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From Settling to Choosing: What I Learned from Decluttering my Apartment

Clutter is a state of confusion. When we live amidst clutter, things occupy our homes and diminish the space available for our growth. When we think in clutter, thoughts and worries take up the room that could be open for invention and imagination. Clutter crowds us out of our own space.   

After many years in New York City, I had become intolerant of the noise, bodies, and congestion of urban living. If only all of the other humans could go away so that I could stretch my arms and move in peace, if the cars could be cleared so I that I could breathe clean air, if the enormous buildings could be bulldozed so that I could see the vastness of the sky! Every day was weighted with an increasing claustrophobia. I needed a blank canvas and an open field.

While clearing out the city was beyond my control, I could start smaller: my apartment. There were so many things! There were clothes I never wore that I had bought on sale, on impulse, or that had been handed down to me. There were books leftover from years of schooling. There were kitchen items from craigslist that were functional at best. The bathroom cabinets were loaded with untouched soaps and lotions that I had received over the years as holiday gifts. The vast majority of these things shared a similar quality: they sufficed but I did not love them. I could use the soaps and I could wear the shirts, but I didn’t love them. These items were other people’s discards and other people’s choices. 

What would it feel like if I intentionally chose more elements in my life rather than settled for them?

For guidance in this process, I turned to Marie Kondo’s best selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her method for decluttering is centered upon one fundamental point of knowledge and one critical skill: to know that authentic expressions of ourselves spark joy in hearts, and to be able to identify the sensation of sparking joy. Armed with this wisdom, she instructs her readers to hold each item in their homes and determine whether or not it sparks joy in their hearts. If it does, they may choose to keep it. If it does not, they must let it go for it is dead weight on their souls and their energy.

It took me three weeks to follow Kondo’s method and go through all of my possessions. By the end of this process, I had twenty full garbage bags (about ¾ of what I owned). I thanked these items for their service. And I let them go. In the absence of clutter, the items I chose to keep took center stage. Everything I now owned reflected not a passive acquisition but an intentional choice. I started to see the contours of my new self. I felt energized and that I could breathe again. From that moment forward, I would design my life guided by sparks of joy.

Designing lives we love means intentionally and actively choosing that which brings us joy and letting go of that which does not serve us.

In a culture drowning in quantity over quality, we accrue and exchange and circulate things. Perfunctory gifts serve as placeholders for love and connection. Souvenirs and relics become attempts to hold on to the past and avoid sadness over the passage of time. We imbue things with the souls of our misunderstood emotions, yet we come up empty-handed because things are not love and they cannot hold on to the past. 

Decluttering is about reclaiming control over what occupies space in our lives. When we are able to read our hearts for what brings us joy, we can learn what we like, want, and love. We can get to truly know ourselves and thereby make choices with greater clarity. The real estate of our lives is precious; we must be selective about what we allow to move in. Permit no squatters and embrace open space. 

Open space is the fertile ground for inspiration and possibility.