Why do you declutter your home when you know you’re expecting guests? Why don’t you declutter for the sake of yourself? That mindset of clutter needs to be reframed. It’s only natural that you view cleaning as a chore but decluttering is one way to take care of yourself. It is self-love. It’s transformational, self-development, and is a journey that brings you up-to-date with who you really are. Clearing clutter is not just about purging & organizing, it’s about exploring & releasing the limiting beliefs you tell yourself.
Join Whitney Lauritsen as she talks to Conny Graf about clutter and how you can reframe your idea of decluttering. Conny is the founder of From Chaos to Peace Consulting Inc and is the host of the podcast of the same name. She doesn’t have a passion for clutter, but a passion for helping people remove the chaos in their lives.
Listen to this episode as Whitney and Conny talk about the stress you can have with clutter, how self-love relates to clutter, some decluttering techniques, and what financial clutter is. Learn how to declutter your life so that you can enjoy it today!
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Reframing Clutter: From Chaos To Peace With Conny Graf
We are going to go a lot more than this subject, but one of the main themes is clutter. Clutter is something that most people struggle with a bit. This might be a good place to start with my special guest, Conny. Conny, have you ever met anyone who does not have clutter in their home and truly has a clutter-free environment?
No, I don’t think so. We would have to define what a clutter-free environment means. One of the things I always say is we all have clutter somewhere. It is human to have clutter. The Buddhist monks up in the mountains may live clutter-flee. Maybe I have never met one, but I am assuming they live clutter-free. My definition of clutter is also the most clutter we usually have in the head. While those Buddhist monks are probably ahead of us and have less clutter, it is also human to have clutter in the brain or mind.
In the end, nobody is clutter-free. If you asked me in the physical environment like our homes, what clutter-free means to me is that we live with the right number of things. Not too many that stress us out and not too few that we can’t do what we love to do, like if we have hobbies, items we enjoy looking at or having around us. It is very individual what a clutter-free means. If we are each one of us is a little bit aware of ourselves and how we are feeling, we know whether our house is cluttered or not. That is how I would answer this.
That takes a lot of the pressure off because part of my journey and something they noticed with other people is the striving to achieve something that they maybe see other people achieve or have been taught, conditioned, or inspired to achieve. Much of that is looking outward and basing our lives around what others are doing. Your definition gives us the focus on who we are and makes it very relative to our situations.
To your point, physically, we all live in different homes. Maybe some of us have the exact same home. It is an apartment that looks the same as the one next door or a home designed to look exactly like another home. I guess that is possible. Despite the physical construction of a home, the way that we lay things out like me is very different from someone else. How is it that we could ever have the exact same relationship to clutter? You also pointed out that it is not about our physical space. It is our minds as well.
That is very relative. That is such important information because I spent so much time in my life trying to fit in or trying to achieve things that I saw other people achieving without recognizing that my version of success and happiness is going to be different from somebody else’s no matter how much I try. When you realize that, it can take away the pressure and say, “I am not going to look outward to how other people live and how other people think.” What if I find what works best for me? Would you say that is part of your outlook on my interpreting your words the way you intend them to be?It's only human to have clutter. Click To Tweet
You totally got it. What trips us up in this is that we are not necessarily socialized to look inward unless we have parents that encourage us to look inward more than looking for validation outside. Even then, the whole school system and society are more in a way. I was even like that before social media, but now, social media is even more so that we are socialized to look outside for validation and what we need to do. I don’t like the word should, so I am trying to avoid it. That is often how it happens, how we should function, live, show up, talk, what we should do, work we should do, or what schooling should do.
Instead of looking inward and figuring out what would light me up to do. If we want to stay with clutter, what will light me up in what way to live? What environment? What are things around me? Which rooms do I use for what? Even those are given, it is like, “This is the living room and the bedroom.” We are so socialized more and more that we take this from the outside and forget ourselves. Does this even work for me? Is this even what I want to do? Is this even how I want to live? Are these the things that I want to have? Is it because everybody has whatever, like a mixer in the kitchen, so we are all having a mixer in the kitchen?
Why do you think that happens? Do you think that is part of tradition? Is that part of marketing and capitalism? Are we guided towards trying to live and squeeze ourselves into some box in order to serve other people? Is there a benefit to trying to live and think like other people?
It is probably all of it. By nature, we are mammals. We need humans, a society, and people around us and want to fit in in one way. Most of us want to fit in. If you go to TV, social media, or those places that have hidden agendas, they are trying to tell us what it means to fit in and when we want to belong. When we are growing up with the foundation in us that it is okay what we want, we are always looking to the outside to see how we have to act, what we have to say and fit in?
Belonging is what we want, so we try to fit in. It is both. In one way, that is also how we learn. We learn when we are growing up from our environment, parents, relatives, and friends. Later, when we are adults, we can make our own decisions. Some things are so ingrained in us that it is very hard to change them later. That might be another reason we focus on outside validation rather than listening to ourselves because it is so ingrained in us. Maybe we grew up that way, learned, or thought we needed to fit in and do it that way. It is not wrong. I don’t want ever to make anybody wrong. It is learning to be aware of it. If it is possible, choosing what we want rather than what comes from the outside is a good first step.
It is interesting because people in their 20s and 30s seem to be interested in doing things differently. I wonder if it is a life stage when you finally recognize after college, perhaps university studying. When you leave your parents’ home, you start to find all this freedom to do things your way and that natural tendency to examine how you have been raised.
Despite wanting to do things differently, many people still struggle. They still find themselves in the comparison trap and shame themselves. When you are talking about the word should, this is something that a number of guests have brought up and moving away from how we should do things. There is so much shame tied into the way that we live our lives.
If it is different from other people, it is challenging. There is also shame tied to clutter. Your passion for clutter, did that come out of a desire to help people look more inward, understand themselves, and find the freedom to live the way they would like? Were the two tied together, or did one happen before the other in your passion and pursuit for this?
I would not say I have a passion for clutter. I have a passion for people. To wind back a little bit, when I grew up, nobody talked about clutter. What I realized early on, and was probably only about 9, 10, or 11 years old, is that the environment has an effect on me. I don’t think I glued off in that detail. I realized I was lucky enough to have my own room growing up, but it was a very tiny room.
I always joked and said, “It is a broom closet.” Compared to my friends who had bigger rooms, mine was literally a broom closet. It was always like I was trying to optimize my rooms so that I would feel better in there. That is where it started. What I did realize while working in finance, corporate, and business is the environment of how you have your desk, how many things you have and the things you are having, and how they are laid out is either sabotage you or support you.
That is when that started to emerge back up in me where I said, “You would feel so much better if your workspace would be supporting you rather than with all that stress you are having. A lot of work pressure and everything instead of sabotaging you on top of it all.” I would not say I have a passion for clutter. I have a passion for people and that they are not making their life necessarily more stressful and hard than it already is oftentimes. I see it in myself, so I am not perfect. I can see and feel the effect of my environment. When my office is a mess, I can’t focus. That is where it all comes from.
You make such a good point about how much our physical environments and the external beyond our homes impact us. We certainly have more control over what’s in our homes and what’s outside of them. It is interesting for me because I have experienced throughout my life how great I feel when I don’t have clutter, but it still accumulates.A few minutes a day keeps the chaos away. Click To Tweet
I find myself multiple times a year getting to points of so much clutter and messiness that I think, “I finally have to deal with this,” but I often wonder why can’t I do that every day? I read something that you had posted, Conny, that there is the practice of a few minutes a day will help because instead of spending hours, you are spending minutes, but you have to do it consistently.
My brain works in this “I’ll do it later” mindset. I have always been that way. It is not until things get bad or too overwhelming or if I happen to be in a very specific mood that I want to tidy up and declutter. I feel like that only happens to me a few times a year. I am constantly in this state of feeling a little bit of shame, overwhelm, and stress. I wonder, is that common? If so, or even if not so, how does someone like me declutter and tidy up clean more often, so I don’t find myself in this constant cycle?
It is definitely common and also human. Our brain wants to be comfortable, efficient, safe, and everything. Whenever we are trying something new or doing something, the first answer is, “No, I’d rather not.” It is very human. The other thing I want to say is, in a way, you do realize that by pushing everything out constantly, you are dealing with shame. It becomes overwhelming, very stressful, and hard to declutter, more so than if you would do it on a regular basis. You can read millions of articles on the internet about how to declutter. It doesn’t help because it is a symptom of something.
What you would have to start doing is asking yourself, “What is the underlying reason why I prefer feeling shame over getting into the discipline to do a little bit every day?” There is no judgment in them in that. This is where it becomes tricky because our mind is also constantly judging. The worst one we are judging is ourselves. We are very hard on ourselves. It is very difficult to become curious. Why do I choose to feel shame, stress, and overwhelmed all over at the moment doing something about it?
What I often say is a few minutes a day keeps the chaos away. This sounds so silly and simple, and it is true in a way. Do I live it 100%? No, nobody does. Another thing that I always say is clearing clutter or keeping decluttered is self-love when you realize, “Why is it a good idea now to spend five minutes cleaning up real quick?” You are working through that resistance because you understand what your thinking process and the emotional clutter are involved, and you are more likely to do it.
This is not something that you can answer to you in two minutes or I can give you the right sentence to say in a short interview. The question is, are you rebellious against something that happened in the past? Did somebody say to you or whatever it was that you are now feeling like, “No, I am pushing it out?” Is there another reason? Why would somebody choose shame over feeling better? There is no one correct answer. There is the answer that is the correct one for you.
This might take quite a while until you figure it out. We have these habits. We have a huge subconscious, and I forgot now that they say 90% is subconscious. The rest is conscious. It is a big journey you would go on. That is where the baby steps come in. If you are going through this clean-up, declutter and organize, and I let everything slide again for a few months, there is a reason that only you can discover for yourself why. That is where I would go with this.
I don’t think I have ever heard it phrased that way before. It is worth repeating one more time to ask yourself why you prefer feeling shame, overwhelmed, stressed, etc., over feeling discipline.
Our brain is wired that way. We always choose pleasure over pain. The brain sees going and cleaning up right now as pain. We don’t want to do that. Pleasure is to stay sitting here, watching TV, reading, or not doing anything. It is one-way human nature, but if we couldn’t overcome this human nature, we would all still probably live in caves. We probably would starve because nobody would get up and do anything. This is where then the question comes in. Compassion this is how my brain works. It freaks out. It doesn’t want to go and do this, but we do brush our teeth every day, too. We do take showers. We don’t bother our environment by not taking showers.
This, to me, is an extension of our bodily cleansing routines, and everything is the environment because it does have an effect on us. It does need maybe a bit of discipline, but so much in our life is habits. We have maybe a lot of bad habits that we could overtime tweak, so they become better habits. It doesn’t need that much discipline after a while. If you do that a few minutes a day, it keeps the chaos away over a period. There is no discipline required. Like now, there is no discipline required from you to let it slide and not do anything but feel shame instead.
That is helpful. I also find myself wondering if I can retrain my brain to perceive it differently. Instead of looking at it as something I want to avoid, that is overwhelming or stressful, things like partnering, decluttering with listening to music or a show like this one or an audiobook, or talking to somebody, I often will declutter or tidy up when I am on the phone with a friend. That way, I am almost distracting myself from the lack of pleasure I feel when I am tidying up on its own. Maybe it is also tricking my brain. I am curious if you think this is possible. Can I trick my brain into not perceiving it as stressful? Can I teach myself to view decluttering as pleasurable so that I even look forward to it?
You can. It needs some training. It is like you would not run a marathon tomorrow even if that were the goal. You would train towards it. I often say decluttering is a muscle too. It is a mental and emotional muscle, but it is also a physical muscle. You need to train your decluttering muscle. This is also where it helps to start small and not have these huge expectations of yourself but build yourself up to do it.Decluttering is a muscle. Click To Tweet
Oftentimes with my clients, when they are getting to plant their budding gear and do something, they come back to me and say, “Conny, I feel so much lighter and better. This is awesome.” This is when you do the decluttering part correctly. You can’t do it wrong or correct, but correctly in this context means you feel better afterward. You are not feeling sluggish or worse afterward. If you feel bad afterward, you probably try to do too much. You did try to declutter something that your decluttering muscle is not ready to do yet, like running for 20 minutes when you are only at the level of running for 5 minutes because you are still building up.
The thermometer of making good progress is when you feel better afterward. This sometimes needs to start very small where most people say to me, “Conny, you haven’t seen my house. That doesn’t help if I do something for a few minutes.” I am like, “It does.” You can’t get it all cleaned in one afternoon because it will all creep back in. You can never be decluttered once and for all because there are always things coming in.
Somebody called it the revolving door I heard once, which is true. This revolving door is something that is coming in again. We are never 100% decluttered, but we can get to a level that is comfortable with what I said at the beginning, like, “How do I feel in my environment?” I do feel like you can learn to enjoy it when you have to prove that you feel good afterward. You can tell your brain at the moment, “I feel better afterward.”
It sounds like a nice challenge. When you asked why I would choose shame over decluttering, that is an interesting thing that I am going to ponder for myself. I am someone who I don’t consider myself rebellious, but I get very determined. When I feel challenged, I tend to rise up. I am not someone who even considers myself competitive. I like feeling challenged when somebody thinks I can’t do something. There is this desire in me to prove it because, deep down, I know that I can do it.
I get offended if someone says, “You are messy,” and I’ll think, “No, I am going to prove to you that I am not messy,” because I don’t want to be defined by that perception. I also have to make it about myself and not make it about other people’s feelings. That leads me to something else, Conny. When I visit friends or family, and I think this is a universal thing, something I noticed is they will commonly say, “My place is a mess. Sorry about that. I haven’t cleaned up yet, so ignore it.”
There is a lot of shame, embarrassment, and guilt even in going to visit somebody who doesn’t feel prepared for you. I see this a lot with mothers. My friends that have children often feel ashamed when I come into their homes regardless of how much time they had advanced notice. There is always this idea, “My place is not clean enough for you. I am sorry.” This big apology that people seem to make. It is fascinating to me because I generally don’t mind. It is very rare that I go somewhere and am offended by clutter and messiness. A previous guest on the show talked about how clutter and cleanliness are two different things.
You can have a lot of stuff around, but it could still be clean and vice versa. Things could be dirty but not cluttered. If I was going to lean towards being “offended” maybe if it was dirty or grimy, and I felt it was icky or something, that would bother me, but I don’t mind other people’s clutter so much. It is interesting to me psychologically how many people feel embarrassed to have company. It is very relative. I have been in a lot of people’s homes, and their version of clutter can be vastly different from another person’s version of clutter. My question is, Conny, why do you think people feel so much shame for other people to witness the state of their homes even if it is relatively not so bad?
That is the question of the Century, isn’t it? In one way, it is for sure, we have these high expectations of ourselves oftentimes, how we should be perfect and whatever? The outside world constantly tells us how we need to be. Especially as women, we get portrayed as how we have to have it together or look after everybody else. Only a mother or a woman who looks after everybody else and puts herself last is the right mother. That is where these high expectations then come from because we are more socialized to look at the outside and make sure we are pleased or conforming with outside expectations and demands rather than with ourselves.
The other thing is that these women, or maybe there are men too, would apologize for their mess. They don’t feel comfortable in their home, but they don’t take themselves important enough to create the environment that they feel comfortable in. I think I had an episode on my podcast about that, or I have a blog post, one or the other, because I ranted once about this. I am like, “Why do we run into this frenzy to clean up when we know a company is coming? We are doing it for some other person, but we are not keeping the home to our standards, whether they are now unrealistic or not?”
We are not keeping the home to our standards for ourselves. This is where originally that came from when, all of a sudden, I got this download like, “Living clutter-free is self-love because you are putting yourself at least on the same level as all these people that would come and visit.” You would go and clean up your home for them. Some people take showers, clean up and make everything pretty because somebody comes over for a coffee, but they would never do that because they are at home or even sometimes for their family.
This is where I am saying, “Why? Where do we get this that we are not as important like these other people?” When they are apologizing to you, it is twofold. It is probably all these high expectations that we think are on us. The other part is that we ourselves don’t feel 100% comfortable with the surroundings. That is why we apologize, but I find it so sad. If we could at least drop the one from the outside, maybe we would more likely do something with the one, “I don’t feel comfortable in these surroundings either. Let’s do something about this.”
We are so focused on the outside, and shame comes in. The shame feels heavy. I don’t know how it feels to you, but I feel a lot of shame for all kinds of reasons, and it feels so heavy. Does this heavy feeling motivate us to do something? Not necessarily. It is not a good feeling. That is why I said to you, “If it would be interesting for you to explore, why do you prefer feeling heavy and full of shame rather than doing something about it for a little bit?” My coach always says, “Can you be curious rather than judgey?” That is how we could approach it.Living clutter-free is self-love. Click To Tweet
I am a very curious person. I don’t consider myself very judgmental towards others, but I am sure that I am judgmental to myself in ways that I am not even fully conscious of. You are bringing up so many great questions for me to ponder. I have never heard it positioned this way. I also absolutely love what you said about how we tend to want to declutter our homes for others more than we want to do for ourselves. I don’t think I have ever thought about it that way. That shame is so fascinating. Speaking of judgment, I feel a bit perplexed and sad because it is almost like I can expect it. Those rare occasions where somebody is tidying up everything seem like almost every single time I visit a friend.
There seems to be a bit of gender involved here because I experienced that mostly with female friends, although it is possible that maybe I have more female than male friends. That observation is so common for them to say those things. Part of me thinks, “I hope they know that I have unconditional love for them as my friends or family members.”
I am not walking into their home, judging them for what it looks like. Maybe I noticed things, and it is an observation. I am not sitting there going, “What an awful person they are if they don’t have their lives together, especially parents.” I have so much compassion for them and see the way that they live and they are trying to get by. In fact, I think clutter sometimes is an indication that they have other priorities as much as there are benefits to decluttering.
When I have spent extended periods with my friends, specifically that have young children, I feel like clutter is a way of saying we’ve got so much going on. We haven’t prioritized this, but I am noticing how they are prioritizing fun with their children. Maybe the clutter is the result of the kids having a good time. They were coloring, and the crayons were all over the place. They were building blocks, and the blocks were scattered around because they ran into the backyard.
It was dinner time, so there were dishes in the sink from that. Sometimes clutter, in that case, indicates a good day. I don’t know that many parents truly prioritize clutter because of everything else they have going on. That is more important. I would almost wonder how they even make it all happen. The logic there, having seen what parenting is like for most people. I have come to expect it, I suppose. That is why I don’t judge it.
If I am walking into a house with kids, especially young kids, I am going to assume that there is clutter there. If there is not, oftentimes, there is somebody there supporting them. There is a nanny, a housekeeper, or someone else aiding them. I have done that work myself. When I used to work as a babysitter, part of my role, whether they asked me to do it or not, was to tidy up the home before the parents got back from wherever they were. The joy I would see on their faces that I took the time to do that and the relief they experienced was so immense because I didn’t have that ongoing stress they experienced every day as parents.
I’ll even do this for my friends when I visit them as a gesture of love or act of service. I love helping parents clean up because of the relief that I can give them. Despite it being known that it is an average state for the average parent, there is still a feeling they should have done better. I wonder, do you work with parents, Conny? If so, how do you guide a parent through decluttering? Are there ways in which they can make it a priority amongst all the other things that they have going on in their parenting life?
I do work with parents, but I always give the disclaimer, “I don’t have children on my own, so I may not know 100% what they are going through,” but I have techniques or things that I can suggest that they can do to make their life easier. It is a fact that, as parents and any time you live with somebody else other than yourself, it becomes trickier. It is not the same. This is also where I always say, “We have to understand what stage of life we are in or what phase of life we are in.” If we are in a phase with little children, our house is not going to look like somebody’s house on Instagram, but this is where the expectation comes from.
There are Instagram influencers who show off their perfectly clean home even though they have 2 or 3 children, so everybody else thinks they are failing themselves, their family, and their children because they can’t be that way. It is absolutely not possible. They probably had helped or cleaned up like maniacs before they had the film crew in. This is so staged now. The question is, does decluttering need to be a priority when you have little children? No, but you want to have an awareness of how many things are we letting in?
This is difficult because commercial advertisers tell you constantly what all you need to be a good parent and what your children need for toys and everything. It is hard. The more that comes in, the more you would have to go out again not to fill up your home and create this huge overwhelm. It is a struggle. I totally acknowledge, especially with children and these little humans, that you need to get them ready for kindergarten or school or anything. Clutter is the last thing on your mind.
If you can find ways of thinking twice before something new comes in or getting into the habit, you can teach and talk with your children early on already. If we get something new in, maybe we let something else go, donate it, or give it to a friend. We start talking about it and becoming aware. Letting go of this requirement on ourselves and possibly our children that everything has to be spick and span, beautiful and Instagram worthy. That is more about dealing with your mental clutter than with your physical clutter, at least at first.
It is our mind that tells us, “It has to be cleaned. The Legos can’t be laying around when visitors are coming.” Why not? Children are living here. The Legos could lay around. This is the other thing, the Legos that are laying around on the living room floor. Is that clutter? Is it the joy of having a family, having children, and having had a good day? In my eyes, that is not necessarily cluttered. Clutter is all the things that are piled up, maybe in the basement, attic, garage, or somewhere else that nobody looks at anymore.You're not saving money by holding onto things you aren't using. Click To Tweet
Nobody uses it anymore and does anything with it, but we are energetically attached to all these things. Our subconscious still knows that is all there that adds to the overwhelm. This is the clutter that would be worthwhile to find the energy to deal with and not so much with the everyday things that the children use and play with and need to live. That is what I originally said. What is clutter-free mean? You want to have enough things to live your life the way you want to live. Especially with children, you want to have fun times with your children maybe.
There is a variety of things you need, probably more than somebody who is an empty nester or somebody who is still young and has no children. You want to be mindful or aware of the point when it becomes so much that you are starting to pile up these things somewhere else. That is what I would say, but there is no easy solution because, as I said, from the outside, they are constantly bombarded with, “You should have this and this. You should do this.” We are so socialized to look to the outside rather than the inside that it trips us up.
It is such a privilege, first of all, to have clutter in a way. Another way to look at it is like, “I am lucky that I have more stuff than I can use and what to do with.” Acknowledging that is so important. I love donations, getting things secondhand, and sharing things. In an ideal world, I would do that most of the time. I am a little bit of the opposite, where I tend to overthink everything I acquire. I don’t buy a lot of clothes. A few times a year, I’ll get sick of my wardrobe and say, “I am going to get something new finally.” Before the pandemic, I used to go to clothing swaps with my friends. That brought me so much joy.
Part of that was not only taking something from someone else. Exchanging things was nice. It felt like part of a community. The other side of it was that it felt like I could let go of items but still know that they were being cared for versus throwing something in the trash or putting it in some random donation bin. I enjoyed seeing somebody else wearing my clothes and knowing, “If I wanted it back, I could get it back.” That is the ideal. Obviously, that saves a lot of money too. That is part of how I think about things. It is not the physical clutter.
I know something that you touch upon, too, is financial clutter, Conny. I want to make sure we touch upon that. Before we do, this idea of being emotionally attached to items is such a big challenge for us. I am curious about your work. Why do you think we get so attached to things, especially when most of us can acquire things again? We have platforms like Amazon that not only make it time convenient for us to get new things but very inexpensive. Yet there seems to be this underlying fear of letting things go as if we’ll never get them back. Why does that persist in this day and age, Conny? Why do we cling on to things just in case?
There is human nature and other components to it, but there is a phenomenon called Endowment Effect. That means that the minute you own something, you put a higher value on it than if you don’t own it. They studied that scientifically. The minute we own something, or it can even be before you officially own it. Maybe that happened to you too, like when you go to a clothing store, you see a blouse and love it but another lady comes in and wants to take that. You are already like, “No, that is mine.” The minute we own something, we put a higher value on it.
This is one of the reasons why it is hard to let go. Another reason is that we are more likely in the scarcity mindset than in abundance, one where we think, “No, we are taking care of.” If I need it again, I can either get it again, buy it again, borrow it, or whatever. Oftentimes, it comes a little bit from the outside but we may feel it on the inside too. We are automatically emotionally attached to our things.
If we have a scarcity mindset, being in one way, emotionally attached to the item itself, and feeling anxious about maybe not having all we need in a future time makes us clingy to the things. This trips us up if you want to live a more clutter-free life. It is human nature. It is the environment, but sometimes, the clutter is more the symptom of an underlying issue. The question that I would ask more is, what does this thing give you?
It is not in an obvious way, but in an emotional way underlaying. If you want to stay with the clothes for a second, a lot of women have trouble giving away clothes that they were wearing when they were younger, skinnier, or heavier, depending on which way they were going with their weight or when they perceived their lives as easier or happier? Without knowing, maybe even consciously, they are attaching this whole feeling to the clothes. They have a hard time letting that go because that would mean I have to let go of that time of my life, which is not true.
We all understand that. It lives on in our memory and us if we want to, but we put this whole thing onto the object. I am a very sentimental person. I definitely have items that I would be devastated if I would not have, even though I know the memory of whatever they are representing lives on in me. It is not about having nothing and living like a Buddhist monk up in the mountains. It is surrounding yourself with the things that have meaning to you, letting go of the rest, and trusting that you always have enough.
Oftentimes, we are so worried about not having something. When you look with curiosity, it is ridiculous. I came across it once when I helped somebody declutter. They had 4 or 5 pairs of scissors in their kitchen and couldn’t let go of them. I am like, “You can only use one scissor at a time,” but it is not about the scissor. It is about the real underlying reason we have such a hard time.
I am reflecting on that after I came back from a two-week trip using my car only, and certainly, driving somewhere gives me more storage space than flying somewhere. I can bring more than a few suitcases. Travel, in general, is nice, but I love taking long trips, whether by car, plane or however I am getting there. It always challenges me to think about what I need for that span of time.The one place where people have agency and control is in their immediate environment. Click To Tweet
In this case, it was two weeks long. The small number of things that I could fit in my car and the things that felt necessary were such a fascinating activity. What was interesting was the things that I brought that I didn’t end up using. I brought a lot of what-if items. What if I need this? I would say somewhere between 20% to 50% of the things I brought, I never used and needed them, but my brain thinks, “I could have needed them. I’ll continue to bring them with me next time.”
I still don’t use them over and over again. It is that fear that I am not prepared for. I have a lot of buried stress that I have noticed around losing things and also not being prepared for situations. My deep fear is I am not going to be prepared. I am going to make a mistake. I always want to be ready for anything. It makes me feel vulnerable if I don’t have what I need. That is something that I am going to be thinking a lot about after this conversation. I do want to circle back to the financial side of things, Conny. I saw this in your work and I want to know what financial clutter looks like for you. What does that mean?
That has different faces too. In the financial clutter, if you have a lot of stuff in your home, there is a lot of finances tied up in it. Especially if you have a lot of things that you don’t use or don’t love anymore, but they are stored there, there is money involved in that. I am not necessarily saying that you need to sell it all the time. I had a lady, and painting was her hobby. She had all these easels, the paint, and all these things taking up space in her office of all places. Every day, she walked by, and she’s like, “I paid so much money for these things. I am never even using it.”
That is one way of having a financial clutter, not so much that she spends all the money and should feel ashamed. More like she’s beating herself up for spending money on something that one time, in the past, brought her joy, but now, not so much anymore. When we talked about it, she was so glad and said, “I know the perfect person that I could give this to who would use it and so happy to have it.” I said, “Yes, why don’t you do that?” That way, you don’t feel this shame every time you walk into your office where you want to work and serve your clients. Instead of you walking in and feeling shame and be like, “From what place are we doing our work? Is this the best place to work from?”
Again, no judgment but more curiosity. The other thing is it is important for many people to make donations. Oftentimes, they give donations in money, but maybe you could look at these things that you let go as donations. They are not the dollar bills or the cryptocurrency or whatever. They are now in physical and item forms. Letting that go, the shame or the bad feelings go, was something you were interested in the past, but now not anymore.
There is nothing wrong with having phases where you are interested in this hobby, for example. You are buying things that you can do in this hobby and it brings you a lot of joy. Something then changed in your life. You changed and your interests go somewhere else. There is no shame in letting these things go. You are not saving money by hanging on to them but not using them. This is also financial clutter.
A lot of people say, “I spend a lot of good, hard-earned money on this, so I can’t let it go.” Yeah, but you can let it rot in the basement or the garage. Is that then so much better? No shame or no judgment. Curiosity, is it better? With the clothes, if you can see somebody using or wearing your clothes and having joy out of it, could that not bring you also joy? You don’t have to think about, “I paid $50 for this blouse, and now she’s wearing it and having all the joy out of it.”
No, you have the joy too. This is where financial clutter comes in, in one way. This is a little bit more of the hidden way that most people maybe don’t see. A little bit more obvious way is some people buy things double, triple, or quadruple because they forget that they have it and then they come across and like, “I forgot I have this because it was somewhere under a pile.” They spend money and sometimes even money that they would not have on things that they already own but don’t remember they own.
That is another area of financial clutter. The third financial clutter comes a little bit from my work as an accountant and financial expert is if you don’t pay attention to your finances. This is where I see a correlation. Oftentimes, people who have a lot of clutter are also unorganized or don’t pay attention to their finances that much. It is a generalization, but I noticed that trend then. You may pay for memberships that you forgot you had or have such a mess that when you have to do your taxes.
You can’t do them yourself, so you have to hire somebody, but that person takes double or triple the amount of time. They have to weed through the mess because you left the mess. There are many facets of financial clutter that are not obvious right off the bat. The more things we accumulate, the more money we spend now. This is where we are the financial clutter comes in. We could make a whole separate episode on financial clutter.
It is worth doing it. Have you done this on your podcast yet? That is a fascinating topic.
I have talked a little bit about it. I have a joke. As a bookkeeper and accountant, I always say like, “When people have a messy financial status or situation, if you go and help somebody with their clutter, the shame is even higher.” As we talked about earlier, it is higher than with our money situation which is fascinating. I am always very interested in how the brain works or how we humans work. If you combine these two, imagine the shame, discomfort, and not wanting to look at it gets a skyrocket. I do talk about it.There's so much more to clutter than you think. Click To Tweet
Most people, because they judged themselves so harshly and shamed themselves, have a hard time hearing it. Even when you come from a compassionate place, it is hard to get through. I often say we don’t start with the most emotional stuff when we start decluttering. That is not where we start. We need to start the low-hanging fruit that is easier to get going and to start opening ourselves up to change. It also can be uncomfortable at times when we have our decluttering muscles a little bit more in shape. It is easier to face that. It is easier to run a marathon if you have trained for it than when you are trying to do it because you woke up this morning and figured out that you want to run a marathon.
It is amazing everything that you have talked about and the complexity of it. It is a further reminder to take it step-by-step. Maybe even after reading a conversation like this, you feel a bit overwhelmed. My wheels are certainly turning because over here on this side of my home that you can’t see on camera, this tends to be the place that accumulates clutter for me.
The kitchen does too. I have cleaned some dishes and wiped down some counters. It made me feel better. Even seeing dishes pile up can feel so intense, and thinking about everything that you have shared, Conny, has inspired me to like, “Maybe I can do a few minutes after this conversation.” I can put this on my daily checklist or schedule and say, “Can I set a timer for myself? Five minutes isn’t that long.” The stress sometimes of things that I feel like I “should do” one of them is exercise.
I have noticed that if I start small with five minutes of whatever movement I am going to do for my body that day, if that is all I do, that is okay. A lot of times, after those five minutes, I feel good. I’ll continue to 10, 15, and 20. The rest of the time that I spend is optional. It doesn’t feel like as much pressure. That is what I am going to try moving forward with declutter, Conny, after this conversation.
Speaking of moving forward, I’d love to know, beyond this show, if someone is interested in learning more from you, you have your own podcast and social media. You have a wonderful Instagram account that I went to. What are the next steps for someone who might want to learn more from you? Where did they go from here with your education and the support that you offer?
Thanks for asking. I would encourage people to go and listen to my podcast. Start with the very early episodes where I put the foundation down and how I look at things. What you notice very quickly is I am quite different from some famous decluttering queens that are out there. I don’t look at it from that point of view.
Maybe you have heard that now too. It is more a symptom, so it is more interesting what’s underneath then and what the clutter represents. I am getting rid of everything. It is literally not about getting rid of anything or everything. It is more about how I can create an environment that makes me feel good, feels good to me, or supports me in whatever I do because we all want to have support.
Especially in these times when the world is going crazy, the one place where we have some agency and control is in our immediate environment. Know that the big world will not be more peaceful because of it, but we will feel a little bit more peaceful because of it. I would go to my podcast called From Chaos to Peace with Conny. It is everywhere where you find podcasts. The other place is my website. It is ConnyGraf.com. I have been blogging since 2015. There are a lot of things to read about. If you have a business, I talk about client clutter and social clutter. We never even touched on all these things.
I always joke and say, “There is so much more to clutter than you think.” I see clutter everywhere. It is not always nice, but I can see clutter everywhere. There are lots to read. You can go to my Instagram. There are usually highlights of what you find on my blog or my podcasts are mostly talking about. If you feel ready and want some support, I always say clutter clearing is a journey. It is not an event. If you would want to have a guide on your journey, I am more than happy to help.
I come from curiosity and not judgment. I am helping my clients to switch to that, too, because we are always so harsh on ourselves, myself included. It is often very helpful to have some outside perspective on whatever we are telling ourselves, all the switch, expectations, and the perfectionism that we put on ourselves that we would never put on anybody else, but we, for sure, should be able to do it.
Your guidance, your support, and the way that you have brought things up there got me thinking was so helpful, and I am incredibly grateful. Conny, thank you so much for being here. The work that you are doing is so important and helpful. I love the grace in which you show up. You have such a peaceful personality.
Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
- From Chaos to Peace with Conny
- Instagram – From Chaos To Peace
About Conny Graf
Conny Graf is a Swiss certified Expert in Finance & Accounting, a certified Clutter Clearing Practitioner, and an Astrologer. She’s helping business owners create supportive, clutter-free environments in their mind, surroundings and finances.
But more importantly, she helps them develop intentional habits, systems and processes that prevent clutter from creeping back.
They are freed to focus on serving their clients and making the money and impact they want, while being organized is simply a welcome side-effect. In that sense clearing our clutter is self-love.
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