The lengthening of the days, the slight warming of the air…the end of the cold sludge marks the beginning of a new cycle. For many of us, a shift in season means a shift in routine. Time to retire your winter coat, replace your heavy duvet with a lighter blanket, or undertake an all-important ritual—spring cleaning. The seasons evoke change and renewal, and a thorough spring clean can be more than just an opportunity to dust down the shelves.
So what exactly is it about the art of clearing out and discarding that we find so refreshing? We mirror our environment, and our environment mirrors us. The benefits of decluttering have been expounded by experts as a means to boosting productivity, motivation, and creativity.
There’s also the ritualistic elements of tidying. In the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Japanese lifestyle consultant Marie Kondo encourages a loving and methodical approach of reorganizing and reducing one’s possessions, by mindfully working through each one and questioning if it ‘sparks joy’. If it’s useless, has outlived its purpose, or no longer sparks joy, you can thankfully let it go and send it on its way. Turns out, going through our possessions and clearing out our closets can be powerful tools for reflection.
It’s a way of slowing down, tuning in, and looking around at the present
Did you dust your bookshelf last month only to see a fine covering on those books this week? Surprised at how messy your shoe collection appears despite reshuffling it seemingly yesterday? When we give things a review, we’re reminded that things require upkeep, maintenance, and small, consistent efforts to stay in good shape.
Taking stock of our stuff helps us take stock of ourselves.
It’s a way of empowering and respecting yourself
Showing your surroundings in their best light, for your everyday life and not just when guests are over, is a way of showing yourself the same courtesies you’d show loved ones.
It’s not just material
Maybe your inbox is creating digital clutter in your life, or more importantly, you have relationships to reassess. Cleaning your physical space can help in figuring out what’s taking up your mind space (they don’t call it ‘emotional baggage’ for nothing). Maybe you’re holding onto joys of the pasts through tokens, gifts, letters, or keeping newly purchased items in their packaging, saving them for that ‘just-in-case’ moment (looking at you, expensive bottle of wine), all of which can be signs of living in the past, or the future, rather than our immediate present. Taking stock of our physical surroundings can bring us a step closer to realizing what emotionally needs changing.
It makes you aware of how you consume, and if you’re happy with it
Do you stockpile bars of soap which are taking up much needed space? Or perhaps you leave the toilet roll down to the last one before stocking back up, or spend more than you’d like, and could instead save those pennies for a larger goal or adventure. Either way, sifting through our lives helps us see where our time and money has gone so far, and if anything needs to change.
When we cleanse, we invite the world in, or, realise it was there all along
Only when we go through all of our ‘stuff’ do we realize how many people and efforts have been involved in getting them there, from the physical hands that have manufactured the things we own, to the people who thought of sharing something with us. Our lives contain more connection than we may realize.
It’s a reminder that our needs are always changing
Maybe you only needed those mindful colouring books to get you through a stressful time, or those fancy but painful shoes for a one-off event. Reorganizing helps us realize our needs are constantly evolving, and that to keep up with them we need to continually make room.
Sometimes good enough is just fine
Maybe we’re holding ourselves up to a standard of perfectionism, not only in our homes but in our lives too. Letting go and being OK with mess can signal a release of expectations, and create energy for things that nurture our feelings, and not just our things. Psychologist Jonathan Fader says, “Take comfort in knowing that your home and desk do not have to be pristine for optimal living and working. The key is finding what environment is most efficient and productive for you.”
Taking stock of our stuff, hopefully, helps us take stock of ourselves. “The question of what you want to own,” as Kondo writes, “is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”