Being Owned with Guest Jasmine Sleigh

We all own stuff, but what happens when that stuff starts to own you? Jasmine Sleigh, a professional declutterer and author of the book, Being Owned; A Decade in Professional Decluttering, chats with the Mental Health Mamas about the challenges we face when we get overwhelmed by our belongings. Jasmine shares with us some of the reasons we might find ourselves with too much stuff and what we can do about it.

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina.

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website Today we have a guest with us who is going to talk about our relationship to things and specifically about clutter and organization. But before we introduce her, I want to talk for a moment about our own experiences. So, Tina, you moved recently. It feels recently, it's not.

Tina: Yes, it does. I know.

Serena: And I know that you did a lot of decluttering, so I'm curious what that experience was like for you.

Tina: Yes, we literally, we rented a dumpster, and it was a little embarrassing to have that much stuff in our lives. But really, it's so, you know, reflecting back on that experience, I would pick something up and say, I remember how much I loved this when I bought it and out the window it went. I mean, literally, we were throwing things out the window because it was a second story. So, I don't just mean that figuratively. It really went out the window. And Serena, you and I have talked about this before. And I don't know what this is about, but we don't really fold socks in our house. We kind of throw them in the basket and you find the match. I don't, I just think I don't like folding socks. That's the thing. But at the end, we had this like container of socks, like a closed basket that didn't have matches. And of all the things I threw out, that was hard for me. Like, oh, I'm sure we have these socks somewhere.

Serena: Yes.

Tina: I did throw them out.

Serena: Thank you for acknowledging your basket of socks because we have it. Yes, thank goodness. Yeah. And I would say that my family has a complicated relationship with our stuff. And I think we're not alone in that. When we moved to New York, we moved across the country. We had to reduce our belongings because we were moving from, you know, a sizable house to a small apartment. And we'd been living in the same place for more than 10 years. And so now, living here for that same amount of time, we've accumulated so much more stuff. And I have to say, I feel overwhelmed a lot with all the things in our relatively small living space.

Tina: I think it's time Serena to introduce our guests. Jasmine Slay is one of the most experienced declutterers in the UK and has worked in over thousands of homes. Jasmine holds a degree in psychology and counseling and a postgraduate qualification in change management. She was a trainer for the association of professional declutterers and organizers in the UK and is frequently asked to speak as a regional expert on hoarding. She has a book that's called Being Owned, A Decade in Professional Decluttering. Her book does not aim to give easy answers, but present the world of personal breakthroughs in heartache. Jasmine, welcome to the podcast.

Jasmine: Thank you for having me.

Serena: Yeah, so let's jump right in with this kind of the big picture of people and things. So can you talk more about this complicated relationship that we all seem to have with our stuff?

Jasmine: Yeah, sure. I mean, it was even interesting hearing your different experiences, you know, it's people are so different the way that they approach their belongings. So over the 10 years that I've helped people in their homes have really just seen this power struggle that people have with their stuff, you know, sort of firsthand, that even when their belongings are starting to hinder them or blocking their way, even inhibiting their health and actively sort of compromising their safety and well-being, that in some cases they feel they can't move that item out of the way. This as if the items in the home, the belongings have the power, rather than them as the owner, hence the work came up with that title for my book. It's like way of being sort of owned by our stuff. So I wrote this book. I've concentrated on sort of eight stories that kind of reflected that power play and how some people can eventually exert control over their possessions and change their lives. But some people find it more tricky, so we now use the word overwhelmed and often clients will use that word when they call me, they're overwhelmed or stuck, that idea that they're sort of weighed down or caught like a rabbit in their headlights, you know, where maybe the volume of stuff, you know, like you say over years it can build up the volume, but whether it's the volume or just the sort of task in hand is so worrisome for them that it's taking away their sort of sense of agency and they're feeling that they can make the change easily to having their home clearer. So I mean I think that controversially we all hoard everybody, we hold onto it in some way that's useful or aids us in our life or is you know, means something to us in terms of memories, but most of us can prioritize what we have around us. You know, we can determine that something's more special than others and we can let go or chuck out of the window. It's not? but the clients that I see and some people will find this resonates for them cannot differentiate between what is me and what is mine. So a lady once said to me, it just sums it up with this really is, I was working with her, this didn't make it into the book because it's happened just after I sent the final draft, but she said it feels to me like you're physically taking things out of my body when we're doing a sort process such was the sort of pain of the sorting process. So it is complex, it's really complex.

Tina: Yeah, it really is super complex and I guess it?s as different to us all of our mindsets, right? I will share, I just got a text yesterday from a family member who my dad died when I was in my 30s and there were lots of articles because he was an upstanding person in the community, lots of articles and this person in my family, I know holds a lot of stuff and her parents have just died so she's sorting through other stuff and she put some stuff out there about my dad and said, I don't want to file these away until I know you have them. So I just think there's so many ways we can do this. So you've been in business helping people declutter their homes for a decade. We understand that a person either reaches out to you or is referred to you and you actually go into their homes to help with this process of decluttering. So walk us through what this process looks like.

Jasmine: Well, the first thing to say in terms of people approaching the service is that if there is sort of pronounced hoarding issues, they are going to be really nervous. It's obviously taken enormous amount of courage to send an email or pick up the phone. That is a huge step particularly because with hoarding it's a very hidden issue. The sort of figures are that we, although about 5% of the population are affected by hoarding disorders so a more pronounced sort of fear of letting things go to the point where it's compromising the well-being in people's homes, the support agencies only know of 5% of those people. So it's a very tiny number of people who are known to support agencies. It's very hidden and so if people have contacted me directly, it's usually with a greater amount of trepidation about what that process is going to look like. They will be very worried about the first visit. I try and do that as quickly as possible and even if they're referred in from a support agency that's gone in perhaps to coordinate care, or for landlords duties and checks and things like that and they've realized there's a quite a significant issue that persons facing in their home. They still have to have that first visit and it's very nerve-wracking for them, often very ashamed, very worried and we'll talk not about the actual physical stuff but about the context. So their story, their issues of why they've become overwhelmed in their home. They don't focus necessarily on the bits and pieces in their home or the task in the physical task in hand but more about their sort of psychological state that sort of is of paramount importance and will be very nervous about losing control of the process which is entirely understandable. If I sort of say from even a sort of a more straightforward decluttering position, lots of people say to me, I'd love to have you over to sort out my cupboards. Really people don't because they say, there is something quite personal about it. We can understand that. So even more so, you can imagine, for people who have started to associate their belongings with every part of their identity of who they are, it's going to be like that lady says, like doing an operation on them. It's going to be very, very painful for them unless it's being done in a way where they can pace it and stay in control of the decisions that are being made. So they're often reassured, obviously, by me because this is what I do for a living and when I've crossed that threshold, we've done the tour, we've got those things out of the way which they're most nervous about, the fact that I can say to them, right, this is achievable, we can make a start together is often very reassuring for them. So the actual process itself is obviously about systematically working round a home and facilitating that person making decisions about their belongings, but firstly finding the shortcuts where they can start to see some progress without too much, too much pain, basically too much difficulty. And then we work on into other categories that are more difficult for them, but they're supported positively all through that, you know, obviously with the arms and legs of the operations, so physically with air to move things around and get things where they want them to be. But most importantly, we're kind of a coach really, that the way I put it is it's never going to be as bad as you think it's going to be. It's not a great start line for a business, but certainly to say they think it's going to be really painful, they do the process with us of making decisions on some belongings, flex those those decision making muscles, see what it's like, it's a bit like starting exercise again, isn't it? And you know, build up their sort of confidence in the process so that they can let us in the next day, or not necessarily next day, next week and do more of that work. So we start gradually with people so that they, you know, can see what it's like. And without judgment, often people can see some amazing and very surprising, you know, sort of progress that they weren't expecting.

Serena: So the idea that you're working side by side with people and empowering them to you know, come up with a process and do you find more buy in that way? I mean, this is probably the only way you do it. So I mean, I don't know if you see other people doing it differently.

Jasmine: Yeah, I mean, I think this is one of the most difficult things when people say, you know, how do you practically declutter? I think it's a different as each person, although obviously there's some tricks and techniques that we use and setting up clear points for recycling and things to be kept and things to be disposed of, keeping things color coded. There's all sorts of strategies, but really you're exactly right. We have to tune into the person. So people approach me to say that they would like to, you know, join the team. They say, I love to organize people. Well, that don't get me wrong. That's a brilliant, you know, ambition, but really for the nature of the work that we do, you really have to like people first and be able to listen to their stories and encourage them, but follow their lead, especially in quite an overwhelming environment, the hope there, but they're only going to do what they are. Like you say, coming up with themselves, that's where the sustainable progress is going to be when they feel like you're helping them do what they want to achieve more than the other way. Yeah.

Tina: So yeah, and so I would say, this is a book about decluttering and so we can appreciate so much that it's complicated, right? So I love Serena that you said, working in partnership with because some of these people who have been referred to you, again, you were saying how anxious they are, but it really isn't about this stuff solely. It's about so much more. And I love that you bring that piece into it because yeah, it's not about organizing only.

Serena: Right. So yeah, let's shift to that. So can you speak to how people find themselves at this point, where they're things have kind of taken over their lives? And you know, I can imagine there is perhaps trauma and loss involved.

Jasmine: Yeah, there is. And I think, you know, you're exactly right that, you know, they can often be really sort of, um, tragic sort of backstories for people. But there's sort of misconception is that we spend our entire time trying to extract as much as possible from people and quite a key part of what we do is celebrating people's belongings and interests. So that's an area that sort of misperceived in terms of saying we declutter as if the focus is on what we're taking out. We want people to rediscover what they've got in their home. But you're exactly right where, where there is where there are homes that have become what are called very full. So crisis level, people may have stopped looking after themselves. There might be some, you know, self neglect that's going on, especially if people have got to the stage where they're not sleeping in their beds or cooking in their kitchens because stockpiling is sort of prevented that happening. And there is often a complex picture of loss and trauma and feeling out of control of their own lives. I suppose things have happened to them often which they didn't want to happen or they've lost people in relationships and can stop that from from happening. So perhaps the holding onto stuff is the only area of control that they actually feel they have. And especially for the sort of more severe crisis cases, that trauma can feel like it happened yesterday. It feels quite raw and has taken their sense of agency away. Or they've sort of channeled themselves into this collection of items that's removed them from everyday life. And so recovery from trauma is sort of halted, you know, it's held back because they're not engaged in some of the routines. And what I call hopeful tasks, I don't think any of us have ever considered our daily chores, as hopeful tasks, but they are in order to sort of come out of a bad time. And in my book I talk about a number of people we've worked with, but one that resonated with a lot of people is Jane who she lost her husband and son about seven years previous to us working with her. But everything in the lounge was to be untouched, anything that they had come in contact with, the chairs they sat on, the things that they owned were not to be at all moved. But it was starting to compromise her sort of physical health. And so every time she makes a decision about something being moved or addressed, she has to weigh up her sense of self, you know, her own well-being against the pain of the grief. And we are seeing progress there, but that's a good sort of summary of the sort of complicated sort of relationships that people have is that, you know, they have those small wins, but it is about, you know, what they want for themselves. Are they hopeful for themselves about their future? And, you know, it's still acknowledging the past, you know, obviously, we're not there to check out everything, every memory of those people in our lives. That's far from it. But we do have to encourage you to prioritize our own self care as well. So asking the question to our stuff, you know, are you serving me requires a certain sense of me that the person can refer to? So if they've been absolutely overwhelmed by trauma, that sort of sense of self is sort of disappeared. And so we're in the process, really, of helping that person build themselves back up, so they can say, you know, who am I and what other things that I do really, I would like around me, and what things will help me go forward. But it's some, there is always a poignant story, That?s for sure, when people are dealing with them, you know, a long standing, hoarding issue.

Tina: Yeah, so I love some of the language you use. It's so strength-based when someone's house is very full. So given your experience working with so many different people, what suggestions do you have for those of us who are looking for kind of a healthier relationship with our things?

Jasmine: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think we all know that we're defined quite a bit by our stuff, you know, people have things, and things are good. I'm not against having the belongings. But, you know, some things are important to us and some things are useful to us, but there are things that are outside those categories. And I've done really well, haven?t I to get to the stage and not use the word clutter. I've always, somebody said, how could I have read your book and not see in the word clutter until you refer to the television programs? I said, because, you know, it's been a constant surprise to me what one person sees as valuable and what person sees as rubbish, you know, you can never second guess. But I suppose what I'm calling for really is, it's good to have a sort of lighter touch hold on the things that are around us. You know, plenty of the things in our home can be reused by others or recycled in terms of the materials to benefit the community. And really, you know, we're becoming more aware to benefit the planet. So we need to sort of have a little bit of a look at ourselves and say, you know, am I in control of what I buy? Am I having the right say in what I consume and circulate around my home? Being a bit more sort of mindful and taking stock of what we have is really important. Not over buying, letting our stuff, be used by others. You know, there's all these library of things that are setting up in the UK where people can go in, use, you know, equipment and things like that. They don't have to own something to make use of it. So yeah, I suppose, you know, that it's summarized by the fact that shopping is a little bit ruined for me. It's an important example. In having a healthier relationship, I probably swung to be together extreme, but I take from this what you will in there. When I go shopping, obviously I've got those key questions in my mind and the usual ones, you know, do I have this item already? Do I know where it is in my home? So a certain amount of that requires a amount of understanding of then a stock, take what we've already got. How will I store it? How will I look after this belonging? Because it's not, you know, it's about being good curators, good, good owners of our stuff. But when I get to that crucial question, which is, why am I really buying this item today? Which is more of an emotional question. It's usual that we will buy things not more have an emotional need than a practical requirement. You know, those adverts do a good job on us. Don't they without us realizing? But the same goes for what's inside our home is, you know, it's usually not about the practical use of the item. It's more about the emotional baggage that something brings. So a little bit of just detangling about what the issues might be that are holding us back from having a sort out is good. But my biggest tip is always go in with a sense of curiosity with it. When you're having a bit of a sort out, almost kid our brains that we're not there to clear everything out or throw everything out, but to just see what we've got there and audit our stuff. What is in that cupboard? What is in that space that I haven't been into before? And of course, when people go in with a bit of curiosity, they then find things that they forgot that they had and then they feel super grateful. And when you feel grateful, you are more likely to be able to let things that you don't use go. So it's just, I suppose, having that curiosity about your home with no obligation that will give you the sort of psychological space to make easier decisions when you do stumble across some easier wins and then the more tricky stuff. It will become obvious if you're in a good space to start that project.

Serena: Yeah, I love that idea of approaching your things with curiosity. And I'm just going to throw another thing in here is we know that you are a mom to a teenager and I would say, you know, I have three kids and they bring extra complications when it comes to our things. One of my kids in particular really struggles with getting rid of anything. So I'm curious if you have suggestions for how we might support our kids or maybe other loved ones in their own relationship with their stuff.

Jasmine: Yeah, and it's tricky. I mean, I think one of the scariest things I think is that they model our behavior. I mean, I think it's too, you know, the idiosyncrasies that we have and the values we place on our stuff. If we find it hard to sort out stuff, then they will find it hard as well. So I suppose again, a similar approach to the one I mentioned earlier, which is when sorting out with children, young people, you know, the kids, they, we start it as a task where we're looking to engage with their stuff together. It's not right. Let's, you know, bin back in the hand, you know, as much positive chat as possible. You know, what are your, I'm curious, you know, what are your current interests? You know, would you like to have more space to do your, I don't know, painting, crafts, play music, have friends over, whatever it is. And the items that perhaps are now being left behind, which inevitably they do as they grow, there's all sorts of different interests. Are they special to you forever items? And I appreciate we could probably talk all day about that one line there. And so I do appreciate I'm glossing over this, but you know, but if there are some special things, do we have, you know, keep safe boxes for those special things? So we're honoring, we're honoring their story, aren't we honoring their progress? But if they can prioritize the things that are special, every one of my clients struggle with this idea that everything can't be special, specific things that are chosen can be special. And they go into a safe box that are kept, you know, forever. I'll get into the next sort out. So having that to hand is, is really helpful. And using those, those positive, you know, reinforcements, my son, for example, knows that we can have as many books in his room as will fit on his bookcase. And so he accepts that, you know, periodically, he needs to review his books. Some will end up as keepsakes and they'll go into the into the attic space and a special box. And some might go to be donated to charity or to the library or whatever. You know, he knows which ones he can prioritize to do that with. But his reward you see, he knows in the back of his mind is potentially new books. All of us are quite motivated when there's a bit of a win at the end of it. So that's what I would say is, is go at it with a point of view that it's is looking to enhance some of their existing interests and perhaps have some nice keepsake boxes to hand rather than it being about. Right. Let's get this right.

Tina: This is a lot. And there are a lot of hard stories that I can imagine you help people hold on to. And what we know to be true is those who care for others need to care for themselves. And I love that you talk about self-care with the folks who you're working with. So we love to ask our guests what are you doing to support yourself while you are caring for others in their decluttering journey?

Jasmine: That's a good question. Yeah, I suppose, um, yeah, being so 10 years in it, I don't think I would have got quite far. I haven't set very professional boundaries. I do, I don't know, it becomes, of course, I do care a lot about the people that I work with, but I am there to do a specific task on that specific day. Um, and so although I do spend a bit of time thinking about solutions for people and that sort of thing, um, I know that I've got to be able to do things like switch my phone off and have time limits on when I'm available and things like that. Um, so it's important that I create a bit of time in my schedule to look after my own home. I find it really therapeutic to have a home where I know where things are. I'm not a neat freak, but I, I find it quite useful to have clear surfaces and things like that. So it's no good if I don't make time to look after my own home and to return to. And then I suppose, uh, I would say, because there is quite a lot of difficulty out there, um, and we're quite exposed to quite a lot of, of unusual situations that people are in. I try and just take the small wins for the day. So, you know, little joyous things like I'm very lucky to live here in the UK by the coast. Um, so having sort of sea front walks and things like that, I'm really grateful for that, that opportunity to, to take in, you know, the scenery and, and count those as sort of blessings and joys that help me stay grateful and well in the day and, uh, and be filled up if you like before I, I have to go out to work. So, yeah, just those small joys of every day.

Serena: Yeah, me too. So, tell our listeners where they can find your book and connect with you.

Jasmine: Yeah, sure. I mean, if some people have found it interesting, they're interested in people's journeys through, through and over the top of their stuff, I suppose, um, then the books called Being Owned, A Decade in Professional Decluttering. Uh, obviously I'm Jasmine Sleigh, as in the festive sleigh, as in the festive sleigh. Um, it's available on, on paperback, um, or e-book, Amazon, so, so Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Target and Walmart. Um, by all means, if people are kind of fascinated by this strange world of decluttering I?m over at Instagram, uh, I an occasionally post up videos of our adventures. Um, occasionally an odd thing that we found, in case people know what it is. Um, and that's a Change Your Space, Devon. Um, but yeah, by all means, um, dip your toe into the stories. Um, these are not a long book. It's what I would say. Um, it's efficient in its, um, story time, but I hate people that will find something useful from it.

Tina: And it sounds like 10 years you could have told a lot more stories, but that's good. That's good. And I finds the e-book is a great way to declutter, right? You don't have to declutter your Kindle after a while, but anyway, um, we appreciate you joining us today, Jasmine. Thank you so much.

Jasmine: Thank you for your time.

Serena: Thanks, Jasmine. It's so podcast friends. We are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. We know there are so many choices out there and we appreciate you taking the time to spend with us today. Uh, you can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review while you're there. Subscribe and please share our podcast with others. You will find more content on our website.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.