Whether it's a Depression-era client who can't let go of a collection of rubber bands, or a young urban professional who can't let go of a wall full of videotapes, we are drowning in stuff, and most of us can't appreciate how meaningless are the things to which we cling.
When I'm working with clients, I walk a fine line between supporting and encouraging people's passions, and really putting the screws to them as far as their clutter is concerned. The trick (or art, if you want to think of it that way) is knowing when people are ready for change, and when they just need some gentle nudging.
As far as my own philosophy goes, I espouse simplicity - even austerity. The older I get, the more impatient I become with my own clutter. I spent years acquiring more and more and MORE... now my constant refrain is: How few [fill in the blank: clothes, books, CDs, etc.] can I get away with?
And I have to say, each layer of my life that I shed leaves me feeling lighter and freer.
There is a whole movement devoted to this. You may have heard of it: Voluntary Simplicity. One of my first introductions to the Voluntary Simplicity movement was nearly 20 years ago, through the "More with Less" books published by the Mennonite Central Committee. Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre became my favorite bedtime reading one summer when I was cooking for a treeplanting camp in northern Alberta.
A few years later I found Janet Luhrs' The Simple Living Guide, and it fueled my downsizing dreams for several months. Then I ran across one of Elaine St. James' books at a client's house, and there was no turning back.
Simplicity means different things to different people, but at its core is the desire to lead a life that has meaning and richness, filled with connection to others and to one's own deepest desires. To live deeply implies that you spend much time on few things. Too many possessions become a distraction: They require constant attention in the form of cleaning, care, storage (or working to pay for storage), and organization.
My own attempts at Voluntary Simplicity are a work in progress. If you're inspired to read more, check out the website The Smart Woman's Guide to a Simple Life by writer Gretchen Roberts. She lists many other current resources for simple living.
copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow