I began decluttering purely because I felt overwhelmed by the physical clutter in my home. When I first started clearing my space, I felt an incredible sense of lightness. When I got more serious about minimalism, and was further along in my journey, I hit a bump in the road. Something I hadn’t anticipated is that finding yourself is a side effect of minimalism. And this made me feel very uncomfortable at first.
As I sorted through seemingly endless boxes of things, the house became more open. But I noticed much more emotional turmoil within myself. I started to question everything about my life. And I felt this sense of being “on the lookout” for new projects, hobbies and challenges. I’d browse the magazine section in the newsagent, looking at things I never would have been interested in before.
Minimalism suddenly produced a sense of emptiness in daily life and an accompanying urgency to fill it with something.
It was a reaction to all the things I had let go. There was a sense of discomfort in the growing space that my clutter left behind.
There were three main themes to my emotional discomfort:
For the first time in years I didn’t feel overwhelmed anymore. I thought it would be wonderful, but it was so unfamiliar it felt like I need to ‘fix’ it. I’d look at a photography course one day, and then think about subscribing to a writers magazine the next. Feeling lost became a daily routine.
I had to be careful at this point not to fill my life and space with new STUFF. I needed to be sure that anything I added to my life was genuine and not a comforting replacement for things that I had said goodbye to.
I became much more aware of how much emotional baggage I was carrying around (a lot!). Once my home was clear, I found that my own mind was the cluttered place. Old hurts, personality flaws, weaknesses, and behaviour patterns were all suddenly in the limelight and it made me feel like I needed something to fix them (which previously would have been stuff).
And finally, I questioned many friendships and also my relationships with family members. I noticed how draining and emotionally upsetting some people and groups of people could be for me.
Working Through Discomfort
The whole experience led me to a totally unexpected transition. I never thought clearing out all my stuff would do anything other than make me happy, but the feelings I experienced left me irritable and a little bit miserable.
Under all that stuff I chucked out, I found a pale, neglected and wobbly version of myself.
However, I deeply believed that too much stuff wasn’t the answer, and I was able to hold off from filling the emotional emptiness with physical things. I believe that as part of the journey to a minimalistic and simpler life there will be rough patches when you have to face up to old habits (in my case, filling my life with too many hobbies) and to old emotions that have never been dealt with (in my case, years and years of them).
A lot of my negative feelings had been buried under my life of stuff for so long that I had forgotten that they were even there.
Turning Back Time
I actually felt emotionally younger because I somehow found myself facing old issues that had never been resolved. I was feeling emotions I had buried from years ago, all over again.
How did I transition through this period?
If you are experiencing feelings like this, how can you deal with the dissatisfaction and unease?
Well, to some extent you do need to fill the emptiness that your stuff leaves behind.
I had to relearn how to fill my time.
Shopping, organising, sorting, or even just analysis-paralysis and sitting in the middle of a mess eating, drinking and watching tv. These were no longer things I needed (or wanted) to do.
So I began to focus more on experiences and relationships, not on stuff.
Without my stuff to anchor me to the house I was free to be more spontaneous. There was no longer that constant guilt over the list of things that I should have been doing. I found I could be a more attentive parent, and that made me feel good.
I discovered that just being with myself and feeling happy took practice. My difficulty in doing this was a testament to how much I had disapproved of myself over the years, and covered those feelings with purchases, projects and plans.
With less stuff to hide behind and to distract me, I became more aware of everything I did and everything I felt.
Finding a sense of self-acceptance and peace was not easy. It took a degree of self-examination I was uncomfortable with and an amount of forgiveness that I found laughable.
But I worked at it. I was so desperate not to end up back in a horrible, overwhelmed mess. Slowly, I worked through it.
I had always imagined that a minimalist mental state would be calm, curious, content and ready for thought. But I was far from that. I tried meditation (and I am still trying). It was difficult back then and even now it hasn’t quite clicked for me.
I wrote a lot – especially about old hurts that I thought I was done with. It turned out I was still carrying a lot of shame and self-judgement.
Just Being Me
But mostly, I just let my brain do its thing. Old feelings surfaced and I stopped ignoring them. I cried about things from years ago. I took deep breaths out in the sun when I was at the park with my toddlers. I knew that I was just dealing with all the shit I should have gotten a handle on properly first time around. So I let it be. I let it all come up to the surface and have its say.
I listened to myself.
Perhaps for the first time ever in my life.
And I found that the better I listened and the kinder I was to these feelings of hurt and anger and shame, the easier it was to be me.
And I don’t mean rushing-around-project-mad-always-on-the-go me, but sitting-still-and-being-in-the-moment me.
Less stuff meant more of me in my life. It turned out that I took a little more getting used to than I expected.
Stop and Be
If you have decluttered and are feeling sadness, shame, boredom or the desire to hit the shops, stop for a moment. This is who you are. You don’t need anything physical to make you better or kinder or smarter. You deserve self-respect and forgiveness for your mistakes. No one and nothing can do that for you. You have to do it for yourself.
As uncomfortable as it may make you feel, I promise the feeling is temporary. If you allow your emotions to surface and you can accept them kindly, you will be able to move on. If you really can’t bear it, consider counselling. But know that your stuff was just hiding feelings that are better off dealt with.
There is an irony in self-acceptance being key to being able to let go of what you no longer need. Because sometimes it’s letting go of what we no longer need that forces us to accept ourselves for exactly what we are.