What is a clutter cloud? Are you struggling with it, and if so, what should you do about it? Listen to this episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show to find out!
In This Episode:
- What is a clutter cloud, and why should you care?
- 3 signs that you’re living in a clutter cloud
- How connecting with your inner child can help you declutter
Featured In This Episode:
- Get your free Mindful Decluttering guide: simplyfiercely.com/freeguide
- Read the blog: simplyfiercely.com/blog
- Connect on Instagram: @simplyfiercely
- Clear Your Clutter opens in Jan 2024–get on the waitlist: simplyfiercely.com/clearyourclutter
Subscribe to The Simply + Fiercely Show
Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.
3 Signs You’re Living in a ‘Clutter Cloud’ & What to Do About It?
It’s Jen here, and welcome to the Simply and Fiercely Show.
Today, I want to chat with you about something that, honestly, is a term that I completely made up.
The reason I had to make it up was because it is a phenomenon that I have witnessed time and time again, in my life, and with the people I work with, but I don’t hear anybody talking about it.
When I tried to do research about decluttering and clutter, I couldn’t find anything that addressed this concept. So that’s why I made up the term I’m going to share with you today.
I’m going to explain what it is, some signs that it might be something that you’re struggling with, and what to do about it.
The term that I have created is the phrase, Clutter Cloud. If you follow me on social media, I’ve mentioned it a few times there before but other than that, I really haven’t talked about it. Yet, it is so important, that’s why I decided to record this episode.
What is “Clutter Cloud” and its impact on life?
A clutter cloud is what happens when the things that you own, or possibly even the things that you do, start to take on this enormous importance that is out of proportion.
In my experience, physical clutter is probably a bit more common but if you find yourself working a lot of overtime, or you’re obsessed with work, the same thing could apply.
I used to be a shopaholic in the late 2000s years, that was my peak Shopaholic period.
During that time, the logical side of my brain said, ‘Hey, these things are not that important’. But I was so obsessed with clothes and shoes that I knew my obsession was a bit unhealthy and I knew that I really shouldn’t care so much. But it was like this spell was over me where I just couldn’t not care.
If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that the reason I was so obsessed was because I thought that I’d become a really materialistic person, which to be honest, I was really embarrassed about. I felt a lot of shame.
So I overcompensated by owning the role of a shopaholic. I was sort of pretending like it was this badge of honor and I was so proud of how much shopping I did and how many shoes I owned.
But deep down, I was really ashamed of myself and embarrassed, because I knew that I shouldn’t care so much about those things.
What I know now, after over a decade of doing this work and really thinking about decluttering and the roots of our clutter, is that I truly believe that I’m not a materialistic person. I haven’t changed so fundamentally over the past decade, instead, I was living in a clutter cloud.
For me, what it meant to live in a clutter clout was that there was a void in my life, I’ll talk about that more in a minute. But there was a void in my life and because I didn’t have anything that I thought was valuable or important or worthwhile to fill that void, ‘the stuff in my life’ started to become more important than I thought it was.
Dreams vs. reality of life
When I talk about this idea of a void, this whole concept came to me when I was thinking about my daughter. I think she was four at the time and I remember her coming up to the window, looking up at the moon and telling me how, when she was older, she wanted to go to the moon.
And look, I am a realist, I know that the odds of my daughter going to the moon are probably pretty low. Let’s, let’s be frank, right? But she’s a child, and I want to encourage her to dream big. I want her to have hopes and dreams and to explore what’s possible. That’s what we all want for our kids.
But if we think about ourselves, even our inner child, as we get older, our perception of what we think is possible starts to shrink. Real life kicks in, our responsibilities, our bills and it almost starts to seem silly or embarrassing if your dreams are too big.
Let’s say your dream is to write a novel but you’re not a writer now and you’ve never published anything. But sitting down and telling somebody, ‘Hey, I want to write a book one day’ is almost embarrassing. They’d be like, “Well, what do you know about writing a book”.
Coping with the emotional void through mindless shopping
Actually, that’s something that I went through myself when I started my blog, I didn’t really tell that many people about it.
And this is going to sound ridiculous because if you’re listening to this podcast or if you’ve read my blog, I do have a lot of readers. I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years, I have had millions of people reading my work, but I still don’t talk about it to the people in my real life world.
I talk about it online, I have social media, but I don’t talk about it with people I just meet because it feels like it’s too silly of a dream.
In that way, I feel like that’s a common theme. As we get older, things start to feel silly and we feel a bit insecure about the things that we dream about. If our hopes and dreams don’t fit inside the status quo, we feel embarrassed to tell people about them or we just stop dreaming altogether.
We have so many responsibilities. There are bills to pay, lots of people are struggling right now. You’ve got kids, you’ve got no time for yourself, and you don’t have time to sit down and really think about your hopes and dreams.
But because of that, we create a void. There’s an emptiness in our hearts or souls, there’s something lacking.
So as a result, I truly believe that we start to care more about stuff that shouldn’t matter because we can’t have the things we really want. It’s almost like a booby prize. It’s like, ‘Well, I can’t have my big dream. So now my new dream is to just go shopping at Target every weekend.’
And I don’t think it’s intentional, I don’t think it’s something where you sit down one day and say, ‘Since I can’t have what I want, I’ll have this instead’. I think it’s a subconscious gradual thing. We start to care more about whether our living room looks like what we’re seeing on Pinterest.
We spend a lot more time comparing ourselves to other people because we have less of a sense of ourselves, if that makes sense. We don’t know what our dreams are anymore so we become more easily influenced.
That whole phenomenon is what I call a clutter cloud.
Struggling with what clutter really means
I want to quickly share three signs that you can use to diagnose if you think this is something that you’re struggling with. Then I’ve got a few suggestions on how we can overcome it.
I will say this is important because if you are struggling with this clutter cloud concept, a lot of regular decluttering advice isn’t going to work for you.
The practical tips and hacks are not going to work because your clutter isn’t about you not being organized. Your clutter isn’t about you being unable to make decisions.
Your clutter is about filling a void in your life and that’s a big emotional challenge. That’s hard to overcome unless you address it specifically.
Three Signs of Living in a Clutter Cloud
Sign number 1 – Aimless shopping
Number one is you find yourself aimlessly shopping. You’re shopping because you’re bored or because you just don’t have anything else to do.
What I would find when I was in this stage of my life where I was really struggling emotionally. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose and felt like I was living on a hamster wheel just going through the motions every day.
I don’t want to say bigger purpose in the sense that it’s like you have to go out saving the world or anything like that. But something that inspires you, something that gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning, besides just going to work and paying bills and washing dishes.
I was going through a phase where I didn’t have anything that felt exciting for me, I felt very stuck in this rut. And what I found is that stuck in a rut feeling would manifest in my body as, ‘Oh, well, I need to change up my living room, I need to freshen up my wardrobe’. I wanted something new to give me that feeling of change.
But deep down the change that I wanted wasn’t in my home decor or the clothes. What I really wanted was a change in my life.
I didn’t realize it or maybe if I’m honest, I kind of knew but didn’t have the courage to do something about it, or I didn’t know what to do about it. So I would use shopping as a way of coping.
If you find yourself shopping often or feeling the urge to freshen things up, ask yourself if what you really want is to freshen up your home or do you want to freshen up how you feel about your life.
Now, quickly, what I want to say before we go to the next step is that I do not want to imply that everyone who feels like decorating their home or updating their wardrobe is stuck in a rut and needs to reevaluate their life goals and their priorities. That’s not what I’m saying.
But if what I’m talking about resonates with you, and you find yourself shopping for no reason, this might be why. These are not one-size-fits-all answers. It’s just about giving you a little food for thought.
Sign number 2 – You can’t articulate any of your hopes and dreams
The second sign that you might be living in a cluttered cloud is that you can’t articulate any of your hopes and dreams.
And again, I know that that sounds really harsh, but that’s how I felt. All of these signs are things that when I look back on my life I think, ‘What was a sign that something was wrong?’
It doesn’t mean that you have to have everything figured out but I literally had no real hopes for the future, except for things like maybe I’ll buy a nicer car, maybe I’ll get a promotion, maybe I’ll get a bigger house, etc.
Again, it’s not that those things are bad, but for me, when I look back at those things, they weren’t even what I really wanted, it’s just what I felt was the next step in the path of life, what people expected of me. And it was something to look forward to because I had nothing else to look forward to.
Now I have hobbies. Some of you might not know this, and I never share it publicly, but I write fiction just for me. I also enjoy traveling. I have dreams about things I want to do in the future with my business. with my kids, etc.
It’s not all concrete, I couldn’t necessarily write you a list of very specific details, but I have this feeling of hope for my future.
Whereas 10 years ago, or maybe 12 years ago now, when I tried to imagine my future it felt like, ‘I’m sure I’ll be doing the exact same thing I’m doing right now and it’s not making me happy’. I couldn’t imagine what else I might be doing. So, again, not one size fits all, but something to think about.
Sign number 3 – When decluttering becomes overly painful
The third sign that you are living in a cluttered cloud is when decluttering is overly painful even when you know that it shouldn’t be.
For example, if you were decluttering a sweater that used to belong to your grandmother and now she’s passed away, of course, you know what it’s supposed to be like. It’s not going to be easy. I’m not going to lie to you, it is hard to declutter those items that are really sentimental.
In my experience, even as someone who is a quote-unquote, expert in decluttering, those things are still hard.
But there are some things that you know shouldn’t be that hard, right? Like if you’re decluttering some coffee mugs and you have no sentimental attachment but you find yourself wanting to keep everything.
That’s how I used to feel about shoes. I would have shoes that I never wore. They were cheap, they would hurt my feet, I didn’t even really like them, but I felt like I could not let them go, I felt so attached to them.
Now I know that the reason I felt so attached didn’t have anything to do with the shoes themselves, it was the fantasy. I was buying those shoes because they were filling a gap I felt and I didn’t want to declutter them because then I’d have the gap again. That was a struggle for me.
So again, this isn’t everyone, but if you’ve really struggled to declutter things that you felt shouldn’t be hard. If you can be objective and say, ‘This shouldn’t be something that’s challenging to declutter’, that is often a case of struggling with this clutter cloud scenario.
What to do if you are experiencing the three signs of Clutter Cloud?
So what should you do?
When I work with people who are struggling with this, what’s hard is that you actually have to stop trying to declutter.
That isn’t what people want to hear because it doesn’t feel productive to take a step back to think about life when you’re trying to clean out your garage or clean out your closet.
We’re also obsessed with productivity. We need to feel like we’re being productive and like we’re doing things constantly, don’t we? But the truth is, sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.
If this all resonates with you, what you have to do is slow down, spend some time thinking about your values and priorities, and start experimenting.
To tap into your inner child, think about the things that used to bring you joy. What are the things that used to light you up?
And honestly, the way that I see it, as you start to fill your life with purpose, with the joy of things that make you feel alive, it’s almost like that joyful purpose of your life pushes the clutter out.
It’s just a perspective shift. The things that used to seem so important, all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Why do I care so much about these shoes.’
I know this sounds very easy. It sounds like I’m suggesting you could do this in one afternoon but it’s not necessarily that quick.
You might have to spend some real time in self-reflection and it might feel a bit painful or uncomfortable at times, but I promise that it makes a huge difference.
I know for myself, that at the end of what I now call my ‘Shopaholic Period’, I went through this period of huge personal turmoil.
I live in Australia but around 2012 I had a breakdown in my relationship. I ended up going back to the States for a little while and I was living on my mother’s sofa.
I was I think 31 or something at the time so it kind of felt like I was rock-bottom, like everything I’d worked for for the past decade was pulled out from under me.
But in a small way, it felt like a gift because I got to think about ‘Okay if I’m starting over from rock bottom, how do I want to rebuild my life? What do I want to show for life? How do I want to live?’
And again, these aren’t easy questions. But when you invest some time into them, basically you get to rebuild your life based on what matters.
You start to look at all your clutter, all of your possessions and you have that perspective shift, and becomes easier to see what belongs and what you need to let go of.
This is very related to a previous episode, How To Create A Strong Vision For Decluttering And Why You Should [Episode 25], which is about how to create a vision for your decluttering. But if you are somebody who really struggles with this concept, if you feel like you’re living in a cluttered cloud, that is going to be more challenging for you.
It’s very hard to create a vision if you feel so disconnected from your purpose, from your values, from your priorities. Sometimes you need to invest in some self-discovery, really investing in spending that time with yourself, and getting to know yourself again. That journey is actually part of the work of decluttering.
I wish you all the very best. I appreciate you and I hope that I’ll see you next week.