How to declutter when you don’t want to get rid of stuff
Being stuck at home living with the uncertainty of the future helps to put things into perspective. But even after I’ve downsized multiple times and almost lost our belongings to two different fires, I still struggle with getting rid of stuff and learning to let go.
No one wants to experience life’s challenges. When circumstances arise that are stressful and uncertain, it’s not easy. They take us outside of our comfort zone and challenge our sense of control. Natural disasters, chronic illness, and family problems are all examples of such times. They are not fun and not something we would sign up for.
Simple Living Helps Us Let Go Of Material Possessions
But good can come out of challenging times. When faced with what really matters, what we own doesn’t seem to be as important. Getting rid of stuff becomes a little bit easier.
We also have more free time on our hands when life slows down.
While no one wishes for hardship and an uncertain future, this is a great time to work on some goals we might have and simplify our lives. It’s also a good time from self-reflection.
Why decluttering And Getting Rid Of Stuff Is Hard
As a professional organizer, I have watched each of my clients go through the struggle of what to keep and what to let go of. There are so many factors and emotions that go into every decision. There is baggage attached to our baggage, ie, the belongings we don’t need or want anymore. Deep down, each person knows they have too much stuff; stuff they don’t need.
Getting rid of stuff isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing process that comes on step at a time. It’s good to just start and at least purge and declutter a little bit.
The Four Stages We Go Through When Getting Rid Of Our Stuff
1. Hanging onto almost everything.
The first stage involves wanting to keep most everything. It’s overwhelming to start to declutter and trying to decide what to keep and what to get rid of is daunting.
Lots of excuses.
- We still have the stuff, so the excuses are endless. We might use it again one day, it’s still in good condition and is “worth” something.
- Lots of emotional baggage
- Not ready to face ourselves
2. Dealing with the guilt of wastefulness.
We live in a world where everything is readily available. Anything we want is at our fingertips. We are bombarded by advertisements telling us how much our lives will better if we own x, y, or z. We are on social media seeing everyone’s shiny new objects. It’s so easy to buy things we don’t need!
- Excessive spending. Either with money we don’t have or on stuff we don’t need.
- Selfishness. This money could’ve gone towards something more practical or to help someone else
3. Letting go of emotional attachment
This is the biggest obstacle to getting rid of stuff. It’s easy to place more value on an object than what it’s worth and to then persuade ourselves of this fact. When we moved to Hawaii, we put almost everything in storage. Our stuff wasn’t used for 2 years, and even though I had survived and even forgotten about a lot of it, dealing with the emotions and memories of each item was difficult.
There are ways to preserve memories through taking pictures, journaling, or keeping a small percentage of meaningful belongings so that you can remember the experience without having to keep the belonging.
It’s important that the object itself doesn’t become more important than the memory it holds.
- Someone gave it to you.
- Feel attachment even though it’s outlived its usefulness
- Something you still like but don’t need
- Is in good condition but you don’t use it
4. Freedom: Through self-reflection and realization that you are better off with less stuff
There are a lot of people who don’t have a hard time getting rid of stuff, but it still takes time to go through their belongings, declutter, and purge. No matter what stage you are in, the goal is to be able to part with your belongings. When clarity hits, and what matters the most comes into focus, getting rid of stuff becomes more of a process and less of a battle.
- Simple Living
- Less to take care of
- Value time and activities more
Benefits of getting rid of your belongings:
As you walk through the four stages of getting rid of your stuff, here is a great list of benefits to keep in the back of your mind. Even though it’s a hard process to go through, the reward is totally worth it!!
- Less stuff to clean
- Less stuff to put away
- Have more space for the things you need/use
- More calming living space that is not cluttered
- Value your time more than your belongings
- Save money for more important things- savings, charitable causes, vacations, etc
External Obstacles of getting rid of stuff:
1. Time. In our current state of being stuck at home, it’s slightly easier to find the time, depending on your circumstances. But normal day-to-day life makes it difficult to declutter. It can be a large all-day project. Try to block off a weekend to complete an entire project or just do small blocks of time, 30 minutes or a couple of hours.
2. Motivation. This must be the most challenging one of all. Even if we say we don’t have the time, it’s more likely that we don’t feel like it. Decluttering feels like an overwhelming task, and it’s hard to motivate ourselves to work on getting rid of stuff. It’s important to keep the end goal in mind. Take a lot of breaks and reward yourself for what you’ve accomplished. (Just don’t go on a shopping spree).
3. Overwhelm. There’s a lot of advice in this post, but coming up with a game plan and have a strategy will help eliminate overwhelm. It’s hard to know where to start and what the best process is to go through your stuff.
4. Lack of energy. Depending on your responsibilities, it might be difficult to have the energy left after a long day to take on a big project. Schedule your decluttering project on the calendar. Cut back on obligations and commitments to prioritize your decluttering project.
5. Other people’s stuff. It’s hard to know what to do with stuff that isn’t yours. If it’s another adult in your home, it might not have their permission to just get rid of the stuff. Try to get the other person involved, their permission to dispose of anything, give it back to them if not living with you, or at least pack it away so that it is not taking up prime real estate in your living space.
6. Don’t want to create waste and fill up landfills. This stems from guilt if you are environmentally conscious. But it’s okay to do what you need to do, forgive yourself, and learn from your mistakes. Try recycling the things you can, donate anything in good condition, or give stuff to someone who can use it. But if you cannot, it’s okay to throw it away. Allow yourself to toss it. If you still can’t, ask someone else to come and take it away. It’ll help you if you don’t do it yourself.
Internal emotional obstacles: why it’s so hard to let go
Below is a list of emotional obstacles that keep you from being able to get rid of your stuff. Depending on the items you are trying to part with and the amount of emotional attachment you have with your belongings, it will be important to deal with these prior to starting to declutter or as your go.
Give yourself the opportunity to work through any attachments you have. You might get to the bottom of the issue, especially if it’s attached to a bigger issue. This might dig up uncomfortable emotions or past hurts. It might not be something you can fix overnight.
If you have happy memories of certain items that remind you of someone important to you, there are ways to remember the item without keeping it. You could journal about the memories and experiences that you had or take pictures as a keepsake. If you have a collection of a similar item, keep the most cherished items and get rid of the rest.
- Holding onto the past. Are you caught in how things used to be? Do you have any regrets you need to let go of?
- Holding onto who we thought we were/not knowing ourselves well enough. Or maybe you have changed. Our styles change and our tastes change. It’s okay to get rid of things that don’t fit our lifestyle anymore.
- Holding onto hobbies we don’t like. The first thing that comes to mind is some type of craft you took up. I know I was totally into scrapbooking at one point because that was the “cool” thing to do.
- And I scrapbooked a lot. But I didn’t really enjoy it. I did it more out of obligation because I bought so many supplies!
- Getting rid of something someone gave to you as a gift. This is challenging because we don’t want to offend someone who spent money and took the time to get us something. But a gift should also be a gift with no attachments or obligations.
- Having bad shopping habits/overspending. It’s easy to use shopping as therapy. To pick up something here or there, no big deal. And it might not be. But it’s important to only buy things if you have the space for it and the money budgeted, unless absolutely necessary. If you buy something, try to also get rid of something.
The decluttering process to successfully get rid of stuff:
Find a notebook or some paper to journal some thoughts and take some notes. Doing some preplanning will set you up for success.
1. Come up with a set of guidelines prior to going through any belongings. Make a contract with yourself, a set of parameters to help you decide what to get rid of.
2. Try to identify the internal emotional obstacles that you will face
3. Before working on a space, determine what your goals are for the space. Try and decide how much stuff you need to get rid of before starting.
4. Take breaks.
Set a timer to keep yourself focused. Invite someone over to help or hire a professional organizer to help you stay on track and be efficient.
5. Deal with one category or one space at a time. Marie Kondo suggests going through all of the same objects first, decide how much space you have for those things, and then only keep what brings joy and fits in that space.
6. Don’t spend too much time making decisions. If you are really stuck on an item, set aside in a pile and move onto something else.
Come back with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
7. Come up with a game plan on how to get rid of the stuff you won’t use. Hiring a professional organizer or even someone to run some errands for you can help ease the decision-making process and separate yourself from feeling bad about getting rid of stuff
Tips for dealing with overwhelm while decluttering
- Try to separate yourself from your emotions. Pretend you are someone else helping you deal with your belongings
- Put things into perspective. Identify reaffirming statements regarding your value. You are more valuable than your possessions. It’s easy to be too hard on ourselves and put ourselves down.
- I like to tell my organizing clients that the freedom from your belongings and simplifying your life is more valuable than filling a landfill with unused stuff.
- Forgive yourself. For mistakes made, perfectionism, wasting money, not using stuff you bought. It might take some time to go through your belongings, decide what to keep and what to get rid of, but in the end, it will be worth it. We all make mistakes and we aren’t perfect. When you free yourself of the strongholds of your belongings, you will feel much better about yourself and your circumstances.
- Decide how much your time is worth. Determine if the amount of time and energy wasted on maintaining and dealing with these belongings is worth it. I have sold a lot of things on Poshmark, but was the amount it took worth it in the end based on the amount of money earned? Could my time have been better used elsewhere? Is there a way to get through the decluttering process quicker so that you can move onto something more important?
Deciding what to get rid of, making the time to declutter, and dealing with emotional obstacles are struggles we all face. Figuring out what to get rid of isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it in the end!!
I have gone through all four stages and have had to personally adjust my mindset regarding my belongings. The uncertainty of life and challenges I’ve faced have also helped put things in perspective.
It’s okay if you get rid of something you might need later. There are definitely things I’ve gotten rid of and have bought again. In the past, when I’ve gotten fed up with the amount of stuff that I have and not having places for everything, I can get a little carried away with getting rid of stuff.
Just remember how great it will feel when your home is simpler and you have more time for the things you love. Time to relax and enjoy life. The benefits of living simply far outweigh the challenges of getting rid of stuff.
What are you holding onto at the moment that you’d like to get rid of? Did you identify any problem areas that are keeping you from getting rid of things? What do you think is the most difficult aspect of decluttering?
Hi, I’m Shara
I have a passion for organizing. This stems from being naturally drawn to simplicity and structure in my home. Combined with my desire to help women achieve their goals, Simply Renewed Living was born.