The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

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

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?

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!


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.

Leave a comment »

“The Beauty of Hoarding”

There is an exceptionally good article posted in THE WEEK, May 7, 2010, “The Beauty of Hoarding,” excerpted from STUFF: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. Copyright © 2010 by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. Learn how hoarders are making social connections and staying in touch with the world via their hoarding patterns…

We need to understand that people who are hoarding see endless opportunities in their stuff – for themselves and others. This is a breakthrough concept that needs further exploration.

It has been my experience when I work with clutterers and hoarders that we need to do a step by step process I call “Face it, trace it and erase it.” Every object in your home has special and unique emotional connections and memories attached to it. Once those connections are revealed — and deconstructed – it then becomes possible to release and let go of the unwanted stuff. This happens through talking, writing/journaling, role playing, meditating and going a bit deeper, using art and other forms to get behind the reasons for holding on. This can have an element of fun and playfulness – it does not have to be grueling work.

To get an experience of this process, check out my next clutter program 9/21/10 in Westford, MA (see calendar of upcoming events at for details.)

Leave a comment »

What is voluntary simplicity?

Today I was talking to my old friend Gail Marcus, who just moved back to New York after living over ten years with her family in Vermont. In the throes of unpacking her ocean of boxes and cartons, we had a fruitful chat discussing our mutual goal of living with less stuff, clutter, and particularly gadgets.

While talking to Gail, I was reminded of the passionate, brilliant and elegant work of Dr. Theodore Roszak, particularly The Voice of the Earth (1992), in which he wrote about “voluntary simplicity.” It seems that this is a term one either embraces or strongly rejects…as it happens, Gail and I agree with the concept, but our spouses are not of this persuasion.

Wikipedia defines voluntary simplicity, or simple living, as:

Simple living (also referred to as voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle characterized by minimizing the “more is better” pursuit of wealth and consumption. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in ‘quality time‘ for family and friends, reducing their personal ecological footprint, stress reduction, personal taste or frugality. E. F. Schumacher summarized it by saying, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”  ~

After we had a good laugh about our spouses’ recent questionable shopping excursions, Gail shared this astute Yankee proverb with me:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do
Or do without!
~ Yankee Proverb

Does this mean that we are to be living in deprivation?  Nay, nay, I say…it is not deprivation, it is liberation!   Having less stuff gives us more space, time, freedom and room to relax.  With less stuff we spend less time cleaning, repairing and storing devices.  With less clothes we spend less time figuring out what to wear.  For some of us, the appeal of having “a uniform” lasts a lifetime.  True, some people like to spend more time putting themselves together, as in creating great art — and that’s wonderful.  But for the rest of us, can we also look and feel great and spend five minutes getting dressed?   YES, I think so.

How are you choosing to fill your life?  Do you want more stuff, or more freedom?  This is a choice, and a stand for more joy — because having less stuff does ultimately feel fabulous.

I invite you to try on this philosophy of voluntary simplicity for a few days and see how it feels…let me know how you feel and what happens in your life.

© 2010 by Lisa Wessan. All rights reserved.

Leave a comment »