The Lighter Side of Transformation

Observed and reported by Lisa Wessan, LICSW

How to Find a Clutter Buddy and be a Victorious “Clutter Buddy Duo”

on March 11, 2014

As part of my Let Go & Lighten Up programs (for voluntary simplicity and decluttering), I strongly suggest participants find a safe person with whom to work in between groups or individual sessions.

Here is a short list of requirements and tips that I have found useful for successfully working with a Clutter Buddy  (“CB”):

1. The CB has a clutter or hoarding challenge, too,  and is willing to take turns every other week, rotating the role of being the CB or “the client.” This is a free, non-professional, peer-to-peer  service for mutual aid. Thus we have the makings of a dynamic CB Duo!

2. The CB lives or works nearby, so there is no “travel resistance” due to excessive gas mileage expenses or travel time.

3. The CB is unconditionally accepting and kind. That is to say, if your client is holding up an old vest with holes in it and ragged edges, the CB would NOT say, “What are you crazy? Throw that rag out!  It’s disgusting!” Nay, nay, this is a toxic candidate, which may rule out best friends, relatives, spouses and well-meaning peers. Sometimes an acquaintance or  pleasant stranger you meet in a group might be best, or a neighbor who you like and trust but don’t know that well.  I always invite attendees at my groups to try to find a CB in the group. It’s a safe place to meet a local acquaintance who shares the same issue.

4. The CB needs to be willing to follow the format, and stick with the Four Questions (which I will discuss in a few paragraphs). The CB should be able to maintain silence except when the client asks a question, or to offer one of the Four Questions, and be aware that this time is for the client.  If the CB is loquacious and insists on having a running commentary on everything and everyone, this will be stressful and painfully distracting for the client.

Most important, the CB needs to respect that the client is struggling with Clutter Blindness (1),  and can’t even see the absurdity of his hoard. As the late, great comedian George Carlin once observed, “Did you ever notice how your crap is stuff, and every else’s stuff is crap?”

5. The CB is not there to offer a cleaning  or hauling service. In fact, the CB is required to sit still and help the client stay focused. It’s acceptable for the CB to do needlework, read a book, or write notes on paper. No eating or drinking during the session, except during the breaks.  No electronics, tablets, headsets,  smart phone games or checking email. The CB is allowed to accept a quick call, but optimally the phone is on vibrate. The CB  needs to be able to keep one eye on the client and make sure they are staying on task.  They are also ready to be emotionally supportive if the client reaches an impasse, expresses unresolved grief,  and needs to talk about the feelings coming up in a safe milieu.

Without giving CBs formal clinical training in reflective listening, I explain how that works and encourage the CB Duo to practice reflective listening with each other. No advice, no fixing, no rescuing here. Just passive listening and kindness.  It’s not hard to learn, but it is difficult to practice.

6. The CB must respect the planned “Flake Breaks,” whether they are five or fifteen minutes long. I think it’s healthy to call these Flake Breaks, borrowing from psychologist Martha Becks’ recent discussion of coping with flakiness (2). The mirth and lightness of the term helps to dissolve some of the shame related to  this activity.

Prior to each session, the client and CB will discuss how many and at what time the breaks will occur.  For most clients, they can usually work consistently for one hour before needing a 10-15 minute break. As each ideal session is two hours long, this would be one break per session.

If the client has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or any processing impairment,  it would be better to work with smaller segments, and then allow for more Flake Breaks.  But those breaks need to be timed. For example, if the client can sustain 15 minutes of decluttering, the break is just five minutes.

Loading up on sugar, caffeine or alcohol is not a good idea for a break. I suggest that all CB Duos integrate laughter therapy into the work, so that it helps release some of the stress of the work.  Being intentional about this means perhaps bringing funny cards, humorous cartoons, books with jokes (available for free from the library) which all help to make that Flake Break more valuable.

The Four Questions

The Four Questions for decluttering your home or office are most useful when you are decluttering your non-paper collection or hoard. The client or the CB can ask these questions for each item, to be used for clothes, jewelry, accessories, bric-à-brac, attics, basements, appliances,  stuffed closets and drawers.

When working with your CB, it’s helpful when the CB asks you these questions with kindness and unconditional regard. No judgment allowed!  When your CB asks you these questions, pause, take a deep breath, be as honest as you can be and bravely prepare to go forth and send the items to Good Will, consignment or trash.

If you answer “NO” to questions one through three,  it will be an easier toss.  If you answer “YES” to one of them, you may need to have a brief discussion about the item with your CB  to process and re-evaluate your item.

1. Does it lift my energy when I think about it or look at it?
2. Do I absolutely love it?
3. Is it genuinely useful?
4. DO I WANT THIS? OR DO I WANT FREEDOM?

Question number four is always my favorite — for each cluttering item is sucking away at your freedom and serenity.

You can do this…never give up!

____________________________
Notes:

1. Frost, R.O., Steketee, G. (2013).  Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Workbook. Oxford University Press: New York, NY.

2. Beck, M. (2014, March). Don’t Blow It. Oprah Magazine,  pp. 41-44.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2014. All rights reserved.  www.LisaWessan.com

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