No matter how bad we might crave the benefits of a clean, clear, clutter-free home, it’s kind of hard not to pretend that it’s actually really difficult parting with our beloved things. Some of us might have a tougher time than others getting rid of things like family heirlooms. Others might struggle with clinging to the past (AKA those size 0’s jeans you know won’t even fit leg anymore). No matter what type of stuff it might be, the truth of the matter is, we are clinging to something other than the item itself. While there is never a one-size-fits-all reason for why we struggle to eliminate clutter from our homes, here are some ideas based on what I have learned so far.
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The clutter dillema
Being overwhelmed by clutter is a very real thing that can feel so overwhelming that it sends people into waves of depression and anxiety.
Then we learn that clutter itself can ENHANCE depression and anxiety. Great, right?
Nothing like a vicious cycle of guilt and stuff piling up in the corner.
While I do want to share with you WHY letting go of the clutter can be so difficult, I want to give you a few pieces of advice to make it all seem way less daunting.
- Start small and then start smaller – no one is telling you you have to clean the house from top to bottom. And if they are, hand them a broom and put them to work!
- Get a game plan – I have a super simple 4 bin method that I use when I host my Virtual Declutter sessions that you can borrow. (It gives you some leeway for items that are hard to detach from.)
- Seek guidance when needed – I host Live Virtual Declutter sessions every month to connect with people who struggle to let go of their items. Together we do coaching and declutter our spaces. Sometimes all it takes is a friend to hold your hand.
We allow our stuff to define our worth
Without being fully aware of it, we allow ourselves (and our value) to be defined by what we own so often.
I’m not even going to sit here and pretend like I wasn’t hoping to be seen as a more legit human and photographer when my family and I purchased our bigger house in the perfect neighborhood at the end of the cul de sac.
This can start as early as grade school. We think if we wear the right clothes we will be cooler. Or, on the flip side…if we wear Power Ranger sweat pants we will somehow be rejected from every social circle…no? Just me?
The reason we can struggle to let go of our things so much is because we have quite literally attached ourselves to them. Throwing away our stuff in a very backwards way makes us feel like we are throwing away a part of ourselves. Not in a symbolic burning of the ex boyfriend’s boxers kind of way either. We fear by eliminating certain items we are eliminating our worth along with them.
That’s pretty heavy stuff.
Forced to face ourselves
One thing that can be very illuminating and terrifying for all new minimalists is that they begin to find themselves the more they ditch their stuff.
If you have been filling your life with stuff and attaching your value, worth and image to them throughout the years, you have no choice but to begin to face the reality of who you are without those things. Spoiler alert: you are way more awesome than you know. No thing could ever define your awesomeness.
Facing the shame is real
If attaching yourself to your items doesn’t make things hard enough, there is the never-ending feeling of overwhelming guilt that we experience.
You see, there is this thing called The Sunken Cost Fallacy. This is where we often keep investing our time, money and energy into something even though we know it’s hopeless.
Once we have already committed to or invested in something we can’t help but kill ourselves trying to keep it going.
This can fit into so many areas of our lives:
- Literal investments
- And…our stuff
We have already put effort into it, spent our money on it and it feels wasteful and shameful to get rid of it.
Be the coward on Titanic
Here’s the thing though, sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet. Trust me, I know.
When our family downsized by over 2,000 square feet in order to have more freedom and flexibility with our time and money, all I could think about at first was how much we had wasted.
We just refinanced.
We told everyone this was our dream home.
We spent all that time fixing up the yard!
I just painted the walls and bought new curtains!!
Those were just a few of the sunken cost thoughts that ran through my mind until I finally said, “Screw it!”
Yes, it was a loss. We lost time, we lost money, we lost energy we will never get back. I also knew the longer we stayed the bigger our chances of losing more time, more money and more energy. And honestly, our marriage wasn’t looking too good either.
You don’t have to be like the builder of Titanic…you don’t have to go down with your ship.
Be like that cowardly little guy with the mustache who hopped on a lifeboat. People called him a coward, but hey, he got to see the light of day again. (Ok, that’s a dramatic example, but I think you catch my drift.)
We have to face the waste
If we can overcome The Sunken Cost Fallacy and actually allow ourselves to declutter some of our stuff, we have to literally watch our hard-earned money go out the door.
However, this could really turn into a great teachable moment. Think about it this way…your hard earned money was already being wasted on things like:
- Cheap decor that was on sale but doesn’t actually fit your style but you bought it anyway.
- That cookware you swore you’d use but never did.
- A fabulous outfit that you dreamed of wearing but were always too self conscious to rock it.
We keep telling ourself things like, “I’ll use this someday,” because we don’t want to face the fact that deep down we know we won’t.
It’s a tough lesson to swallow, but actually having to watch our money go out the door and help remind us not to waste that money any more. You worked hard for it, now make sure it’s going toward something that pays you back in joy,
How to feel less wasteful
So how do you combat those icky feelings that tell you you are being super wasteful? Here are a few ideas:
- Find someone you know would benefit from your things
- Donate to a charitable cause that speaks to your heart
- Sell what you can to get some money back
- How could your life be benefited without this thing?
- Think about the lesson each item taught you and be thankful for that
Remember, the money has been spent either way. The only thing you can truly do now is move forward and do better as you know better.
We’ve all done it. It’s ok.
We attach our items to the people who owned them
The tougher part (at least for me) is the stuff we have that we attach to the people we love who once owned them. Late grandma’s lamp and hand-knit blanket. Your dad’s Bible. Old love letters. That one thing that that one kid gave you in 10th grade math class. You can’t remember what it is anymore but you know it was funny.
Beyond attaching ourselves to our things the struggle can be bigger when we attach them to another person or a memory we cherish.
Decluttering things from our past can feel like admitting that the moment has passed. Our glory days are over. (PS This is never the case.)
If we even consider getting rid of our late mom’s wedding dress we feel a rush of shame and sadness. Something inside of us that says, “If you get rid of that, you are getting rid of her all over again.” Just saying that brings tears to my eyes.
The loss of a loved one is tough and the grief of it never fully seems to go away. Decluttering items that belonged to a lost loved one can all but re-start the whole grief process again.
And remember, we don’t only grieve for people we have lost through death.
We can grieve:
- People who changed out of the person we once knew
- Times that we’ll never get back
- Children who grew up
- Old versions of who we used to be
- Ideas of who we wish we were
- Friendships that fizzled out
- Past relationships even if we don’t ever want to be in them again
Navigating matters of the heart
Here’s my thought behind this.
Be patient with yourself. Give it time.
You don’t need to rush through anything.
There is no rushing the grief process and if you have attached your items to a person…then give your wounds time to heal. Even if it takes the rest of your life.
We can all struggle working to let go of items that mean a lot to us, but then there’s that stuff that we have that means a lot to someone else. They don’t want it, but they sure as shit are ready to make us feel like crap for not wanting it.
Ahh, good old guilt. What would we do without it?
Maybe your great aunt Freida bought you a punch bowl and always checks in on you to make sure you’re taking care of it. Or maybe your mom checks in to make sure you haven’t gotten rid of said punch bowl because she doesn’t want to make Freida feel bad. Either way, there is no shortage of people weighing in on why you should keep clutter.
The thing is, maybe these items mean a lot to them. That doesn’t mean they need to mean a lot to you.
Another possibility is that they have attached themselves to this item. If you throw away that punch bowl, Aunt Freida would feel like you are are rejecting her. Is that necessarily the case? Probably not. But, that’s just how the psychology of it works out.
It’s not you. It’s me.
First and foremost, I think it’s helpful to muster up some empathy for family members who struggle when you declutter. You don’t need to let this stop you. However, if you can understand where they are coming from, you might talk about them behind their back less at family reunions.
At the end of the day, you have to remember that this is your journey. This is your clutter to carry. If it was your job to please everyone and value the same things everyone else values your anxiety would be never ending. Also, this just isn’t possible. Let’s be realistic about what you are capable of as a human being.
Maybe this means setting a boundary with family members, calmly talking to them about how you feel, or just donating the item and hoping they never come over.
Whatever path you choose, that’s your call.
The fear of “what if”
Lastly, and more simply, that silly fear of, “What if I need this some day?’
What if someday I go horseback riding and am kicking myself for not having my stylish, knee-high rider boots? What then?
They say this is our caveman brain still living in hunter/gatherer times. In other words we plan for moments of scarcity. The idea of letting go of stuff sends tiny signals in our brain saying, “NO! What if a famine happens and you need 8 different colors of the same pair of shoes!?”
How to combat the “what ifs”
Thankfully, I have found a way around this terrifying thought. Here’s the quick break down:
- Put anything into a box that you think you don’t want
- Box it up and store it away for 6 months
- If end up never needing any of that stuff in 6 months, bring it to a donation center
This method is the best of both worlds because you get to clear the clutter without the stress of “what ifs” lingering in your mind.
When it doubt, get guidance
If you struggle to let go of clutter, you are not alone.
One thing I didn’t mention that makes decluttering way easier is to have a friend by your side to help you get it done! That’s why I started hosting LIVE Virtual Declutter sessions — so we can hang out, have fun, and get shit done!
Did one of these stand out?
So, what’s the word? Did any of these sound about right when it comes to why you struggle to declutter? Do you struggle in a totally different way! Drop it in the comments, we’d love to hear!