“I’m disgusted by myself.”
“I’m so embarrassed about my stuff. I haven’t had anyone over in years.”
“My hot water tank broke, but I’m too ashamed to have a plumber in to fix it.”
“I feel inferior to all those people who have a clean home.”
“Every day I’m consumed by guilt.”
The shame of hoarding and having too much stuff is obvious to those who live with it every day. Everything around you feels like a reminder of your failures and your inability to be like everyone else. When you try to clean up or get organized, shame reminds you that you belong in your mess. Shame is a bitch. And it really gets in the way of life, let alone decluttering.
(In case you’re not sure shame and hoarding are related, you can read an abstract here (http://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781(16)32085-6/fulltext) of a recent study about shame and hoarding. It’s very, very real.)
The advice that follows is not from a mental health expert. It’s my opinions and understanding after seeing the impact of shame on people’s lives as they struggle to let go, and seeing the power of meaningful changes that help stop the cycle of shame and hoarding.
You do not need to live with shame anymore! Honest! I believe the start for evicting shame from your life is deciding you don’t want it anymore. (Hang in there, I know this sounds a bit silly. Of course you don’t want to feel shame…) See, if you’ve been given shameful messages your whole life you may not like it or want it, but you may be used to it, and even find a sort of comfort in the familiarity of feeling shame. When you decide you won’t live with shame anymore you are making a powerful statement.
But, as we all know, deciding you want something do be different doesn’t magically make it happen. After you make that choice, it’s time to choose some new thoughts, and use some new words. Right now, your default thoughts are about shame. To change this, you need to stop those thoughts, and replace them with different thoughts. Yes, this is a bit of a simplified explanation, and I don’t want to minimize how much work it is to change your thoughts. I want you to know it’s possible, and you CAN do it!!
Start with thinking about your thoughts. When they start heading down the path of shame, stop them. (You can even say ‘Stop!’ out loud—it helps!) And then consciously repeat a good, positive thought. If you’ve read anything of mine so far, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the thought “I love myself’. Sure, it may not be true for you right now, but it will become true and it will change your life! I have a habit of repeating “I love myself” and really internalizing it whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, and when I’m walking the dog every day. Plus, I use it when unhelpful thoughts try to mess with me. So, in case you weren’t sure, I think “I love myself” is one of the best things to be thinking!
There are other thoughts you can use. Like “I’m alive and breathing right now” (true and positive, right?) or “I am kind and loving” or “I’m embracing this opportunity for goodness”. Use one of these or find something that works for you. And then repeat it over and over. And over and over. What you’re doing is getting used to having new thoughts. Which is kind of exciting!!
So, you’ve made a choice to stop feeling shame. You’re practicing stopping shameful thoughts, and you’re replacing them with good, positive thoughts. You’re doing great!!! Whenever you get the chance, say your positive thoughts out loud. This is another way of reinforcing the new thoughts in your brain. Keep doing these, and then add some action! I really believe that this is a key part of changing. It’s part of the miraculous circle of changing thoughts, then changing words, then taking action.
If you are feeling alone, the first action to take is to find a friend or two. It doesn’t have to be someone who physically walks into your house, although if you do have a nonjudgmental friend you have a real treasure! Look for a support group or self-help group you can attend, join a Facebook group for hoarders or clutterers, or hop on reddit and find some encouragement. It will be easier to believe you are not alone in your struggles when you have chatted with other people who are going through the same things.
Next, find a small action you can take to remove clutter from your home. The most important words here are “small” and “remove”. (You can read more here about why starting small is so fantastic, and how to start small.) Maybe there is a bag that you already decided you would donate that’s been sitting on the floor for a while. Go ahead, and march that bag to your nearest donation center. And keep those good thoughts and words coming the whole time!
Or maybe you see something right now that you know you can recycle. Take it out to the recycle bin. And give yourself lots of credit along the way. It’s a really big deal to change your thoughts, words, and actions. Way to go!!!
OK, one more action to consider: Removing the enemies in your clutter—the things that remind you of painful things and failures. In my work with clutterers, I was always fascinated by this reaction: A client would hold something in their hands, and their face would either light up or totally fall. And when I would mention the reaction I was seeing, they were often surprised that their body was so willing to show what they were feeling. Yes, there is lots of stuff in your home that makes you feel happy—your face lights up when you hold it. But there are also things in your home that bring you (and your face) down. You can start to change the feelings in your home by letting these things go. They are not helping you at all. And you are under no obligation to keep anything that brings you down. (Oh, um, if you live with someone that brings you down, that might be a bit different. Whole other story. I’m going to stick with the stuff for now, and hope your decluttering journey leads to amazing, good things with the people in your life too.)
Yes, shame is a very real problem for hoarders and clutterers. No, you do not need to live with shame anymore. Take a little time and effort to kick out those shameful thoughts, bring in some positive thoughts, say good things out loud, and start some little changes with your stuff.
And if you have a great positive saying to use, please write it in the comments as inspiration for everyone else. There’s LOT of stuff online about WHY you should have positive thoughts, but practically nothing on exactly what those positive thoughts should be! So we need all the ideas we can get!