Confessions of an HSP: Decluttering

Every time I think I have grasped the depth of what it means to be highly sensitive I discover new things about myself that suddenly make sense. Do you know the feeling? Something you’ve observed yourself doing or feeling for YEARS and suddenly, you know why.

Yesterday I spent my whole Sunday afternoon spontaneously decluttering — and I had so much FUN (like, the HSP kind of fun. Quietly and in solitude)! I admittedly always do have a blast when I trash redundant things. There’s an initial emotional threshold but once I start, oh my, how I enjoy the shelves becoming empty, the surfaces clearing, the cupboards becoming more spacious.

Until yesterday, I never gave it much thought, but then I realized: I actually declutter about once every half year — this time, a fellow  blogger’s post “Why is there so much stuff?” inspired me. Yet to me the question goes somewhat differently:

Why? Why am I ALWAYS decluttering?!

It feels as though I am never DONE decluttering. NEVER. Which is a considerable source of frustration sometimes, because I stand in a stark contrast to my husband, who seemingly never declutters his collection of lego, IT books, computer gadgets and beer brewing kits (yes, I married a nerd). And me? I keep on making little piles to give away, throw away, store away.

On a side note: don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I buy that much crap. In the past few years, I have largely stopped buying things.  It’s rather that a) I USED to buy that much crap, b) I USED to take piles of free things home and c) people, in a well-meaning gesture, give me so much stuff. So basically, it’s a combination of my materialistic past and the continuous stream of gifts from recurring gift-giving events like birthdays and Christmas.

And it’s also not like I have a biannual cell phone alarm set that says: “Declutter.” I just get there, mentally. It builds up over the time span of a few months. I have one or two months where I completely like where and how I live. Then, I start being annoyed. Annoyed by all the spots in my apartment that feel unfinished or neglected or crowded. That will take another few months. It will simmer below my mental surface. And one day, one fine day I cannot take it anymore. I just HAVE to get things in order. Furiously, almost. In fact, it often starts with a sort of grumpy nervous breakdown which, after a while, then melts into a pleasant, cleansing flow of going through the rooms and finally turning to all the places I’ve been meaning to take care of.

When I am done, I tell you. When I am done, I feel like I am residing in the nicest little place on earth. Neat. Tidy. Overseeable. Warm. Supportive. Everything feels lighter. Brighter.

And yesterday it struck me. I finally know EXACTLY why I have to do this all of the time. It’s because whatever is outside, my inside reflects. And again, I think it is like this for a lot of people — but it takes less for an HSP to be bothered by it. 

As usual: little stimulation for a non-HSP equals moderate stimulation for an HSP; and moderate stimulation for a non-HSP equals high stimulation for a high sensory processor. Thus follows, being highly sensitive, I am highly influenced by whatever my surroundings are! Isn’t it then only moderately surprising that I like things as tidy as possible?

I’ll go ahead and out myself: here’s what has over the past few years made me feel like I am a freak.

Everything that is too much or unnecessary in our apartment bothers me. Things that are no longer in use must go back to their spot. And believe me, there IS a spot for it. For EVERYTHING. I even have a box that is labeled “boxes” because it contains empty boxes that might be used to box some other things one day. Now, I know this is going very far, but I am outing myself now, so deal with it.

When I am about to write a paper, the space around my computer must be tidy, or else my thoughts will be messy. And even what looks like a mess on my behalf actually has a system. I know that this sounds like the lame excuse of a chaotic person, but… with me, there are piles of books, one being the “I am reading this”-pile, one being the “I was reading this but got drawn to a different topic”-pile, and so forth. And do not get me started with the fridge. To this day, I have not been able to explain the “system” to my husband, because there is no inherent logic to it — the cheese department just feels RIGHTER where I put it than where he puts it. (Oh God, I can literally feel people thinking: “SO glad she’s not MINE!!”).

To my credit, I try and limit my crazy. I try to keep most of my random expectations of how things are supposed to be ordered to myself — for the simple reason that I have grown up with a mother who is EXACTLY the same and as a teenager, she drove me crazy. I know how it feels to be at the mercy of someone who is, quite frankly, a cleaning tyrant. So I wisely limit my nagging to a very bearable limit and just stick to myself. When I do say something concerning someone else, I usually make an effort to say it with lightness. My husband has to laugh when I shamefully admit with my eyes glued to the ground that “the way you order the cups is visually… disturbing to my inner eye” (or, the opposite, “soothing.”). Somehow, he doesn’t understand it, but the way I express it — it has actually become a sort of a running joke — makes him smile and he tries to really make things look as little disturbing as possible. I am truly grateful for that, because it actually makes a huge difference in terms of how I feel on a daily basis.

I must say, however, that it is getting worse. I have no idea what happened to me but, as opposed to other people, I dream of owning as little as possible. How I would like to be able to mercilessly cut down to owning just a few books (and what a first world problem this is!!). Just a few pieces of clothing. Lately, I sometimes catch myself playing with the thought of joining the tiny house movement. At the very least, I envy those inhabiting typical Berlin apartments that are bare, minimalistic, yet warm, with their ancient hardwood floors, their small, cozy kitchens, their back alleys overgrown with ivy. I have not reached that point. Yet.

I would be curious to hear if fellow HSPs have similar experiences? Are you also bothered by mess and emotionally uplifted by orderly, light places?

Or do I have to go back to my previous assumption, which was simply: “Heavens, this is slightly compulsive?”