What at treat! Earlier this month I was invited on air by Cathy Biase, the host of The Heath Hub, an interactive, forward thinking talk show on Radio Maria Canada. Cathy is a Holistic Nutritionist and Cancer Coach. She is passionate, insightful and a pleasure to connect with.
Our conversation went straight to the heart of the emotional journey that is decluttering. How do you get started? What do you do if there are multiple people in a household? Is is OK to cry?
Cathy: Our guest is Maeve Richmond, and she is the founder of Maeve’s Method, a do-it-yourself home organization method. She is a graduate of Brown University and spent a decade dabbling with careers until she landed into her lifetime passion, ‘creating happy people inside happy homes’. Maeve credits family, friends and New York City for helping her to see all the beauty in objects, both saved and let go. So you can see where this is going. This isn’t just about cleaning up the house. This is about the energy you get from cleaning up the house. Why do we clutter, and why should we declutter, and how to begin this whole process. Welcome to the show Maeve.
Maeve: Thank you so much, I am so pleased to be here.
Cathy: We’re glad to have you. How did you get into the business of cleaning up people’s lives?
Maeve: It started in my late 20s. Like so many people I was searching for my passion in life. At the time a friend asked if I would come over and help. She was feeling overwhelmed by what was going on in her home. When she called I could hear her voice on the phone, it felt vulnerable. I knew in that moment what I needed to do was to go over and hold space for her as she shared with me what was going on in her home.
What I found was that she needed to be heard about what was going on in her space. And not to be handed solutions that came from me, but solutions that we drew out of her.
Cathy: So you don’t walk into somebody’s house and say you are doing it this way, dark to light, pull things out, get rid of this. You go in and you work with the lives of the people you are touching?
Maeve: Absolutely. Some organizers do work that way, where they come in and take control of things. For me personally, that was never the way to go.
All of us know that the best way to make behavioral change–to make a shift not only in our own bodies and minds–is to get hands-on. My model is teach a man to fish concept, so that I don’t walk away and have you excited for a day, and then a week later you can’t find your favorite dress, or your favorite knick knack which I chose to put way.
Cathy: Now I’m going to ask a question that I am afraid to ask this, so answer gently for this one. Is clutter a sign of something deeper than just being messy?
Maeve: No, not necessarily.
Cathy: Ok good!
Maeve: I was recently asked that question, is clutter bad? I love clutter. My home on any given day can look fairly messy. In my work what I do is encourage people to think about having your home filled with the things that you love, things that have meaning and purpose. What I teach people is how to give things a place to live. Clutter is layers of things that don’t have homes.
Cathy: That notion of purpose, that’s a tough one, on many different levels. Because my purpose is definitely different than my husband’s sense of purpose for his material things. And then we have four kids. And our purposes do not align. And it can be a little bit anxious in the household.
Maeve: Absolutely. Working with families, or couples trying to communicate over issues about clutter is one of the things I spend most of my time doing. There is an art to communication about stuff. And unfortunately, the word clutter has taken on a dark tone in our society.
What I’ve noticed is that when people hold onto things, they are holding onto a part of themselves that is not fully realized. So, you might find notebooks from college–maybe someone started on thesis they didn’t finish–or maybe they have clothes they are holding onto from a time of their life from which they have since moved on.
There is a lot of emotion caught up in our things. We know the source of most conflict in relationships is emotion. When I say our stuff tells our story, it means–if we look below the stuff–we’ll find the story people are trying to tell.
Cathy: Let me give you a paradigm here. I like things cleaned up in my house. I like things up off the floor. My kids’ room tells a different story of parenting. Is that clutter for them and they just don’t know how to deal with it? Or is that just messy for them and I’ve got some sort of an issue?
Maeve: From my perspective no one has an issue. I think that’s part of breaking down the challenges in this conversation.
People think differently. For some, having everything minimalist and in its place is the only way they can function. When things are messy they feel anxious and out of sorts. But for others, having a lot of things around is how they roll. For example, I’m left-handed, so I’m generating a lot of my life through my right brain, which they say is the more creative, visual side of the brain. So a lot of people are perceiving life differently and they need to see things out. To be countered by someone who doesn’t feel this way feels like a challenge.
The Parent–Child dynamic is interesting of course. There could be all kinds of other things going on. You could have a child who is rebelling a bit. Or just might be shy and afraid to express that they need to have things out. It’s a little bit more of a layered issue than many of us realize.
Cathy: Does it change over time? Do you notice people care a bit more later on, when it’s their own home they may take on more of that? Sometimes, when I worry about my own place I think I’m being a little bit over the top. The kids are just sort of relaxed and they’ve got other things that they care about more. So where is that line?
Maeve: That’s an interesting question. Without a doubt, age does things to the way that we perceive the world. I wouldn’t say we grow out of those things, but certainly as we grow older we want to take more accountability for our possessions. If you are a child who has their first home suddenly you go, oh, now I understand why mom always wanted me to wash the dishes, or whatever lightbulb moment happens.
I believe that at the core of all of this are basic underlying skills about how to caretake a home as well as be conscious and intentional about what we bring into our lives. These are basic skills that I think have been left out of our education programs. And honestly, even at this point out of our parenting experience. The way our culture is we acquire and acquire and consume so much. Things are coming into a child’s life rapid fire, and in ways they weren’t for those of us who grew up in earlier decades.
Cathy: Do we have too much stuff? Is that what you are saying, basically?
Maeve: As a society on a whole, yes we have too much stuff. One thing I’ve thought a lot is how rapidly times have changed. We tend to look at the world through the lens of fashion and pop culture, and the way music changes and fashion changes. But there are other profound changes happening and the home environment is definitely one of them.
Many of us us might still remember a grandparent, or someone who came as an immigrant in the early part of the last century. At that time people had nothing. So one tool, or one sewing machine, that the family acquired, was incredibly precious. That might be the only one a family ever had.
We live in a different world now. We’ve gone through shifts from agricultural, to consumer, to digital to electronic, and so on and so forth in our society. And now we are in this big box consumer society. We can buy anything we need at any time in stores, online, in bulk, and at very inexpensive prices. And I do think that yes, we have too much stuff as a society.
Cathy: When you walk into somebody’s house, how do you help them separate the overwhelming-ness of stuff. Separate the emotional from the stuff that you can let go?
Maeve: The first thing I do when I work with my clients is, I take them through what I call a Home IQ. This is stepping back and looking at your home as objectively as possible. From there, I help people to identify their triggers. Some triggers are obvious–like a pile in the corner, or your child’s messy room. But there are more subtle triggers as well. For example, sometimes walking in the front door is enough for someone to feel overwhelmed, because they have no easy place to lay down the bag they are carrying, or groceries from the store.
I do help people identify triggers, as well and the parts that are working. To focus on the negative only is, I find, counterproductive. Because we are trying to bring the things that aren’t working up to the level of things that are working. So we start there. Once we identify an initial project, we move into a skills based process.
This is not an overnight process. One of the things I aim to do in my work is to help people understand, this is a lifestyle. We don’t declutter in a weekend. We don’t get organized in a month. But we can choose to be intentional about being a bit more focused on how we live in the current moment.
Cathy: Do you have to do this room by room? You tackle the kitchen, then you tackle the bedroom? Or are you sort of widening out the whole scope and putting in place habits that you just take throughout various areas of your life.
Maeve: Yes, exactly. Everyone is looking for structure and how-tos. I have on my site right now, for example, a blog–The Definitive Guide to Spring Cleaning–that’s a spring cleaning room by room guide. You can move from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen and so forth.
But the alternative is to not worry so much about going room to room and just kind of tune into your gut and sense of self. The truth is, everyone knows–and if you don’t know immediately, if you take a little time to be quiet and think about it–everybody knows their primary trigger spot.
If you close your eyes and you imagine your home–while you are not in your home, you actually just create a visualization of your home–and you allow yourself to take a couple of deep breaths and become calm. Then imagine someone knocking at your front door begging to come in. If you think, what is the one part of your home that you just absolutely desperately wish you could hide? That’s a trigger spot.
Cathy: Oh boy, oh boy, I have a few trigger spots! We are going to take a quick break here Maeve, and when we come back we are going to talk about how being a less cluttered person is actually very beneficial for your health.
Check out Part 2 of Maeve’s interview with Cathy Biase.