion. Don't attack your clutter. Don't choose the whole attic or the whole basement. Pick a small, accomplishable area and go at it with an open and curious heart. We recommend a method with the acronym SLICE: Stop. Listen. Intend. Clear the Energy. STOP running from your clutter. It's okay. It's not a beast in the wild. It's an extension of your inner world. Sit with your clutter in compassion, because compassion is the only thing that can change it. Running from it or shoving it into dark corners will not. LISTEN to the emotions that are coming up. Whether those emotions are guilt, fear, anxiety, regret, worry. They are small and fearful. And you are the bigger, more mindful, wiser presence. You are here to relieve these emotions. You don't need to give them more energy than they deserve, otherwise they end up taking up too much room in your home and your heart. INTEND what you want for that space -- whether that's happiness, calm, nourishment, rejuvenation, warmth. Then CLEAR the energy: Remove the clutter that is out of alignment or harmony with your intentions. That's the basic method. In the book we have a lot of exercises that specifically help you to clear the energy of clutter in your home, your heart, your relationships, and your roles and responsibilities. The Breathing Room method of decluttering is a holistic method for decluttering not just your home, but your whole life.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Thu 22 May 14 13:25
You have helped a lot of people declutter different rooms, are there any striking experiences you have had with people and their clutter?
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 23 May 14 22:30
I have a couple of observations/questions. My method appears to be a bit different than you've outlined so far so I'd like to get feedback. One is that my efforts at decluttering (looking around at my messy room as I type this) often comes in waves. A while ago I went through my overstuffed bookcase, looked at every book and either put it back on the shelf if I had ANY attachment to it or put it in a bag to go to the used book store. Or in a few cases, put it in a "think about this" pile. Later this summer my wife and I agreed that we'd take everything out of the garage, clean the garage and then put back only those things that we cared about. So in our case it's not the emotion attached to the clutter so much as not even seeing the clutter because it's become so much a part of our lives.
Cliff Dweller (robinsline) Fri 23 May 14 22:42
I chuckled when I read in your book where you suggested getting rid of appliance manuals that you hadn't looked at for several years, and comparing them to wedding albums. I assure you that I have looked through my manuals file far more often than I have looked at my wedding pictures. My big sticking point happens to be photographs. I have boxes of family pictures going back three and four generations. My current plan is for one of the youngsters in our family to become President so we can send all these pictures to a Presidential library. Even if I put them in some kind of computer file, I am reluctant to throw out old family photos. How do you recommend dealing with things like that?
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 23 May 14 23:19
I have to disagree strenuously about appliance manuals. They should be kept as long as you have the appliance. I've had occasion to look in old manuals to find part numbers, for example.
Jack Radey via (lendie) Fri 23 May 14 23:25
I agree. We just gave away a printer + it's manual.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 24 May 14 05:04
I, ahem, have lost my copy of your book in the clutter! I'll try to find it today, and if I can't, will order another. Sigh.
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Sat 24 May 14 11:11
What page were you on, Mark? Just asking. My copy is nearby and I am between page 168 and 169; but I skip back then reread more slowly. This book is helping me to unpack my house by decluttering. Lauren since (I believe you have access to The WELL you might peruse the Buddhism conference.
(fom) Sat 24 May 14 11:16
Thanks for that, ceder! I really like the part about not "attacking" your clutter. Not to set up an adversarial situation -- just to say goodbye and get rid of the stuff. For me that approach ratchets down the anxiety. I'm more of an unwitting accumulator than a hoarder, but the distinction is kind of ridic when you're looking at piles of crap to get rid of.
Lauren Rosenfeld (lgosenfeld) Sat 24 May 14 12:33
Julie: Yes, I've had many striking experiences, some of which are detailed in the book. People tend to have huge ah-HA's about the clutter they've been carrying around for years - and the emotional import it has in their lives. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that with every client I work with, some story emerges from the clutter that needs to be held and honored -- asked and understood. So, for example, I had one client who had in her storage shed several boxes of china that had been passed down to her from her mother (that had been passed down from HER mother). The client told me she was saving it for her own daughter. I asked her if her daughter was excited about receiving the dishes. "No," she told me, "she says she doesn't want them. But I'm saving them for her in case she changes her mind." I asked her, "Do YOU want them?" "No. I don't,' she answered. I explained to my client that what she was holding onto for her daughter was not a love offering -- it was a burden of guilt that was being passed down through the generations. Her mother didn't want them so passed them to her. She didn't want them, so was trying to pass them to her daughter. And that burden of guilt? It grows heavier with every passing generation. It was time to let the dishes go and unburden their legacy of the heaviness of those dishes and the guilt they carried with them.
Lauren Rosenfeld (lgosenfeld) Sat 24 May 14 12:35
Thanks for the recommendation, ceder. I'll try and find my way to the Buddhism conference. I'm just learning my way around here!
Lauren Rosenfeld (lgosenfeld) Sat 24 May 14 12:59
jmcarlin: I think your method of taking everything out and only putting back those things that feel significant is an excellent plan of action. The trouble some of us have with this is that when we hold any single object in our hands, it has a story of SOME significance attached to it. So one of the things I recommend is that people lay out the numbers 1 though 10 on the floor. At the #10, put the most significant object from a particular category (so, for example if we're talking about books - the book that has the greatest impact on your life - that you return to again and again for inspiration or information). At the #1, put the book that you honestly would never give it a second thought if it disappeared. Then lay out the remainder of the objects on that scale from 1-10. Anything 6 and above can stay. Anything 1-5 goes. That way, you don't have a think about it pile that hovers around collecting dust (and possibly more clutter!) As for not seeing the clutter because you've lived with it so long: one of the principles we talk about in the book is to "consider your legacy as you live" -- which is to say, we all (no matter what age we are) should think about what we want to leave behind. My own mother was very cluttered. And I honestly don't believe she ever saw it as a problem. The trouble was, that when she passed away, I had to sort through her things for about a year. It was hard for me to determine what was significant to her and what was not (besides some very obvious things). I decided that when I was gone, I want it to be very clear to my kids what is important to me and why. So we kind of have to curate our lives as we go, so that the legacy we leave behind is clear to those people who are left with it. A few boxes of curated, meaningful objects is a gift. An attic full of stuff we didn't have the time or energy to sort through is not. So, though we may personally not have an issue with clutter, it may become quite problematic down the line for our loved ones. Which brings me to robinsline's comment about photographs: Photos can be some of the toughest things to let go of, because every photo tells a story. However, if we want our photos to be treasured down the line, it's our job to sort through them and determine which tell the most significant stories and make those clear. Because what we don't want to happen is that someone inherits those photos, sticks them in their attic, and them in two generations, someone else inherits those photos, decides that they have not idea who any of these people are and lets go of all of it. I recommend the same approach: lining these up on a scale of 1-10, keeping the most significant ones, and then making sure that the stories that are connected to them get told. Decluttering is ultimately an act of preservation of history -- not a disengagement of a dismantling. It's highlighting the stories that need to be told to the generations that follow.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 24 May 14 13:29
I don't remember which page I was on, but through the de-cluttering magic of the iPad, I'm back in business!
Stoney Tangawizi (evan) Sat 24 May 14 14:07
All of this sounds like very solid advice. My wife passed away in October and although I gave all of her clothes and some of the furniture in her "office" to Goodwill, I still found it very hard to find a place to put everything when I downsized from three to two bedrooms. Then of course, I have this large collections of slides and prints that I really intend to scan into my computer someday, uh-huh. Same with a whole lot of CDs. There is enough "office supplies" here to stock a small business for five years. It just occurred to me though the local school district might be very happy to have them. And this place is full of books of hers I will never read. But the local library will take them, if only for fund-raising book sales. Since I don't have the book, getting started is just overwhelming. Picking up some ideas here from post so far, but say more please.
Frako Loden (frako) Sat 24 May 14 16:36
Lauren, all you have to do is mention a certain object and I'm already considering getting rid of all the stray china in my basement. It's so true I'm leaving it there out of guilt and anxiety--for NOTHING!--when someone else could be enjoying it. I'm looking forward to this conversation.
It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Sat 24 May 14 18:32
I am going through this process myself. I am a collector of books and cds and dvds and lots of other stuff. I used to live in a 1200 sq. ft loft by myself (and my joke was I had 2000 sq ft of stuff) I moved in with my wife 8 years ago, and we bought a house with an 800 ft garage which fit most of my stuff. I had downsized from 100 boxes of books to 63 boxes of books, 500 albums, 1000 cds, 2000 comic books, and lots more. We're moving to Chicago this summer, and my wife is adamant I don't take most of the stuff that I have in the garage. We had a yard sale today, adn I managed to sell ALL of my records, and going through them with the collectors, I was reliving those moments of buying them. I am also sure that some of those items were worth more than the $1 per album I sold them for (but I didn't have the time to put them all on ebay 1 by 1. So, my question is about regrets-- I am overall glad that I got rid of my albums (which I hadn't listened to in 10+ years) But I am having a few regrets that I left money on the table, that I will want them, that I just sold stuff for a pittance that I spent a lifetime collecting. How do you get past the regrets?
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Sun 25 May 14 09:10
Ebay, depending on the DVDs, will get you from $0.0 to 0.60 to a bidding contest if rare. Then there's shipping on top of the price.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sun 25 May 14 09:49
If off-Well readers want to join in this conversation, you can send your question or comment to inkwell [at] well [dot] com and we'll put it up for everyone to read and comment on.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 25 May 14 10:19
Last week, I got rid of a small Art Deco breakfast table I've had for 30 years. It was tough. Had it since before I married, and at one time - when I was single and just needed a small table to eat at - it made sense. It did brief service as a craft table for my daughter when she was little, but for 15 years it's been taking up space in the basement. I tried to clear it off a few times to use as a laundry folding table, but each time, it was covered with new clutter in less than a week. "Oh boy, a flat surface to put stuff on!" Bottom line. Don't miss it. Although its empty space in the basement has already been occupied by something else almost equally useless, but that's another story.
Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 25 May 14 11:06
I tend to go through periods where something or things just feel too heavy. Years ago I gave away some of my favorite books. I just felt that I had read them often enough and it was time to let go. I have pangs, every so often, even now, especially given now that I'd like to reread a few and they are long out of print and forgotten. I do get tripped up periodically by throwing stuff out that I later need, but not so often that it's worth rethinking the impulse to de-accession when I'm ready to de-accession. We live in a culture where it is very easy to get more stuff. I feel as though so much of this is emotional, totally separate from things. I often wish I had more stuff from my parents or their parents. But, not nearly as often as I think about them and miss them. The things aren't going to bring them back, and, usually, don't compensate notably.
(fom) Sun 25 May 14 12:42
I am often amazed at how seldom I miss something that I hesitated to get rid of. Sometimes I don't even remember what the thing was.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 25 May 14 13:39
Almost never in my case. But it's like pulling teeth nonetheless. I'd like to say that I found the book's emphasis on the connections between physical clutter, emotional clutter, and spirituality to be completely goofy and disappointing. For about 10 seconds and then I realized it was absolutely the heart of the matter. If decluttering were just another mechanical task, it would be no challenge at all. Set aside the time, sort, prioritize, done.
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