Decluttering with Tracy McCubbin (Episode 199)
How in the world do you really declutter and make it stay that way? Are you overwhelmed with the clutter buildup in your home? This isn't just for minimalists - this is for every person feeling trapped, overwhelmed and/or frustrated by the clutter that has piled up in your life. I connected with Tracy McCubbin, founder of DClutterFly, for a Mama Says Namaste podcast interview, and an interview-inspired post below.
Meet Tracy McCubbin
Tracy has been in business since 2007. At this point she has 8 employees, and their schedules stay full! I commented on her self-title, "Obsessive Compulsive Delightful", and she shared how she took what could have been a generational "curse" and channeled it into a beautiful passion.
Coming from generations of hoarders, Tracy watched her family members, including her father, struggle with their relationship - and the hold it had on them - with their stuff.
She started doing odd jobs helping people out with decluttering, and just started the ball rolling into a full-fledged business! At this point she's worked with big name movie stars as well as families who have had parents pass away, new parents and more.
She loves what she does, and it's afforded her the space (quite literally) to create her book, Making Space Clutter-Free. She's working on her second book now about the emotional hold our stuff can have on us.
The Uniqueness in Each of Us
Tracy shared how she didn't even realize the why behind her motives for decluttering; it was just something she wanted to do so she didn't get trapped in hoarding like others in her family.
Yet one of her clients identified it for her, pointing out that she took her "psychic wound and turned it into her life's work". Think about that - here was a fear and wound of her family history - hoarding - and, instead of it being something that held her back, it fueled her forward into meaningful and purposeful work. She took her unique experience and made it something positive in her life. That's a great reminder to all of us - what makes us unique - even those stories and wounds from our past - can also be our strength...if we allow it.
Are you acting as a victim of circumstance, or rising above? We covered a whole season on the podcast on Minimalism: Clearing the Clutter from Your Head, Your Heart, and Your Home. It's not just about a cluttered house - it's what all we carry in our head and hearts - of trauma, obligation, shame, etc. What is fueling you forward vs. being your excuse to hold back?
The Science of Clutter
There is plenty of scientific evidence that literal clutter adds stress to our lives. Tracy described the clutter as, essentially, a constant "to-do list". If you have clutter in your home, you are constantly needing to manage it.
Think about how much you maneuver just to make things happen.
If your kitchen counter or table is cluttered, you have to clear them off to cook a meal. Are you more likely to take on stress from the load, or avoid it and grab fast food?
If your laundry is piled on the bed, are you stuck with putting it all away before you go to bed, or picking up the piles in the morning to find what isn't wrinkled?
What are the extra chores you're adding from the clutter, like caked on food on dirty dishes and wrinkles in your clothes? Or the to-dos or organization as the clutter piles up? What time are you spending on this that could be spent elsewhere?
Not only that...if you feel your house is cluttered and a mess...how likely are you to have someone drop by? What relationships and great conversations are you not having because your focus is elsewhere?
Clutter increases your stress levels and raises your cortisol, especially in women. Tracy works with many older people who are starting to suffer from neurological issues like dementia. And the first thing the doctor will tell them is to get rid of all the clutter and simplify, simplify. Doctors orders!
It is a full physiological and mental toll to hold on to clutter.
The Emotional Toll
How often do you make the statement, "I have to..." for things? What happens when we make that statement? It feels like something that is trapped in obligation.
What if you switched it to, "I choose to..."
I have to clear out the car because it's such a mess.
I choose to clean out the car so I clearly see where everything is and have space to move around.
What if you switched, "I need..." to "I want..."
I need some new jeans because my old ones are faded.
I want some new jeans and will replace my faded ones.
We can build up clutter simply with delayed decisions. When "have to" and "should" and "need" come out, there are many times this rubs us the wrong way. Obligation doesn't feel good. So what do we do? We just delay the decision.
From Need to Want
Get real with what you're bringing in, and if it's really and truly a need vs. a want. Be accountable to yourself. Don't get trapped in needing things that just build up obligation. Simply change your inner script to say, "I want new jeans and that's okay."
When you get really clear on need vs want, you also are stepping into power over your decision making. You may realize there is little on the need spectrum, and you are in complete control over the want and whether it's worth bringing into your home.
When you shift from "I have to" to "I choose to,"and from "I need this" to "I want this," you bring more personal responsibility in. YOU are in charge of this clutter.
Do I have to be a Minimalist?
So, do you have to become a minimalist? Of course not! Remember, replace have to with choose to! Some people choose to really scale back. Yet there are others, including Tracy, who don't embrace full minimalism; they simply don't allow for clutter.
It's not about having too little or too much stuff. Let that soak in. It's not about the clutter at all! It's about when you stop owning your stuff and your stuff starts owning you.
Do a quick assessment. Can you walk into this room, and in 20 minutes or less, be comfortable having guests in there? When you walk into the room, do you feel your throat tighten? Do you feel a visceral reaction, like a punch in the stomach? Do you think, "oh, I can't. I have to deal with that." How do you physically respond when you walk into the room?
Then there is the cost
Beyond the physical and emotional toll that happens with clutter, there is the financial toll as well. Are you paying for storage units that you can't afford? Do you have clothes in your closet with tags on them you haven't worn?
Take a thousand yard view of your house and your finances. Tracy talked about how she has had clients say to her time and time again, "I don't know how my house got like this." Yet...it didn't walk there by itself!
Tracy shared about a client who's wife insisted on a storage unit for all their clutter...to the tune of $400 a month for ten years. Yes, that was $48,000 invested in simply holding the stuff that didn't fit in their home. How much use was this stuff even getting?
So they did the math on how much they had been spending on the storage unit. And, in a moment of pure openness and shock, the man said, "Think what we could have done with that money. We could have visited the grandkids. We could have done this trip. We could have..."
When the real cost of storing old memories hit her, she realized how it was preventing her from creating more.
What other things would you rather be doing with your time and money over organizing and paying for storage?
What About My Messy Family?
It's easy when you're living on your own to manage things to your tastes. Throw in other family members and you can have all kinds of dynamics coming out.
First and foremost, it's important to get to the why of organizing. Before you are to get anyone in your family on board, they must be clear on why it's important. I have seen time and time again efforts sabotaged in families simply because they failed to communicate the why behind it.
Why declutter? So we can find where things are. It can be as simple as that. When something has a place it goes, you know where to find it. Stacked in a pile means sorting through more stuff, which creates distractions and more work.
Just like my functional education model of life long learning, this is a process of learning and understanding the why behind things and then making our own correlations. The more the people under your roof know what their impact is on the house as a whole, and the why for putting things in their place, the more likely they are to abide by that.
Be clear with your why, and, pick your battles. If you have a messy member in your household, carve somewhere in the house a space for them to be however they want in a way that doesn't make an impact on everyone else. Let their room, desk, closet or drawer be theirs. If they understand the why behind decluttering, they can manage their own with their own rules. But on turf that impacts everyone...you make a household decision.
Go Back To Your Family Vision
What kind of life do you want to be living? What do you want your house to feel like? Do you want it to be peaceful? Do you want it to be visually calming, or stimulating? What feeling do you hope to have as you walk into a room?
How much time are you spending managing clutter? It's an accountability issue. When you get to the point of feeling that your stuff owns you, you are then accountable to it vs your stuff being accountable to you. And financially you'll see this in the expenses for upkeep to hold on to all these things you "need."
The more we can create a home that provides this for us already, the less time we spend trying to create it. If you're managing a bunch of clutter, it's much harder for you to be present. When you are uncluttered, you are able to show up more to the relationships in your home versus clearing the clutter.
What is your goal as a family? What is your vision for your home and your life? What time is clutter taking away from you?
Deposits and Withdrawals
When it comes to multiple people living under one roof - or relationships in general - so much goes back to deposits and withdrawals.
People approach things differently. What is clutter for one person may feel perfectly organized for another. And while one person may have major issue with clothes being thrown in a pile, it may be completely fine for another.
The boxers thrown next to the laundry basket for years can build up so much anger and resentment it can destroy a marriage from the buildup and the stories written without conversation. Constantly "taking" without showing an investment on what is important to the other is a recipe for a mountainous breakdown of conflict.
Yet when you fill your relationships with "deposits" - anything that acknowledges them and their needs/desires - those times you don't get it right (or "take") go much, much smoother.
Those boxers that end up right next to the laundry basket were a frustration for me for a short bit. Yet when I took into account the amazing meals he makes, how he fixes and brings me coffee every morning, how he massages me and clearly communicates with me...a little thing like boxers missing the basket becomes pretty minor.
When I don't have all those other investments from him, that one little "take" becomes the floodgate to remember every moment he's taken from me.
Nathan has poured into our relationship with deposits of love and support, just as I have. We know our relationship is a daily choice to love. When I mentioned about him throwing his clothes next to the laundry, he joked, "oh, that's my little sign to show you I love you and am thinking of you."
I could actually take that and find humor in it as opposed to being furious at him, simply because he had given enough deposits. I have enough security in our relationship and in feeling supported that I could find humor in him caring less about a clean floor than I do instead of feeling it was a personal attack.
When you're talking about relationships, it's not so much about right or wrong, but a constant conversation getting to the deeper root of why it even matters and understanding the reasoning behind it. The next step is balancing the give and take so neither person is left carrying all the weight. When you have a healthy level of deposits and withdrawals, it's much easier to pick and choose your battles, and be okay with walking away from some (like those ridiculous boxers NEXT to the basket in the closet. At least they are hiding in the closet).
All Those Toys
In our interview, Tracy was quick to state what I also believe - too many toys can be horrible for kids. She shared how a nanny and her were going through closets and there were five cupboards of brand new unopened toys. "No wonder these kids have no attention span. There is always something new," the nanny said.
When you always have a toy, you already have your baseline for creativity - it's whatever the toy is. You see creativity and resourcefulness when things are in limited supply and you adapt or create. If there is always a toy to fill before their imagination gets there, then they continue to look to the "new" for their motivation vs. creating it from within.
Too many toys can create kids never satisfied and looking for the next new thrill - that literal dopamine hit. Resilience and self-reliance so often come when we don't have abundance.
Boredom is a beautiful thing - it prompts us to innovate and create, use our imagination and make a choice on our emotions. Too many toys can completely stifle creativity as they already get the instructions for how they should play with a toy.
We have personally found a direct correlation between the number of toys in our home and sibling spats. The more toys they claim ownership over, the more opportunity for a fight. Yet the collaborative play of running and climbing and playing together requires no toys or ownership.
Our children don't cling to things, and that's intentional. It's part of our compassionate heart philosophy. We believe in loving and appreciating without having to claim ownership on everything - living or not. They have very few personal toys they claim as their own. The ones they have, they are good stewards of, and, more often than not, their play is outside in nature with no toys required.
They've been raised in our world, in our life. Not in a kid proof world, not in a toy focused world, but in a world that says there's so much out there to enrich our lives - let's learn and grow together. And, and sometimes with fun things, sometimes that's not, and it's a very small part of focus.
Start Them Young
If your child is old enough to have a prized possession, they are old enough to know where to put it away. They are smart little beings. The simple mantra of "don't put it down; put it away" can be a powerful practice. An extra minute to put things away right after use saves you the hour of clean up at the end of the day.
If you want to know how to find something, you have to put it in the same place you remember. This isn't about right or wrong; this is about knowing where things go so you can easily find them. The goal is to be able to find things when you need them.
Don't get stuck in the awful trap of "dumbing your children down" with toys. Don't push a toy on your child as a babysitter while you clean up their mess. A toy can be a distraction from personal responsibility, work ethic and follow through.
Expect your children to step up for personal responsibility. It's not your job as a parent just to keep them occupied.
Our kids need to live life with us. They are tiny humans who have their own impact and ripple effects that will go on even longer than yours, most likely. So it's really important to help them understand this reasoning at a young age and the why behind putting things in their place.
Yes, Life Happens
And as a mom of three kids, I will attest that this does not mean my house is always spotless and tidy. I still have those times of frustration because things aren't put back, and I've been guilty of myself as well.
Life happens. We get crazy and distracted. But I would say the big distinction between where I am now versus where I was is how quickly we can course-correct. Just like riding a bike, once you've learned, you create the muscle memory to be able to get back on again, even if you're a little rusty and slow.
Shift to the Positive
It may take some practice, but every time you do it, it's easier to get back on the bike. Just like any other habit - once you've created it - like putting things back in their place immediately after use - then it's easier to pick it back up each time.
When you look outside, there is a lot of literal space in nature with the big open sky to let your eyes - and soul - breathe. There isn't clutter in nature, unless you count the litter we've added to it. People go outside to find their "true north". That sense of calm and peace - when you want that so badly, sometimes we end up acting counterintuitively.
We have a negativity bias toward life, and we focus on what we don't want. So we look at our house and we get overwhelmed and frustrated because we've fallen into clutter. Instead of thinking you let your house get cluttered again, shift your focus.
I want to get uncluttered so I can take a walk with my dog and not think about the mess back home.
I want to get uncluttered so my kids aren't scrambling to find their shoes every morning.
I want a clutter-free life to invest in the relationships that go deeper than any thing.
Focus on what you want.
What do you want to gain from this?
A "Shopping" Exercise
If you're struggling with what to hold onto versus let go of with the clutter in your home, start with a clear space. Let's go with a kitchen countertop that can pile up with things. Clear everything off of it. Now that you have that beautiful clean slate to work with, take a good look at everything you pulled off.
When you take all of your things out of the context of where it sits, and look at them individually again, you can imagine you are "shopping" for this thing for the first time. Look at the item for what it is, what it's purpose is to you, and then where you may want to place it.
Just clearing a space and then "going shopping" with your things out of their original context will help you see them in a new light. Would you decide to "buy" that item again and bring it back into your home? If so, where would you place it now? You may find that something really comes to life and is accentuated simply by putting it in a different spot, or clearing the other things around so it draws more attention to it.
But I can't just overload GoodWill!
Post-pandemic, thrift stores have definitely gotten their fair share of donations. Thankfully, there are many ways to give beyond just large thrift stores, and ways you can see a much greater impact. A lot of what goes to large thrift stores ultimately ends up in the trash, as they get overloaded and people sluff off all kinds of things that really aren't worth salvaging.
Instead of dumping at the donation drop-off, start with your community. Do you have a babysitter moving into their first apartment? A new parent who could use some baby gear your child just outgrew? Are you a part of a "buy nothing" group on FaceBook, or could you post something on NextDoor for your neighborhood?
In Los Angeles where Tracy lives, she shared about the "community fridges" that are popping up all over where you can donate your food - it's amazing what clutter can show up with food as well!
Look at non-profits in your area. Leftover catering supplies from a big party? Maybe a local food bank could use them. Lots of craft supplies? Maybe that after-school program for at-risk kids could benefit from it. Tons of books? Donate to your local library!
And ultimately, yes, some things just are destined for the landfill - they've done their time and there is no recycling. That's where you need to remember the full accountability that once you bring it into your home - you are responsible for the impact it creates.
Remember your personal accountability to clutter. When you bring an object into your life, you become its steward to see it all the way through.
The Gifting Incentive
When you can pinpoint some legitimate opportunities beyond Goodwill to pay it forward, it can be an incentive for even more decluttering. If I'm taking a box to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, I may just dump a bunch of randomness in it. But if I know I'm packing a box for that new mama, I may finally let go of that great nursing shirt I was holding onto "just in case" or the highchair that is collecting dust in the attic I forgot about.
You may be able to talk to your child about letting go of a toy, not as a loss to them, but a gain to a younger friend who would enjoy it.
You may think up additional things because, when you are clear on what the need is from someone, you can shift from "offloading clutter" to "giving support". What was clutter in your home may be a much needed relief or joy in someone else's.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Buying second-hand is trendy and better for our planet. Regifting isn't the end of the world. I can get excited about a beautiful vase given by a friend, and it can be even more meaningful because I saw it at her place and it reminds me of her every time I see it now.
Bring intentional awareness to what you are bringing into your home and the impact it creates. Each person being aware of their part is how we can come to grips with the bigger impact on humanity. What is your puzzle piece doing to impact that big puzzle piece of humanity we're moving through together?
As I wrapped up the interview with Tracy, I wanted to ensure you have all the ways to access her resources.
She has a book, and in true clutter-free fashion, it's available in most libraries as well as Amazon - so borrow the book, or buy a copy and then pass it on to a friend after!
Take note of what all was covered in this. Look around your house - does it make you feel like this is "home" that brings joy to you?
What feelings do you feel when you look at your house? As you go through each room, take note of what you feel energetically.
If you're feeling overwhelm and stress, maybe this is a good a conversation to be having as a family. Go back to what that family vision is that we talk about so much.
Really assess how this resonates with you, how well you feel like you're thriving in your home and, and how decluttered your life feels.
Recognize that this is a beautiful journey. We are all going to approach this in our own different ways. We have to try to work together because what you do is going to impact others. And that's why, when we can all move forward with grace and love and course corrections and keep moving forward, we can really focus in on how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.
Dig Deeper with These Posts and Episodes:
- Get the Free Family Vision Email Series Here
- Who Is Your Home?
- Why I believe in Functional Education...and why You Should, Too
- 13 Minimalist Tips for Families
- Those Crazy Crunchy Families
- Life Skills and Dealing with the Critics (Episode 107)
- Unhurried Spaciousness: Five Steps for Your New Year (Episode 85)
- Minimalist Family, Clutter Loving Friends (Episode 60)
- Can your soul breathe? Engage the senses (Episode 20)
- Clutter Is Simply A Postponed Decision (Episode 19)
- Is “Home” In Your House…or Your Heart? (Episode 17)
- It’s More Than Just A “Joy Spark” (Episode 18)
- Minimalist Gifts For Maximum Impact (Episode 177)