Cleaning up our space has a significant impact in our lives. In today’s episode, Whitney discusses the different therapeutic benefits of decluttering with Tracy McCubbin, CEO of dClutterfly. Tracy and Whitney dive deep into how people work through the clutter as a means to bring positivity to other areas of life. The two also tackle the stories we tell ourselves about our stuff and why we can’t let go. Tracy highlights how changing our language can help remedy this issue of object acquisition and accumulation. Plus, she shares insights from her book, Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book On Decluttering You’ll Ever Need. Your decluttering journey can start with just a little shift. Learn how with more tips on how to start and stay clutter-free by tuning in to this episode.
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The Therapeutic Benefits Of Decluttering With Tracy McCubbin
A Holistic Look At Our Relationship With Stuff
I am here with Tracy. I am excited to see where this conversation goes because I know that you focus on organizing, decluttering, and working through the elements of clutter in terms of how that relates to positivity in your life and all of these subjects. Before I even met you, I was thinking, “How do we make this unique? How do we come at clutter and organization from angles I haven’t with other guests before?”
I’d even told your team behind the scenes like, “I want to pace this out because I have covered this,” but as soon as I sat down with you, Tracy, I’m thinking, “There is so much here just in you as a person.” I’m excited to hear about the work you do, your book that came out a few months ago as of the time of this interview, and that you, as a human being, are so compelling.
I feel like I’m a work in progress always. I’m like, “I’m trying to be 1% better today.”What if it could be 1% better? Click To Tweet
That in itself is an amazing lesson. Aren’t we all a work in progress? That 1% better is something that isn’t often talked about. As you and I had mentioned, my aim with this show is to approach wellness a little bit differently, not from the surface. There’s a lot of messaging that goes out about wellness, well-being, health, or whatever that means for someone. It can be very formulaic and can also put pressure on people thinking that they have to get 50% or 100% better, but what if it could be 1% better like you’re saying?
I’ve been a professional declutter and organizer for several years. I’ve had 3,000 to 5,000 clients. It’s some crazy amount. Another piece of the puzzle is I am the child of a hoarder. I grew up watching my father deal with a true disorder. It gave me a lot of empathy going into it. One of the things I realized when I started my business, I did not even know it was a business. I was like, “I’m going to help people with this.” I realized that so much about the conversation around organizing, especially even more than decluttering, is coming from this place of, “It needs to be perfect and labeled. You need to have the inside of your fridge organized.”
For my clients, I was like, “This doesn’t work.” I like that order, but I was very quick to learn that what works for some people doesn’t work for other people. I feel like so many organizers make these pretty Pinterest pictures but aren’t taking into account how each person lives their life. My approach has been, “What works for you? What are your goals? Why do you want to work on this?” That’s such an important thing. “What’s not working? How can I facilitate that?”
Another big component I want to get this in here because you and I springboard from this is at its basis or bottom, our home is a tool. Our home is a place where we rest, restore, and replenish. We’d love it to look beautiful because we want to see beautiful things, but the goal isn’t to make it look beautiful to look beautiful. The goal is to make it work, and then you add the beauty around it. I feel like that’s always been my goal. I want it to work for you. We can then talk about the icing on the cake.At its basis, our home is a place where we rest, restore, and replenish. Click To Tweet
Have you read or heard of the book, How to Keep House While Drowning? The author is KC Davis.
I’ve seen it. She’s a big TikTok star. She’s @DomesticBlisters. I didn’t know about her. I would see the book because it was on the Amazon list, and I was like, “Who is that?” To me, it came out of nowhere, but I started following her on TikTok, and I was like, “Yes.” She’s a therapist, and she’s very sort of forgiving yourself. Here’s one of the things that I love about what she says as opposed to the other big organizer out there that everybody follows who says, “Do it. Take six months off your life. Organize it, and then you’re done.” This is a constant process.
The big thing I’ve been talking about so much lately to people is, “You need to add a decluttering and organizing component into your life. It’s constant. More stuff comes in, and more stuff goes out.” She’s so realistic. “Your house is going to get messy.” That’s also my conversation with people. It was like, “On Sundays, take an hour and put your house back together.” She’s also one of the first people which I had been seeing for a long time to talk about the difference between cleaning, decluttering, and organizing.
I’m glad you brought that up, too, because the reason I mentioned her book is because she helped reframe this idea that it’s not about making it perfect. It’s about making it functional. I thought, “That is so helpful.” Every time I look at my clutter or any disorganization in my home, I’m like, “How can I make this functional?” It takes the weight off the pressure, as you’re saying.
It doesn’t have to be pretty perfect, Instagram-worthy, Pinterest-worthy, and all of these things that sadly have been a bit detrimental, even on TikTok. I’m not even interested. When somebody’s house looks too picture-perfect, it loses its appeal. You and I were talking about offline when it comes to integrity and authenticity on social media, which does a disservice to the average person because it’s too much pressure.
First of all, the greatest TikTok where someone was doing one of those restocking videos, and they’re making everything perfect, and this woman stitched it and leaned in and was like, “You’re putting all the little baby cheeses. Where’s your food?” I get a lot of calls from potential clients, and they show me the glass jars with the wood tops and the pantries, and I’m like, “I can give you that, but you need to understand that is a huge amount of upkeep. You need to once a week give that pantry 1 hour or 2 to keep it looking like that.”
If you want to spend your time doing that, knock your socks off, but you have to understand that level takes so much work. For me, I don’t care. It’s my pantry. I know where everything is. I can get to it and cook a delicious meal. I don’t care that it’s not perfect. That’s not where I want to put my energy and my time. This is where social media is sometimes tough in the same way around diet culture and all that stuff. You’re watching all these people right now lose all this weight, and you’re like, “You’re not saying you’re on the shot, but you’re on the shot. We can tell.” Whitney’s like, “What’s the shot?”
Is that the shot that they’re suspecting The Kardashians took?
It’s a diabetes drug. It’s called Ozempic. Everybody’s on it. You can’t keep up. You can’t do it. It’s not sustainable. All these young women are like, “I can do that in three weeks.” No, you can’t. They’re spending $1,000 a week for a shot. It gets wrapped into these organizing videos where people are like, “I want this,” and I’m like, “You can have that, but you’re going to have to put so much time and effort into it.” Is there a way we can find the part or some of that and be realistic? I’m so very much about how much time you have to put into this and how much time you want to put into it. I like to tidy my closet. It calms me down. I like to go in there and move my shirts around, but a lot of people don’t. How can we make a closet that you can upkeep and function in?Be realistic about how much time you have and want to put into tidying. Click To Tweet
You’re saying so much that’s right up my alley. There are so many directions to go in, as I was suspecting when I started talking to you. We have the name of that show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and all these years later, after that was established, we see how true that still is. My mind even went to Khloe’s Oreo jar that has her Oreos stacked in a certain way. The Kardashians often show their pantries, and everything’s perfect. It’s nice to look at. There’s a reason why people follow them because it’s pleasant to look at how they look physically and how their homes are structured, but it’s not aspirational because who can achieve that?
It’s a full-time staff that keeps that up like that. I know how long it takes. I can tell you. One of the women who work for me and makes things look beautiful go every six weeks to their house and tidies it up, and they want to spend their money that way, but people need to understand that it’s a full-time staff. Is that how you want to spend your time?
Your money, even because the staff is going to cost a lot that’s not accessible to everybody. I think about many of my friends who have children, which I don’t have. My average friends, if I were to think about them and group them all together, a lot of them have financial resources, but they can’t even keep up because they’re in a different echelon and focused on their children and/or the work that they’re doing, if they’re still having a professional career, that their homes are probably not going to be in great order, even some of those that have help. The help can’t even keep up with it a lot of the time.
I get brought up in this scenario a lot. “We’ve had our first kid. We’ve had our second kid. Our house is out of control. It’s not working. We can’t find anything.” The place I always start, “You need to have less stuff. The more stuff you have, the harder it’s to upkeep.” We need to draw that correlation for people. Also, in that conversation, which nobody else was talking about was why I wrote the second book, Make Space for Happiness.
What are you bringing into your house? We can’t talk about decluttering if we’re not talking about the acquisition cycle. Everyone looks at me when I go into a cluttered house, and they’re looking at me, “I don’t know how this got here. Someone brought it in the middle of the night,” and I’m like, “No, you ordered it off of Amazon.” Take a holistic look at our relationship with stuff.We can't talk about decluttering if we're not talking about the acquisition cycle. Click To Tweet
I’m not here to shame anybody. We have to realize we’re being marketed to 24 hours a day, all the time, everywhere. We’re being told to buy and buy, but we’ve got to take some accountability. I’m saying to people, “Let’s stop. Let’s look at what’s going, what’s not working, and why it is not working.” Let’s slowly implement the changes to make it work for what your goal is.
I love that you’re so goal-centered. Also, we’re talking about social media and marketing, which are such important subject matters when it comes to cleaning, tidying, organizing, decluttering, and all of these things that a lot of people are hoping to do, even if it’s to make things more functional. Given that you’ve been doing your work for several years, what changes have you seen in the way people’s homes look? Social media has evolved along that time with you. If we go back to 2007 or 2008-ish, since I’ve been focused so much on social media and watching that grow, you’re simultaneously watching how homes are evolving over time. What changes do you see in not only how they look but also the mentality of the people that live there?
I have seen that people are much more leaning toward the visual of how it looks, “I want it perfect,” but they don’t want to put the work in or don’t understand. Social media has not done a good job of showing, “Here’s how we get here. If you want this, you’ve got to put all these steps in.” Everyone’s like, “It just happens.”
When we do a house, we can be there for a week or two, and I have a team of people. That’s been the biggest change. Maybe this is what TikTok brought to the conversation, but I am starting to see a bit like KC or @DomesticBlisters. I am starting to see a lot of people who are like, “It’s not that easy,” or people are starting to get honest. TikTok, in some ways, brought a bit of a more honest point of view to it. It’s a hellscape over there in its own way, but people are more honest about their struggles.
“Can I talk to you about what bins work and look the prettiest?” Of course, I’ve been doing this for several years. I’m interested in that conversation. I’m interested in why you are hanging onto a closet full of clothes that don’t fit you anymore so that every day you beat yourself up about not being able to fit in those clothes. What’s going on with that? How do we get to the root of that so that you can have a closet full of clothes you love and not literally beating yourself up every morning? I’m working with someone right now who’s amazing, and she had a baby. She’s so hard on herself. I’m like, “You literally pushed a human out of you. Those pants don’t fit anymore.” It’s looking at what’s not working, why it’s not working, and how we get it to the place you want it to be.
I’m a huge fan of why questions. I love that you ask why because I ask why about everything. I like to know the why. What are some of the whys that come up for people? What have you discovered? It’s almost like a therapeutic process that you’re describing.
It’s 1,000% therapeutic. I joke with my clients all the time when they’re going through something. I’m like, “There’s a shrink in Beverly Hills who gets $400 an hour to do this, but I love it.” In my first book that came out a couple of years ago, Making Space, Clutter Free, I identified what I call the seven clutter blocks. These stories are universal. I did this for a long time. I was like, “Everybody has one of these stories.” There are stories we tell ourselves about our stuff and why we can’t let it go. Everyone was like, “I’ve never looked at it this way.” It’s everything from things that keep me stuck in the past to sticking with other people’s stuff to the stuff I keep paying for.
When it came to writing this second book, I started to look at people’s acquisitions and buying, and I was like, “There’s a correlation. There’s something missing.” The way I describe it is as if we were a jigsaw puzzle and we were missing one of the pieces. We think that the stuff that we buy is going to fill that piece. We’re going to buy the right face cream, purse, or car. We shove all this stuff in there, and it doesn’t work. You’re then left with all this stuff, so those I call the clutter magnet.
There’s something missing inside of us that we’re magnetizing the clutter. It’s everything from true connection. You don’t have intimacy in your life, or big love, self-respect, or self-confidence, so you go shopping. Self-confidence, I see so much like, “This face cream is going to fix it. This apparatus, jade roller,” or whatever the thing is. I love products, a great moisturizer, and all that stuff. This is where I get on my soapbox about the term anti-aging. We’re aging. What do you mean by anti? I’m so lucky. I’m still here another day. I don’t want to anti-age.
It’s like that for me with this other component of the decluttering and organizing conversation about, “What are you bringing in and why are you bringing it in? What are you trying to fill?” It’s helping people look at those from both directions. People are like, “A light bulb went on, but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t declutter. I was just lazy. I’m a bad housekeeper.” You can watch all the restocking videos you want, but if you don’t know that somehow, it’s about your relationship to your body, then you’re going to keep buying clothes that don’t fit you. “That’s where I like to go.” “Let’s talk about organizing and color coding. I love all that stuff too,” but I want to look at the emotional because we buy our stuff and we protect ourselves with it.
That is fascinating. It’s something I think about, but not as consciously as you’re sharing this, because I’m noticing my relationship with stuff shift. I’ve read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, thinking about what brings me joy, what doesn’t serve me, and all those things. I read a lot of these books and self-help being such a big passion of mine and examining my why. I’m also very curious about other people’s whys.
Since we mentioned TikTok, where it sounds like you’re spending time, I spend more time there than any other social network because of the tendency for it to be authentic, but I’m also seeing so much marketing there in terms of people sharing all the things that they bought that made a difference. I get drawn into it because I’m like, “That thing’s so cool. That could save me all this time, and it might be fun to use.”
In a couple of months, it’s going to become clutter, or the Instant Pot is going to become the George Foreman Grill. It’s funny, one of the clutter magnets is wasting time that you buy gadgets to save you time. The joke I’m making in the book is like, “With that 15 seconds or 3 minutes you saved, did you learn Mandarin? What did you do with that extra time that you had to buy a mushroom slicer? Couldn’t you use a knife?” This is where TikTok was great. These unitasker things that only do one thing make me crazy. I’m like, “They are cluttering. It’s something you can do with a knife.”
A client had this strawberry slicer, and it was the shape of a strawberry. I was like, “This is ridiculous.” This is one of the upsides of social media. People were like, “I have terrible arthritis. I can’t hold a knife anymore.” I was like, “That was so ableist of me.” I made another video to say, “I learned something. I have to rethink how I approach this.” I am so leery of this marketing statement, and I do see it a lot on TikTok, “This thing is going to fix all your problems.” It’s not.
I got chills when you talked about that example because a lot of us have a lot of work to do in terms of recognizing when we’re being ableist. I found this fantastic account, which I don’t remember the name off the top of my head. It’s been educating me, and the content creator made a video about gift wrapping. That was my big a-ha moment. It’s showing how it simply shifts in the way that we think about something as basic as we might even take advantage of. The ability to unwrap a gift and how for some people, that’s challenging.
It was on that same account they’ve been pointing out all these other tools that some people might look at and say like, “Why do you need that? That’s silly or unnecessary,” but maybe those tools were designed for somebody based on their physical needs. Thank you for acknowledging that and bringing that up. That goes to show the perspective shift for something might not be for us, and your big question of, “Why do we want to buy something? Is that for us? Does it help us function?” versus these seven big desires or the draws of something. Can we go through that list and help us determine whether this thing we want is serving or fulfilling a need for us?
I feel my duty or job as an organizer is to come in. Here’s an example. I was working with a client. She has these beautiful purses. She has exquisite. She’s got a young kid now. A lot of these purses she will be able to pass along to her daughter. She’s like, “I want to keep the original boxes because when I pass them along to my daughter, she’ll know. She has a house that she could storm in.” I was like, “That makes sense.” If there’s a thoughtfulness put in and, “Here’s my reason. Maybe it’s a little quirky, but this is why I want to do it,” I was like, “Great.”
That’s the thing to think about. That’s where I always try and come from on social media. I’m offering you another place to look at it. I did a post that blew me up. I do them on Instagram and TikTok, but I do things to declutter in five minutes, “Take five minutes. Here’s a category you can do.” It’s great. People are like, “I’ve done my whole house, and I didn’t even notice it.” The first post that blew up with 1 million views was I did coffee mugs, and people came at me, “From my cold dead hands, and I have every Starbucks cup.”
What came out of it that was so fascinating is all these teachers were like, “I’m a teacher. Every year I get ten coffee mugs from students. Can I get a coffee or a Starbucks Gift Card?” All of a sudden, there’s this opening for these teachers. I did a little poll, and all these people were like, “I never know what to get for a teacher. I want to get them something.” Basically, the teachers had spoken. They were like, “We love your thoughtfulness. I do not need a coffee mug.” “A pound of coffee is fantastic.”
That’s where social media is very real-time. You can get these answers that I knew, but it’s like, “Here we go.” Whitney, you also said something interesting that I want to put a beat on, and this is in terms of very real changes that we can implement or people reading who’s struggling with clutter, or they’re overshopping, or the sales are happening. One of the first things I tell people is to stop saying they need something. “I need a new pair of jeans. I need a new purse.” You don’t. You want it, and that’s okay, but you need to say that.
People switch that languaging to say like, “I want a new pair of jeans,” and then a couple of things happen. A lot of times, you realize it’s a want, and it goes away. You’re like, “I’m fine.” There’s so little stuff that we need that taking that power in language is so helpful to people. It’s such a little shift that you can do. You don’t have to soul search and write notes. Just start saying that. Try it for a couple of days. See how often you say, “I need something,” that you don’t need.
I’m so glad that you brought that up. I’ve had a few guests on the show that have taught me about that as well, like should and need. These words do have so much power and impact on us. Not just internally but externally too. Going back to your wonderful point about aging, I’m super sensitive to that too. One thing I don’t like about TikTok as a platform and social media as a whole skew young, and you have a lot of young people that are super impressionable, hearing all this anti-aging talk and perpetuating it.
The focus on anti-aging to me is uncomfortable because when you are saying those words, even if they’re about yourself, saying them out loud or in a public forum like TikTok, for example, has this ripple effect that gets other people thinking, “Do I need this? Should I do this anti-aging? Do I need to buy more?” and all of these things. There’s a personal and public responsibility to the way that we speak. Most people are unconscious of that.
What I do love on TikTok is all the young women that talk about their almond moms. I had an almond mom. We’re like, “We had five almonds.” I grew up with an almond mom. I’m deep into menopause. All my friends are in menopause. The amazing thing is I’m seeing these women start companies in their 50s, and their kids have grown. I’m like, “This is great.” They don’t give an F.
I have had the same best friend. We met when we were four. We’ve been friends for many years. She, over the pandemic, let her hair go silver. To be fair, both of her parents have been silver for a long time. She knew it was going to look good because it looked great on them, but it was a bold move. I was like, “I don’t know if I could do that.” She did it and looks great. She’s so happy. She’s like, “My husband feels like he got a new wife.”
The languaging is so important. I want that same thing for people when they’re talking about their stuff and their clutter. I hear so many people say, “I’m just lazy.” I was doing a virtual session with this lovely woman who works in accounting at a huge law firm and nurse sister through hospice, and she was like, “I’m lazy.” I’m like, “That has nothing to do with it.” There are days when you want to be lazy. We have to be very mindful.
This is the work that I like to do with my clients, “What’s your goal? Your goal can’t be a negative one.” Do you want to be able to host a party? Do you want to be able to have friends come to visit? Do you want to stop paying for a storage unit? Let’s think the positive and then go back into how decluttering and organizing will get you to that goal and not, “I’m a bad housekeeper.” If you’re a bad housekeeper, you can hire somebody if you can afford it. I’m about how we implement those changes for positivity and what you are going to gain. Many people say to me, “I want my house to feel peaceful.” There’s so much crap. I’m like, “I hear you.” That is one of the best goals.
Much of this is interconnected, like what you’re talking about, the anti-aging stuff. I’m on a journey now of experimenting with letting my hair go gray. It’s hard because there’s so much messaging around it. There’s a connection with clutter. In marketing, capitalism, and consumerism, I’m examining, “Why do I have these negative feelings about gray hair?”
To your point, what does that mean? Is it the fear of aging? Is it a beauty thing? Who cares if I don’t care? Why am I letting other people’s feelings about gray hair impact me? It’s also coming down to, “I’m not interested in spending my time and money on my hair. I barely even get my hair cut. I’m not someone that goes to the hair salon. Do I want to maintain dyeing my hair all the time, either at home or at a hair salon? That’s not how I want to spend my money. I don’t want to buy all these products to maintain my hair.” Something like that has that whole ripple effect of understanding my values and what it is that’s important to me.
That’s protecting my peace. When you bring up that internal peace side of it, it is so big because these negative feelings that build up inside of us, whether it’s around laziness which is a huge one too that I’m constantly tackling, or it’s about being perceived by others, our beauty and worth in the world, and all of these things are happening on so many levels.
Our home is one part of that because we have all these judgments about our home and what it looks like when people come to visit, when we get on Zoom, or what else we’re doing. It’s that fear of how we’re being perceived. I imagine with your work in the Los Angeles area where we’re both based, do you constantly hear about people’s fears around perception?
Yes. I will say something interesting about that because if they’re keeping up with the Kardashians and you want to look perfect because that’s what everybody else has, there’s no authenticity there for me. A lot of people who call me feel like their cluttered home is keeping them from participating in life. They don’t invite people over because they’re embarrassed about how it looks. They’re not diving in and participating. What I want to try and do is how we can get it to a place that’s maintainable for you, works for you, and you’re comfortable having people. People don’t notice.
It’s the same thing about clothes. You have to have all these different clothes, and you have to wear different clothes. I’m like, “No one notices.” People notice when you look nice, but no one notices that you wore that dress. Michelle Obama and Princess Kate are two women who normalized wearing things. Jill Biden doesn’t also normalize wearing clothes again being photographed in them. I’m like, “Great. It’s a beautiful dress. You should wear it.” That, to me, is pretty spectacular. I love that conversation is coming around.
This is another good part of TikTok. I am loving all those young women and men too who are buying secondhand clothes, which are like, “I’m not paying for the price,” thrift store shopping. I’ve not seen a lot of young men do it, but young women going into their grandma’s closet, mom’s closet, or the attic and being like, “What?” It fills me with joy. It’s so fun, and they’re having so much fun with it. That is a very positive social media that’s been normalized as opposed to those like, “Do you want to see my Shein haul?”
Speaking of secondhand, that’s an interesting thing, too, because secondhand seems to be the result of people getting rid of things they don’t need or selling things to make some money from it, which can be great. That’s a huge benefit of decluttering. You probably have a lot of items in your home that someone else wants. Whether you’re donating or selling them, you’re sitting on something that could be valuable.
I love those Buy Nothing Groups. We put stuff up on it for clients all the time. Normalizing that cycle of you may not want it anymore, but somebody else can use it is fantastic.
I’m so glad you brought up the Buy Nothing because I was thinking about that too. I met a cool woman down the street from me because of the Buy Nothing Group. I was thinking, “This is so great.” I was thinking about how much positivity I have around something like yard sales, which I used to love to go to when I grew up in Massachusetts. It was very different from LA. It’s the whole experience of the small town versus the big city. The reason that felt good is it’s fun to see what other people are getting rid of, and then you also get to give them money, which can feel good.
You can get a great deal, but it connects you with other people. A lot of us are yearning for that too. I imagine that comes up in the work that you’re doing, the connection side of it, not just with yourself, but what these items mean to you. You mentioned how clutter could lead you to feel disconnected because you are afraid of other people may be judging you. Is that what comes up?
People are judging you, or you feel like your house isn’t in shape to have people over, then you stop participating. I say this a lot, and I love that you brought all that up. If letting go of stuff is hard for you, if you’re someone who you’re like, “I can’t. I don’t need it. I don’t like it, but I can’t,” I always say a great place to start is a Buy Nothing Group, a donation place, or a friend. If you know that the thing you’re getting rid of will help somebody or need it, it’s much easier to let go.
I tell this story in my first book. I had a client whose husband died, and they were young. I don’t even think they were in their 40s, maybe. He had a lot of stuff, and he didn’t do her any favors. He knew he was sick and didn’t want to talk about it. When he passed, she was left with helicopters, guns, and so much difficult stuff. We got rid of everything. We did it. She wanted to move and leave LA. She never liked it here. They moved here for his work.
We were down to the end, and the moving truck was coming. It’s so funny. People think I made it up, but she had this painting of dogs playing poker. Everybody jokes about it, but it was that. I was like, “What about this?” It’s not her taste. She’s going to have that cute coastal chic look. She was like, “This painting. It was in every one of his houses. His brother hated it, and I hate his brother, but I feel like I have to keep it.” I was like, “You hate the painting. You hate the brother. It’s not your painting. You kept things that were memories of you to him. Let’s let it go.”
She and I were driving to drop off donations and pulling this giant painting out of the car, and it was one of those moments of life where you were like, “Everything happens for a reason.” This kid hopped out of a car in the parking lot, and he’s like, “Is that a painting of dogs playing poker?” We were like, “Yes.” He goes, “I’m a theater major at UCLA, and I’m directing my first play. That’s a set piece that we need, and we haven’t been able to find one.” She was like, “Please take it right now. Can I load it in your car?” He was like, “I can’t believe this. We were supposed to open in two nights.” She was like, “Bye-bye.”
It went to where it was supposed to go. It was no longer her problem. She looked at me, and I was like, “You got to trust. When you let go of the stuff, it ends up where it needs to go. If you hang onto it because you can’t let it go, that’s not where it’s supposed to be.” I always tell people, “When you let go, it will end up where it’s supposed to be.”You gotta trust when you let go of stuff it ends up where it needs to go. Click To Tweet
What a great story that is on so many levels. It touches upon something else I would love to address, which is the impact of clutter, not just on your life but on others, especially after you pass away. This is something my mom’s into because her father took so much pride in not having clutter. He said when he was still alive to my mom, “I’m so proud that when I pass away, you won’t have to deal with all my clutter. You’re going to go into my attic, and there’s nothing there.” My mom got into that, too, almost to an extreme. I was like, “Mom, you’ve gotten rid of enough stuff.” It’s hard.
Sometimes getting rid of clutter too fast is very uncomfortable because you have to process what that meant and all that, but I do respect her and my grandfather for that mentality. On my other side of the family, when my grandparents passed, it took so long to go through all their stuff. It’s the burden that had on my dad and his siblings, and my mom is trying to be proactive. I’m thinking, “What a great gift you’re giving me when that time comes.” I’m curious. Does this come up in your work? What have you learned from that?
It’s a big part. Probably, 25% to 30% of my business is emptying houses after someone has passed away. I am very in this conversation. When you accumulate stuff, you become the steward of it. It’s your responsibility now. You’ve bought, consumed, and have it. I don’t think it’s kind to the people in your life to leave a mess for them. This is your mess. Clean it up. Also, what happens is people pass away, and then the people who have to go through all this stuff are like, “I can’t possibly get rid of this because Nana held onto it forever.” I was like, “Nana held onto it because she didn’t declutter. It has no meaning to Nana.” They make up these huge stories about it.I don't think it's kind to the people in your life to leave a mess for them when you pass away. Click To Tweet
One of the amazing things about decluttering when you’re at this age is you’re like, “I see the end.” It’s inevitable. What I love to see is people giving away things while they’re still alive. I have a client who’s 94. I love her more than anything. Several years ago, she started to give away her very fancy jewelry. Everyone in her family freaked out, “Are you getting ready to die? This is so morbid. I don’t want to talk about it,” and her point was, “No, I have terrible arthritis. I cannot wear these pins anymore. I can’t wear these rings. I’m not going out. I want to give it to you so I can have lunch and have you wear it.” It was so heartfelt. It’s making her a master of her own destiny.
A lot of people were like, “I get it.” There’s so much power in that than waiting until you die. Also, I do a very deep dive in this second book in Make Space for Happiness, but pre-manufacturing going overseas, stuff wasn’t cheap. It was harder to come by, so we had less stuff. Manufacturing went overseas, everything got cheap, so we buy and buy.
In the olden days, things were passed down because you didn’t have it. There was a time if you needed a coffee mug, you had to go and make it. You had to have clay and make it. Now that manufacturing has gone overseas and everything’s cheap, we have too much. We don’t leave things to people in the same way. People in their 50s or 60s are like, “I want to declutter, but my kids don’t want any of this because they got full houses themselves.” We’re eventually all going to transition and transcend, so be kind and deal with your mess. Don’t leave it for somebody else.
Maybe that adds a bigger meaning to it beyond yourself because sometimes people get stalled when they’re too focused inward. Even though being focused inward has so many benefits, sometimes looking outside of ourselves has as many, if not more, and it can be a big motivation. It’s never too early to start thinking about that because none of us know how long we have truly been.
Sometimes I get into that mentality like, “Nobody would know what to do with my stuff,” and to your point, a lot of my stuff doesn’t have a meaning. I’m holding onto it oftentimes, I’m procrastinating getting rid of it, or I get into that trap of, “What if I need it later?” out of this idea of, “I don’t want to have to buy more stuff, so why don’t I hold onto the things I already have because what if I get rid of something, and I need it later?” What do you tell people about that? What’s the answer?
Yes, if there’s a good chance that you’re going to need it. I also think you have to historically look backward and how often you have needed that thing. The other thing is, do you have a place to store that thing? Do you have somewhere where you put it away if you need it? Also, if you don’t, is it something you could borrow from somebody else or inexpensively buy again? I am like, “Don’t throw things away if you’re going to use them. We don’t want to buy them over again.”
I give this example all the time. I have this giant platter, and I have used it for Thanksgiving for many years. It’s a pain to store, but I have a place for it, and I use it twice or three times a year. It’s great, so I don’t have to buy another one. I got it on sale at William Sonoma many years ago, and it’s great. I don’t need that again.
In that conversation, part of it is, “Have I ever used this ever?” If it’s never ever used, chances are you probably not going to need it. Another is, “Would I be able to find it again?” A lot of that also comes around what your space is. That’s another conversation, and nobody addresses this. A little bit for smaller spaces, but so much of social media, it’s like you don’t know how big somebody’s house is. You don’t know how many linen closets they have. They can have all this storage that you don’t have access to.
I have this lovely woman who follows me who’s in the Netherlands. She lives in 175 or 225 square feet, a tiny little Amsterdam cool apartment. She’ll post pictures of stuff she does, and she’s so creative with what she has to do with this tiny space, but it’s having a different conversation than someone who’s got a five-bedroom ranch house in Calabasas.
That’s the minimalism movement that was so big many years ago.
For the record, I have to say this. The minimalist movement was started by a bunch of White guys who all have wives. I’m going to say that.
I need to hear more about that. What do you mean?
The big voices are in it. I don’t want to say their names. People knew who they were, but they were affluent White men with wives. That’s easy to become a minimalist when you got somebody doing all your work for you. I come in and consult with people when they’re building houses like, “What do you need for a linen closet?” I’m in this argument all the time with contractors and architects where I’m like, “Put that washing machine down on the third floor. You’ve clearly never done a load of laundry because that’s so far to go.” It’s this conversation about the patriarchy and who’s involved in the house. That, for me, was so much of that minimalist movement.
It’s very akin also to me to like food apartheid where you’re like, “Everyone should be eating organic,” but if you live in a neighborhood where you don’t even have access to grocery stores, we can’t even have that conversation. I don’t know if you’ve been seeing this play out. I don’t even know what his name is, but there is some guy on TikTok who’s all about processed food being bad for you. He posted this video where he went to a cafeteria in a children’s hospital, and he was like, “Look at all this garbage.”
All these people got on there and were like, “My child was in the hospital with cancer for six months and couldn’t eat anything, and the only thing they wanted was a Pop-Tart. I would’ve given them 1,000 Pop-Tarts a day.” It’s the hubris of this guy to assume. It would have been great if these kids could eat the organic color of the rainbow, but if your kid is on chemo, you need them to get calories. I sometimes feel that a lot about the minimalist movement. “You quit your big tech job, got rid of all your stuff, and look at you.” It makes me crazy.
I am with you on that. I’m so glad again that you’re bringing up the ableism side of it. There’s a big tie to these oversimplified solutions to things that seem to target people who might have the resources and then people that don’t have the resources, the lifestyle, or whatever’s going on in their life. They feel shame, “Why can’t I have this? Why can’t I do this? Why does this work so well on them?” Unfortunately, a lot of that’s rooted in all the different levels of privilege that people have. It’s hard because I have a lot of privilege, so it’s easy for me to oversee the fact that it’s not accessible to others, and you bringing that up is so important.
Clutter is a luxury. They’re not in the jungles of Guatemala. We have to start there. I work with a lot of people, and they’re super interesting to me. I work with a lot of first gen children of immigrants who are like, “I didn’t learn how to organize. My mom kept everything,” and you’re like, “Of course.” Ali Wong has this great skit she does about her mom, like keeping all the yogurt containers, and she’s like, “Mom, throw it out.” Her mom was like, “You don’t when you need to dig your way out of communist Vietnam.” She’s like, “You’re right.”
In this conversation, we have to understand, were your parents the kids of the Depression Era? Did your family survive The Holocaust? All that generational stuff is such an important part. I never throw it all away, but also understand, “My family’s always done it this way, but this way doesn’t work for me anymore,” especially when you inherit things from past generations. It’s like, “I have to keep this,” and I’m like, “Do you have to? Do you love it? If you love it and it tells a story of your family, great. If you resent it and you’re paying to store it, do you?”
It sounds like context is a big key. That seems to have been a thread through this amazing conversation in helping people get perspective, understand their why, put their lives into context, realize how relative things are, and not be hyper-focused on comparing themselves to others through social media or even people that you know. There are so many helpful lessons that you’ve pointed out during our time together.
I’m so grateful. As I said from the beginning, you blew my mind. You took clutter to a level that I have never gone before in a conversation, at least. This is incredibly helpful and hopefully soothing and comforting to people who’ve been feeling like they’re struggling and don’t know why, and you being so focused on that why and helping people get there through your books and consulting. The fact that you have virtual sessions, too, is so great. Speaking of access, if somebody wants to work with you privately, is a virtual session something you do regularly?
Yes. It’s almost more like a coaching scenario. We work a plan and accountability and support, but not the luxury of the hands-on, “I’m going to sort through this stuff with you,” but they’re very successful, and I love doing them. I get to meet all sorts of people, and it was great. I did one with a woman who was so lovely and had four people who had passed away in a short period of time, and she had all this stuff. We were going through it, and she was stuck.
She got around to talking about her grandmother’s recipes, and they were handwritten. It just lit her up, and I was like, “Scan them and make a cookbook for the family. If you don’t like them, get rid of them.” In my experience with my clients, Marie Kondo’s very oversimplified, but I do think that, “Does this thing light you up?” That conversation that she started was amazing. It turned a corner for everything, but as a client of mine once said to me, “Is guilt-ridden sentimentality the same thing as joy?” I was like, “No.”
It sounds like you’ve learned so many amazing lessons from your clients. There are so many opportunities to reflect on all of this. Again, thanks for being here with me. Thanks for the work that you do with your books, virtual sessions, and in-person. Also, you mentioned your TikTok and Instagram, and I encourage readers to go check out any of the above.
If you go to Wellevatr.com, there will do resources. We’re also trying to make it very simple for you to find what you need and take some steps forward. You can even very simply look at the description of this episode and start from there. There will be some links. Thank you, Tracy, for giving me a rich conversation for myself and for the readers too. I appreciate you.
Whitney, thank you for having me on. I knew it from our little pre-interview. I was like, “This is going to be a good one.” We got one life that we know of, so let’s make it the best we can be. I’m very lucky that I became a conduit for a lot. I’m like, “Let’s disseminate it. Let’s share it with everybody.” I want us all to win and have the best life possible.
That’s absolutely beautiful, Tracy. The way you articulate all of that, too, is so moving and refreshing. I’m very thrilled to have had this time with you.
Me too. You and I are going to see each other again.
- Tracy McCubbin
- How to Keep House While Drowning
- @DomesticBlisters – TikTok
- Make Space for Happiness
- Making Space, Clutter Free
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
- TikTok Gift Wrapping Video – TikTok
- Buy Nothing Group
- TikTok – Tracy McCubbin
- Instagram – Tracy McCubbin
About Tracy McCubbin
Tracy McCubbin is an entrepreneur, CEO and the author of Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book On Decluttering You’ll Ever Need (June 4th, 2019). She has always referred to herself as “Obsessive Compulsive Delightful,” but who knew she could turn that trait into a booming business? While working for a major television director in Los Angeles, Tracy discovered she had the ability to see through any mess and clearly envision a clutter-free space. Coupled with keen time-management and organizational skills, Tracy soon found more and more people were asking her for help. Before she knew it, dClutterfly was born.
Over fifteen years and thousands of clients later, dClutterfly is currently Los Angeles’ premier organizing and decluttering company. Tracy has been interviewed on several decluttering segments, including Fox 5 and ABC Eyewitness News, KTLA Morning Show, KCAL9, and Good Day Sacramento. She and her company have also been featured in top-tier publications, including Real Simple, House Beautiful, Goop, Refinery 29 and Woman’s Day.
When not decluttering, she is the proud Co-Executive Director of OneKid OneWorld, a non-profit building strong educational foundations for children in impoverished communities throughout Kenya and Central America.
She lives in Los Angeles and knows where her keys are.