Inside: Why is decluttering SO hard? If you’ve ever talked yourself out of getting rid of an item you haven’t used in years, for a reason you can’t explain, you know that decluttering is hard.

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As much as I wish it wasn’t, decluttering is a highly emotional process. It is just as much, if not more, an emotional battle as it is physically getting rid of something. 

If it weren’t for all those hard pressed emotions, decluttering would be a walk in the park. I’d even go as far as to say I bet none of us would have a spec of clutter living in our homes anymore, because as soon as we deemed something unnecessary, we’d get rid of it.

No guilt. No doubt. No second questioning our decisions.

So, Why IS Decluttering so Hard?

Decluttering is so hard because it can bring some pretty difficult emotions to light. Whether it’s a memory of a loved one, guilt over tossing something you spent way too much money on, or feeling like you’re drowning in the clutter and unsure of where to start, it can be an emotional ride.

Emotions

A few emotions you can be sure you’ll face when decluttering are: 

  • Sentiment
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Apathy

Below we’ll talk about a few things you can do to soften the blow of these emerging emotions and continue trucking on getting rid of the junk residing in your home.

How to Declutter When You Feel Emotionally Attached to Your Belongings

How to get over the guilt, fear, sadness, and lack of interest when it comes to decluttering…

The key to decluttering is to learn how to address the emotion you’re feeling so you’re able to push it aside to focus on the real problem; the item, not how you feel about it.

Before we get started: this one book is amazing and has helped countless people and families declutter their homes even when the task feels impossible.

1. Sentiment

The feelings of happiness or sadness show up when something holds sentimental value. 

This is usually the number one reason people tell me that causes them to be unable to get rid of their belongings.

The item you’re trying to get rid of may cause sadness or joy, and neither are easy to push aside. If something brings a happy memory, you may be tempted to hold on to it because you fear that getting rid of the item means getting rid of the memory.

On the contrary, if the item brings sadness, you may not want to get rid of it because it may be a memory of a loved one, and by getting rid of the item you fear you are doing a disservice to that person.

It’s important to note: not every item in your house that doesn’t have a specific purpose needs to go. Some items, sentimental items for example, may be deemed “useless” and a waste of space by some people, but to you it holds a very dear memory. 

If that’s the case, if you have somewhere in your home that you can easily and neatly store that item so that you can look at it often, it’s fine to keep it.

The problem is when every item becomes a sentimental item.

When you start to feel attached and sentimental towards items that really have no sentimental value to you, but the thought of getting rid of them causes stress and shows up in the emotion of you feeling sentimental towards it.

Another problem you may run into is if you do have dozens upon dozens of items that truly are sentimental to you, but you don’t have the space to store them all. If that’s the case, it’s time to buckle down and make hard decisions. 

Being willing to make the tough calls will be what helps free you from the clutch of clutter. It will be hard in the moment, but in the end when you’re able to decide which items are most important to you, and only keep the ones you have space for, you’ll be so glad you didn’t just keep them all, stored away in boxes or attracting dust on your shelves.

How to get rid of sentimental clutter:

Chances are, the physical item isn’t what you’re attached to. You’re attached to the person, place, or memory that the item correlates with. This is when you need to remind yourself that you can remember that person, place, or memory without the physical item.

Separate the physical item from the memory or emotional feeling.

If you can’t bring yourself to declutter the item for fear of forgetting about whatever is associated with it, snap a picture of it. Chances are, you won’t feel the need to look at the picture in the future, but at very least it’s there if you do.

2. Guilt

Another problem you may face while decluttering is keeping an item out of guilt. Maybe you got it as a gift. Maybe it’s something you bought but spent way too much money on. Whatever the case, don’t let gifts become burdens and don’t let a past mistake of spending far too much money on something cause you to hold on to it forever.

It can be hard to declutter gifts you received from someone. Whether you actually like and use it or not, you feel the need to hold on to it in the unlikely event that the gift giver will ask if you still have it, want to see you using it, or you may simply feel it’s disrespectful towards the gift giver for you to get rid of the gift.

When it comes to your home, you need to be willing to get rid of stuff if it’s doing nothing other than adding another dust-attracting item to the collection. 

If the item you’re trying to convince yourself to get rid of doesn’t make you happy and/or isn’t useful, don’t feel bad for re-gifting it or donating it to someone who could get more use out of it. 

It’s much better to give the object to someone who will actually use it than it is to store it in a box in your basement until it disintegrates.

If it’s the money you spent on an item that is chaining you to it, remember that keeping it isn’t going to undo the amount of money you spent on it – holding on to something won’t give you your money back. But what holding on to it does do is add just one more chain connecting you to your clutter. Only once you clear the items that are just clutter from your home will you be able to fully break free from the chains of it.

3. Fear

You may feel the need to hold on to items in your home longer than necessary out of fear that you’ll need them in the future.

What if 10 years down the road you end up needing that extra coffee maker you’ve been storing in the basement for the past 5 years? Or what if you end up wanting to show off that curling trophy you won 5 years ago?

You’re more than likely not ever going to have a need to show off your curling trophy (but if you’re determined you will, snap a picture of it and get rid of the trophy guilt-free).

And that coffee maker that has been in your storage room for 5 years? Wouldn’t you rather get rid of it now to free up space in your home and eliminate the stress that clutter brings from your life and risk the possibility of having to dish out 20 bucks in the future to buy a new one than hold on to it for another 10 years just in case you need it one day?

(If you’re holding on to something just in case, chances are you shouldn’t waste space in your house storing it.)

Another form of fear that people experience when decluttering is fear of giving up on yourself, of giving up on a dream. Maybe you have various knitting needles and balls of yarn that you can’t bring yourself to get rid of because you always dreamed you’d learn how to knit one day, and by getting rid of them you’re ultimately giving up on that dream, and giving up on yourself.

When it comes to a scenario like the one above, there are two options:

  • The first option is to get rid of the stuff. If you haven’t touched it in years, chances are you aren’t going to at all.
  • The second option is to actually do it. Teach yourself how to knit so that you’re actually making use out of it, but do it now, not in another year or two.

While this may be a hard emotion to address, whether you feel embarrassed for giving up on a dream or you’re not ready to admit that it’s not going to happen, it’s an important one to identify so that you are able to gain closure and move on.

4. Apathy

Maybe the problem you face with decluttering is something less emotional, but just as challenging.

Maybe you have no interest in decluttering. Or you have so much stuff that the thought of trying to declutter causes you stress. Or, maybe you’ve tried to declutter in the past only to wind up more overwhelmed than when you started.

If you feel overwhelmed by something, starting the task is next to impossible. 

This is when learning how to identify trouble areas and attack the clutter in zones comes into play. If you get overwhelmed easily, don’t look at decluttering your entire house as a job that needs to be done all at once.

Instead, grab a pen and paper and write down the biggest problem areas in your home; the areas most scattered with clutter. Then list the areas or zones starting with the zone that you would like to get decluttered first and ending with the least important zone in terms of clutter.

Maybe having cluttered kitchen cabinets drives you bonkers because it’s something you just can’t escape, but the clutter on the office shelves doesn’t stress you out as much.

In this case, you would make the kitchen zone your number one priority and the office shelves your last priority – though it’s important that you don’t leave the zones with least importance untouched. Once you’ve tackled the most stress-inducing zones in your home you must continue to even the least stress-inducing areas and rooms to ensure there is no area or item left untouched.

Clutter is a Bigger Problem Than You Think

While some people believe that having more stuff in your house than there’s room for is nothing more than an inconvenience, it’s so much of a bigger problem than that.

Clutter poses a much bigger problem than simple aesthetics. Research has shown that clutter is associated with life dissatisfaction, increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and feelings of frustration. (source)

From stress levels that tend to increase, rather than decrease, throughout the day to being unhappy, clutter has a way of seeping into the deepest areas of your life and affecting you in ways you didn’t know possible.

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Conclusion – Why is Decluttering So Hard?

At the end of the day, what it all boils down to is accepting that decluttering your house is going to bring up some unpleasant emotions that you would probably rather ignore. But it’s important to remember that living in a cluttered house makes you feel; stressed, overwhelmed, uncontent, short-tempered, or whatever it may be.

It’s necessary to identify the ugly emotions and learn how to deal with them in order to move on. When you can identify the emotions, you are able to progress. 

So go ahead – give yourself permission to get rid of the clutter. Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings and emotions, but don’t linger. Appreciate the item and the feelings it brings, and move on.

And remember: stay focussed. Don’t lose track halfway through decluttering your house – narrow in on the end goal because it’s not until you have all the clutter out of your house that you will be able to experience the truly freeing feeling of living clutter free.

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