Decluttering and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I need to buy a new computer this year.

I have a six-year-old Mac with a 512K hard drive and it’s not long for this world.  I was planning to upgrade to a terabyte of memory, but was shocked to learn that doubling the memory would cost me $400! This quickly made me wonder how much storage space I really needed.  If you’ve been reading for a while you know that I’m minimizing the rest of my life, so why not minimize my hard drive, or at least not increase its size?

So, I’ve taken on the challenge of freeing up space and I’ve been reviewing, refiling and most importantly releasing computer files. Overall the process hasn’t been too hard and I’ve released hundreds of space gobbling pdfs, old business forms and even pictures.

There have been some files I’ve come across though that have been harder to deal with than others, like the one titled “Old Blog Postings to Convert” which dated back to my last website conversion years ago. I kept the file because I thought I might recycle the content at some point. (If you recognize this as the “I might want to use this someday” clutter-maintaining defense, you’re right!)

The truth is I hadn’t looked at the file in years. As I considered just deleting it, I was stopped by the voice in my head “You can’t trash all of those pages of writing! You worked so hard on them! There may be something of value in there!” (Yes, another clutter-maintaining defense attempting to rescue this file from the virtual trash can.)

Even though I hadn’t looked at the file in years, I knew it was going to be hard to review those postings. Writing has always been challenging for me and deleting what I’ve written can be even more challenging.

As I opened the file, I felt the muscles in my neck and shoulders tensing up.

The writer Stephen King’s famous quote came to mind: ““Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” (It didn’t really make me feel any better about the process, but it seemed appropriate given the circumstances.)

As I read the first entry though, I felt my muscles relaxing.

The entry discussed tips for organizing a garage. (A garage? It’s been years since I worked with anyone to organize their garage. It’s not even a service I offer anymore.) After a quick read through and an acknowledgement this posting wasn’t something I needed going forward, I hit delete.

As I continued reading, this process repeated itself again and again and I was able to easily delete postings on: weeding out old toys, re-purposing Chinese takeout containers, and organizing kids’ papers from school. Even though the articles conveyed helpful information, they related to the professional organizer I used to be, as opposed to the professional organizer and coach I am now and reposting them didn’t make sense.

In the end, I was surprised that only a few of the postings still struck a chord with me and I filed those away for further consideration. The bigger surprise was that a task I had dreaded ended up being easier than I anticipated.

It’s fascinating to me how prone we are to making assumptions and telling ourselves stories based on those assumptions, without ever testing those assumptions.  I assumed reviewing and deleting that file would be hard. In reality it was easy. If I hadn’t pushed through the self talk and challenged my story, that file would most likely still be sitting on my hard drive.

Hopefully this story helps you see that stories we tell ourselves, that we assume are true, are just stories.  They deserve to be challenged. Yes, some will end up being true, but some won’t, and you’ll never know which is which unless you challenge them.

What clutter, digital or otherwise, do you tell yourself will be “hard” or as a client told me recently “impossible” to deal with?

What kinds of stories might you be telling yourself?

What might be possible if the stories you’ve been telling yourself aren’t true?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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4 Responses to “Decluttering and the Stories We Tell Ourselves”

  1. Amy Mayr April 21, 2017 4:18 pm #

    As always a very thoughtful and well written post. Thanks for being the voice I needed to hear today as I face a weekend of organizing and decluttering.

    • Andrea Sharb April 21, 2017 4:20 pm #

      Happy to be there for you! Let me know what I can do to support you. : )

  2. Ellen Delap April 23, 2017 4:31 pm #

    Excited to see a post about how difficult all clutter can be, whether it’s paper, digital or other. When you know it’s time to release “old stuff” it feels good!

    • Andrea Sharb April 23, 2017 5:13 pm #

      Ellen, as you know so well, whenever there is an emotional connection, it’s bound to be challenging, no matter what type of clutter it is. : ) It does feel so good though to release it when you can get to that point!

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