Decluttering Is About Unfolding More Than Folding

Marie Kondo’s Book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying took the world by storm, selling over 4 million copies. Everyone I know is talking about it, especially my clients. As a fellow organiser, the wave of interest in letting things go – especially those that don’t bring us joy -has been a welcome inspiration, as well as being great for business.

I know there have been lively discussions about the impact of Marie Kondo’s work on our field in the organisational body I am a part of in the UK: the Association of Personal Declutterers and Organisers (APDO). And although I haven’t read the book, my clients have told me some of the things that helped and inspired them and how it has all been very useful to them. So I have some thoughts of my own I’d like to share with you.

Unfolding, not folding can be the true key to change

One of the things Marie Kondo is most famous for is her folding method, which you can view here. I’m sure you’ll agree, a drawer filled with beautifully folded items where you can see and find things easily would bring joy and harmony to anyone, especially someone who spends half their time rummaging in the bottom of their cupboard looking for things. Her folding method is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but I propose that for many people the process of decluttering is really much more a process of unfolding. Here is why I think that.

I have been working with people in their homes for over 10 years. Stepping over the threshold into someone’s home is a privilege I can’t deny. And in my role as declutter consultant, I often find there’s usually a deep story waiting to be told. Having been welcomed into someone’s space to reorganise it, I find akin to being welcomed into their psyche, in a way only a visit to a psychotherapist’s office could parallel. In life, there are certain terrains we don’t explore, certain doors that remain closed, closets that keep their skeletons hidden beneath the unworn coats, dresses and shoes. These closed doors remind me of a passage in Debbie Ford’s book Dark Side of the Light Chasers. In it she uses the metaphor of a large castle to represent the unbounded psyche of a child and how gradually, room by room, we shut away those parts of ourselves we are told are ‘wrong’ or don’t conform to what is expected of us.

“Many of us also locked away so many rooms that we forgot we were ever a castle. We began to believe we were just a small, two-bedroomed house in need of repairs”
Debbie Ford

And in my role, I have permission to open those doors and so inside we delve!

Unpacking an old marriage

I recently worked with a divorced single man, a story from part of my work with him may shed some light on this. Even though he’d got divorced 10 years before I started working with him and it was him that had walked away from the relationship, there was a sense of unforgiving, that he had messed up in some way. And with that mindset, all the beautiful memories, along with the sadness, the guilt and regret, were metaphorically stuffed away in the closet. So when we got to the wardrobe, and he had told me he could declutter by himself, I wasn’t convinced. I thought: “Really, you will go into Narnia alone …”. I knew he couldn’t embark on that journey unsupported, that he was stuck and needed a guide, a companion, a mentor; someone to hold the process of unfolding that needed to happen before he could move on. But I waited; as with any deep process, first one must be invited in to help.

As the day unfolded and his process did too, he took out the wedding ring and a couple of other things from the wardrobe. Knowing there was more, I followed his lead like any good therapist would. I suggested creating a temporary shrine. This was to be an outer manifestation of the unconscious idolisation his psyche was creating to the marriage he once had. I know he thought the idea was bonkers. Perhaps I did too, but intuitively I felt that in Gestalt terms, he needed to ‘do what he was doing more’ not less; to idolise his marriage more, even if just for one more day, one last day, but to do it consciously and mindfully. As we assembled the shrine there were tears, many of them, and space to hear the tears of sorrow, the sadness of hopes unfulfilled and dreams unlived.

Soon after this, I witnessed a real surge of energy that we both embraced and a lot of clothes started coming out of the wardrobe. Pile by pile the clothes built up on his bed. Clothes from another life, another time, were sorted using the cards I employ as part of my mindful method to a stress-free home; sorted into donate, sell, recycle, mend, bin, all let go.

Some cards from my Home Declutter Kit

The shrine sat there for a few days. “I think we’ve exposed and cleared something, it feels different now”, he told me the next time we met. He photographed the shrine and dismantled it and sent the wedding ring off to auction, all actions revealing a renewed sense of peace. It didn’t surprise me to hear that on the very day the auction house called regarding the sale of the ring, he had been asked out on a blind date, a poetic piece of synchronicity. As Carl Jung says, there are meaningful coincidences between outer and inner events; a distinct relationship between psyche and matter. Working with archetypes, symbols and metaphors are very important to respect when working in the psyche of someone’s home. I often find this type of synchronicity happening in my work with people, especially once we start delving into some deeper psychological or emotional areas.

So in my view, for some people when dealing with their clutter, before the folding, comes the unfolding. Maybe Marie Kondo and I have completely different jobs?

I would love to know what you think and hear about your experiences. And if you’d like to order a copy of my Home Declutter Kit please visit my Kickstarter page

For many, decluttering is a really painful experience, and only energising and liberating once the gremlins that were buried beneath the clutter have been set free!

“Your home is a mirror of your psyche, and sometimes you may not like what you see!”
Helen Sanderson, from my book to be published in 2017.



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