08/04/2010 04:03 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Clutter: Shaping Our Lives and Our Legacies

Is clutter company,
comfort, distraction or sloth?
No matter -- let go!


This haiku, written in my journal this morning, originated from thoughts I've recently had that were less introspective, and more wondering about my legacy.

I've imagined dying suddenly, and watching from somewhere as my two grown children wander through the morass of 'stuff': paper, books, clothes. Not only is it an unfair burden to leave them, but it makes a statement about me. I ask myself, "How will they know the junk from the stuff with meaning? What might they conclude about their mother who holds on too long and too much?" I imagine their resentment left to go through so much stuff because I didn't take the responsibility to leave life expressing what I say I value: beauty, clarity, serenity.

I know that letting go leaves space
for more to come. That's true of our
relationship ... to all things ....
Cleaning house--both literally and
as a metaphor for life--is a great
way to hit the Refresh button. When
you look at your relationship to
things--and the energy they contain
--ask yourself if they promote joy,
beauty, and usefulness, or are they

-- Oprah

The last time I decluttered, about eight years ago, was when I sold my house and opted for life in a condominium. The first things I let go of were 42 volumes of journals I'd written and shelved -- about four volumes a year. I had literally to drag two large trash bags to the recycling. When I returned to the house, it felt like it was floating. I'd had no idea how heavy it was to shelve all that content.

The other thing I recall from that move was my daughter-in-law's reaction when she came over to help me pack. I had already taped closed a large carton; trying to move it and finding it very heavy, she asked what it contained. I responded, "Vases." She looked horrified. She asked me how many vases I had. My response: somewhere around 30. She suggested I open the box and remove about half to add to the garage sale. We repacked the rest -- still many more than I needed.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not
know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

-- William Morris

Well, I'm not moving anywhere now, but I owe it to myself to lighten my load, to let go of the too much that I have, and to live in order and serenity. As a bonus, my legacy of stuff that I leave my children to make decisions about -- what to keep and what to go into my last garage sale -- will be easier (hoping my daughter-in-law will help them).

Maybe the last five paragraphs were too much clutter and you'd have gotten the message for your own legacy by reading my haiku! (see above)

Some Suggestions for Action:

Exploring ways your life is complicated by clutter:

1. Walk through each room in your home and compile a list of items or categories of things you determine to be clutter -- those things you can let go of.

2. Reflect and journal your thoughts and feelings about your clutter of 'stuff.' Consider possible motives for holding on to things beyond their usefulness or beauty. (e.g. company, comfort, distraction, sloth) Imagine the value to you of letting go.

Here for your consideration is Anais Nin on the subject: "To change skins, evolve into new cycles, I feel one has to learn to discard. If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects. They reflect one's mind and the psyche of yesterday. I throw away what has no dynamic, living use."

3. Rather than write a legacy letter this month, commit to whatever level of decluttering fits for you and make it happen -- let go! Reflect and journal about your experience and learning as you make an effort to simplify.

Action Tips!

1. Check out the declutter expert online for practical help. (

2. OHIO = Only Handle Items Once.

May your reflections, writing and action
expand your internal spaciousness
and allow you to pass it on to those you love.

-- Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at or email:

Rachael Freed has published several works including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient."

She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families." Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator, and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

For more information, visit and

Follow Rachael on twitter @