About Cecilia

I am a Life & Clutter Coach and IST Practitioner. I LOVE helping writers, creatives and entrepreneurs just like YOU, make their homes and lives into supportive containers for their creative AND personal lives.  

Cecilia's sharp, crystalline insight has kept me on track in my creative life, my business life, and my emotional life for the past six years: she's a triple threat!

 - Sarah Selecky, author of Giller Prize nominated This Cake is for the Party

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How I cleared clutter to find love - The box in my basement

It's a bit of a gloomy day here in Toronto, but I'm nice and cozy after spending some time this weekend doing stuff around the house to make it feel more like home.  Just in time for the chilly months, and to celebrate I've got my favorite mug in hand and my one and only favorite dog at my feet.  

Today I thought I would expand on something I touched on in my interview with Robbie Wychwood on the Magic of Stuff.  Natalie commented on the post and asked if I might one day write a bit more about a certain box that I found in my basement. 

Today is that day.  Curl up with a cup of tea and a blanket and I'll tell you all about it.

First, let me set the scene.  It was March 2006 and for the most part my life was really great.  I was happy, I did lots of fun stuff like belly dancing and cuddle parties.  I had lots of great friends, including three amazing roomies. 

We shared delicious meals, Monday afternoon losercize sessions (that's when you dance around your living room like an idiot, you look stupid, but you're having fun and working up a sweat), belly bumps and cathartic sessions where we pretended to be Tasmanian devils (they make an unearthly sound which is super fun to imitate when you're feeling a little frustrated). 

As awesome as my life was, there was one thing missing.  I really really really wanted to be in a relationship.  I had been mostly single for four years (and many years before that), and I was ready for that to change, but nothing I did seemed to make any difference. 

I did all the things you're supposed to do when you're single and want to attract a partner.  I cleaned the relationship corner of my bedroom religiously and made room in the dresser and closet for my ideal man's clothes.  I sat down with markers and sparkles and wrote a long list of everything I was looking for in a partner and how I wanted to feel in relationship.  I got clothes that fit me and wrote carefully composed Internet dating profiles.  I was getting out there and having fun.

What happened? 


That is, nothing happened until I remembered the box in my basement. 

I had done a little radio interview with my friend Shannon and was listening to it in my kitchen about a month later when I heard myself say that you can't hide your clutter.  Whether you're aware of it or not, your clutter is affecting you. 

In that moment my mind flashed to a box in my basement.  It had been there since I moved in a few years earlier.  I'd shoved it into a corner without opening it and there it stayed.  Occasionally being shuffled around to make room for my roommates' stuff, but never examined, never opened. 

I had no idea what was in the box and most of the time I had no idea it was even there. 

It took a month before I remembered the box long enough to go downstairs and take a look.  It was a big box and it took a bit of muscle to get it up to the living room for a closer inspection. 

When I first opened it up, it took me awhile to figure out what I was looking at.  On top was an assortment of framed photographs and postcards mounted on a red backing.  They looked familiar but when did I last see them? 

Ah yes, that's right, they had decorated the walls of the apartment I'd shared with my last partner four years earlier.  A total sweetie but somebody I should have only spent two months with, not two years.

Under the decorations I found three large journals.  I went through a phase where I was doing morning pages every day and in these journals I found the hopeful beginning, the meh middle and the bitter end of my last relationship. 

The decorations and the journals were enough to give me an inkling of what was going on in that box, but there was more. 

Much, much more...

Under the journals was a lovely black box my oldest friend's mom had given me years before.  It was a box to keep photographs in and it was used for its intended purpose.  It was full of old photographs, but these weren't just any photographs, oh no.

In that seemingly small black box lived a picture of every single person I had ever gone out with, dated or had an unrequited crush on. 

Every.  Single.  One. 

To put this in perspective, I had a picture of the boy I had a crush on from grade four until grade eight in there. 

I also had a picture of another fellow who I went out with once the summer after I turned 17.  There were my Metallica boyfriends (yes, there were two of them, teenage metal heads are sweethearts) and the guy I went out with because he was friends with the guy I really liked who was dating my best friend.  There were the friends with benefits, the broken hearts and the ones who liked me more than I liked them.

But wait, there's more!

Under the box of photographs was another box.  The mysterious thing about this box is that I thought I had dealt with it years earlier.  Apparently dealing with it just meant putting it in a bigger box to forget about and deal with later. 

Yes, in that box within a box was a collection of all the letters of my youth.  There was the poor French boy I met while on student exchange in Germany, "I am cry".  The poetic documentation of the drawn out, on again off again, I love you, I hate you, I love you, let's be friends guy.  The artists, the musicians, the skater boys and friends I wished would be more. 

There were many laughs, and many more tears that night for loves long lost.

By the end of the night I had thrown out the journals and a most of the photographs and letters.  I kept a few of them, the "nice" ones, for a few more years, but I made sure to store them in a little book and put them in a place where they wouldn't be forgotten.

If I had tried (and I really didn't try) I couldn't have come up with a more complete history of the love life of Cecilia Moorcroft than the one I found in that box. 

Going through the box was like going on an archaeological dig through my past relationships, but instead of finding an old tooth or fossil, I found myself.  In sifting through all those people from my past, I could feel and let go of the hurt and come out ready to start looking, really looking, for love.

And you know what?  It worked!

Three months after lugging that box up the basement stairs, I met my love who I've been with ever since, going on six years now.  There were a few more steps that happened in those three months, but it all started with that box. 

Oh, there's one thing I didn't tell you about the box.  Just guess where it was in the basement? 

Yup, it was tucked right into the relationship corner.  Is that perfect or what? 

So what does this mean for you?  I'm glad you asked. 

Sometimes when we hold onto the past there is no room for the future to come into being.  I had to face and let go of the ghosts of relationships past in order to make space for the reality of love in the present, and you can do the same wherever it is that you're feeling stuck

Step One - Identify the Wall
Where have you hit a wall in your life?  It might be around finding love, finding meaningful work, getting that creative project off the ground or your relationship to money.  You've put a lot of work into it already but nothing seems to be moving.

Step Two - Find the Box
Is there a "box" hiding somewhere that corresponds to that part of your life?  If you're looking for a new career, it could be those materials from that teaching job you didn't love and wouldn't want to go back to anyway.  If you want to feel better about your body, it could be that box of clothes that don't fit.  You get the idea.

Step Three - Get Digging to find Yourself
Put on your khaki coveralls, have your trowel in hand, and get started on that archaeological dig.  As you dig, be open to seeing patterns and symbols from the past.  If an emotion comes up as you work let yourself feel it, it's an important part of really letting go.  And when you're done, get back out there!

Do you have a similar box in your basement?  Are you going to get digging?  Or maybe you've already found your "box".  You know I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below, and if you have a friend who still has the roses from her high school boyfriend, please pass this along, she needs to read this.

Take care,
Photo of Cecilia
Clutter Coach & Life Coach

p.s. If you're reading this and you're not on my list, you should really get yourself on the list!  I send out a fun and useful email just about every week on clearing clutter and living life.  Just pop on over here to get on!  All the cool kids are doing it!

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Reader Comments (10)

Thank you for sharing this, Cecilia! I've been on a mission to get rid of a ton of stuff the last two weeks, and my enthusiasm had been waning a bit. In the six years I've lived in this house, I went from having about 20 boxes to having a full house! It's not what anyone else would call cluttered, but I've changed so much in the last year that it suddenly feels like I've outgrown almost everything that surrounds me, so there's still lots to do.

"Sometimes when we hold onto the past there is no room for the future to come into being" especially rekindled my motivation--yes! That's exactly why I'm doing this... Because I'm making space for what's next. Thank you.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Albon

Hi Cecilia;

I read and enjoy every column you send but I've rarely, if ever, let you know how much they mean to me and my life, especially after having met you in person.

Today is a day when I've "surfaced" from some large tasks and am feeling thankful for the people I did them with or who sent them my way.

Your story of the Box really hit home, because I did in fact stumble into awareness and reconciliation with it in much the same way as you did.

Members of our dispersed and periodically dysfunctional family had over the years deposited many print, slide and negative photographs with me (well 1,000s actually), expecting me to "do something" with them but never offering any help to plan their preservation.

One day, after purchasing a fast and reliable multi-purpose scanner (for MY needs, not theirs!) I experimentally went to the dreaded Box and started loading up the slide holder in the scanner.

I was amazed how fast I could get through the slides and how easily on reviewing them I was able to set aside ones that meant something to me. When done the whole humungous lot (it took months), I had amassed my favorites in one file and Everything Else in another, loosely categorized but no more.

I then burned the collection onto multiple sets of CDs and sent them to every close family member who might have the slightest interest in them. I explained gently but firmly that these were a shared heritage and not "my job" -- each of them had to take the collection (conveniently digitized) in hand and create their own annotated story around them.

And once I knew everyone had received their photographic "history package" I got up my courage and SHREDDED all the originals, reclaiming a good cubic metre of space. What a feeling!

The side-benefit of this decluttering exercise is that I've become very good at scanning and enhacing images to look their best. Last year I did a volunteer scanning-preservation project for an Ontario heritage organization and they gave our concert band a worthwhile donation to its music scholarship fund.

I couldn't be happier. Clutter, once evicted, became contentment.

And that's my true story. :)

- Pauline

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Hi Jessica!
Good luck with your clutter. It's easy to lose motivation and it's important to allow it to be a process. Isn't it amazing how quickly things can change. We transform, our lives transform and our spaces need to catch up to what's current.

I'm curious to hear what comes in as a result of making all this space.


October 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterCecilia Moorcroft

Pauline, I love reading about your true story. Wow, what a big undertaking to go through all of those slides. So many things to celebrate here! You tackled the box! You shredded the duplicates! You told your family that it's not your responsibility to deal with the family history.

Congratulations Pauline, and how cool that the experienced gained from this project turned into an opportunity to use your new found skills for something you're truly interested in.

Love it!

"Clutter, once evicted, became contentment."

Isn't it amazing how that works...


October 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterCecilia Moorcroft

I just split with my partner and my apartment has clutter in every room. I'm exhausted. I have increased PTSD symptoms and my chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are really flared up right now. HELP..I know my messy place is not helping me. The whole place seems too big, I have been doing at least 30-60 minutes of sorting and dealing every day. Not that I want a relationship right now but where is the corner? I'm wondering if I was piling things there in the last difficult month together.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelsey

I love this post! It really got me thinking about where my box(es) might be. I'm about to move so this is the perfect time to hunt down any and all boxes and clear them!

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTara@Aquamarine

Hi Kelsey!
Wow, 30-60 minutes a day of dealing with clutter is quite a bit. I encourage you to focus in on one area at a time. Come up with a list of the top three spots in your place that are driving you a little crazy and then tackle them in order of priority. It can be overwhelming to consider clearing all of the clutter right away.

As far as where the relationship corner is, I'm going to talk about that in my next post as you're not the only person who has asked, but quickly, if you stand in the entryway of your apartment or the room you're looking at, it's the far right hand corner from the door (this is according to Western Feng Shui).

Good luck!

October 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterCecilia Moorcroft

Thanks for the great story! And the inspiration!!

I too have some things (like love letters from my college boyfriend) in my basement that I am going to go home and free myself of... TONIGHT! I think of those letters down there sometimes and wonder if they're holding me back on some level.

Who needs a few love letters from a narcissist X-boyfriend when she's got a new wonderful man in her life?!! Nobody, that's who!!

Thanks, Cecilia! xo, -Christine

October 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

very inspiring, facebook needs a clean up of a long painful relationship...I feel like there will be tears, a huge sigh and a big smile at the end...thanks for the inspiration!!

November 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralex

Hi Alex,
I'm glad you enjoyed it. Facebook clutter, now that's interesting... Good luck, I'd love to hear how it goes. :)

November 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterCecilia Moorcroft

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