Decluttering as spiritual practice—how to get unstuck

From the archives: This post was originally published on May 12, 2011. Since it’s proved so popular, and since I’m in the midst of a fierce passionate round of decluttering myself, I thought I’d update this story and send it out again for those of you who might not have seen it yet.
—Love and light, Sue

What’s spiritual about decluttering, anyway?

Yes, decluttering as spiritual practice is a thing!

There’s a tangible relationship between decluttering and manifesting the life we desire. When we’re blocked by too much *stuff* we get stuck. Ideas and visions remain wishful and theoretical. We can’t see a clear path to what we want. We may not even be able to clearly define what we want, let alone go after it. Decluttering—cleaning up our act physically, mentally, and emotionally—frees us from those stuck places and helps us get into action.

Maybe you think clutter is just the physical things that pile up around us. It’s more than that. The *stuff* is simply the external, easy-to-see manifestation of how we’ve become cluttered in other areas of life.

What else can clutter look like?

  • projects and dreams swirling about in your head, unstarted or incomplete
  • tolerations in your life (a promotion promised and postponed, a leaky faucet, physical pain…)
  • unhealthy, unfulfilling relationships
  • addictive behaviors
  • victim thoughts and mental chaos

clutterClutter, in any of its manifestations, has a negative impact on our energy, our attitude and our effectiveness. Piled-up desks, closets full of clothes you don’t wear, an unsatisfying career, unopened mail and unpaid bills—all of these create blockages that keep us from living into our greatness.

In my personal practice and with my clients, I’ve seen amazing results from regular decluttering; it’s a delicious way to accelerate the change you want in your life. I have also found that releasing clutter is a powerful invitation to what’s needed. I don’t know if it’s true that nature abhors a vacuum (there are plenty of empty spaces in our universe, after all, and nature seems to be just fine with them). But .

Let’s take a more detailed look at the some of the areas of life in which clutter can manifest:

Stuff

Your stuff is everything in your environment: where you live, where you work, where you store stuff, your car. All the places stuff piles up. Here’s a weekly practice to begin now: The Decluttering Hour. You’ll need three boxes. Label one Donate. The second one Trash. The third Give to a Friend. Set a timer for an hour and pick a section of a room. Most of my clients like to begin in the kitchen or bathroom, I guess because they’re easiest (food stuffs, tools, toiletries are all easier to evaluate, it seems, than mementos, artwork, furniture and clothing).

Here’s what you do. Pick up everything, one thing at a time, and ask yourself: Do I use this? Have I used it in the past year? Will I use it again in the next three months? Do I love it? Does it have meaning for me? If the answer is No, pick a box and let it go. I’ve heard that some people sing “Please release me, let me go…” from the item’s point of view. Repeat the Decluttering Hour once a week until you are complete with all the spaces in your life. Take a month off, then repeat. Clutter repopulates quickly!

As you review everything, keep an eye on what’s not working, needs repair, needs maintenance. As you’re decluttering your closet, in addition to releasing what no longer fits or makes you happy to wear, you’re also going to notice what needs a button sewn on, a hem repaired. Do it. Don’t put anything back in its place until it’s in working order.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
—William Morris

Wellness

Decluttering is an inside job, as well. Ask yourself: Am I eating right? Am I getting the exercise I want? Am I getting enough rest? Do I take time for a regular spiritual practice? Am I indulging in addictive behaviors? Do I have a medical professional involved in my care? Am I addressing health issues? How am I managing stress and achieving work/life balance? What needs to be eliminated so that I can live into my fully realized life? What needs to be added?

Take a look at your thoughts and emotions: What are you doing to stay positive? Are you setting aside time for creative expression? Are you taking on learning new things, staying curious? Are you expressing generosity? Passion? Gratitude? All of these things create an internal glow that’s visible from the outside. Your friends will notice!

How many things are there which I do not want?
—Socrates

Relationships

How are you relating with the people you care about and the people with whom you work? Are you showing up for the issues and conflicts that may arise? Are you practicing compassion and telling the truth? Are you taking responsibility for the part you play? Are you active in your relationships? Do you reach out regularly and let the people you care about it know they are loved?

Have you lovingly released the people and situations that hold you back from your highest good? Have you taken responsibility for forgiving those who have harmed you? Have you given up gossip? A decluttered relational life is one that allows you to freely and openly greet everyone you may meet (no ducking out of sight to avoid someone headed your way).

The waste of life occasioned by trying to do too many things at once is appalling.
—Orison Marden

Finances

How are you living your financial life? Here’s a useful decluttering practice: Go through the mail every day standing over your paper recycling basket. Immediately dump (unopened) all junk mail. Make your inbox one that contains only pertinent pieces of mail, and empty it regularly. You can use this same practice with your email inbox as well. There’s nothing like a good spam filtering tool to help you separate the junk from the real.

Are you handling money in a balanced way? Are you intentional about your earning, spending, investing and saving? Do you pay your bills on time? Are you free from using consumer debt? Have you created a will that provides for your assets after your death? Do you have a generosity practice? Are you giving freely of your time, treasure and talents?

The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go. 
—Steve Maraboli

Outcomes—the good stuff

Decluttering in one area makes it easier to declutter in all areas. The space you clear by throwing out stuff that no longer serves you creates space for clarity in other areas of life. The simple act of beginning a decluttering process starts a new set of habits that you’ll find are transferable to other areas of your life. The secret is simply to begin!

Update Summer 2013: I circled back to this topic again recently on the blog (August 2013), and there was a lot of juicy conversation in that post as well. Check it out!

I’d love to hear from you! Is decluttering something new to you? Have you  been in the decluttering energy for a while now? Tell me about your experience and what you are learning. Talk to me in the comments.

 
Posted on June 28th, 2012. Posted in these categories: coaching, decluttering, spirituality. 38 Comments

The conversation so far...

  1. May 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Hey Sue,

    So very true.
    Winter seems to be my decluttering time.

    Useful tools for people.
    So glad you are using your writing skills.
    Love ya
    Annie O

    1. sue
      May 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

      Annie, Nice to see you here. Aah, Rhode Island winters, a perfect time to declutter.

      Love you back!

  2. April 1, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Thanks, Sue. So perfectly right on all counts! And the growing-by-little-steps decluttered areas are such a pleasure to live in. Fortunately I’m keeping on track with not letting new stuff in, but occasionally all the stuff that’s lurking in corners occasionally comes out and clutters itself around. 8-
     
    Blessings,
    Bevi

  3. June 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Clearing space physically, emotionally and spiritually is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Thanks for sharing these valuable ideas. 

    1. June 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm

       @ShannVanderLeek Thank you, Shann, for echoing back how beautifully this process fires on all levels. Blessed be!

    2. June 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm

       @ShannVanderLeek Thank you, Shann, for echoing back how beautifully this process fires on all levels. Blessed be!

  4. June 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Sue:  This is such a valuable practice and one that is long overdue for me.  I see environmental clutter around me as the academic year ends, but I need to focus more on spiritual declutter.  Thanks for the lovely reminder.

    1. June 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm

       @Caperpoet Glad it resonates…I’m really feeling that energy. Some talk about Spring Cleaning, but there’s something that happens during these long days… Whatever the impulse, I’m glad and grateful for it.
       
      Love and light!

    2. June 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      @Caperpoet
      Glad it resonates…I’m really feeling that energy. Some talk about Spring Cleaning, but there’s something that happens during these long days… Whatever the impulse, I’m glad and grateful for it.
       
      Love and light!
       

  5. June 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I’ve been feeling this build for a while. Today I could not find something I wanted in my clothes drawer, so I dumped every drawer out, and looked at all the things I won’t be wearing for at least the next year. Then I come online and read this. Powerful Words sister! To the Donation bin!

    1. June 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      We’re on the same wavelength! Yay! Glad I’m not doing this alone.
      Love and light,
      xoxox

  6. June 28, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Very timely!  I’m decluttering my time to make space for creative projects.  It feels scary and delicious at the same time. 

    1. June 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm

       @ErinColcord Scary and delicious, can’t beat that!

  7. June 28, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    So inspiring! I now have a plan for my two (count them!) free evenings coming up. I’m cleaning out and organizing my craft supplies so I can utilize the great investment of beads and supplies and turn it into beauty! Thanks for the gentle and timely kick in the pants!

    1. June 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm

       @IrisRedRaven Glad all that passion and conviction felt gentle when lovingly applied to your pants!
      Blessed be!

  8. June 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    My favorite decluttering place- definitely the body, if I could get the discipline right now ;) and I do a weekly cleaning on my emails and desktop…I LOVE LOVE LOVE organization and how easy and effortlessly work flows when everything is labeled and in its place…thank you for the inspiration for looking at the other areas of my life..<3

    1. June 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      Erika, thanks so much. Everything in its place. Sacred!

  9. June 29, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I’ve always seemed to go through natural phases of waxing and waning – acquiring and letting go. Lately, though, it’s been harder to let go of stuff (both internal and external) – definitely something I need to work on!

    1. June 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      @Tanja at Crystal Clarity
       Thanks for reminding me about the phases, I have them too! And when it feels hard to release, I think that’s the big invitation from spirit (for me more of a dope slap sometimes!) to get up and do it anyway. There’s a lot of power and magic in bringin’ in even/especially when there’s resistance.
       
      Love and light,
      Sue
       

  10. June 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    I had to G+ this. It’s something I needed to read. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. June 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      @Arwen of Tarot By Arwen
      Thanks Arwen. Turns out writing this (revising, anyway) has stirred something loose in me. I just waterlessly washed my car. I never do this. Feels like — hmm, not only an unblocking, but a settling into a more authentic expression of myself.
       
      Love and light,
      Sue
       

    2. June 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm

       @suekearney And that, as they say, is AWESOME SAUCE! :D

    3. July 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      @Arwen of Tarot By Arwen
      Thanks Arwen. Turns out writing this (revising, anyway) has stirred something loose in me. I just waterlessly washed my car. I never do this. Feels like — hmm, not only an unblocking, but a settling into a more authentic expression of myself.
       
      Love and light,
      Sue
       

  11. July 1, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Thank you so much for this helpful post, Sue. It’s just what I needed right now as I’m preparing to clear out the mental clutter from my mind (or at least some of it). I just went out and bought a file holder, and I’m going to take some time to unload the “to-dos” in my mind and put them into organized folders. That’s the plan, and I’m hoping it will work. I feel that hanging on to all of this clutter can be a crutch to keep me from opening up spiritually, so it’s time to clear the way. :)

    1. July 1, 2012 at 7:53 am

      @Jodi Chapman
      What a beautiful plan! Go for it Jodi, and remember to breathe… :-)
       
      Love and light,
      Sue
       

  12. August 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Love the article! It expresses just what I have been feeling. My entire life is chaotic but I discovered that just beginning is empowering. On days that I don’t declutter I actually begin to feel ‘heavy’, irritable. I have my entire house to do but I’m actually excited about it! I have slowly developed a vision for each room and that is how I decide what to keep and what to release. Does this item match my vision? Also, I have discovered something else – it’s what I call ’rounds’. Clear the biggest clutter first, that’s your first round. Wait a few days or a week and do a second round. Then a third round. Do as many rounds as needed until you’ve reached your vision. I find this actually makes it easier to let go of stuff. You do a little at a time – this gives your emotions and your mind to ‘catch up’. Hope this helps someone.
    On with decluttering!
    Janine
     

    1. Sue
      August 16, 2012 at 7:08 am

      Wow, Janine, it helps me for sure…I love this!
      Thanks so much for sharing your powerful decluttering practice.
      Love and light,
      Sue

  13. […] recently talked about how decluttering can be a spiritual […]

  14. August 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for revisiting this.  It felt important when I first read and then got shuffled somewhere in the clutter of mind.  Something stuck though.    What I realized, even though my business is internet based and nobody actually comes to my physical studio, the energy and the message of the place reverberate out to the net, affect my attitudes and behavior.

    I look around workshop and think of a word to describe how it looks. I think – out of order.  Then a light flashes on and I see a sign that says   “OUT OF ORDER”   Hmm does that have anything to do with the flow of customers all but drying up?  I’m gonna clean up and see who and what shows up.   http://www.micheshines.com

    1. Sue
      August 26, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Miche, I totally get this! I had a similar epiphany when I moved two big pieces of furniture out of my front room (my office / living room / studio / dining room) and create an inspiration altar that I see when I work.

      There’s more flow now, more spaciousness, and I feel so much more freed up to do my work!

      Hooray for you, let me know how the flow feels when you’ve cleaned up.

      Love and magic,
      Sue

  15. September 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    I finally circled back to reread this post again Sue…….SO loved it as I’ve been in a decluttering mode for the past couple years :) ………..now working on the big one for me…finances………yeehaw……..thanks for this wonderful, value-filled post!

    gina
     

    1. Sue
      September 9, 2013 at 7:04 am

      Gina, Decluttering your finances—big magic! I can’t wait to hear how the increased simplicity opens doors and energy in your work and your life.

      Blessed be,
      Sue
       

  16. September 8, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    sue – such an inspiring post! i recently spent three months going through years and years of stuff that i’d been hauling around with us through several moves. we recently sold our permanent residence (opting for a life of nomadic travel), and it was time. we ended up giving away/selling/recycling 2/3 of our belongings. but – oh my! i was not counting on how much of an emotional impact going through all of the different seasons of my life there would be. it was an absolute cleansing – of the physical items certainly. but also of my very soul. i cried (a lot), i laughed (at happy memories), i fumed (at past wrongs). and now i feel . . . free. 

    1. Sue
      September 9, 2013 at 7:11 am

      April, wow, that’s huge. Releasing 2/3 of your stuff, and cutting your roots.

      May your nomadic travels bring you beauty, adventure, and deep loving connections.

      Love and light,
      Sue

  17. January 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Funnily enough I had a simple house decluttering week, but realised soon after that I’m not hanging onto things in other aspects of my life. I came across this article because I was looking to see if decluttering can relate all over. Your article totally makes sense!

    1. Sue
      January 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      Maliyah, welcome here! So glad this landed usefully for you.

      Keep me posted as you release what no longer serves.

      Love and magic,
      Sue
       

  18. February 15, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Sue,
    Just came across this article,and it’s as if you know the cluttered me! Do you teach a class on where to begin? I’m so overwhelmed in every aspect you mentioned, that it just drives me to buy more “stuff” and hide. Thanks! Kathy

    1. Sue
      February 15, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Kathy, Hi, welcome, so glad you found this article.

      I teach exactly this, how to deal with and heal and release clutter in every area of your life in my coaching program — http://bit.ly/ShareYourMagic

      I’d be delighted to get together with you on the phone or on Skype in what I call a discernment session. We’ll look at what’s going on with you together. And if I think I can help you, I will offer to do so. Would you like to do that? You can book a call using this link to my online scheduler — https://www.timetrade.com/book/GPXWM

      Looking forward to talking with you!

      Love and blessings,
      Sue

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