I recently read a powerful article from ADDITUDE magazine. The author, Katy Rollins, addresses a side of organizing we don’t often discuss. It’s not regret, per se, but rather feeling the effects of a huge shift we’re not prepared for and a reality that hasn’t been supported. She clarifies, “I’m not sorry that my house is clean. I just need time to adjust to a life where chaos isn’t conducting the orchestra.” That got me thinking about the “other” side of organizing.

The whole purpose of getting organized and simplifying is to reduce stress and open your life to more happiness and purpose.

But what if the concept of “emptying” our lives causes a stress that creates a push back? Are we unintentionally experiencing sabotage by our very perception of reducing what we have?

NOTE: If you live in Tiny Home or are a fan of Joshua Becker’s (or are part of his fantastic Uncluttered Community, which I highly recommend) this is not going to be a new point of discussion for yoEmptiness quote - Suzukiu, but feel free to read on and comment with your experiences! I love chatting with fellow Uncluttered fans.


So when did empty become a bad word? Have you noticed how we act when that word applies to any aspect of our lives?

Whether it’s stomachs or storage, having less seems to increase anxiety despite the positive reasons behind it.

The primary, and simplistic, definition is “containing nothing”. Intrinsically that shouldn’t mean so much to us, right? But we’ve given special meaning and connotation to the idea of having “nothing” in nearly any aspect of our lives.

It started logically. If your car’s gas tank is empty, the car won’t go. If you’re stomach’s empty too long, it means starvation or at the very least diminished functioning. Those are things you understandably want to avoid.

But then it became a philosophical thing for us too. And I don’t mean the spiritual side of emptiness found in Buddhist teachings which is actually quite positive. I mean a western approach of lacking.

Poetry and music express an “emptiness inside” that is heartbreaking. Scenes of loss are depicted in songs like Don Empty chairMcLean’s “Empty Chairs” (seriously one of my favorite songs, mind you) can make you cry like a baby.

And how many phrases use the word negatively?

Empty gesture

Empty handed

Empty headed

Empty nest syndrome

Empty words

Running on empty. (Usually negative, but it also makes me start humming the song!)


So what does this all mean for us? I truly believe this discomfort with “empty” leads to our need for excess and compensation and to fill what we have. The pendulum swings in the opposite direction of what we’ve intended.

In our demand to avoid empty, we easily end up with excess.

We fill our closets, our drawers and cabinets, our technology, our calendars, and our bellies too.

There are many reasons. Status, avoidance, uncertainty, frugality. Companies want us to believe that we need to do that, don’t they? You need this new blender. You will live a happier life with this new skincare line. You aren’t good enough without these things and if anything is empty, you will be unhappy.

There is another side to the emptiness too. When we do not fill up our space – head, home, or body – we become vulnerable, don’t we? Suddenly we are open in so many ways. Open to have to deal with things we’ve been avoiding. Open It's Enoughto our own expectations.

Does that sound at all familiar? Does it seem strange if you have an empty drawer or empty space? Do you find yourself picking up your phone every minute, wanting to avoid boredom? Snacking for the same reason? I suspect they all tie in to each other and can make your decluttering efforts more challenging than you might realize.


Perhaps I should’ve started with the fact that I’m not a mental health professional and I realize some of these concepts can take us down a deep rabbit hole, if we let them. But I am a firm believer that awareness of these connections is an important step in finding the best path for you. If you’re trying to declutter, but finding it difficult, this might be something to consider and simply by identifying it, you can adjust your approach and encourage yourself. I often find that knowing the reason behind something can be a relief, even if I don’t have an obvious way to adjust it. That can come in time.

So if you feel this applies to you, what can you do to combat these tendencies? There are many options that can even include professional support (therapists, professional organizers, support groups). But if you’re trying to approach this process on your own, there are three things you can do to shift your mindset, which is the best place to start.

  1. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS – As you move through your own personal simplicity/decluttering challenge, start slowly. Be extremely patient with yourself. Go in multiple rounds as you build the muscle of releasing what no longer serves you. You don’t actually have to have empty cabinets for this process to have a profound effect on you. The idea is to simplify your life in a way that works for you, someone else. I’m glad your friend now lives in a tiny house. That doesn’t ever have to be you.
  2. EXPRESS GRATITUDE – What you focus on your fuel. Incorporating more gratitude into your life – especially a daily ritual – will help you feel “enough” in your world. When you see and acknowledge your abundance, you’ll feel like you have plenty. When you feel you have plenty, it’s much easier to release some of it. Abundance is the antidote to acquisition.
  3. DREAM ON  – Do you have a vision for your life? An idea of how you want to live? Do you take the time to dream about your space and the way you want to spend your time? In addition to appreciating what you do have, dreaming about a life that honors your values and upholds your purpose gives you guidelines for what to keep, whether it’s objects in your physical space, or “clutter” elsewhere in your life (appointments and obligations, even people).  When you are very clear on HOW you want to live, it becomes much easier to release what doesn’t serve that vision.