Why is decluttering so hard? Decluttering causes an entire host of emotions, and it is important to learn how to overcome those emotions if you want to be successful.
Decluttering usually starts with feeling overwhelmed. It’s that feeling that gets you to tackle the first junk drawer or the first room. It turns into pride and a lifted weight that comes when you finish decluttering.
However, there is this other side to decluttering that can be the reason so many people stop before they even get started. It is the messy middle. The emotions you will face when getting rid of stuff can be powerful. The reasons are extensive, and they can hold a power over you and make you feel like a failure.
Since decluttering can be hard and an emotional endeavor, I’m hoping I can help you derail some of these challenges by letting you know they are coming. I want to give you some tools to work through the challenges, and make sure you keep moving forward!
Why is decluttering hard? How to overcome emotions with decluttering:
Guilt from decluttering
There will be guilt when you declutter for a multitude of reasons:
- Guilt for money spent unnecessarily
- Guilt over presents that were given to you that you don’t enjoy
- Guilt over taking away things from your kids (even though you know they don’t need them)
- Guilt for getting rid of something passed on to you (that you don’t like!)
Guilt is the reason we hold on to so many things in our home that we don’t need or enjoy! Don’t let guilt force you to hold onto items that don’t bring you joy and clutter your home.
Guilt over money spent
If you feel guilty over money spent, it is a sunk cost at this point. Learn from your mistakes. Stop spending unnecessarily and find other things to do instead of shopping. Sell the items if it makes you feel better.
One of the great things about embracing a simpler, more minimalist life, is that you find greater joy in spending less. You will make up the money ten folds if you keep up with this journey. I promise.
Guilt over presents that were given to you
If you feel guilty letting go of presents that were given to you, find someone else to pass them on to that will get joy from them. Give the item to someone in need. Chances are the person who gave you the item will never know it is gone. If they do, tell them you found it a home where it could get used even more, but still express your gratitude for the gift.
Did you know how much waste America produces every year throwing away gifts or hiding gifts in storage they don’t like? It’s a lot! Finder.com reported it will be around $13 billion in unwanted gifts just this year! That’s a lot of gifts in the trash (or future trash). For this reason, I love experience gifts. No trash, and usually it is something that will help create a memory rather than guilt for someone I love down the road!
Guilt over getting rid of toys
When you get rid of the clutter in your kid’s rooms, you may have a moment where you feel like a bad mom. I mean, you are taking away their toys! Let that thought go right now!
There are a ton of benefits to kids having fewer toys, including increased creativity and increased gratitude for the toys they do enjoy. Talk to your kids about living with less, and focus on the positives.
Guilt over heirlooms
Finally, if you are feeling guilty about items passed on to you, but you really get no joy from them, see if you can find another family member that would get greater joy from the item. Repurpose the item if you think you can use it, or at the very least, use the item. Don’t let it keep sitting in storage.
If it is something you will never use, think about why you hold on to it. Could you take a picture instead? Could you display the item? Could you give it to a family member or friend? Find the item life outside of a box.
Remember your WHY
When faced with the emotion of guilt, always come back to why you want to declutter your home. By holding on to certain things, are you honoring that desire? Could you be helping someone else by letting go of an item? Think of all the people you can help if you let go of something that is collecting dust in your home.
If you are looking for permission to let something go, I grant it! (If only it were that easy! But seriously, if you need anybody, even a stranger to tell you it’s ok…IT’S OK!)
“Just in case” syndrome
This is a big excuse for holding on to clutter in our house.
We can’t get rid of XYZ because we might need it. This is a conversation my husband and I have about everything in the garage. Everything is so useful!
If you grew up without having much or are living on a lower income right now, letting go of stuff is hard. It is especially hard if you can’t go out and buy a replacement if needed down the road.
While it is difficult to declutter when you can’t afford to buy replacements, you can still often get past the “just in case” dilemma.
Things to consider to overcome “just in case”:
- Think about how you use the item in question.
- When was the last time you used it?
- Would you ever use it again?
- Do you have the space to store it?
- Do you have something else that could do the same job?
- If needed again, could you borrow it from someone for a one time use?
I know I went a little crazy when we first decluttered our home. I got rid of a lot of stuff!
Were there a couple things I wish I had not purged? You better believe it! Yet, I was adaptable. I learned I could make do with what was already in my home.
Put some serious thought into the items you are keeping. Be honest with yourself.
Remember, you can always adapt, borrow, or even rent later on, if you really need something. Chances are though if you haven’t used it and have no plans to use it, you probably don’t need it!
This will definitely be a hurdle you will have to overcome when decluttering sentimental items in your home.
If you come across something sentimental, think about why it means so much to you. Think about the item’s function, and then make a decision on how to hold on to it or if you should let it go.
Sounds simple enough, I know. Until you are actually making a decision about an item, then come the emotions!
Use sentimental items you are storing
One way to get past the emotion of purging sentimental stuff is to actually use the sentimental items you are storing.
For example, we inherited three beautiful quilts. I hated the thought of these quilts sitting in storage, yet I couldn’t afford to dry clean them. So I did what any sensible person would do, I put antique quilts in a washing machine with an agitator.
My husband almost lost his mind. I don’t blame him, but I was sick and tired of looking at that box taking up space in my closet. You know what? The quilts survived!
I love these quilts. One was on my daughter’s bed for a long time, and the others are used on our guest beds. Will they fall apart one day in the washing machine? Probably. Until then, I get to enjoy three beautiful quilts that otherwise sat in storage for more than ten years!
Enjoy the sentimental items you are holding on to. Got a special vase? Put it on your dining room table with flowers? An old picture frame? Hang it on the wall! Don’t let your memories sit collecting dust. Even if they won’t last forever because you are using them, they will help generate new memories for you and your family.
Repurpose sentimental items
If all else fails, if you really hate the idea of getting rid of something but it is past its useful life, then please repurpose it. Give it new life! Stop letting it collect dust. I don’t mean putting the item in a box to repurpose “one day”. I mean repurpose it now (or at least in the foreseeable future). Give it an actual project date on your calendar!
Turn old t-shirts into a quilt or pillowcase. Repurpose an old bottle into a lamp base. Get creative. Pinterest is full of amazing ideas.
Take photos of sentimental items before purging them
You can also take pictures of items you want to remember. Sometimes a picture that helps you remember something can provide the same joy as holding on to an item we don’t really care that much about anymore.
You can even take those pictures and put them all in a digital scrapbook, something you may actually look at more often!
Limit your storage boxes for sentimental items
One of the most successful strategies I used when keeping sentimental items was to limit my number of storage containers. I’m not cold-hearted. I like to keep things of high sentimental value. Sometimes, these items cannot be displayed or used, and they can only be saved. That’s ok!
Determine how many storage containers you are comfortable holding on to for sentimental items. My husband and I each saved two storage containers each and one shared container. That seems like a lot, but one of those containers holds our wedding mementos, love notes, and other things we want to keep and cherish. Each of my kids also has one storage container for memories.
When you limit your storage options, it becomes easier to let go of things because you know you are only holding on to the things that truly matter and bring you joy. They are the things you don’t want to forget and don’t want to find a new home.
How to manage an uncooperative spouse or grumpy kids when decluttering
Your reason to declutter is most likely driven by a personal reason. The most important lesson you will have to learn is this is YOUR journey. It is not your spouse’s journey. It is not your kids’ journey. Will they likely be along for the ride? Yes. However, you cannot force them into this journey. Getting them to cooperate with your endeavors may take a little time.
The best thing you can do to get your family on board is to communicate with them. Tell them your WHY. Let them know your motivations for wanting a cleaner and more organized home.
My husband fought me at first. We NEEDED all the things we were keeping in our basement, including bins full of pre-school papers and toys that were thirty years old, cracked and brittle. I mean, his mom held on to them for thirty years. It would be disrespectful to her to let go of this stuff. He was also convinced our kids would love looking through it one day.
One day, after having enough of the floor to ceiling bins in our basement, I challenged him to test his theory. I found old toys that were age appropriate for our kids. We presented them to our children. For the ones they wanted to keep, they went to the toy box. The ones they didn’t care about, the recycle bin or garbage.
Take your time with your family
My husband and I went through one box of his at a time in the basement, when he was ready. I didn’t dictate what we would keep or get rid of. I let him decide. You know what happened? By about the third box, he was letting go of things so much faster! He was getting excited about the extra space we were gaining in our home, and he was initiating the decluttering on his own.
It took my husband time, and it was my job to give him that time when it was needed. That was his journey. I had my own.
Therefore, your spouse’s side of the bed may remain messy for a while, even after you declutter your bedroom. Don’t go touching their stuff! (Lessons learned the hard way.) Embrace the things you can control. There is a lot in the house you can do without taking away from your family!
Purging your kids’ stuff
Kids can be a little different.
Depending on the age of your children, you may be able to go into their rooms one day and completely transform what’s in there. I admittedly did that when I first started decluttering because my kids were so young.
Then, we started to talk about our toys, why we didn’t buy toys just for the sake of buying them, and as they get older, they have become much more active in our regular mini-purges.
If your kids are older, involve them! Talk about your goals and be positive. They too will start to notice the difference in your home, and likely, appreciate it.
Related post: Teaching minimalism to children
Recognize the emotions and remember your WHY
When you declutter your home, you will inevitably have to work through some complicated emotions. The easiest thing to do is recognize the emotions and remember your WHY. Remember why you are cleaning out your home, and why you want to be done living with clutter. Don’t let emotions be your excuse. You can do this!
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