I’ve worked as a Professional Organizer on TV for the past 20 years. Because of that, I’ve had a unique opportunity to be invited into people’s homes and offer advice to them about how to live healthier, happier, and more productive lives by getting a better handle on the things they own. If you’ve seen me or read any of my books you know that I believe strongly that the things we own, the things we fill our lives with, have immense power. Until we are ready to really look at what those things represent to us, we’ll never get our lives decluttered or organized.
But now, as we find ourselves two years into the age of COVID, I can see that the things we own have taken on different meanings and a different kind of power.
You’ve probably heard people talk about a global ‘reset’ because of this pandemic. It’s impossible to not think more about how we live when we’re all forced to be at home for so much more time. For many of us, the very nature of ‘home’ has changed. Home used to be a refuge… a safe place to come back to after a hard day at work or at school. Now, when we are working and learning from home, the distinction of how “home” works in our lives is blurry. No longer do we have those clear boundaries. Our homes, and the spaces in our homes, have suddenly had to serve many different purposes: rest, work, exercise, schooling, hobbies, and on and on. It’s become the task of each of us to create those spaces in our homes and to maintain boundaries for their use. This is easier said than done considering the many competing demands in every home! It’s never been more important than it is now to make sure that the things in our home are there to help us live (and work) our best lives. If not, why do we own it?
I’ve noticed two key changes in the way most of us are dealing with our mountains of clutter since the pandemic began. The first is that people are really beginning to grasp the idea that we have no guarantees about time other than the present moment. With the ability to plan so difficult, COVID-19 has forced many to truly focus on the “now.” That message is sinking in and resonating with all of us. It is because of that I have found that it is easier to get people to get rid of what I would call their “I-might-need-it-one-day” clutter. They are the items that people cling to that are never used but held onto for use in some far-off imaginary future. Getting rid of that overwhelming mountain of spare items is something most people (including me) want to do. The deluge of items being donated to Goodwill stores across the country are witness to this wave of activity that many people are participating in as a direct result of COVID.
I have also noticed that people are simply acquiring fewer items these days. Shopping trips have become less fun for many people. I, for one, am not unhappy about that. Going to a crowded shopping mall has become somewhat fraught (is it really worth risking our lives?). Second, the experience of wearing a mask in public just makes everything a little bit harder. Third, with the supply chain issues that have gripped the country, there’s a good chance that the shelves won’t be as full at the stores. And, finally, we just simply don’t have as many big fancy events to go out to these days which require a new outfit. So, we are consuming fewer material goods and amassing fewer items. In fact, the items we are buying are things that we need to buy—and that’s a good thing! There has been a gradual but real shift away from the acquisition of material goods to the importance and significance of home and relationships.
There can be no doubt that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the globe. But I have also seen a very unexpected side effect in the people that I have worked with. In essence, people are getting the message that it is not our possessions that make us happy. It never has been. What makes us happy is our relationships to ourselves and to others. The homes we create, the things of importance and meaning that we consciously choose to bring into our lives are what contribute to happiness and peace. More is seldom better. Quality over quantity. Focus on these in the new year and you’ll make the best of the challenges that inevitably lie ahead.