Decluttering: How to Let Stuff Go

I know I need to get rid of some stuff.

The house looks horrifically cluttered.

But…

It’s too hard.

This stuff means so much to me.

What if I need this stuff someday?

It seems so wasteful to get rid of this stuff.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there. It can be tough to let go of all the stuff we’ve collected through the years.

We’ll tackle this together, okay?

We’ll examine 3 main reasons why it’s so challenging to cut the clutter:

  • Sentimentality
  • “Someday”
  • Guilt

I’ll guide you through examples of each and help you learn how to let go of stuff.

Sentimentality

We all have things we feel sentimental about. Maybe it’s the onesie your daughter wore home from the hospital. Or it could be crafting-suppliesthe ice skates you wore when you were a teenager. How about the craft supplies you bought when you planned to become a crafting queen with a super-popular YouTube channel.

There’s nothing wrong with having things we feel sentimental attachment to. They can bring back happy memories. They can remind us of who we used to be or who we aspired to be.

The problem is if the sentimental stuff is taking up too much precious space in your home. Or when it’s weighing you down emotionally, that’s a problem. Here are some ways to declutter sentimental items:

1) First, start with something else. Yep, I just told you to skip the sentimental stuff…for a while. Letting go of stuff, in general, can be challenging for many of us. Jumping right in and trying to deal with sentimental stuff early on can spell disaster. Instead, give yourself an opportunity to get used to letting things go. Start with the easy stuff: trash, expired medications, or old make up you never wear. Then, move on to things like clothes that don’t fit anymore, books you don’t read, and decor items that never see the light of day. When you finally get to the sentimental stuff, you’ll be practiced at letting stuff go.

2) Another option is to think about what the item means to you. How does it make you feel? What does it represent? If it makes you feel happy, it may be worth considering keeping. If it makes you feel sad, it’s time to let that go. It’s also time to focus on and appreciate the present day you. Of course, you’re not who you used to be; none of us are and that’s okay. Maybe you never became a crafting queen. But, be honest, are you ever going to use that crafting stuff or is it only bringing you down? Make room to celebrate who you are now.

3) The real value in most of our sentimental things is in the memories they hold. The item can be gone, even destroyed, but you’ll still have the memory. Some find it helpful to replace the physical representation of a memory with a photo of the object. It takes up less space but triggers the same memory just as well.

4) Once you have decluttered your sentimental things, only the best should remain. It’s time to enjoy what you’ve decided to keep. Perhaps, you could display it in some meaningful way. Whatever you decide, you’ll want to make sure this kind of clutter stays under control in the future. Try limiting the space where you store sentimental items. For example, you might keep one medium size storage container for this purpose. If something new comes in, something from the container needs to go out.

“Someday”

Does this sound familiar?

I might need that someday.

I’ll get that fixed someday,

That might be worth something someday.

The power of someday is strong and it often keeps us hanging onto items we haven’t used in years and have no plan to use. Here are some tips for fighting the urge to wait for someday to happen:

1) When you think that you might need an object someday, first consider if you’ve used it in the past year. Ask yourself if you have a specific plan to use it soon. If the answer to both of these questions is No, declutter the item. If that still seems too hard, try putting it in a box and out of site. Set a reminder to check back with the box in 6 months. If you haven’t missed the item within that time, let it go.why

2) Get in touch with your Why. Why do you want to declutter? Will it reduce your stress and overwhelm? Help you find things with ease? Get rid of reminders of negative memories? Write down your Why(s). When you hesitate to declutter, bring out your Why paper (or digital list). Remember why you’re doing this.

3) Maybe you’re telling yourself you could easily fix the object. You could simply sew the button back on (I’m so guilty of this). You could remove the stain if you worked hard enough. Think about how long it’s been since the item fell into disrepair. How long have you let it sit there telling yourself you’d fix it someday. Think about how realistic it is that you will actually repair or sew or clean the item in the near future. If you’re still convinced that you will get it done, give yourself a time frame, say, a week. If you haven’t gotten the item back in usable condition by that time, declutter it.

4) “What if I regret giving it away?”, you wonder. The fact is, it’s possible that you might feel that way someday. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You feel momentarily sad or disappointed? You have to buy the item again? Keeping the item stored and maintained, taking up valuable space in your home: how much is that worth? If the consequences aren’t dire and you could use the space for what you do use and love, remove the item from your home.

5) Maybe you believe there may be monetary value to your stuff. Okay, maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. Most people overestimate what their things are worth. Many items depreciate quickly and aren’t worth the time and effort you’d put into trying to sell them. If you can’t let go of an item without knowing, check out similar items on eBay. Look at the price those items sold for, not what was being asked for them. Also, consider how likely it is that you’ll invest the time to clean or otherwise prepare the item for sale. Determine how and where you will attempt to sell it. What fees will be deducted from the sale if you choose to sell online? How much time will it take to post the item online and package and mail the item if needed? Ask yourself again if it’s worth it. If so, again, give yourself a time frame, a month at most. If the item hasn’t sold, what do you need to do? Get rid of it!

Guilt

Guilt is another big factor that holds us back from letting go of our clutter. Monetary guilt because the item was expensive. Guilt because it was passed down to or given to us. Guilt because we never used the item. But really, what good is hanging onto something that makes you feel guilty?

1) Okay, it was expensive, but it’s also expensive for it to take up valuable real estate in your home. Heck, maybe you’re renting a 2 bedroom home when a cheaper 1 bedroom would work if you got rid of your clutter. It’s costing you money when you buy something a second time because you couldn’t find the first one. It was hiding in all the clutter! The fact is, the money is already spent and you can’t get it back. We all get buyer’s remorse sometimes so stop punishing yourself for a bad purchase.

2) But it was a gift you say? Maybe you’ve enjoyed that gift for the last couple of years but now you need a change. The item has served it’s purpose for you. Great! Maybe you never liked the gift. Well, that happens too. The person gave you a gift to make you happy, though. It’s not fulfilling that intent. If you’re lucky, the gifter was thoughtful enough to get you a gift receipt. You can exchange it for something you’ll love. If not, you’re still within your rights to regift or donate the item to someone who will actually use and enjoy it.

3) “The item was passed down from my grandmother. It’s a heirloomfamily heirloom. What do I do?” That can put you in a bad position and bring on some major guilt; I get it. First, take this as a lesson in what not to do to your own children or other family members. Second, follow the same criteria we’ve already talked about. Consider if you use or will use the item, if you enjoy it, and if it’s in good condition. If not, it may be time to take that photograph or pass the heirloom onto another family member who wants it.

Conclusion

Learning how to let go of stuff can be tough and it can bring on a lot of thoughts and feelings. Now you know there are many ways to manage them and let go of clutter. So, declutter and declutter again. Focus on getting rid of stuff that brings on negative feelings. Instead, appreciate who you are and what you love now. Decluttering can be a freeing process and it will get easier each time.

I know you can do it!

Joey

P.S. I hope this post has been of some value to you. I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Please feel free to share your stressors and successes here!

12 thoughts on “Decluttering: How to Let Stuff Go”

  1. Wow! This article was written for me, lol. I’m sure many readers can relate to this thoughtful, well planned post. It is difficult to let go of “stuff” that has accumulated over the years. Your organization and build up was really very good.

    I hope you publish this far and wide, because most of us hang on to too much clutter. As I’m writing, I’m looking around at the clutter. There’s nothing that isn’t connected to a memory and some are sad.

    In the morning, I will spend under an hour and declutter the living room. Don’t let my husband know! Keep up the momentum. I think this is a great post!

    1. Thank you so much! Clutter and disorganization have certainly been a challenge for me in the past and I still work to keep things under control (never mind my extra bedroom that’s still a disaster since I recently moved). That’s great that you plan to work on decluttering your living room in the morning. Every bit counts. I know you can do it!

  2. Enjoyed reading your article. It seems like clutter is an issue for many people. I myself am a minimalist. The fewer things I have the better I feel.

    I have some sentimental value to think that my children came home and from the hospital, but otherwise, I haven’t really kept much of their stuff from their childhood.

    This article Is totally my mom. She keeps anything and everything. Doesn’t matter that we’re never going to need it again, she still has it. She’s not a hoarder, but there are some things that she has no need for yet she won’t throw it away for sentimental value.

    1. It’s interesting how different we can be from our parents. I’m sure it’s much more difficult for her to discard things, especially sentimental ones. Thank you so much for commenting.

  3. Wow, everything you listed is exactly what I struggle with. Your opening questions are what runs through my mind frequently. I’ve been working at letting go of stuff progressively over the last few years. I didn’t realise how gratifying it can be when you can actually let go and move things out of the house that I no longer use. I still get a slight twinge of, ‘am I sure I can get rid of everything in this bag’, as I put it in the donation bins. But I remind myself I have made my decision and will move forward. It really is a process for some of us. But I love how I feel once I’ve decluttered an area in my home, either clothes, kids clothes, cleaning up the bathroom drawers etc. I believe it helps to release some dopamine too with the sense of achievement, so for me it’s rewarding and gives me a natural high. Thanks for sharing such a valuable and accurate post.

    1. I’m glad this post resonated for you. Yes, even though decluttering can be really difficult, it feels so freeing, like a weight has been lifted, once it’s done. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Hi Joey, a post I can relate to. I am forever saying to my wife that we have to declutter. i think I will have to let her read this post.
    I am going to write a list of the things that we have that is no longer of any use to either of us. As in your example of clothes that no longer fit. I lost 4 stone last year and still have some of my old clothes hanging up in the wardrobe. Time to make some space I think.

    Thanks for you post it has got me thinking.
    Frank

    1. Absolutely! There’s no reason to hang onto those larger clothes. That’s only giving yourself permission to gain your weight back. Celebrate the weight you’ve lost and make room for clothes in your current size.

      I do hope that your wife reads this as well and that it is of some help to her. It seems like you’ve got some great ideas on how to get things started.

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. Joey, this is such a good post. I really like how you show an understanding of the different mindsets that prevent people from decluttering and are sympathetic to them. So many people are harsh when they talk about/to people with clutter, and don’t seem to get, or care, that often there’s emotional stuff that needs to be processed.

    Personally, I have more trouble decluttering because of sentimentality and the “someday” syndrome than guilt. The one exception where I do feel guilty sometimes is with stuff involving my kids (a combination of guilt and sentimentality, I guess), but I’ve learned to use one of your tips there and take pictures of all their school art work, etc. That way we can have the memories in digital form, but don’t need a warehouse full of elementary school ceramics projects!

    1. It’s easy for me to understand the difficulties of decluttering since I’ve been there myself. It can be tough, but it can be done. That’s great that you’re using the photo tip already. It really can come in handy!
      Thanks for your comments!

  6. Hi Joey,

    Excellent post, and I have faced the problems you addressed. The Konmari method helped me let go of clutter, and in that method it is also advised to deal with the sentimental items last.

    Feeling guilty about the monetary value of items is pointless, because the money spent on the item is already gone. It´s not your money anymore, because you already spent it. Sure you can sell the item, but you won´t get the price of a new item by selling a used one.

    So, I have done the Konmari process and organized my house, but sure I still come up with stuff I could let go at times. It is easier now, but I still face the issues you mentioned sometimes. Now I know, though, that “someday” never comes, when it comes to using stuff that has been abandoned in the closet for ages.

    1. Yes, sadly decluttering is an ongoing process. Stuff will keep coming in and we have to keeping making room by moving other things out.

      I have mixed feelings about the Konmari method but I’m so glad it was of assistance to you.
      I’m glad if this post was of some help to you as well.

      Thanks for the comments!

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