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Self-Care Sunday: Decluttering to Create Meaningful Spaces

office spot, nov 2014

On Friday I shared valuable insights from Lauren Rosenfeld and Dr. Melva Green’s book Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home. Because decluttering is a powerful way to practice self-care.

This might seem surprising. But as I mentioned in the previous post, our homes are where we meet a lot of our needs. In our homes we meet our need for sleep, relaxation, nourishment, support, solitude and reflection, among others.

So it’s important for our homes to become sanctuaries. It’s important for them to reflect the things we need and the things that serve us.

Our clutter also can house a lot of negativity, such as our burdens, regrets and overwhelm. As Rosenfeld and Green write in Breathing Room, our clutter:

…speaks volumes! It can tell us about our attachments, fears and worries. It can regale us with regrets about missed opportunities or our disappointments in life. This is not easy stuff that our clutter has to say. Facing our clutter is nothing less than facing the neglected parts of ourselves…

One of the hardest parts about decluttering is knowing whether an object goes or stays. Maybe a dear friend gave you a piece of clothing. You don’t wear it or like it. But she gave it to you!

Maybe you’ve had a blender for a few years. You have yet to use it. But you should use it. And what if once you get rid of it, you’ll really need it?

Breathing Room, decluttering

In Breathing Room, Rosenfeld and Green share an excellent exercise for relinquishing or keeping items. It’s called the “three gates of meaning.” Each gate is a question. If you answer “yes” to all three questions, you keep the object.

1. Is the object true to your intentions?

The authors stress the importance of being clear on the type of energy we want to create in each room. That is, what do you want each room to reflect? How do you want to feel in each space?

You might want your living room to be “soothing,” “fun,” and “involving.” You might want your home office to be “focused,” “inspirational,” and “vibrant.” You might want your kitchen to be “creative,” “colorful,” and “delightful.”

If an object isn’t true to the intention of the room, it either finds a home in another room, where it reflects those intentions. Or it leaves your house altogether.

2. Do you use the object?

This isn’t about the potential use of an object. As Rosenfeld and Green write:

Remember that we are trying to unburden ourselves of emotional clutter as well. ‘Have I used it?’ indicates wistfulness for the past. ‘Should I use it?’ shows guilt you may feel for buying something that you are not using. ‘Will I use it?’ indicates worry that you may need this object in the future.

Here, you’re looking for whether you’ve been actively using this object for the last year.

3. Is the object kind to your heart and spirit?

Does this object make you feel guilt, regret, resentment, rage, anguish, anxiety, self-pity or jealousy? Is the object a reminder of some trauma?

If it does or it is, then the object isn’t kind to your heart and spirit. This might mean you get rid of a lot of stuff. But, according to Rosenfeld and Green, this leaves us with the true treasures of our lives.

They suggest having a container for each gate (or question). Label each container with one question. Line up the containers, in order, from left to right. Work with one item at a time. If you answer no to the question, keep the item in that container. If you answer yes to the question, then the item moves onto the next container. Again, if your item answers yes to all three questions, then it’s not clutter, and it stays.

According to the authors, this exercise is important because:

We get in the habit of holding on to things that do not serve us in living happy and fulfilling lives. We would like to think the world is withholding happiness, keeping fulfillment just beyond our reach. But we suggest that maybe happiness and fulfillment have always been in our possession. They have been buried under a wave of clutter that swamped the three gates.

When we declutter our homes, we declutter our lives. We make thoughtful decisions about our surroundings, and how we want to feel in these surroundings. We remove objects that don’t serve us — objects reminiscent of everything from fear to regret. So we remove burdens, shoulds and attachments.

Today, consider trying out this exercise. Give yourself the permission to let go of the things that don’t fulfill you and to welcome the things that do.

Self-Care Sunday: Decluttering to Create Meaningful Spaces

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Self-Care Sunday: Decluttering to Create Meaningful Spaces. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 5 Jun 2015
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