9 Invitations for Decluttering the Dark Areas

Through a mix of lack of planning, funds, and desire to do everything that is necessary to travel with a family of 4, we found ourselves at home for our 2015 Spring Break. No mountains, no beach, no amusement parks. Not a single hotel stay.  

Now that it is over, I have the most unexpected revelation to share: This was my favorite Spring Break, EVER. (Yep, even without a trip to Disney World.) Why? 

For 9 days, my husband, son, daughter, and I found a bizarre and totally desirable way of living. We moved between cleaning, shopping, playing outside, venturing to a local museum and aquarium, dining out and dining in, sleeping in and waking earlier than we would on a normal work day. We flowed with what needed to be done and what we wanted to do be doing.

Woven through all of that, we did what we've never been able to do before: We looked in the corner of the closet.

Yep, we went there.

And not just looked - we pulled all of the crap out of it. And we didn't just pull it out - we tossed it. Donated it. Organized it. Treasured what remained.

In case you haven't figured it out, I'm not just talking about the closet. 

We faced every dark corner - in our house, our schedule, and our minds. We took a deep breath and, without grumbling (for the most part), addressed what had been ignored for far too long.

Because I like to share practical examples, here's a diversion and an overview for those who are curious: We painted our daughter's room, which hadn't been done since she'd been born. (She's almost 8 years old now). We cleared out the backyard of leaves and sticks that had been there for at least 4 months. We purchased and had replaced a water heater that had prevented us from taking baths for months because it was so rusty. My husband and I sat down for at least 2 conversations where we addressed, in a stern but healthy way, issues that had been clouding our relationship. We purchased a new dishwasher (as we've been without a working one for nearly 8 months). We organized our Master Bedroom, which has always taken backseat to the more visible areas of the house.

And, perhaps most amazing to me, I went through all of my art / craft supplies, and now have 2 full trash bags and at least 5 boxes to donate. I have NEVER been able to let go like that. (Fellow creatives will understand - I always look at a piece and suddenly have the PERFECT idea of how to use it, or a swell of inspiration to figure out how to use it...even if I haven't touched it for over a year. )

Nine days obviously wasn't enough time to address all of what we've ignored for years. But it was plenty of time to practice being with it all, and to tackle what we could.

I sit here now, both kids back in school and my husband back at work, in a home that feels more spacious, and with a mind that feels likewise.

We all have those things we ignore - often by necessity instead of by choice.

Whether it is a cluttered garage, a dark closet where the I-Don't-Know-Where-Else-To-Put-It items get shoved, or soft little thoughts that pipe up every now and then, wondering about something more, or something different than this ... 

And yet we march on to the comforting drumbeat of habit.

The clutter continues to build. The accumulation of fears and longings that we brush aside as we wake another day to have a cup of coffee and work 8 hours so that we can pay the bills that are due at the first of the month; items that pile up in the house because at one time or another we simply HAD to have it and now have no idea if we still have to have it or could let go...but there's no time to think about it.... ; days upon days of life lived unquestioned and for the most part, unexamined.


Most of us have YEARS of accumulated ignorance (that which has been IGNORED or of which we have been UNAWARE). Trying to awaken, understand, and organize it all within a matter of days or even months would be like trying to fill the Grand Canyon back in, one spoon-full of dirt at a time.

So what to do?

Try the BeingBreath way - one breath at a time.


A few invitations:

1) Explore your own limits.

For some, the messy closet isn't a huge stress at this point. For others, that pile in the closet corner creates a sinking feeling each and EVERY morning, starting every day off in a rather negative way.

For some, the dreams of pursuing that ideal job aren't really a pressing issue in the light of a current job that really is OK. For others, each day of putting up with this job is manifesting in physical health problems.

Look at your own unique life, and figure out which dark areas are causing you the most suffering. Then take a few breaths, and imagine venturing into those areas. Without judgment (no, "I SHOULD's" allowed), where are you willing to go? What ignored areas are causing you the most stress? Your answers will change over time, so be sure to examine this more than once.

2) Be gentle with yourself.

Change is unbelievably difficult. If you start on something and feel as though you can't finish it (letting go of an old regret or an old shirt, for example), don't add more to the clutter pile by throwing on judgments. Simply breathe and move on to another item, discussion, or even to an iced chai. 

3) It is worth repeating: No judgments allowed.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. Tackle it all, headstrong, in one month - or ebb and flow in and out of the process over several years. Donate the baby items or carefully store them away. Examine what feels best for you - not what an internet article or Pinterest tells you to do.  

4) Think of this as creating more space, not necessarily as letting go.

It can help to think of these actions as a positive movement instead of a negative movement.

I often had trouble donating items because I couldn't stop thinking of what money I could make by selling them. I couldn't let go, but neither could I find the time to sell the items....so they all accumulated in my garage. Finally just giving them away created a huge amount of space within my mind (no more wondering what I'd do with them), and an ease within my breath.

Don't rush to fill those spaces, either - enjoy the beauty of openness.

5) Be willing to be uncomfortable.

This is a big ol' life lesson that we all should practice again and again. Most of what we've ignored, we've done so because it was more comfortable to NOT address it. But "if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten" (Anthony Robbins).

Discomfort is its own practice, one that can be explored through venturing to new places, exercise routines, and countless other adventures. In the realm of addressing the dark areas and decluttering, discomfort can be experienced in a myriad of ways. It is astonishing how one little closet can hide a lifetime of confusion, or how one little discussion can reveal much deeper issues.

Be willing to "go there", while staying gentle and nonjudgmental with yourself.  

6) Plan a reward.

Addressing the dark spaces - and moving into that discomfort - is hard work. Knowing that there is a little reward at the end can help with motivation to keep going.

Our kids got popsicles and ample of hours of free play time for helping with the yard and cleaning their rooms. We allowed ourselves a trip to IKEA to purchase shelving for organizing the books that had been stacked on our bedroom floor. I went and worked in my now-clean art studio area for nearly 60 minutes last night, just breathing in the space and allowing inspiration (that had previously been blocked by piles of unused craft items) to flow. Our 10-year-old son sat in his new chair, admiring his "new" (i.e. clean) room last night (and even made his bed on his own this morning!) 

Let the reward be energizing in its own way so that it doesn't drag you back down to lethargy (or *gasp* - more clutter!), and exciting enough to pick you up when you are feeling pulled into the darkness. (Hint: a free reward often feels the best because it removes us from attachments to further financial worries. Rewards enjoyed out in nature help us to experience a connection and spaciousness.)

7) Respect that mental clutter can be just as stressful as physical clutter (and vice versa). 

When we think of "decluttering", we often imagine bags of physical items finding their way out of the home. But decluttering also means addressing the hundreds of thoughts that flow through your awareness every minute.

"To-Do's" and "Should's" are my two primary categories of mind clutter. I address these by letting go of some of the to-do's (as there isn't enough time to do them all), and by practicing letting go of my expectations of how anything Should be or Should look.

Take a look at your own routine thoughts and figure out which ones tend to repeat themselves. 

Meditation is a great way for becoming aware of all of the mental clutter. (Google "meditation techniques", join the free Open Heart Project by Susan Piver, or email me to discuss your own unique situation.) 

On the flip side, we often forget the impact that our environment has on our well-being. Stacks of papers, dusty trinkets crammed on shelves, and piles of old clothes or magazines can create disease (dis-ease). Addressing clutter is a holistic process.

8) Avoid overwhelm.

One teeny, tiny thing at a time. I cannot overstate this. As you open your awareness, you'll most likely notice more dark areas that you ever imagined were there. It can feel overwhelming and disheartening, and easily lead to wanting to go back to ignoring it all.

Focus on the flow, which only exists in the here and now. This means bringing your attention back, again and again, to what is right in front of you and within you. One thought, one breath.

If it helps, make a list. Each time you think of something that needs addressed, add it to the list - then walk away from the list. This will help those fears of possibly forgetting something, as well as allowing you a visual way to check off / cross off items.

There are many tips for decluttering that can be easily found. (A wonderful resource is, Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home by Lauren Rosenfeld.) Find out which ones work best for you (and be mindful that you are avoiding those "shoulds"!).

9) Remember that this is a PRACTICE.

Like all other things I  discuss at BeingBreath, this is truly about the experience. The benefits you will receive from addressing those dark areas will hopefully be many - less stress throughout the day, sleeping easier at night, fewer items on your to-do list, and so on. But those are consequences of actions. Relying on consequences of actions (and our expectations of them) will only lead to more suffering ... even if we clear out the clutter.  

We must learn to be present with the process - the feel of the dishes as we clean them out of the sink, the memories of each shirt as we pull it out of the closet, the scent of each book as we pull it off of the shelf, the physical sensations in the chest as we examine our own thoughts.

It is in the breath-by-breath experience of awakening from ignorance (that which we have ignored or of which we have been unaware) that peacefulness is found.


Do you have your own tips, resources, success stories, or challenges? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!