Other People's Clutter, Oh My!

Ask and you shall receive.  Last week I asked you, my lovely readers, for questions and I got a good one from Sarah in Toronto.  It's about OTHER PEOPLE'S STUFF and more specifically, what to do when people you love have clutter. 

Happy year of the dragon, Cecilia! LOVE to see your newsletter in my inbox again. You are SO good at it! Sheesh.  I have a question. I write this from the Buffalo airport, on my way to visit my mom... who I am not staying with, because her clutter is so upsetting to me. 

So: Any advice for people on how to deal with their loved ones' clutter? Is there anything I can do or say (to her, or to myself) to help?  I am afraid of what will happen as my mother gets older... ack.

Dear Sarah,
Thank you for your questions about your Mom's clutter.  Great topic!  Dealing with other people's anything is challenging but clutter is especially difficult, because it's all on the surface.  You can't pretend that it's not there, because it is, right there, staring you in the face.  

It's tricky trying to help our loved ones' let go of their stuff.  The main issue is that we're often attached to them getting rid of their clutter, and unfortunately whenever anyone in the clutter clearing process is attached (whether it's to the clutter itself, or to somebody else letting go of it) it makes it much stickier all around.  You might even say it gets emotionally cluttered.

The first thing you can do is ask some questions of yourself: 
  • Why does my mother's clutter bother me so much?  Does it remind me of my own clutter?
  • Does it say something about her?  Does it say something about me?
  • Does it remind me of a pattern growing up? 
  • Why is it so important to me that she let go?
Then you'll want to ask yourself some questions about her:
  • Has Mom expressed an interested in letting go of her clutter or frustration about her clutter? 
  • Has she asked for help?   
If your Mom has expressed some frustration about her clutter or interest in letting go, GREAT, that means you're halfway there.  There is a big difference between someone who acknowledges that their clutter is an issue and someone who thinks that everything is "just fine!". 

One of the best things that you can do for her, and for yourself, is to see if you can gain some understanding around why the clutter is there.  This is helpful for both of you, because one of most important ingredients in the clutter clearing process is compassion.  You could ask her if she has a sense of what's behind the clutter, what it's sitting on, what she's getting out of it etc...? 

I find that understanding why something is happening can be very helpful.  There is already so much guilt and shame around clutter and the last thing we need is somebody reminding us how we've failed.  However if our clutter is met with compassion and understanding, suddenly it's so much easier to let go.  You're not saying that I'm bad for having clutter, you're saying that you understand and that you want to help me let go to make space for wonderful things to come into my life.  Can you see how different that feels?

In order to be able to help her, you need to get yourself to a place that is as neutral as possible.  It can't matter to you whether or not she throws out mildewed newspaper clippings.  If it does, it becomes about her letting go to please you and not about her letting go to empower herself.  This why it's often WAY easier to have a non-judgmental outsider (such as myself) come in to help spouses, children or parents let go.  It doesn't matter to me whether or not your mom gets rid of her 20 year old collection of TV guides, but to you it means so much more...

I understand your fears around your mother growing older and clutter is a very real concern for people who have aging parents.  All I can say is that the sooner you can open up the lines of communication around clutter, the better.  Let her know that you're here to help whenever she's ready.

Bottom line:
  • Have compassion for the part of your mom (and yourself!) that finds it difficult to let go.
  • Support the part of her (and you!) that wants to move forward. 
  • Offer to help if you think you can be neutral enough to be supportive and if not offer to help find somebody who can.
  • Ask questions, there's power in understanding.
Good luck Sarah and let me know how it goes and thank you again for your juicy questions!
Other people's clutter is a BIG topic.  I could probably facilitate an entire weekend workshop on other people's stuff!  Please keep the questions coming, I really want my newsletter/blog to be as interactive as possible.  Also, feel free to send this along to a friend, or you mom.  You never know, it just might help... 

Take care,
Cecilia Moorcroft