I hear some version of this from many of the people who seek out my organizing help:
“I’m sorry for the way my house looks.”
“I’m embarrassed about all this stuff.”
“I can’t believe I let it get this bad.”
“My house is probably the worst you’ve seen.”
All of these statements are getting at the same issue: shame. Lots of people are ashamed of the state of their homes because clutter has gotten out of control. Researcher Brené Brown defines shame as “The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Living with shame hurts, and when it’s about your home you have no escape.
So how do you manage shame about your clutter? Obviously, getting rid of things you don’t need can certainly help. But many people get overwhelmed by their clutter and feeling ashamed of it only makes it worse. If you are experiencing this you may be struggling to find the motivation to make a positive change in your home even though you desperately want to.
We can borrow some advice from Brown’s theory about shame resilience. She outlines four steps to break free from it, and they can be applied to help you overcome a clutter problem that makes you feel ashamed.
1. Recognize our own shame and understand what causes it - You first need to face your clutter problem. If it’s been hidden away in closets or the basement, bring it out into the light. It may feel overwhelming, but accept that it is something you need to address and do some thinking about the reasons why it has accumulated.
2. Recognize the factors outside of ourselves that led to feelings of shame - Look at the external reasons for your clutter problem. Were there life events that left you with no time to devote to your home? Have messages from your upbringing or from advertising impacted you so that you overspend? Once you understand these reasons you can work on changing your mindset.
3. Reach out to supportive others - Ask for help in addressing your problem, but be selective. Turn to those who will be kind and empathetic but will push you in the right direction. If your mom tends to judge you harshly for the state of your home, she might not be the ideal person to confide in.
4. Bring our shameful feelings to light and discuss them - Brown says shame can only survive in secret, and by talking about your clutter problem you take away its power over you. I can tell you there are many, many people going through the exact same issues and it is not because of a flaw in character. Don’t be afraid to admit that you need help and seek out a trusted friend, family member, or a professional organizer who will be nonjudgmental.
If you found these tips helpful be sure to subscribe to the Pretty Neat weekly email! You'll get a short and sweet message each week with my best advice for a more beautiful and functional home. Click here to sign up, and you'll also receive my FREE guide: How to Get Rid of Stuff!
Make it fab!