Looking in the Mirror

A woman came to Mahatma Gandhi and asked him, “How do I get my daughter to stop eating sugar? Gandhi said, “Please come back in a week.” She returned a week later but then asked why he had needed a week to respond. “I had to stop eating sugar.”

I continue to hear stories from people about their loved ones who hold onto things that they don’t ever use or no longer need. I enjoy listening to people about their spaces and lives. I’ve noticed how consistently I hear about other people’s clutter issues. I often receive questions about spouses, children, and parents.

There seems to be quite a bit of challenge and judgment about other people’s clutter.

Here’s some of what I’ve heard from people over the years. Can you find yourself in any of these scenarios?

  • People I love won’t throw anything away because they are afraid, they might need it someday. They hold onto everything.
  • Beloved ones went to the trash and pulled out what I had thrown away and walked it back into the house. And then they order things with a click of a button and more packages with things we don’t need, or use show up at our door.
  • My beloved ones promised to build, create, repurpose (fill in the blank) for twenty years and all the materials they were going to use for these projects are deteriorating in the basement/garage/kitchen pantry/bedroom closet.
  • What do I do if I’m the orderly one and the people I live with are the messy ones and the mess is driving me crazy?
  • We were having a yard sale and my beloved ones did not want any of their items in the sale.
  • My beloved one never plays the vinyl albums that sit on a shelf and stare at us. My partner even owns an excellent turntable/stereo system, but never plays those albums. Wouldn’t you enjoy listening to all that wonderful music?
  • My loved one owns almost every tool, gadget, dress, cosmetic, pair of boots, brand new wrapping paper that are sold at the hardware/department store along with the nuts, bolts, jewelry/bling accessories and such. Most of it cannot be located easily so they purchase more. We could create a hardware/department store out of our home for our entire neighborhood to come and shop!
  • We pay for two storage lockers every month. These storage lockers are filled to the brim with belongings we have never looked at in 5 years. Couldn’t that money go to a vacation trip or to a worthy cause? Couldn’t those belongings go to families who have lost everything after these natural disasters?
  • I created a musical instrument/meaningful object for my beloved ones and they never, ever interact with it.
  • I want to have friends and family to our home. I don’t invite them because I am ashamed of the goat paths we now have in our house. There’s no room for people to gather.
  • There are broken computers/furniture, shelves upon shelves of them down in the basement. Technology or (fill in the blank) clutter has taken over our basement. I hear every excuse in the book as to why they can’t clear it all away. I would love to remodel the basement for our children who will soon be teenagers.

I urge you to continue to look in the mirror and be the new and best version of yourself. As you notice your frustrations with others can you begin to see the deeper commitment that you hold? What actually is your vision of the relationship between your space, belongings, and your life? What are you yearning to create in these relationships with the people you love?

Your attempts to change another’s behavior rarely go well when they come from frustration, expectations, righteousness, or harsh judgments. Sometimes the choices of others and your judgments or agitation become a distraction from your vision, aspirations, and actions you could take for the fulfillment of your life. Remember that you can only be in the driver seat of your life.

Start with you. Discern what is going on with your belongings, your shopping habits, and your clutching onto belongings you no longer use, need, or love. Why are these part of your life right now? Who would you be without these “unloved ones”? What’s happening with your health, your creative expression, and your joy in being alive?

Anytime we point a finger at someone else, four fingers are pointing back at us. As tantalizing as it can be to poke around in someone else’s mess, stay focused on your own unused belongings. What other people are doing is simply none of your business. You are not a victim of other people’s clutter, even if it seems that way.

Be inspired by the idea of freedom from your own clutter-unused belongings, obligations, mental confusion, unhealthy relationships, soul-sucking activities, thoughts that make you feel small, and such.

You can take gentle steps to begin to shift your space and life. Take out one item you don’t use from your home or office today. Practice quiet and stillness for your mind. Repeat these actions tomorrow and the next day.

Along with asking your dates about their languages of love, make certain you visit their homes or ask questions about their relationship to belongings in their space. Be certain it’s a good fit for you and your preferences. If your date is a packrat right now and pays for three storage lockers and that makes you agitated, count on this being the case 20 years from now. It can be a deal-breaker. It’s okay. You deserve to be in a good fit relationship.

While someone else’s mess may be frustrating, I still invite you to look in the mirror and find the rich opportunities right in front of you to clear away all that no longer serves your life. As you unburden your space and life and become more joyful and less agitated, others will likely notice the shift in you. At the end of the day, you are only responsible for your life. Be determined to do the only thing you can do, which is to free your heart, space, and soul with dignity and grace.

Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla.


  1. Laura, thank you for sharing this article. It is insightful and resonates. As someone who has been decluttering – on many levels – for over a year now, it hits home. But what also stands out is the power of self-reflection. It isn’t easy to look in the mirror and face whatever it is that we are harboring. However, it is freeing to do so.

    I find when I declutter my mind – and parts of my home – it is freeing. Even if it is only removing one thing that I no longer use or wear, it feels good to let go. Just this past weekend, I went through some candles. My husband used to work for Yankee Candle, and we had accumulated far too many that he brought home from the archive give away over the years. You can only burn so many. Anyway, I packaged up well over a dozen jar candles and brought them to work. I thought our Customer Service reps might like them. And they did! They are all now happily rehomed, and it felt great to give them away.

    Thanks again for another great read, Laura. I always enjoy your insight.

    • Thank you for offering your experiences of looking in the mirror -which, most definitely can be uncomfortable at first, but ultimately freeing-and how you chose to declutter the candles! How wonderful to find a way to gift them to folks who liked them! I love when that happens for all involved. I appreciate this real life example of decluttering, the freedom you experienced.

      I observe that decluttering can be a lifelong practice for our spaces, hearts, and minds. Staying on top of what might accumulate takes focus. Gentle steps over time allow the self-reflection, the self-awareness to deepen-I applaud your over time practice and process. Beautiful. I appreciate your meaningful contribution to this discussion. Thank you, Laura!

  2. Wow… this one really hits home for me, Laura. One of my family members saves EVERYTHING. She has a very difficult time throwing anything away or even donating things. I know that this is rooted in a childhood when she had very little. Even basic necessities were scarce, and she owned very few personal objects. It drives me crazy sometimes to see some of the things that she simply cannot part with. Thank you for putting this into perspective for me.

    • I totally hear you, Melissa! I, too, have a family member who saved everything-in many ways this holding on became an unhealthy expression of her challenged internal world. Holding great compassion for these family members while going about the business of clearing our own lives often is the healthiest choice for us. Sometimes people must hit a really tough place that might include a visit from the health department or another really difficult challenge before they are ready to reach out for help with clearing their physical spaces. I’m grateful this essay helped you place this in perspective-to know that fear holds a powerful grip on certain individuals’ relationship to space and their belongings. I appreciate what you’ve shared as you are not alone-noticing people in our lives who resist clearing physical clutter.

  3. I had a few spare moments today, and decided to grab a mug of coffee and see what would inspire me today.

    Laura Staley, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your ‘message’ and loved your title “Looking in the mirror”

    I did just that, and lo and behold, I did see myself as I had seen myself growing up to what I am today. Even though the mirror reflects a seeming balding man, I see myself growing my face upwards and am humoristically, pleased.

    ‘Life is full of rich history. Every moment of our past has served as a single brick to building the lives we all live today. It’s important to honor our past and pass it on. Looking back on the past allows us to study the nature of ourselves and helps us recognize why we do what we do.
    It’s important not look too much into the past or keep our mind there for too long –as we might easily get trapped there. I looked back because I wanted to see how far I have come, to reflect on the good, loving memories, and to remind myself of my mission in life, I am truly grateful AND thankful for everything.

    I kind of like, “Ever since I made tomorrow my favorite day, I’ve been uncomfortable looking back.” Paul Harvey

    Thank you, Laura, for taking me back to reflect.

    “Looking back through life you will find the pleasure of achieving your dreams is always greater than the pain you met while achieving them.” Moffat Machingura

    • Thank you very much, Jonathan, for sharing your insights and these fabulous quotes that resonate with my heart! Looking in the mirror at ourselves-being present to this moment-while also embracing all the moments that have led to this one can be quite moving-especially if you have lived through many toils and snares. The amazing grace of shifting into the lives that make us feel fulfilled, purposeful, and joyful can live as such a rich accomplishment.

  4. Really insightful article here, Laura. Including looking in the mirror and considering your deal-breakers in relationships in the same breath is empowering for sure. Self-reflection is literally looking in the mirror, right? And looking in the mirror is the only way to recognize your hypocrisy, one of the most damaging parts of relationships, especially between parents and children, I think. “Do as I say, not as I do” is an absolutely ridiculous statement, and every teenager in the world knows it. (Maybe that’s part of why they come across as so sarcastic?!)

    I call it being a good ambassador or modeling the behavior you want to see in those around you. Love that Gandhi story. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reflections and focus on the hypocrisy-especially of parents with children. And this beautifully stated encouragement-“being a good ambassador or modeling the behavior you want to see in those around you.” Yes, indeed! And I would add being detached as to whether they follow your lead because they may go their own way, find their own unique expressions. I appreciate what you’ve thoughtfully added to this discussion. Thank you, Sarah!

  5. I felt so supported in living freer and easier with life when I read your words especially that you can take “small and gentle steps”.

    Your point has such meaning …it does not have to be a giant leap just examining a few habits, questioning some beliefs, taking stock of relationships, and then maybe picking one or two to tackle slightly differently – starts a chain, a step, a possibility forward. In acting in some way feels like it ignites movement and possible expansion.

    I took your example to ponder a relationship issue (look in the mirror!) that was causing me befuddlement today and deconstructed it from a new perspective. What was the reflection back to me on what I want in the relationship. The answer = I need to have a conversation with that person and move on.

    A needed conversation.

    A gentle step.

    As well Laura, have a wonderful weekend and your Gandhi quote….was just so perfectly fitting.

    Thank you. An extremely useful and thoughtful piece. I value your words and empowerment.

    • I am so grateful this piece resonated with you, that you even used the ideas with regards to a current relationship that has befuddled you. Yes, yes, yes!! Gentle steps, new practices that may take years to completely unravel old habits. I honestly used to think I had to power through or find the ONE thing that would make my life feel better. I now know it is many soft shifts, adjustments, practices-as you’ve stated that allow any of us to create new pathways of possibility. Thank you for all your reflections and how you beautiful applied this to your life in a gentle awakening/self-reflection process. We are dancing together, learning much on our journeys. You amaze and inspire me, Maureen, in your receptivity, empowerment, application, beautiful words shared. I appreciate you very much, my friend!

  6. You can really only control the way you think about other people’s behaviour. The notion of holding other people responsible for your happiness or well being is one that is common but completely ludicrous. I remember visiting my elderly mother several years ago and finding the clutter in her house to be highly irritating. I naively tried to get my mother to throw things out or give them away. I tried to have her bend to my values and my desires, but then I realized how ridiculous it was for me to impose my values on my mother. I decided to shift my perspective and allow her to be who she was. In doing so, I gave myself the opportunity to have a harmonious relationship with her and consequently a very pleasant visit. Why should anyone change who they are just to make you feel good? Why would you hold someone else responsible for how you feel or what you think? It’s a silly notion but nearly everyone believes on some level that the path to their own happiness is through someone else. Of course, it isn’t. It is only through you. A little reality check goes a long way. Thank you for this lovely post, Laura.

    • What a powerful illustration of shifting away from judging another (your mom) to taking responsibility for what you really wanted to create with your mom-a pleasant visit with her. I takes practice to shift to our own internal realities, to take the focus off of judging others or ourselves to taking actions aligned with our hearts-our deepest desires/aspirations. As infants we did need others to care for us, to wipe our bottoms, to feed us, keep us safe from harm. As adults the power and responsibility for our lives remains inside of us-our experience of self-empowerment, choice, fresh beliefs, actions. Thank you so much for all you’ve thoughtfully added to the discussion. I love the questions you ask and appreciate your kind words, Renee.

  7. Laura, you make such a compelling (and inspiring) case to look in the mirror about that thing that bugs us. And I know your point applies to more than clutter (and what a great example!). “You are not a victim of other people…, even if it seems that way.” Reflection and self-empowerment are my take-aways.

    • Thank you so much for these insights, Mary. After many years of practicing the focus of “clean up in aisle Laura” and importantly realizing that when other adults demanded that I clean up “their boats-their lives, messes…” that was not ever my job in life- I have found this centered place to continue to return to-the inner and outer world of my own life-responses/reactions, joys/messes/heartbreaks/hilarity. I’m so grateful that “reflection and self-empowerment” are your take-aways!! Yes!! Fabulous!! And you are correct physical clutter can often lead us to the clearing/releasing of all types of clutter in our own lives.

  8. Judging others is too simple, and it is a trap in which it is difficult not to fall. The multiplicity of people we meet is as vast as the damage we can cause by talking about them without knowing them well or when we believe we know them, but we don’t really listen to them. A healthy relationship must be based on respect and tolerance, even when it is a simply cordial relationship. One must be aware of the fact that judging someone amounts to not understanding why a person is made in a certain way. We do not know what that person lived, what made her become like this, nor what can hurt her that we criticize her without having a valid reason.



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