I often reflect on the act of kindness when working with clients. When I step into someone’s home, their sacred space, my first task is to ensure they feel kindness emanating from me.
The reason kindness is at the forefront of my mind is that most people I encounter feel embarrassed of their space and are afraid of being judged. The state of affairs in their homes is both why they called me in and why they feel self-conscious. These sides can come into conflict in those first few moments. I sense their fear of never being able to undo their overwhelm or that I might “make” them throw out their beloved items in the process. They are thinking about the mounds of untouched papers or memorabilia weighted with emotion. They need thoughtful space for their emotions and concerns so they feel safe to do the work. I attempt to create that space through kindness - and a promise that I won’t get rid of any items without their permission.
I’ve noticed the way clients make purchases and retain items under the belief that they are doing themselves a kindness; a reward for working hard or a relief from stress. It’s an idea sold to us in media and advertising, that we “deserve” material goods. Often these purchases don’t live up to their hype. Some possessions are meant to be time savers, a way of being kind to oneself, but is a plethora of gadgets worth the saved seconds? Even keeping hand-me-downs may feel like a kindness to ourselves or the people who “gifted” us the items, but when we look deeper, this kindness may simply be masking the guilt of giving up family possessions. We may think acquiring and keeping items is always a kindness, but often this is not the case.
Proper disposal of unneeded items can be another act of kindness. Sometimes items that could be sold are donated or given to a friend in need. I’m heartened when I find clients are conscientious about sustainable disposal or, if it’s a less familiar practice for them, open to my suggestions. They know throwing an item in the landfill is not ideal and are willing to use alternative waste options: electronics recycling, creative reuse stores, household hazardous waste disposal, textiles recycling, proper paint disposal, places that take unused bath goods, getting items fixed, etc. A kindness toward the environment is, in many ways, a kindness for future generations.
It is also a kindness to ourselves to spend the time, thought, and emotional energy to sort through our things and make (sometimes difficult) decisions about what stays and what goes. Ultimately, this kindness extends to those around us as we become less weighed down and stressed. This allows us to become more helpful and available. Part of this help is setting a positive example for how others can also examine their relationship to their material possessions.
Cultivate more kindness in your life by downsizing items that don’t mean much and organizing the things that do, and acting environmentally responsible in the process.