I admit it, I’m a fan of reading memoirs about positive changes in people’s lives. Whether it’s about weight loss, finding themselves again after a major life downfall, or decluttering, I love reading about their process and how they motivated themselves to move forward. It’s usually never a linear progress, but more often one step forward, 2 steps back, and that’s ok!
As a Professional Organizer, I had a keen interest in reading Year of No Clutter, Eve Schaub’s tale of setting aside a year (well, she still had to raise her family and do day-to-day tasks) to declutter her self-described “Hell Room”, the worst offender of clutter in her home. Eve previously wrote Year of No Sugar, another memoir about keeping herself and her family off sugar for an entire year; it was witty and entertaining, and showed the humanity of struggling with making big and little changes in her life. She describes the similarities between too much sugar and too much clutter: they are relatively modern problems, and they are problems of abundance. Joshua Becker has talked about how this is the first time in human history that we have owned so much “stuff”.
Her husband recognized that Eve’s “collections” were controlling her and surrounding her by the reminder of failure (incomplete projects). Her daughters (10 and 15) helped with the project; one was more organized and the other was a “keeper of things”, so Eve could see both sides of the coin. As I read the book, I was continuously nodding my head in agreement with so many of the things she encountered in her journey. I have heard multiple clients say at least one of those things, usually more, in our sessions, and my compassion for her and her family carried throughout my reading.
As with many of our Living Peace clients, Eve wanted to:
- Be able to have people over throughout house
- Be able to find whatever she is looking for
- Utilize the cluttered space instead as an art/crafts room (a “making things” space for herself/girls; she compared herself to assemblage artist Joseph Cornell
- Get unstuck from getting fixated on an idea that turns into hours of reflection/worry
- Be sure that items made it to the best home possible; she spent many hours making trips to consignment/resale/donation places
- Stop allowing the fear of doing things perfectly, which ended up in not doing anything at all
- Keep the sentimental things that meant something to her, but not keep everything in that category (e.g. whittling down the collection of baby clothes to one bin only)
- Contain everything within her home (1 out of 10 U.S. households rents a storage unit)
Although it was not an easy project, and she eventually realized she needed support via therapy, (admitting that she was on her way to being a hoarder) and OCD medication (18-42% of obsessive-compulsive people have hoarding issues, according to her), she stuck it through. Even through the gift-giving from her parents’ own separate household downsizing/moves, she was able to finally start saying “No Thank You” to things.
One important concept that she learned was having a witness to reliving her memories triggered by sentimental items so that she could then let them go. “…perhaps this is what I had been saving all the Stuff for – not for posterity, but for…now. I had retold a story of myself that I had forgotten all about – shared it, enjoyed it with Greta (her daughter)…What more was required of these things? Could it be, I wondered, that their job was done?” (p. 118). I have seen this time and time again with clients – sometimes just telling me the story about an object, a picture, a ticket stub, is enough to honor the memory and then be able to thank it and let it go.
Eve also learned that sheer stubborn repetition of giving things away enabled her to eventually stop obsessing about them. But it was a habit that she had to build and be consistent with. After a year, she didn’t have the perfect “After” picture of the Hell Room to show for it, but realized that the true After photo, the transformation, was inside of her. “It’s about realizing that it does me no good to live with my eyes glued to the rear-view mirror. It’s about forgiveness – of myself, of the world – for not being perfect, any of it.” (p. 272). In the Acknowledgements, she thanks her stuff: “For all the things I live my life with and the things that give me joy, the things that help me remember and interpret the story of my life, I am very grateful to them, all of them.” I love this, and think it is an excellent practice if it resonates with you. And then, let it go!
I think that Year of No Clutter is a good read, and may inspire others to try similar projects, even on a smaller scale. Eve was honest and realistic, and grew because of the journey she went through. My favorite thing to hear from clients is “hey, I’ve been looking for this!”, and thankfully her husband said it when he was reviewing his things from the Hell Room, so that was the cherry on top for me. Let us know if you’ve read the book and what you thought in the comments section.