Indecision is often at the root of clutter, and while many people do not need or want someone to tell them what to do, they do want someone to help them make decisions. If you are trying to help a loved one de-clutter, you may already be aware of how difficult it can be. That’s because we have our own agendas, expectations, and emotions about the stuff, how the process should go, and how the person should live. It is difficult but not impossible to navigate the relationship landmines of anger, hurt, and shame. We can even come out with less clutter and the relationship intact or maybe even improved. Communication is a key to success, and here are some tips if you are trying to help a loved one make decisions:
- Leave all agendas, except for the desire to be helpful, at the door. This means that it is not about how you define “helpful” or the kind of help you want to provide. Start with something as simple as “How can I be helpful to you?” You may be told to just be encouraging, or take stuff to donate, or take the kids out of the house for a few hours.
- If your loved one does not know how you can be helpful, don’t give up. Try letting that person know you will hang out for a little while to see if you can observe a way to be helpful when s/he gets stuck.
- You can provide feedback based on your observations, such as “It looks like it is hard for you to let go of things other people gave you, is that accurate?” Or, it seems like you are getting stuck on a few items. Would it help to set those aside and move on to easier decisions?”
- Be aware of any frustration or anger you may feel, especially if you think it shouldn’t be this hard or take this long. Remember, your goal is to be helpful, and in this case “helpful” is assisting that person to come to a decision s/he can live with and ideally, get better at making decisions.
- Focus on gaining an understanding of the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Often people have emotional attachments, guilt, perfectionism, or fear that blocks their abilities to decide whether something should stay or go. Sometimes people can come to a decision once they talk it through with someone else. Try to listen without guiding.
- Be careful to avoid criticizing or discounting thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean you have to agree! You can give your opinion if you can do it in a way that does not criticize or discount. If that is too challenging or it just doesn’t seem to be the right time for your two cents worth, try asking questions. (Tone and intention are very important here!) Questions might be “How does this fit into your “big picture’?” Or “Can you have the memory without the item?” “Will a picture capture it?”
- Accept that some things will be kept, and that they might not be the things you would keep. Also, accept that the other person might not be used to you helping without judging, and it might take him/her a few times before s/he is willing to give you a chance.
Do you have techniques that work for you when trying to help others make decisions? What about things other people have done or said that have helped you when you were stuck?