How to Use Decluttering as a Personal Therapy Session

Updated 03/19/18
decluttering: woman in kitchen
New Darlings

It might be easy to assume that decluttering is a straightforward task: You're just going through your stuff and purging everything you don't need, right? But this mindset might be the reason we end up holding onto too many things. Instead, it's important to acknowledge that the act of letting go is as emotional as it is physical—even if that seems a bit melodramatic. (My rebuttal is this: If the items hiding under your bed are really that inconsequential, why are they still there?)

The best part of this approach isn't just that it allows you to be more thoughtful (and in turn, more thorough) when you're going through your things. By surrendering to the catharsis of experiencing any feelings and memories you have tied to these objects, you're opening yourself up to healing—and in turn, your space will feel completely charged with that energy; as emotionally cleansed and renewed as you are. But where to begin? To find out, we turned to Lili Pettit, organising expert and energy healer.

Here's her advice.

First, Make a Plan

Before you lean into all that emotional catharsis, it's time to get practical: Pick your space, and stage the area. "Always set an intention before you begin, ideally focusing on the ideal scene upon completion," says Pettit. "Begin with the end in mind. What are your goals? How do you want the space to function post-declutter? How do you want to feel?"

Once you've set your intention, prep boxes or trash bags for sorting, and label them "trash," "donate," "sell," "recycle," "belongs to others," etc. "Sort like with like, and make sure you sort everything in the space you've chosen," says Pettit. And don't cut corners: "Completion is key here," she says. "If you start in one space, finish that space. My only rule if I have to have one is to get the items you have decluttered out of your space that same day. Clutter holds energy, so it's best to get the energy out of your space at once."

Start Looking Inward

Prepare to feel something, even if that "something" is guilt or shame—those emotions usually indicate something deeper at play. "It's all about tuning into the heart," says Pettit. "When we make decisions from our head, they usually aren't connected to our soul's desires. Tapping into one's intuition is key when making emotionally based decisions. Shame, scarcity and overwhelm tend to rule the mind when we feel fear around letting go."

Ask Yourself Tough Questions, But Don't Judge Yourself

"Hold each item in your hands, close your eyes, take a deep breath and ask yourself internally if this item is something that still suits your life right now," says Pettit. "If you have a peaceful feeling in your body, the item is probably a keeper. If your body feels heavy, congested or confused, it most likely should go." Above all else, pay attention and allow any visceral reactions to serve as your road map: It typically means your deep or repressed emotions are trying to tell you something.

"Listen to the messages you receive from your heart and your body," says Pettit. "The body never lies."

Use Healing Exercises

"Breathwork is an amazing way to reconnect with yourself and your space," says Pettit. "The more healing work you do in a space, the more it responds. Think about walking into your yoga studio or a Reiki practitioner's office. It usually feels really good, right? When healing work, rituals, and conscious ceremony happen in a space, the energy hums with delight." In addition to breathing exercises, you might try lighting incense or energy-clearing with sage or palo santo. Or it might be as simple as journaling the feelings that come up as you sort through your things.

Recognize the New Energy

You've done the work—now lean into it by really using your home as a sanctuary—a place for healing. You'll be amazed by how much your self-care rituals feel amplified by a calm and clutter-free environment. (To use myself as an example: Journaling is one of my primary wellness exercises, and I always feel so much more insightful and prolific when my space is tranquil and full of healing energy.)

And while it might be tempting to start adding things back into your space, do so with intention. Instead of buying clothes or miscellaneous objects, for example, consider bringing in a beautiful indoor plant or a bundle of palo santo—these both have healing components, so you're only enhancing the vibe you just spent so much time creating.

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