This month has all been about Minimalist March in my Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs membership community, and so many of us have been making an effort to get on top of clutter in our homes and lives, and learn to live with less. For some of us, it’s been a bit of a struggle moving gear on, others have been ruthless and have transformed rooms very quickly. But one thing in common has been that everyone has welcomed the challenge and said how much they needed it!
Our homes have so much more clutter and stuff in them compared to homes from a generation or two ago…. and this stuff is impacting our well-being and the health of the environment.
Toys and consumer goods are cheaper than at any time in history… and it only takes one child’s birthday party for a room to seriously be full of stuff. Of course, much of these items will be short lived in function, but will last forever in landfill.
If we’re to truly embrace sustainability, we need to learn how to control our stuff before it control us … not to mention we need to get better at not accumulating so much stuff in the first place. To chat about decluttering, minimalism, and to help us all shift the physical and energetic clutter from our homes we’re joined by professional organiser and elemental space clearer, Helen Butler on Eco Chat today.
Helen isn’t just a guru at decluttering, she’s a recognised expert at helping women discover who they truly are through the help of their home.
Podcast: Play in new window
What exactly is an intuitive professional organiser and elemental space clearer?
When I first started my business, I worked under the title of Professional Organiser and I would help people organise and declutter any aspect of their homes.
Around 5 years ago, I started to realise that I what I was seeing in my clients’ homes needed more of an element of magic or mystery. So much goes on around our stuff that isn’t related to our stuff. For instance, we might have an emotional attachment to something and this results in a different type of clutter. For example, a bowl that we make salad in, if the bowl came from Grandma then it might have an emotional attachment.
Since then I have been bringing my own intuition in more strongly to work with my clients in their homes, and that is where the Intuitive Professional Organiser title came from. At the same time, I was trying to get my clients to tap into their own intuition because I can’t be around all the time to help them figure out their emotions around their stuff.
Around 2 years ago, I became aware of an elemental space clearing course that I could become certified in and energy is something that had always interested me. A professional organiser clears the physical clutter but the elemental space clearing gets rid of the energetic clutter that lives in the space. When you start to shift physical clutter, heavy and sad energy moves out the door with it but you do end up with this energetic residual that stays in the home.
The elemental space clearing helps shift negative energies out of the home and bring in positive energies such as joy, love, and connection. It is steeped in ceremony and is a beautiful, complimentary offering to the organising.
Where do you see your clients struggling the most with the clutter in their homes?
I can break it down to a few different kinds of areas. People will most likely contact me first regarding their physical space. Office space and paperwork are very common areas that people struggle with clearing. The paperless society has not quite happened!
Another big area is clothing. I think that women especially struggle with this, they may have had children and have gone through cycles of hormones and pregnancy, or even just putting on and losing weight for whatever reason. So, it is not unusual for women to have three different sizes of clothing in their wardrobe. For the clients I’ve worked with, it’s a matter of deciding what lifestyle they have at the moment. They may have once been in the corporate world but now their working from home. Do they still need their suits?
Then we look at the last 10 or so years to gauge what their weight has done. Have they only gained weight during this time or do they continually fluctuate up and down? I then have 10 questions that I ask them including ‘if this piece of clothing came back into fashion, would it still suit you?’ Your 80s clothes are probably best donated to a second-hand shop where someone can use it for an 80s party. Even if that style of clothing did come back into fashion, it’s unlikely to be exactly the same – quite often the collars or pant legs are different.
The other thing I see my clients struggle with is their time and schedule clutter. We’re all getting busier, and getting more invitations to here, there and everywhere. I see with many women that I work with that they don’t go inward enough to make a decision on what the outward commitment is. We’ve all heard the saying ‘just say no’ but sometimes it’s the opposite, sometimes we need to say yes. Instead of rushing into a decision we need to take a deep breath, calm down and let our body tell us ‘yes this is the thing that I want to do’.
My schedule today looks completely different from three years ago, because I put self-care at the top of the list. Last year I dedicated lots of my time to working out what it was that I like to do. I started art classes which I found were great! Find the things that serve you and make time in your schedule for them.
The fourth thing that I see people struggle with is differences with their partner. It’s very common that one partner wants something organised this way but the other wants it a different way. Or one wants it organised but the other doesn’t. There are often extremes in partnerships and it’s about coming into a middle ground and finding what works for you both.
What benefits do you find your clients experience during and after they get on top of their clutter?
You can almost picture it physically in somebody. When I go into my clients’ homes in the first instance, their body is representative at times of what is going on in the space. They might be hunched, their body feels heavy, their voice may sound sad, and they may say that they feel weighed down by their clutter.
We start to shift the clutter and create systems and we see a transformation. It’s like they stand taller with their chest higher; a real physical shift in their body, just by moving some of their stuff. Shifting the stuff shifts the energy inside of them.
The biggest change I see is around their mindset. They are more definitive on what they want to achieve. They can look at their stuff more objectively, and decide how they want their space to be. I particularly see this when someone is really ready to make a change and commit to organising.
Where do you suggest is the best or easiest place to start when decluttering our homes?
There are one of five places you can start depending on your energy levels and ability to make decisions.
The first place is the front door. This is where we welcome new people in to our home and new experiences so it’s a nice place to start.
You can start in the middle of your house. If you think of the wheel of a bicycle and how the inside spins a lot faster than the outside, you can spread the energy from the middle to other parts of your home.
The third place is the spot that causes you the most grief. This is not for the faint-hearted so only start here if you’re ready.
The fourth place is something small like the junk drawer in your kitchen (we all have one!) or the post-it notes on your desk.
The fifth place is just start anywhere. This is perfect for those perfectionists or procrastinators that just have trouble starting.
Above all of that, think of the higher vision that you have for your home or your life. For me, my higher vision is sanctuary. If I keep that vision in my head, when I look around my home I can get in and make it happen. The higher vision is what will carry you through when you feel a bit lost.
What tips do you have for people looking to sell or move their items on?
In nearly ten years of doing this work, I’ve had only two clients ask me how to best sell an item. I’m not saying don’t sell, I’m saying know your stuff and what it is worth. If you have an antique dining table and chairs, get it valued and sell it for what you think is an appropriate price. If you have an old dining table and chairs that you would be happy to donate to charity, then go ahead and do that. You need to ask yourself if an item is worth your time and energy to sell it. Everyone has their own individual gauge around this.
If you do decide to sell an item, give yourself a deadline. If it hasn’t sold by this time, have a Plan B like donating to charity or giving it to a family member.
Check out the charity GIVIT which is a platform for smaller charities that put call outs for their clients that need something. If we are donating our stuff, we need to know the best place to send it and GIVIT can help with this.
The problem with ‘keeping’ things to sell is that when all the other clutter has been shifted we tend to think ‘well I’ve done enough’ and don’t tend to follow through. Then we don’t have the room for whatever it is that is meant to come in and fill the space.
What strategies do you recommend to help prevent clutter?
Firstly, we need to talk about the difference between decluttering and organising. When talk about decluttering it means getting rid of something, when I talk about organising it’s about creating systems and routines. Quite often these happen at the same time but not always. So, when we talk about the prevention of clutter, we’re really discussing organising. We don’t want things to come into our home that won’t go out.
Systems, routines, and boundaries are important in this. Peter Walsh, an expert in organisational design always says ‘finish the cycle’. Print this out and stick it on your fridge. Because it is literally the one thing that will keep your house under control and clutter-free. For example, doing the laundry is a cycle, and we all know that when we don’t finish the cycle i.e. put the clean clothes away, it creates chaos. You’re trying to find a clean matching pair of socks and going through numerous washing baskets to find them. We see this throughout the house, any paperwork clutter is also because we haven’t finished the cycle.
Secondly, everything needs to have a home. A client of mine struggled to keep her paperwork together until she could action it. She purchased a magazine holder and every time she walks in the door with the mail, she pops it in the holder. So simple but this has literally changed her life!
There is another saying ‘if it takes two minutes, do it now’. If you have something in your hand that will only take two minutes to action – do it straight away.
You need to set boundaries around stuff and your time. The best time to help children set boundaries around their stuff is about a month before their birthday or Christmas. You can say to them that gifts will be coming into the home, let’s have a look now and move stuff out so that you have space for the new stuff to come in. I believe it is important to teach our kids how to be organised. I started this with my son around 3. At the age of 5 he cleared out his stuff on his own and donated it to children that weren’t as fortunate as him.
In conclusion to prevent clutter, you need to create systems, have some routines in place, and you need boundaries around what is coming into your home and your schedule.
Where can we find you and your services online?
I currently have two websites, Clutter Rescue is the place to go to do a DIY and if you want support around doing it yourself in your own home.
I also have Helen Joy Butler where I talk about the concept of sanctuary, and I do the intuitive organising and elementary space clearing under this banner.
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