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Logical brain, feeling brain: Who’s calling the shots?

When you’re trying to get a handle on your clutter, it can be helpful to talk yourself through some of the reasons why you’re keeping something.

  • Do you use it?
  • When was the last time you used it?
  • How much would it cost to replace this thing?
  • How many of these do you have?
  • Is it in good shape or has it worn out its welcome?
  • What else could serve the purpose of this thing?
  • Would I buy this thing again?
  • Could I borrow this from someone else if I needed to?
  • How much is this item costing me in terms of upkeep and storage?
  • Does this item fit with the life I have now, rather than a past life or an imagined life?

Great, practical questions. We nod thoughtfully and keep the thing anyway, because these questions don’t get to the heart of why we’re keeping something. Tackling this problem from the logical part of your brain is never going to get at the core reasons you might be holding onto something.

Try something different

Pick something up and listen from the part of your brain which was there to protect and keep you safe way before the prefrontal cortex showed up with its checklists and persuasive arguments, its logic and its reasoning.

When you touch this thing, what are you feeling in your physical body, and in your heart?

Do you feel safe when you hold this thing?

Do you feel reassured and taken care of?

If so, that thing is very important to you. Please respect that feeling, and sit with it for a moment or two. Breathe gently and slowly – this thing is part of your support system.

Acknowledge its importance: “This blanket gives me such a wash of good feeling – I remember the love my mother had for my daughter, how happy I was to have something my mother had taken the time to make for my child.”

And then get curious. As you look at that special blanket now, with those feelings of care and love baked in, is there anything about this blanket as it is now, that you notice physically?

Is it moldy, threadbare, pilling and funky? Is the yarn scratchy? Will you ever pull is out for another generation to use or will you want to make a new baby blanket?”

Pay attention to how these questions make you feel. You’re not arguing with yourself, you’re just interested in seeing how you react when you hear these questions. When you argue for something, part of your brain starts up with the counterarguments, so keep this all light and easy. If I tell you you need to get that stinky blanket out of here, your brain will immediately find four reasons why that’s a terrible idea.

Assess whether the feeling of love and safety is so tied up in the blanket you have to keep it, or whether it’s possible you could keep the good feelings and let the object itself go.

Would taking a picture of it help or do you still need to be able to touch it?

Would writing down the story of the blanket be helpful or would it feel pointless without the blanket itself?

Would picking the blanket up and holding it and experiencing the love and the scratchiness, the meaning and the funky smell make a difference to the feeling of wanting to keep it?

There are no wrong answers here, just a chance to explore the deep feelings an object can hold, even though you could logically argue for its disposal six ways to Saturday.

When was that love most important?

If the baby blanket floods you with feels of love and security, that’s awesome, but as grownup ladies and gentlemen, we know on some level that the time we needed that most was when we were tiny and vulnerable. If the blanket is bringing up feelings of something we were missing back then, it’s going to be almost impossible to do anything about decluttering it now without the encouragement and assistance of a therapist who specializes in working with that core part of the brain.

That means finding someone who goes beyond the reasonableness of cognitive behavioral therapy.

“Thinking therapy”, with its logical questions and thought-based reasoning, is always going to take a back seat to the survival instincts of your limbic brain. When you give that primitive brain a chance to take part in your clutter decisions, by paying attention to your feelings and sensations, you’re giving yourself another way to find out how the clutter affects you.

So go ahead and look at those logical, sensible lists of questions to help you declutter, but remember to make space for the part of your brain whose prime directive is to keep you alive. That part operates from pure feeling, so allow it to feel, and see if you can gently listen to what it has to say.

Curious to hear what you discover!


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