The Relationship Centre

6 Emotional Challenges You May Face When Tackling Clutter

Decluttering can bring up a lot of unexpected emotions. Learn what to expect and how to get through it.

Decluttering your home is a satisfying but time-consuming project. What you may not realize is that sorting through your belongings can bring up several emotions, from guilt to nostalgia to feeling overwhelmed. These emotions are a completely normal part of the decluttering process. Keep in mind that the act of getting rid of things you no longer need can ultimately be very freeing.

Read on to understand six emotional challenges that may come up as you declutter — because knowing what to expect can make the process easier.

1) Fear That You May Regret Letting an Item Go

Fear can cause you to hold on to unused items that you think you might need someday. But often these items no longer have a useful function — outdated or ill-fitting clothes, sports equipment you no longer use, crafting supplies for projects you have abandoned, extra towels and bedding that may be stained or worn and that you never use. These items usually sit untouched in closets, basements or garages for years.

Excess belongings can make you feel weighed down and hold you back. Instead of holding on to something on the off chance you will need it someday, remind yourself that you do not need it now and probably will not in the future. Stay focused on your goal of living in a clutter-free home. It can be helpful to create an “idea book” of photos of your ideal home to remind you of why you are decluttering in the first place. This can help you keep focused on your goals. And pay attention to how you imagine you would feel if your home looked like the ones in the photos.

2) Fear That You May Lose Out on Something Valuable

Many people fear they’ll be letting go of something valuable. To overcome this fear, it is recommended they look up the item on eBay to get a realistic sense of its current market value. Many people find they have been overestimating the potential sales price of their valuables.

For items you suspect are truly valuable, consider having them appraised. That way you can identify the price at which you would be willing to part with the item, rather than have it continue to take up real estate in your basement or garage.

3) Guilt About Getting Rid of a Gift or an Inherited Item

Many people find it difficult to part with an item because of guilt, especially if it was a gift. But professional organizer Marie Kondo reminds us that gifts are simply a way of conveying feelings — and that you can appreciate those kind feelings even if you no longer want to keep the gift.

Parents can also cause adult children to feel guilt. Some parents give their used furniture to grown offspring after buying new furniture for themselves. Children may feel guilty for not accepting the free gift. For parents tempted to do this, simply ask if your adult child would like the items and if not, accept this and find another place to donate these items. Guilt also can come into play when getting rid of items inherited after someone dies.

Family dynamics and guilt are among the more challenging issues you may face when decluttering. A good professional home organizer can help coach you through choices and keep you focused on your goals, or a therapist can help you work through the emotions that may be blocking you from moving forward.

4) Guilt Related to Your Item Finding a ‘Good Home’

Others feel guilty letting go without knowing the ultimate destination of their donations. This is understandable, as they want their items to be used and appreciated.

One way of reframing this issue is to recognize that if the item is sitting unused in a closet or basement for years, it’s not really being appreciated anyway. Donating it will give it a chance to be used by someone else and enjoy a new life.

5) Nostalgia or Sentimental Feelings That Make Decision-Making Hard

Not being able to get rid of sentimental memorabilia is one of the biggest obstacles many people face when trying to declutter. Childhood treasures, old books, travel souvenirs, baby clothes and children’s artwork are all difficult to part with.

Fortunately, we can keep images of the belongings we decide to let go of. You can box up your favourite artwork by each child and bravely send it off to an online company that will take photos of each piece and bind the images into a beautiful book.

Another creative woman made a quilt out of her daughter’s baby clothes. Still, another edited her treasures down to one box for each child. She saved a few special memories from the baby and preschool years — the hospital bracelet, first shoes, a favourite outfit. Other items she photographed and then was able to say goodbye.

6) Feeling Overwhelmed

This may be the most common emotional state someone tackling their clutter faces. Lots of people feel overwhelmed by decluttering and organizing and don’t know where to start. Others have a hard time getting motivated because they’re not sure how to sort their items or how to make decisions about what to get rid of. Still others have no idea what to do with the items they’re ready to part with.

In particular, decluttering a packed garage or basement can be extremely time-consuming. You have to make a huge mess of your possessions before items can be sorted, decided upon and packed away again. For this large task, you might consider enlisting the help of a friend or family member. Set a goal of tackling one area and develop a system to manage the items such as: (1) to keep; (2) to donate; and (3) to throw away.

The decluttering process can be a great deal of work and bring up a range of challenging emotions, but the benefits of living in an organized and decluttered space are worth it. It changes the energy in your home, and you can experience a greater sense of peace and calm internally when your external environment is also peaceful and calm.

If you are stuck and need help letting go of physical or emotional clutter, reach out to us today.