Clutter & the Lizard Brain

Once upon a time, I was a single mother. I worked in human services without a big ticket salary and received almost none of the child support that had been ordered by the court. (Yes,  I know I could have taken all sorts of steps to collect those funds, but, at the time, not having him around made life much safer and more peaceful for all concerned.)

Maybe Someone Will Need This

Unfortunately, I got really good at worrying about money. I developed a highly trained scarcity mentality. PhD-level. Despite changed circumstances, sometimes it's still hard to get rid of "stuff" without thinking, “Maybe someone will need this someday.” (Not even "maybe I will need it" but "someone.") 

Those thoughts were particularly loud and obnoxious when I remarried and merged two complete households. They cropped up again when we sold our home and prepared to move to the other end of the country. And they were there to greet me when we decided to downsize our family's footprint.

At the risk of sounding like a hoarder, I've learned to turn down the volume of those thoughts.  The simplest, least stressful strategy I've found is a multi-step process. First, I put "stuff" into a big storage box. Then I close it up and notice whether or not I go looking for any of its contents. Most of the time, the answer is "no," and I am grateful to offer it to the local Buy Nothing group or drop it off at the thrift store that supports our local domestic violence shelter.

Not long ago, I was on the phone with a friend, talking a little about this process. He’s much better at it than I am and had an observation about why it can be so difficult for people to start the process of offloading excess.

"Your lizard brain hates loss. It loves stuff. Lots and lots of stuff."

I probably should have been able to come up with that one without help. Then, again, the fact that I did not do so speaks to the power of that part of the human brain.

Your Lizard Hates Loss

Duh.  I know this.  Hanging on to excess stuff is about survival... about having "enough" to live. And it doesn't matter that the "need" doesn't exist. It's only a perception.  An important part of clearing clutter is to make sure we're not seeing it as a loss.

Living better with less is a mindset... and sometimes, we need to remind that little lizard between our ears that our survival is not at stake. 

Do you want to clear your clutter without wrestling the primitive part of your brain? Take small steps. Remember that this is a journey with no end. Perhaps this cycle of acquiring and releasing exists to increase gratitude for the abundance in our lives. This is not a race... it’s a way of life.


A version of this post originally appeared here.