I grew up in Tucson, AZ on the corner of a small residential street and Wilmot Road. Even though it was a safe neighborhood, Wilmot was a busy street all hours of the day and night. The nights seemed loud and intense, especially to a young girl with an active imagination.
On any normal day, the whooshing sound of cars racing by seemed like a constant warning of potential danger. I clearly remember when cops pulled people over right next to our house, and the flashing lights of patrol cars danced around our bedroom as the piercing wail of fire engines from a nearby fire house spilled into our ears. There was even a drunk driver who crashed directly into our house in the middle of the night. There was no relaxing with that sense of impending crisis.
My bed was under a window in the bedroom I shared with my sister, Jena. I would often lie awake at night, mentally playing out vivid fears that someone would inevitably sneak into the house through my window while I was sleeping.
Finding Safety in Stuff
One day, while Jena and I were cleaning our bedroom, I had a brilliant idea that might help to simultaneously protect us from potential intruders…AND get us out of cleaning our bedroom.
What if we used our messy bedroom to create a trap for anyone who might try to break in?
After sharing this idea with Jena, we quickly went to work, stacking and piling up every single toy and possession we owned onto my bed. If someone snuck through our window, they would make so much noise, that we would be able to escape. Plus, they would get so caught up in all the chaos and stuff that they would fall, hurt themselves and retreat back out the window, never to return.
A divinely inspired idea!
That night, we cuddled up in her bed, excitedly giggling at the sheer genius of our plan. What we didn’t take into account however was, 1. It’s usually only a matter of time before two sisters in a twin bed turn giggles into whining and general crankiness, and 2. My mother’s understandable, but deep disapproval of our new housekeeping techniques.
When Mom came into our bedroom to break up our shared-bed bickering and saw our monstrous mound of stuff, her jaw dropped and immediately tightened up again as she gritted out our full names (including our middle names…a clear indicator that we were in BIG trouble), along with a battery of strict orders to clean up the bedroom right away.
What looked like a mess to our mother, was simply two little girls’ way of protecting themselves from the scary outside world that made a nightly appearance as we drifted off to sleep. We had created a security blanket made out of Lincoln logs, clothes, books and several hundred My Little Ponies.
Clutter as an Unconscious Strategy
Fast forward 30+ years, and I’m still seeing clutter used almost every single day as protection.
As a professional organizer, I see over and over again the ways that people use their physical objects to speak for them, protect them, give them space to think, and hide treasures. There are infinite ways we use our stuff to help, serve and protect us.
In every single space, there is a clear purpose for the clutter.
Just like my sister and I tried to use our clutter to protect us from danger, people use their clutter to meet their needs for safety and happiness, although it isn’t always clear that’s what we’re doing.
When I work with someone, the point of decluttering isn’t to get rid of the security blanket that is keeping them safe and easing their anxiety. That would be beyond unhelpful.
People are so wise about knowing what they need in order to be functional in this wild, busy and often scary world we live in.
What I do is help people swap their clutter security blanket for another type of security. A security that is long lasting and true, without the visual (and emotional) side effects that clutter provides. Sometimes that security looks like learning how to set a boundary with a loved one, getting more sleep, leaving an unhealthy relationship, finding a way to add exercise to your life, buying a bra that actually fits, acquiring a new skill, processing trauma or releasing things from your life that no longer serve you. The process of facing our clutter is a life changing experience that brings more gifts than one could ever expect.
Take a moment to look at the clutter in your life. Is it protecting you from something?
If it is, is there a more direct form of protection that would help you release the clutter and actually feel even more protected and safe? Is there anything you can learn or give to yourself to help you feel like you don’t need that protection any longer? Clutter is simply a vehicle. It helps us meet our needs in sometimes quite unexpected ways. Once you know how clutter is helping you, you can give yourself what you truly need and release the clutter from your life once and for all.
I would love to hear if clutter is a security blanket for you and the ways it is helping you, so please share your insights with me in the comments below.