What Does Chronic Clutter have to do with Forgiveness? [Part 1 of an actual coaching dialogue]

As we go deeper into forgiveness via this totally reliable second look at who or what our minds told us was ‘wrong’ –the bottom line is that we arrive at who we really are:  that which has the power to understand and forgive and even love the part of us (and others) that was simply believing our limited thinking and acting out of that.

So simple. So sweet. So easy, once we know how.

Having had literally ‘overnight’ successes helping folks with home staging and similar issues, I am discovering the straight line between cleaning up the things we haven’t forgiven and the cleaning up of chronic compensatory behaviors like hoarding, complaining, lateness, over-eating and other addictions; all unconscious ‘strategies’ that become instituted as a smoke-screens for not knowing how to get to forgiveness.

This fascinating email dialogue below took place some time ago, in the week right after a regular 2-hour inquiry/coahing session with a client who–after 2 months of productive work on other issues–admitted to me that she had a very big issue with clutter.

It was such that she had not invited others to her home in many years, and reported having never gotten rid  of any of her own or her 3 children’s clothes, piles of unread magazines, nor all that had migrated to that state with her from her childhood home.

Most of us have something like this going on in our lives, but to differing extremes. As you read this 2-part post, find where it is you can relate–where you are just like her in some way that you don’t want to admit to others.

To see what would come up when she tried tackling it, we started–together over Skype–going through a box of her kids’ elementary school clothes (the things she suggested might be the easiest to get rid of).

Then I left her with an assignment to look at each item and notice how easy it is to let the feelings of shame and regret actually transmute back into love — loving whatever it had meant to her and getting excited about where it was going next, and the love in involving her kids in this endeavor so she could let go of the stories that she was keeping things for THEIR kids.

Most of all, I asked her to be really in touch with the stories that would keep love away, and keep a notebook handy and write down whatever came up as ‘one-liners’ (ie, she had already developed skills in observing the story ‘lines’ her mind would tell her).  She could later use these one-liners as food for doing The Work in our next session or on her own.

This heart-felt exchange reveals the deep-seated ways our own deeply into the ways our unforgiving stories about ourselves or others keep us from moving on:

Dear B.,

Would you like to keep going and do your assignment right now?  You have some momentum. It is a really nice way to love yourself and your kids.  Think of it as FUN!  Can you do at least an hour tonight?  Or even get yourself set up with boxes and systems and get together the kid clothes you’re going to go through?

And can you email me when you’ve done some and celebrate whatever you did?  And tell me what came up for you?

Also, go around and take “before” pictures of each room, garage, cars, etc.  You never need to show them to another soul, but it will help you see and celebrate progress, and give you a realistic assessment of what is really getting accomplished.

Make this your thing. Clearing the clutter around your heart. No regrets. Just love. Just live.


Those are fabulous ideas, Shawn!  I agree; tonight would be best, and I love the idea of taking pictures – otherwise, when there’s so much mess left, it’s hard to feel as if I’m getting anywhere.

One thing that came up for me when you were talking tonight in our session about taking a different path from your straight and narrow—college, job, marriage, kids in the expected order for those growing up in a small town in Iowa.  Wanted you to know I’m so thankful you did!!  I’m so grateful that your life took the path it did, and that you’re doing what you do and helping so many others.  I know I’ve benefited so much more from the bit of time we’ve worked together than anything else I’ve ever tried.

There was this one counselor I had for a while, and I was just starting to make a bit of headway with wanting to clear up the clutter, and then he decided that I should do aversion therapy instead — so he had me go out to a second-hand store and buy a huge bag of stuff (even though I told him it wouldn’t help), and then sit it in the middle of the hallway and have to walk over/around it all the time (not sure how that’s any different from what we already do here).

He told me to trust him, and I did, but I should have trusted my own instincts instead.  Anyway, that was like giving a big bottle of booze to an alcoholic, and there went my little bit of progress!  So that was a bunch of money down the drain, plus now I have another big bag of things to deal with.

I so want to live.  I so want to be free to live.  And I appreciate that you’re helping me do it through love, and not pain.  The guilt, the pain, the tallying up of what all this has cost my family over the years, all just lead to more guilt and pain, and paralysis.  So I won’t look at how far I have to go, but just celebrate that I’m taking even one small step in the direction towards victory.

Thank you so much!



Dear B.,

Thanks so much for writing.  Just living in that kind of gratitude, and giving it to yourself as you are the one that created me and sees me the way you do, will help everything shift.  And I love that you saw that about my path. . .and maybe you can see that about yours too.

It takes what it takes to wake ourselves up, and in the process we give lots to others.  I would love to see you tackle this as such a tangible, observable symbol of the clearing that is going on inside you, and of your commitment to yourself.

Do what you can, but have fun with it!  I know one of my problems is that I want to do all or nothing–I’m not so patient with little bits of progress.  But I’m getting better and it feels good to do what I can. On the other hand, you can also bring a friend or family member in to help.  And once you get this system ‘down’ and just want to make more headway, you could get all your kids and husband to help too–with you still being the one to honor your own system and what feels comfortable for you.  That way they would be right there to go through the things you ask them to go through so that what is left becomes much more quickly evident and what needs to go gets moved out more quickly without too much work on your part.

I don’t want this last suggestion to scare you, but as you get more comfortable with your own process and feel you can involve them, you could even let them know that clearing things is one effort to make amends and you’d love to keep them involved in saying goodbye to things that were part of their lives, as well as to make the process move faster.

It will be interesting too, what comes up as you involve them or as you make changes–usually they will have some kind of ‘change-back reaction’ (Lerner, 2004); ie., possibly even getting more angry at you for the same ways you are already angry at yourself. But by that time you will have forgiven yourself, so you’ll be there for them and yourself when they go through whatever comes up.

No hurry–don’t let me overwhelm you with these visions.  Can you do an hour today?



Hi Shawn,

Okay, so I went through that one pile of clothes that I could find, and here is what came up for me (That was a great idea you had to write it all down, by the way):

– I loved my kids SO MUCH, and only wanted the best for them — meaning, wanting them to be their best, wanting them to be happy and successful (that last part is probably where they felt the pressure to be perfect).

– I look at their clothes and remember them at those ages, and I had so much hope for them then.

– I wanted to give them everything, to give them a family and a home, but I didn’t know how.

– I failed them miserably.  They had so much potential back then, and I squashed that all.

– Looking at their clothes is very bittersweet for me.  I remember their childlike innocence, and when they used to participate in life, and how their whole future was a limitless possibility in front of them.  I remember their sweetness.  And I feel the loss of all of that, and I feel such guilt and remorse and shame and regret.  It’s a sad reminder.

– It’s very painful seeing their clothes and reliving all the ways I failed them, and how I didn’t know how to be a parent.

So, if I’m being a parent to myself now, what do you need, little A.?

– I need to know that I’m loved, that I’m forgiven, that I did the best I could, the best I knew how at the time and with the resources I had, and that they’ll be okay in spite of all my mistakes.  I need to forgive myself, and let go of the guilt and move on to more positive things.

– I would say to that part of myself, “It’s okay, little one.  God gave you those children, and he knew how it would be.  So he obviously thought it was okay.  (I have a lot of guilt, also, because of the infertility on both my husband’s and my part, and have come to the conclusion that we really weren’t meant to have kids, and we shouldn’t have meddled and made it happen, because we obviously weren’t equipped to be good parents.)

– I always think that they’d have been better off in another family, but what if they’d have been worse off?  That’s also a possibility that I’ve never considered.  There are a lot of worse situations they could have been in.  At least they’re loved, they have some sort of stability, chaotic though it is, and they’re not mistreated.  In fact, the boys have always been overindulged, which is another one of my mistakes.

So that’s where I got to with the clothes.

I see now that it’s not about the clothes themselves, it’s all the stuff that’s wrapped up in them — the hopes and dreams I had for my kids, the lost potential, the things that never were and now will never be.

I’m feeling kind of stuck in the place of guilt and regret, and finding it hard to get back to that place of love that you talked about tonight.  Lost in the sadness right now.


Dear B.,

I saw that you were up EARLY!  Thanks so much for writing that.  I feel the pain pouring through those words, and also the love.  Especially the first parts, where you got in touch with how much you wished and hoped and dreamed for your children.

Is it possible to re-image them as THAT all over again?  That they are just that perfect and full of life and potential as they were back then—no matter how they are showing up now?  And you are, too?  Isn’t that all life is really–the unfolding of potential?  And quantum physics shows us that they are all happening at the SAME time–these limitless potentials–and the one we put our focus on is the one we get.

I don’t mean for you to “affirm over” the ones that hurt–I mean for you to cherish and yet QUESTION every one of them.  The ones that bring up hurt and remorse instead of forgiveness and love.

You squashed all their potential.  Is it true?  etc…  do the full inquiry (how do you react when you believe that thought—what happens?  And notice who you’d be in that same moment looking at the little cowboy hat and other clothes without that thought that you squashed all their potential?

And then you might end up with turn-arounds that look something like this:

  1. You didn’t squash their potential. (It is unsquashable.  Potential is always there, except when our stories of the future take it away.)
  1. Your thinking squashed their potential. (Your thinking has defined you and them as failures. [And yet you see that my ‘errant’ path brought me to a place of success in being able to give to others–I see you the same way–so much to give, and yet first is healing yourself and your thinking.  That will take care of your kids.  You are so inherently empathetic of others–you are just learning to be that for yourself and also to find the ways you are resentful of others so you can heal that]. It’s all an inside job—you can’t really know what their potential was and that what is happening is NOT absolutely perfect and their path).
  1. You squashed your own potential. (Find how you did it then and are doing it now.  Letting your own unfolding be enough is what will heal them.  Not squashing your potential of clearing the house by believing these painful thoughts and also connecting them to objects, as if you need to keep the objects around in order to heal the thoughts.)

So….keep noticing who you are with those thoughts. And who you would be without them.

  • Who said they were true?
  • Who says you have to keep flogging yourself with them?
  • Has it helped one bit?
  • Who would you be without them?

Start re-imaging that regret as love.  You look at the clothes and you get to re-experience all the love and hope you held for them. Let that be enough. Let it feed you. It’s only your mind playing god that tells you something went wrong.

And really LOOK at how far our minds will go to make us think we can control reality if we just interpret all the things that might possibly be WRONG.

Like that fertility story!  How does it really serve you to have that arbitrary interpretation of the otherwise benign unfolding of events?  You could also use it to say–look, despite the bad odds, God gave us these kids.  They have whatever they have to work out with us, while we work out our own evolution with them, and it’s PERFECT!  You could believe that instead.

It’s up to you to hold your commitment to question it all if you want peace for yourself ad your children (since they are your projection).  Start noticing but not believing a SINGLE F’—ING THING your mind tells you.  It DOES NOT KNOW the truth. It is just making polarized hypotheses.  It is totally irrelevant to what is really happening here. Stop believing it!!!   (Hope that wasn’t too hard on you, but you’ve come so far and you want freedom from all this SO much—you know this works, so it’s time to really start seeing how the only thing that EVER stands in your way of bliss is believing your thoughts)

It is LOVE to let the thoughts come up and then to let them find their way to letting go–finding out for themselves that it isn’t helping (the hot stove approach of seeing how you react when you believe them—it doesn’t help; it hurts) and seeing that you are fine without them and that they really aren’t the god’s truth.

love you!


ps–I had lots of fertility stuff too. and ended up adopting and it was SO the perfect thing for me, even though my life or my daughter’s have not been trouble-free. And yet I never once connect issues that come up with whether or not I shouldn’t have messed around with ‘God’s plan’ or anything like that.  I could come up with a story about that, a good one or a bad one.   Or just notice what happened.  I have a child!  No meaning attached either way.    

Of course, I come up with plenty of my own (it’s what our minds do–I have other ways of beating myself up around my daughter–my mind just didn’t happen to land on that one. This is just an example to show that it’s not ‘the truth;’ it’s what your mind pieced together that not all minds would do with that same situation).  Whenever we land on a story line that seems to be true and seems to be creating pain, we can gently, lovingly, and efficiently look into it–write down the specific thoughts and do The Work on them.  So you have LOVELY grist for the mill now that found it’s way onto paper; one step closer to freedom! Great job.