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Decluttering brings you a serene setting for your home and life. You’ll have less to clean and care for and more time for the things that really matter. But decluttering means you have to let go of stuff, and that’s hard for most people.
Often, it means letting go of perfectly good things, even some expensive and valuable things, that don’t serve your life. Owning things costs you space, time and money. Letting them go frees you.
There are many reasons why you may balk at letting things go, expensive or not, even when you know your life will be better for it.
It’s possible to push through your resistance and you owe it to yourself and the life and home you want to create.
The Most Common Reasons It’s Hard To Let Go Of Stuff
1. Sentimental Attachments
Memories embed some of the things we keep. The dress you wore when you met your partner, a late loved one’s scarf, letters and cards you’ve collected over the years.
There’s a reason Mari Kondo, in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, recommends you declutter sentimental items last. They’re the things we have the hardest time decluttering since they have such strong emotional connections.
Remind yourself that the object is not the memory of a person. Your memories live in your heart and mind. Consider whether having a picture of the object would be enough of a touchstone to the memory you want to hang on to.
Some objects are tied to a time in your life that is long past.
Getting rid of baby clothes when you know you won’t have any more children, or their favorite toys can feel hard to do. One solution, if you have space) might be to keep one or two special outfits or their truly favorite toy, put them in an archival container and put it away to give to your children when they’ve grown up and are creating their own families.
I recently did this with my son’s favorite stuffed animal when I gave it to his baby girl. Because it was unique, and not a box stuffed with clothes and toys, it was a special moment to both of us.
By choosing which sentimental items you will keep, you give them more value. For yourself and for those who will inherit them in time.
If you are holding on to possessions because they might be sold someday when you need some quick cash, reexamine that thinking. Unless you own valuable art or things that you know for sure will appreciate over the next few years, you may be keeping items that will disappoint you.
Beanie Babies had a brief, but lucrative, resale value when they were the rage. If you’re still holding on to a few, you should know that (with a few exceptions – https://gemr.com/blog/9-valuable-beanie-babies/) they’re just toys.
Get your valuable items evaluated by an expert so that you know whether or not they’re really an investment. Most things we own are only depreciating every year until they are only a garage sale hopeful.
Find out the current market value of things you believe are valuable in the resale market. Is their value expected to keep going up?
If investing in their long term care for eventual resale is worth it, do some research on how to care for them properly and do it. Keep them in a security deposit box or safe storage away from your home. And congratulations.
If they are currently worth more than you paid for it, but have no long-term investment value, sell them now and put the money in savings. It will serve you better in the long term.
3. Feeling Guilty Or Wasteful
You’ve spent a lot of money on something that turned out to not be what you wanted. Or it didn’t solve the problem you had at the time. And it’s in perfect condition.
Or maybe it was a gift that you know cost quite a bit and you feel guilty about essentially throwing it away.
Holding on to something that you already know you don’t use is only making you feel guilty and perpetuating the clutter you’re trying so hard to get rid of. What you surround yourself with should make you happy, not frustrated or guilty.
When you’re debating giving something up that you are not using because you feel you’ve wasted money on it and never used it, refocus that statement in your mind.
The waste was in spending the money in the first place and that’s in the past. If you’re not using something, chalk it up to a bad purchasing decision and find it a home with someone who will appreciate it. You’ll feel so much better once you have. If the item was a gift, donating it will help it go to someone who’ll truly appreciate it.
Then remember how you felt when you next go shopping. Become more thoughtful and intentional in your purchasing decision so you can be sure what you bring home will enhance your life and not end up on the curb a few months from now.
In the case of expensive guilt, remember that this is your home and you get to choose what lives in it. Don’t let guilt force you to live with things that only clutter your home and bring you no joy. Appreciate the love and intention and then make your own decision about whether or not you’ll keep the item.
And I say this as the mother who was given a Deadpool head knife holder for Christmas. I’ll just leave that right here.
4. You Might Need It “Someday”
How many times have you heard the advice “If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it?” Here’s the other half of that statement.
Once you’ve gotten rid of it, you won’t even remember it.
Seriously, holding on to things because you just might want it sometime in the future, when you’ve actually never needed it since you bought it, is one of the most common reasons you might find it hard to let go of stuff.
Think of a specific time in the next 3-4 months when you might actually use the item. Then schedule that use into your plans. For example, if you have a popcorn machine in your pantry and have never used it, plan a movie night once a month and make a plan to use it.
When movie night rolls around and the kids stick Orville Redenbacker’s bags of popcorn into the microwave before you can take out the clunky machine, put it straight out the door. On the other hand, if it sparks fun and everyone loves it, then make sure you keep using it.
When you don’t love or need an item anymore, it’s no longer of use to you. Get rid of it so someone else can use or love it and don’t get bogged down with “someday.”
5. Feeling Obligated To Keep Something
When you’ve been given a family heirloom or a gift from someone who is frequently in your home, it can be hard to let go of these objects, no matter how much you’d like to.
You might have once admired the item and then it just didn’t fit in your design or view of yourself.
A beautiful knitted afghan blanket made by your great grandmother might not blend with the modern esthetic you’re looking for. A Philippe Starck ghost chair is iconic but you might not like it in your toddler-friendly traditional house.
Offer the heirloom back to the person who gave it to you and explain that you are downsizing (better than calling it clutter) your home and no longer can keep the item. If they don’t want it back, you then have the choice to let it go to someone else in the family who might like it or sell it. If someone else, including the person who gave it to you, doesn’t want it in their house you’re not obligated to have it in yours either.
With a gift that might be noticed as missing, you can also first offer it to the giver before letting it go. Explain again that you are downsizing your possessions and going for a more minimalist look (who knows, you might inspire them to go on a declutter spree too!). Thank them again for their considerate gift but don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for choosing not to keep it.
6. Owning More Things Makes You Feel More Secure
This is a common feeling, especially if you’ve struggled to have the material goods you own. More means success. More means validation. It’s a scarcity effect that equates having more than you need with a sense of security.
The idea of living a more minimal lifestyle can seem frightening. Even though no one is expecting you to live in cold sterile rooms without decorations or personal touches, having less can be very unsettling.
Remind yourself that in the case of decluttering, less really means more. More space around you to enjoy the things you’ve chosen to keep, use and display. More freedom from the endless cycle of maintaining a mountain of things that don’t give you joy. More time to focus on the big goals you’ve been after.
Less stress. Less cleaning. Less confusion.
Decluttering might be a little unsettling when you think that owning more things is security, but it will give you security and confidence in the long run because your environment will reflect your inner peace.
7. Feeling That Items Represent Who You Wish You Were
Closets in houses all over the world are filled with craft supplies, exercise equipment, and clothing 4 size smaller than those actually worn.
You imagine yourself going through a lifetime of accumulated photographs and arranging them artistically in an archival album, decorated with your flawless calligraphy narration of the events in each photo. The exercise equipment, bought in a frenzy of commitment to New Year’s resolutions, taunts you with the price you paid for it every time you walk past it so you throw clothes on it to pretend it’s not there. The clothes are beautiful and bought in hopes you’d fit into them someday. They are so pretty but they make you sad when you hold them up against you and look in the mirror.
Live for now.
Don’t let objects affect how you feel about yourself. When you are working 40+ hours a week, taking kids to activities, running a house, and taking care of pets and family members, you are entitled to decide how you want to spend your time when you have it.
Is scrapbooking more important than the dream you’ve been pursuing?
Your photos are valuable but fancy albums are not a duty. Block off a little time every week to catalog them by years and file them in photo boxes. If you never do another thing with them again, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for easily. You can also scan your photos or use a service that does them for you. Then you can create fun photo books online and publish them. Or not.
Unless you actually use exercise equipment and have a room to store it in, consider that decluttering all that equipment and joining a gym will be far less expensive in the long run. If you slack off on going to the gym, you can always quit and not have a huge treadmill throwing shade at you in the garage.
We frequently are sensitive about our looks and our clothing. It’s not unusual for a woman to have a variety of sizes in her closet, clothes purchased after a diet and at stages of regaining it.
There are no judgments about this, believe me. Weight is a struggle and deeply personal.
But clothing that doesn’t fit you goes as stale as food, makeup, and other items. What was in style the last time you were a size 8 won’t be in another year. Clothing that doesn’t fit you does not serve you.
Box up clothing that doesn’t fit you and get rid of it. Take inventory of what does fit you and declutter those items. If and when you are ready to make a commitment to losing and maintaining a different weight and size, purchase things for your wardrobe then. And throw away all your bigger clothes as a reminder that you need to keep your weight stabilized.
8. You’re Mistaking Organization For Decluttering
It’s easy to find information on organizing your home. Magazines like Martha Stewart’s Living, Real Simple, and Organize draw your attention in the supermarkets and there are countless online sources that offer you the latest basket, bin, hanger, and organizer on the market.
All to squeeze and compact your possessions into a smaller space than they currently take. Nothing goes away. It just becomes less visible because it’s packaged with 19 of its duplicates and made to look like less.
There is nothing at all wrong with organization, but it’s something you should be doing after you declutter, not instead of. You still have to open those baskets, bins, hangers and organizers and dig through them to find the one thing you’re looking for.
Decluttering is reducing the number of things you own so that everything lives and breathes easily in your space. It’s about making conscious choices about the best of everything you own and discarding the rest. It’s putting quality over quantity.
Because decluttering and organization are two entirely different processes, make a plan for decluttering your house and life before thinking about organizing the things you choose to keep. Organizing doesn’t solve your clutter problem, it just creates hiding spots until you can’t hide it anymore.
Take your time and declutter every room intentionally, with respect and love for the things that make the cut and that you choose to keep. Once you’ve done that, breathe a sigh of relief for a job well done and think about organizing your belongings.
If you kept a beautiful hand-knit blanket to snuggle under at night while watching TV, you can display it in the cold months but have a place for it in the linen closet during warm weather. Your pared down jewelry collection could be housed in a jewelry box or pretty collection of boxes in a drawer. Your children’s toys can be separated into bins to make them easier to collect and store after play.
You’ll have no trouble finding organizing solutions after you declutter, but decluttering will make the organization process easier and much more fun.
9. You Think Your Home Will Be Boring
When you think about decluttering, do you imagine the result to be the spare, cold magazine spaces that bear no resemblance to the family home you want?
Do you think that your personality will be leached out of your home with every item you take to the curb? That there won’t be anything left that you can relate to when you walk around your rooms?
Decluttering doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you own! And it doesn’t mean that you have to live without color, contrast or personality. Your version of less is defined by you. And what you choose to keep will reflect your personality, whether that’s your collection of Mexican art plates displayed around your home or brightly colored pillows on the sofa.
Minimalism is not a dirty word. It’s getting rid of the excess, the clutter that hides the special things you own and showcases everything that is you.
10. You’re Overwhelmed With The Amount Of Work And Time You Need To Declutter.
It can be overwhelming to imagine yourself, all your possessions on the floor, spending hours making decisions about every single thing. Then do it again the next day in another room until you’re done.
You might feel exhausted by long days at work and maintaining your home. Despite knowing that you need to declutter, you just don’t know how to go about it.
First of all, you do not need to do an entire room, or an entire category of items, all at once.
By decluttering a half hour at a time, your efforts will be easy and will add up faster than you might think. Check out the links below for creating a decluttering plan that will fit your time and energy.
Decluttering is more about being emotionally committed to get rid of the things that don’t serve you. When you are enthusiastic and engaged in the process, the actual work can be done quickly and without much effort. After getting a few of your plan targets done, it will actually become fun and something you look forward to!
Let Go So You Can Let It Go
Shift your perspective and look at decluttering as a process you need to go through to create the life and surrounding you want.
Remember also that by decluttering, you’ll decrease the amount of time you need to care for your possession. Less dusting, less laundry, less work. Freeing even more time for you to spend on the goals you want to accomplish.
And isn’t that what it’s what all about?
What is your biggest struggle in decluttering? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Would you like some quick wins? Download my free 50 Quick Decluttering Projects You Can Do In A Half Hour Or Less and see results beginning today!
Check out all the posts in the Decluttering series: