4 Reasons Why You’re Stuck in a Clutter Cycle and How to End It [Episode 6]

How do you break the cycle of decluttering, then shopping … then decluttering again? If you want to stop yo-yo decluttering listen to this episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show to learn four reasons why you’re stuck in a clutter cycle and how to end it.

In this Episode:

  • When it’s OK to be a clutter cycle + when it’s a problem
  • The shopping mistake almost everyone makes
  • The surprising beliefs that lead to clutter
  • Why you should beware the “decluttering permission slip”

Featured in this Episode:

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Please note transcript has not been edited, please excuse any small errors.

Introduction of the episode

00:01  Podcast Intro 

Hello, and welcome to the Simply and Fiercely Show, a podcast for women who want to clear their clutter and create space for freedom and joy. If your life keeps getting bigger, but not better, keep listening to learn about decluttering from the inside out.

It’s about creating a life that’s aligned with your values and priorities so you can have more of what matters, and less of what does it. I’m your host, Jennifer, and I’m so glad you’re here. Let’s get started. 

00:30  Introduction of the topic  

Hey, everyone, it’s Jen here and welcome to episode six of The Simply and Fiercely Show. Today, we’re going to have a chat about clutter cycles, why they happen, and how to break them.

But before we dive in, I thought I’d just mention that this topic was actually requested by someone on Instagram. So I thought I would just quickly say that if you’re on Instagram, then please come say hello.

My user name is simplyfiercely, all one word. And yeah, I mean, I’m not a huge social media person, but I do hop on there fairly regularly to, you know, share tips about decluttering and minimalism. Occasionally, personal updates, but I do try to stay on topic. So decluttering, minimalism, simple living etcetera.

Yeah, so if you’re curious, please feel free to come and say hello! I take questions, so if you’re listening to this podcast, and there’s something that you want to hear more about, please comment or you can just ask me about anything that you’re curious about. Just keep it within reason, please. 

01:40  What are Clutter Cycles and why go back to the cycles again and again?

Okay, so back to today’s episode. As I said, we are talking about clutter cycles. So first thing first, I just really want to define what I mean by this term so we’re all on the same page.

So when I say clutter cycle, I am talking about yo-yo decluttering, right? Which is a bit like yo-yo dieting, I think everyone’s probably a bit more familiar with that term, which just in case, it’s when you diet and then you gain weight, and then you diet and you gain weight again.

And look, I don’t really want to go on about dieting too much in case that’s triggering for anyone. But I think you get the idea, right? It’s when you are stuck in some sort of loop, working towards any goal, really. And it feels like you’re taking two steps forward, two steps back, you know, and just not getting anywhere, just not getting towards the goals that you want.

So specifically, when we’re talking about clutter cycles, what usually happens is that people make some sort of progress decluttering. You know, they took a few bags of stuff, and they take it out of the house. But then they end up shopping again. Right?

And what happens is that time passes, and before you know it, you kind of feel like you’re back where you started. So if we look at the question that I was originally asked, which specifically it was, how do I stop this cycle of decluttering, and then buying things again? Okay, so we’re going to talk about that. I’m really going to break it down, I’m really going to break down why it happens and what you can do to stop it.

But first, I want to point out one really important thing. If you feel like you’re stuck on one of these loops, when are these clutter loops, it’s not automatically a bad thing. Okay, so, yes, I know, it might feel really frustrating because you know, you might look around your house and you feel like you’re doing all this work, and you’re not making any progress.

But I just think that it would be, I guess wrong of me to not mention that, I guess we’re all human, right? We’re only human, and sometimes often who we are changes with time. So I actually read this great quote the other day, it was in a blog post by Claire Baker. If any of you know her or haven’t heard of her, she’s an Australian coach and she actually teaches about menstrual cycles, and how to live in tune or how to live better in tune with your body.

But anyway, this blog post that she wrote was about the way that people change with time. And specifically, she’s talking about, you know, coming out of two years of being in the global pandemic, and just coming out of that and how people have changed. And she shared this quote that really spoke to me so I’m just going to read it to you. It goes on, “We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”

Okay, so this quote, I don’t want to ruin his name. It’s very embarrassing, but the quote was from W. Somerset Maugham, in case I’m spelling that wrong or saying that wrong, it’s m a u g h a m, but I’ll link to the blog post in the show notes for anyone who wants to read it.

But as I said, the point is that people change. And when we think about this with regards to clutter, it makes it. It makes sense that the things that our lives, our physical possessions are going to change, too. Okay. So, you know, like, maybe your body has changed in the past few years, right? Lots of people have experienced that with COVID, and lockdown. Or maybe your hobbies have changed, right? I swear, everybody’s picked up new hobbies and making bread and painting and things. Or you know, maybe your values have changed.

Okay, so the things that you used to think were really important, that used to be the things that used to really matter to you, you know, you’ve reevaluated things and maybe now, those things aren’t as important as they used to be, and something else matters a bit more. Ultimately, there are like a million ways that we can change. And if you need to change your stuff, in order to feel you know, like you’re living true to yourself, then I just don’t think that you should feel bad or guilty about it. 

06:03   Jennifer’s year-long shopping ban

Okay. So, for example, as some of you know, I’ve talked about it before, I am in the middle of doing a year-long shopping ban, where I’m not buying any clothes. I think I’ve mentioned that every episode, so sorry. But I know that might sound great to some people and it sounds like a really admirable thing to do.

But I want to point out that if I tried to do that, you know, a few years ago, it would have been horrible, there’s no way I could’ve done it. And it’s because I had two kids, right? I had two kids in four years. And during that time, my body completely changed. So I bought new things. I don’t feel like, guilt or shame about it.

And so like, sometimes the changes aren’t as obvious, like your body changing, but your life changes. And it’s okay to, you know, change the things that you need. So, back to the clutter cycle, I guess I think what’s really important is that it comes down to the awareness behind your choices.

If you are in a cycle of decluttering and buying new things, and you feel like it’s happening because you are changing as a person, that’s okay. Or you might not even be changing, but you’re just figuring out who you are. Right? So again, after I had my second child especially my body completely changed. And I had to learn how to get dressed again, which I know might sound very dramatic, but it really, it really felt true to me. My body was so different from the first nearly 40 years of my life. 

And I just had to figure out how to dress it again. And that process, that learning process meant trying new things, wearing them realizing, you know, what made me feel good when I was comfortable and then having to let go of what wasn’t working. So that is absolutely normal. And I support anyone who’s going through this. And, you know, figuring out what you need, yeah, from your clothes, or your hobbies, or even your kitchen or anything in your life.

07:55  The first reason why people get stuck in the clutter cycle.

The problem is when we don’t learn from what’s not working, which brings me to the number one reason why people get stuck in a clutter cycle: it is a lack of clarity about what you want, or need.

So for any of you who read my blog, I probably mentioned this already, and in past episodes of the podcast. You will have heard me say this before, but I’m going to keep repeating it because it is so, so, so very important. One of the number one reasons why people have clutter is because they’re not clear on what they want from their homes and their lives. Right?

So as I said, if we go back and I’m talking about my post-baby body, I went through a stage where I had a lot of like clutter in my closet, right? So I’ve had a minimalist wardrobe for like, I don’t know, 10 plus years now probably since, like around 2012, yeah, 10 years now.

But during those years after having kids, it was when I had the most clutter, the biggest challenge was with my closet. And it’s because I wasn’t clear on how I wanted to dress myself. Okay, I didn’t even, I didn’t know what style looked good on my body or what was even comfortable to wear. Right?

So or if we would go beyond the closet, we look at other examples. You might, it could be simple, like you just don’t even know what style of decor you want to use in your living room. You know, are you like, and I don’t know anything about interior decorating. So sorry, this sounds silly. But like, are you like coastal or modern, you know, if you don’t even know because most people actually don’t fit into these tiny boxes as it is. It’s more your own style.

But if you are still confused about your own style, if you haven’t sort of dialed down on what it looks like, then you’re going to end up with clutter, because you’re buying things that you think are your style, but then it’s not quite.  

09:47   An example of not knowing or being confused about your own style. 

Actually, here’s an example. Here’s how it all relates to the clutter cycle. I think this is very relatable to most people. You walk into a shop, let’s say Target. We have that in Australia and I know how big it is in America. You walk into Target and you see a picture frame that you like, right? There’s something in the shop and you think look, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful’, you feel attracted to it, I really liked this picture frame, I’m gonna buy it and I’m gonna take it home.

But then you get home, and you realize that the frame doesn’t really belong anywhere, you like it, right? But you move it around the house. And no matter where you put it, you can’t. That’s not even I don’t really like it there, right? So it doesn’t really belong. And then a few months later, you end up decluttering and that frame that you liked, but don’t really love after all, ends up decluttered.

Okay, so then a few weeks later, you’re back in Target. And the same thing happens again, you buy something else you like, you get it home, and it doesn’t really work for you. Okay, so here we can see the clutter cycle in progress. And for most people, what happens is that you end up fixating on the stuff, right? Something didn’t work, whether it’s in your living room, or your kitchen or your closet, something that you bought, you know, didn’t quite work.

And you think the problem is you need to go shopping again to find something better, right? But the problem is where we are getting stuck, how we are getting lost in the clutter cycle is, we don’t even know what better means. Okay, if you haven’t figured out what it is you really want, or what you need or what you like, then how can you know what better is, right? You just keep randomly buying things. And then uhm well that’s not quite right. And then you know, the cycle continues again.

So to stop this, you need to press pause. Okay, as I said earlier, I’m not saying that you need to stop buying new things, that buying things is bad, that you should be this extreme minimalist, who doesn’t ever buy anything. But what you need is to start thinking intentionally about what you want. Before you go shopping at a bare minimum, you should write a list, right? Be clear about exactly what you need.

And you know, if you’re a little confused, sometimes, one tip is to look at the things that you’re decluttering. So if we go back to the picture frame example, if you loved it, but it never worked in your house, ask yourself, why. Was it the color, was it the design, too modern? Try to figure out why it didn’t work for you so you can stop making the same mistakes, right? And then you break the clutter cycle.

12:19   The second reason why you get stuck in the clutter cycle.

Okay, so moving on. The next reason why you might be stuck in a clutter cycle is you are an emotional shopper. Now, before we go too far down this road, let me just preface this by saying, I think almost everyone is an emotional shopper. Why? Because we are all human, right? And we all have emotions, and they tend to influence the things that we do. And I just want to point this out, because I think there’s some really negative connotations associated with being an emotional shopper. And I don’t think it’s fair or helpful. And here’s why.

If you already identify as someone who’s an emotional shopper, and you think it’s a negative thing, then you’re just going to feel guilty or ashamed. Right. And when you have those feelings, then it’s hard to address the issue. Right? Nobody wants to feel guilty. No one wants to be ashamed, no one really wants to look at the things about ourselves that we feel is embarrassing or bad in some way. Right? So we don’t want to look at why we emotionally shop, we just kind of want to pretend it doesn’t exist.

I did that, I was a massive emotional shopper and what I actually did is, I went the opposite. And I embraced this identity where I was like, I love shopping. Like I’m, like one of those extreme shoppers, like I used to post these memes on Facebook, you know, like, ‘Life is short, buy the shoes. Hahaha’. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. But I guess it was just like me, I was overcompensating. I was so embarrassed and kind of ashamed about being an emotional shopper that I kind of went this other direction and pretended like it was, I thought it was the most fun thing in the world, just so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed. 

Anyway though, so that’s, if you are an emotional shopper, if you identify as an emotional shopper, you’re gonna feel a bit, it’s gonna be hard to manage, if you think that it’s something kind of wrong, morally wrong about you. Alternatively, if you don’t identify as an emotional shopper, if you think that’s not me, ever, that can be a problem, because it’s kind of like having a blind spot. It’s like when you say, oh, that doesn’t apply to me, so I don’t have to worry about it. When in reality, it’s probably more of a great idea. Great, gray area, right? And you can’t fix what you can’t see.

So on the other extreme, if you pretend like you never emotionally shop, then you can’t try to fix it or control it. I don’t even know what the word is. It’s not really fixing. Nobody needs to be fixed. Right? But I guess it’s just again, everything so much when I talk about is awareness, right.

So, back to the clutter cycle, keeping things on track here. Emotional shopping is a problem with regards to the clutter cycle, because if you think about it, if you are buying things as a way of not aware, let’s say if you are buying things in reaction to an emotion, okay, so you’re buying things, because it’s your way of dealing with stress, or you’re buying things because that’s how you deal with feeling, you know, insecurity. If it is driven by the emotion, then it does not matter what you declutter, does it, right? Because on a deeper level, it’s not about the stuff, what you buy isn’t really that important. Instead, it’s how you feel when you’re shopping.

Okay, so, you know, as an extra shopaholic, I can say that it is almost like a drug sometimes. Okay, so even if you aren’t addicted to shopping, even if you don’t identify as a shopaholic, that isn’t to say that you don’t occasionally indulge in emotional shopping, sort of a wave taking the edge off of what you’re feeling, right? I think everybody does to some extent. And that keeps you in a clutter cycle.

So how do you break it? Again? I’ve said it a million times. It’s all about self awareness, right? Because when you realize why you’re emotionally shopping, okay, so are you doing it, you go shopping after you have a fight with your partner? Do you do it, you know, every time you get overtired, then you just make you shop to sort of, I don’t know, get some adrenaline, or whatever, again, a million different reasons.

It’s different from, every for everyone. But once you identify it, once you identify your emotional triggers, then you can take steps, you can recognize it and take steps to deal with those emotions in a way that doesn’t involve shopping. And then there you go, you break the clutter cycle, right? Or at least one aspect of the clutter cycle. 

16:52   The third reason why you get stuck in the clutter cycle.

Okay, so, as promised, there are still two more reasons why people get stuck in a clutter cycle. And the next one is outdated beliefs, or habits. Okay. So what I mean here is that people in general, have a tendency to live by certain rules, right? So like, it might have been something that you were sort of intentionally taught, like your parents taught you sort of rules of life, or might be might be something that you just sort of, like absorbed as a member of society, you know, things that we see culturally on TV, or whatever.

So here are a few examples of what I mean. And you may have been taught that it’s sort of normal, it’s just normal, that’s what we do, to upgrade your wardrobe every season. Or that it’s weird to wear the same outfits all the time. Another one would be or that, you know, just popping into the shops to have a little browse every weekend is just a fun way to spend an afternoon. Or that people judge you as a person by how your house looks.

Now, to be super clear, you know, these are just a few different things that you may or may not believe about life. And I’m not debating whether they’re true or not, or whether they’re morally right or wrong. Okay. But what I am suggesting is that we should all consider our beliefs, and ask ourselves, if they’re helping, if they’re supporting us to get the outcomes that we want. So for example, let’s take the belief, you might sort of think it’s weird to wear the same outfit all the time. Okay. A

gain, I’m not morally judging it like, we also have a standard, right? So like, you might, there are some people who wouldn’t go a month and you know, wear the same outfit twice in a month, and that’s normal for them. Or there’s some people who would feel it’s weird to wear the same outfit twice in a week. And there’s other people who would wear the same outfit every day. And I guess that’s kind of the point. What I’m saying is that whether you believe it’s true or not, you’re correct. There’s going to be someone who thinks you’re weird, and someone who’s not, right? So in a way, it doesn’t even matter what you think either way, you’re going to be right and wrong.

19:09   You can decide what you want to change, what you want to believe or be intentional on what you want to do.

So what I invite you to do, again, is to think about the life you want, for thinking in terms of clutter. Do you want to be constantly buying clothes each year or not? Okay, maybe you do. Again, I’m not judging you. I’m just asking you to think intentionally about what you want. Because what I find is sometimes there’s a conflict here, like someone says, I would love to do a shopping ban for a year, I’d love to minimize my wardrobe. I would love to have these certain, you know, I want to simplify my life in these ways. But I don’t believe in repeating outfits during the week, or I believe that we should update our wardrobe every season. And you can see that there’s a conflict there. Right?

And so ultimately, what you need to do is decide, you what you wanna change Okay, so you can either change your goals like you, it’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too, right? You can’t have two things that are sort of contradictory be true. So you’ve got to decide, Do you want to change your goals? Or do you want to experiment with changing your beliefs? Could you try on new beliefs, and see if you could get more comfortable with them?

Okay, so this is something I know I’m going a little bit out there. And maybe I will eventually do a whole episode about this. Because honestly, it is something has been such, had such a huge impact on my life. But I guess for just right now, I’ll just be open to the idea that you can decide what you believe about shopping, or just about stuff in general. And then you can use that belief to break the clutter cycle.

Okay, coz just remembering, you know, obviously, there there are some things that are black and white, but for most things, it’s gray. Okay, and you can choose what you want to believe. You can choose that people are judging you when they come to your house, or you can choose that they’re not, right. I mean, you probably never even know. So you can just make that sort of decision and decide what you want to care about or not. Okay, so I’ll leave that there.

21:08  The final reason why you’re stuck in a clutter cycle.

As I said, maybe I’ll do another episode about that, or, or that is something that we talk about my group program. I’ll tell you more about that at the end of this podcast. But I do have a group decluttering course. And we talk a lot about our beliefs and the way that they influence our clutter. But for now, let’s quickly move on to the final reason why you’re stuck in a clutter cycle.

This is a big one, you have what might be considered unrealistic expectations that lead to a constant need to upgrade your life. Okay, so let me start by saying that this is something I am very familiar with. And it kind of starts with what I call the decluttering permission slip. It’s almost like some sort of unwritten role that when you’re decluttering, you get to reward yourself by upgrading and getting nicer things. I’ve talked about this before, I can’t remember what episode.

But anyway, it’s almost like this hyper fixation on less but better, right? It’s like, Yes, I will happily declutter my 10 pairs of jeans, but then I’m going to go shopping, and I’m going to buy the best, most perfect pair of jeans in the universe. Okay. I don’t know if anyone, maybe that’s just me. But this is something I used to experience all the time. Okay.

And this is what happens again, in my experience.  I would go out, so I’ve decluttered 10 pair jeans and now I’m shopping and I’m feeling really good about myself. It’s like, oh, I can go shopping, because I got rid of all this stuff that I don’t wear. That’s why I buy this pair of jeans that I think are going to be a miracle, right? They’re expensive, usually. And I’m like, I’m gonna buy these and they’re going to be perfect. And I’ll never be, I’ll never need another pair again. And we’ll have this perfect minimalist wardrobe. I’m gonna pat myself on the back.

But then, you know, after a few wears, ultimately, I must always find some kind of flaw, right, you’re just some way that these jeans are not living up to my most perfect pair of jeans in the universe’ expectation. So I’m a bit disappointed, but I’m like, Alright, still patting myself on the back, I’d downsize from 10 pairs, what I’ll do is I’ll run out and I’ll buy another pair. Okay, because, again, I’m still feeling good about myself. But the same thing happens, right? This next pair again, is not the most perfect pair in the universe. And the cycle continues. Right? Nothing lives up to my expectations.

And before I know it, I have 10 more pairs and I’m right back to where I’m started. So if you can relate, how do we stop this? It starts with looking at our expectations. Okay? This is big. Anytime you’re shopping and you want to buy the best of something, you’ve got to be a bit mindful that you’re not expecting a miracle. 

23:56    Enough is enough

Again, I say this with kindness because I’ve been there, right? So with the jeans, I was never satisfied, because I had this vision that I was going to buy a miracle pair that was going to fix, you know, fix quote unquote, my post baby body, right?

Or I used to have the same way my kids weren’t sleeping when they were babies. I thought I would buy some kind of like sleep gadgets and sleeping bag or some new pajamas that was going to magically fix it but my hopes and expectations, I was putting on each new purchase, were just a sky high right outrageous.

Another place we see that in the kitchen, like I do all the time. Like I see, like some kitchen gadget especially you know those infomercials.  I don’t watch those as many now, thanks to things like Netflix but you know, you remember those old school infomercials? It’s like oh this chopper, right? The special blade and suddenly your life is going to be 10 million times easier.

But you know, I guess it’s things, okay, look, things we buy can improve our lives. Absolutely. I’m not going to deny it but there are limits aren’t they, aren’t  there. There are limits and sometimes we have to realize when we’ve reached them. Instead of constantly searching for something that make our, that might make our life the tiniest, better, tiniest bit better, or the tiniest bit easier, we just have to realize enough is enough, right? We’ve got to save this is good enough, right? And that’s how we break the cycle.

Because if you’re always looking for something a tiny bit better, you’re gonna be stuck forever constantly searching,  constantly decluttering, constantly upgrading. But you’ve got to ask, it’s sort of like that law of diminishing returns, right? Like, how much energy am I putting into buying new things, spending money, decluttering constantly looking for something that might make my life that bit easier? Okay, so how do we stop that? Again, as I said, you just need to, to ask yourself, What are you trading off? Just ask yourself? Is this worth it? Have I reached a limit? Have I reached a place where ‘Enough is enough? 

26:02   Join the group program Clear Your Clutter which is opening the first week of July

All right. So those are my thoughts on why we get stuck in the clutter cycle and how to break them. And as I said, if you enjoyed this episode, and you want help putting these tips into action, my group program Clear Your Clutter is going to be opening soon. It’s my sig – signature, Oh, God, I can’t help today. It’s my signature decluttering course, I’ve helped hundreds of women from around the world and we tackle the physical clutter in your home, the clutter in your schedule, so how to be less busy, and also shopping, how to scale back your shopping so you can spend in a way that’s better aligned with your values and your goals. Okay, so we do this work twice a year, there’s a full pre recorded program, which you get lifetime access to. But each time we open the doors, there is eight weeks of live calls, plus an online community where you meet like minded people, and we all work together to Clear Your Clutter and spinning. I’m not very creative with naming things. But anyway, it all kicks off soon, doors open in the first week of July. And then I think the calls, I have to double check the dates, but then the calls will start a few weeks after that. So if you want to learn more, please check out simplyfiercely.com/clearyourclutter, all one word, and I’ll link to that in the shownotes as well. And if you go there, then you can read all about the program and you can also get on the waitlist so you don’t miss out because it’s only I think it’s like nine days when the doors are open for enrollment and then the program shuts down and won’t open again until next January. All right. So that’s all for today. Enjoy the rest of, the rest of your week. And thank you for listening. All right bye for now, ciao.

27:40  Closing

So that’s all for today. Enjoy the rest of, the rest of your week. And thank you for listening. All right bye for now, ciao.

27:52   Outro 

Thank you for listening to the Simply and Fiercely Show. If you want to learn more you can download my free mindful decluttering guide and learn all the secrets that helped me go from Shopaholic to minimalist.  All you need to do is visit simply fiercely dot com backslash free guide,  that’s all one word to get instant access. Until next time, thanks again.

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