September is declutter month, and I am so excited! I love to declutter, I especially love all the space that comes from decluttering. I know however that this is not an easy process for most people, so I have an important question for you.
Does the thought of decluttering your house send you into fits of rage and cold sweats? Full disclosure here, although I’m somewhat a minimalist, I struggle a great deal with letting go of sentimental objects. I get anxiety during the process but it’s nothing compared to the stress of living in a cluttered home. I’m far more zen when I have fewer things surrounding me. I declutter a couple of times a year, generally when I’m feeling overwhelmed with the stuff that has accumulated. I will choose the best and newest stuff and discard the rest as a rule, but there are traps I’ll fall into. When faced with barriers to letting go of an object, there are a few Questions you really need to ask yourself.
What is your motivation for decluttering? First and foremost you need to be invested in the act of decluttering or stuff will always find it’s way back.You may be forced to do it for reasons that have become out of your control, such as downsizing a home or illness of someone in the home. Perhaps you’ve let the situation get out of control and collected more stuff than you’ll need in a lifetime. Regardless of wether the need to declutter is self motivated or external factor motivated, to make a change it needs an acknowledgement and a buy in to become permanent.
When was the last time you used the things? If you haven’t used it in over a year for most items, two full seasons for seasonal and sporting items, or it does not have significant sentimental value, then you are safe to let it go. Spend time with each item and be real with yourself about your need for it. Here’s an example; I have a large standing jewelry box full of jewelry. I’m a girl so this makes sense to a certain degree. Except for the fact that I rarely wear jewelry. Almost never actually. I wear one chain, a sports watch and two simple hoop earrings in each ear. Why do I need all that jewelry? Hence the jewelry and most of the contents is out of here. The tricky part always comes with seasonal items, especially sporting items. The quality of he season often will determine the use. So it makes no sense to look at an item that you haven’t used for over a year because conditions were the factor and make a decision to let it go, only to regret that decision. Let me give you an example; I love snow shoeing, last year I got new snow shoes and used them only once all season. The weather was terrible for snow shoeing, we had snow falls mixed with thaws that created conditions that allowed hiking without the need of snow shoes, they just slipped or got caught up in the brush, so I didn’t use them. Should I let them go? No, I’m looking forward to lots of snow this year, fingers crossed, so that I can really get some good use out of them. With seasonal items, if you haven’t used them in 2-3 years then you can probably let them go.
Is there resistance? If so, what is the root of the resistance? There are several reasons why resistance pops up, guilt, you may need it some day, you spent good money on it, etc. When you get to the root of the resistance you can start to process letting go. I have a “Get er done” personality type (Some may call it type A) so I tend to tell my self to “suck it up butter cup and get er done”, when resistance comes knocking. I know however that it’s not as easy as that, resistance is always rooted in a big emotions. So what are they? Be brutally honest with your self and identify the emotion.
If you are you having big feelings about the thing/s you are letting go of, where are these feelings coming from? Dig past those surface emotions and really try to get to the root of the problem. When I was 17, my family had a house fire that destroyed everything we owned. It was heart breaking and devastating for all of us. I think that people tend to react to an event like that in one of two ways, they either get let go of stuff too easy and don’t build many attatchments to things, or they hold on too tightly to those things, replacing loss, fear, hurt and devastation with them. I fell into the letting go to easily camp but along with that I have a healthy dose of guilt built in, especially when it comes to items that I received as gifts. For me the ability to let go is in conflict with that guilt and my emotions come from that contradiction. When I declutter and come to a gift I received that I don’t use the internal battle can be intense. In times like this I will give my self a bit of a pass and attach a condition to it. For instance the jewelry box. My condition was; If I don’t go into that box and wear items at least twice in a year, it will go. Then I make myself accountable to that condition. My “get er done” tendency usually intercedes and I let go of the item before the condition has been fullfilled, however the space to come to that decision it necessary. If your big feelings are preventing you from letting go and causing you anxiety, I suggest you find someone to help you unpack and process those emotions. A little counselling can help you get past those blocks and give you coping tools to move ahead.
So here are a few of my tricks, along with some I stumbled upon while researching for this month of decluttering.
Fear of letting go; This fear speaks to bigger emotions that require some support. There may be underlying issues that you need professional support to help you through. If your fear of letting go is preventing you from doing so, then seek some professional support. Do this right away, don’t procrastinate and wait for another day. Do it now.
Mainly this little monkey comes around when I need to declutter all of the cards and little gifts that I’ve received and appreciated. While I don’t tend to built connections with objects, I have strong bonds and connections to people. So when I get cards from people I have a very difficult time letting go of them. I allow myself to hang on to the special ones like; first Valentines Day card, special event congratulations, condolence cards that were particularly heat warming. The struggle remains very real for other cards though. I had to put parameters around how I use and keep the cards. So I allow myself to display them for a month, then they get discarded, unless they have special sentimental value, in which case I have a momento box. Giving yourself clear parameters will make you accountable to your self and the process. Set a date to these parameters and tell someone, this will give you a little extra motivation. Inventory the reasons you are decluttering and write them down. Make the motivation to declutter bigger than the guilt. If you have items that have sentimental value but are not usable to you, offer them to someone who will not only use them but shares in the sentimentality of them.
I may need it some day; First things first, when was the last time your used it? If you haven’t used it in years, chances are “someday” will never come. The reality of “someday” is that we have a very limited capacity to recall and remember that we have those someday items laying around. It just doesn’t occur to us to actually use them. Having multi purpose, items that are in use everyday will trump the “someday” items every time. So let them go. Live in the now!
Someone else may need it someday; The same principle applies here wether it’s you or someone else, however it’s even less likely that you will give the thing to someone else. Not only does it need to occur to you to give it but that person needs to seek the thing. In this scenario a good strategy would be to put it on a marketplace site, try to sell it, give the money to charity or keep it for a big financial goal. If it doesn’t sell or if no one wants it, donate it to a consignment store. You will be sure that the some one who needs it, will then get it. Bonus to this approach, it is also out of your house!
I don’t want to be wasteful; This is going to sound harsh, so I apologize in advance. It is not the getting rid of the unused thing that is wasteful, it is the purchasing or collecting of an unneeded things that is wasteful. If you don’t want to be wasteful don’t buy stuff you really don’t need, period. Letting go of unneeded stuff can be the opposite of wasteful if donated to a charity that operates consignment stores. You are making those things available to someone who does need them, and that is a wonderful thing. Focus on the root reasons for collecting unneeded items and instead start collecting amazing experiences in stead.
It has sentimental value; This is a tough one. Sentimentality is tricky for sure. One way that I got around it was to scan old photos into a digital format and collect memories in picture form. Digital photos take up little to no room and are far more valuable than any objects. It is the experienced we have with the people we love that carries the most value. Keep a memento box (A reasonably sized one) for all those truly sentimental items and let the rest go.
I’m so overwhelmed by all the stuff that I don’t know where to start; I’ve seen a lot of posts that suggest you break the decluttering down into little chunks, and that makes a lot of sense. It really can take the pressure off and give you structure. Me? I like to keep things simple, I pick a starting point and go from there. One pice at a time, focusing on that one object while I make a decision and then I move on. My decision making can happen as quickly as a blink of an eye or it can take several minutes. My suggestion here is to let go of the anxiety around where to start and just start. Feel good about the fact that you are improving your home and just do the work. If you are struggling to get up the motivation to start the work, begin by simply filling one garbage bag with junk, one box with donation items or put one item on a marketplace site. Then give yourself a pat on the back and do another.
I’m just not ready; Ok, fair enough. That may be the case but what you need to evaluate is your motivation for decluttering. Are you initiating it for personal reasons that do not effect others? Perhaps you can give yourself some time then. Are you doing it for health reasons, a looming deadline, or is it effecting someone else negatively? You may need to suck it up and just do it. There is a point in our lives where we need to act for purely unselfish reasons. We all will be faced with scenarios requiring selfless acts or pushing our own needs aside. This builds character, makes us decent human beings and strengthens our bonds with our people. Just do it and deal with the emotions as they come. Again this may be the time where professional help is required.
Letting go of stuff is never easy and you may not be able to do it with out support from someone you trust. It is a mental muscle that is worth building as it increases your resiliency to life. Don’t let stuff control you, stay in control of your stuff and you will be happier for it. Make some space for life and living!