Decluttering is Hard. 5 Reasons why and Ways to Overcome It
Decluttering is hard. Not only is it physically taxing but it is also mentally taxing. Especially for those of us who struggle with letting things go.
Decluttering is a mind game, so to speak. One that we lose time and time again. But there are ways that we can win, if we find the right tools and learn to talk to ourselves properly.
Why is Decluttering so Hard?
Looking around your home and seeing stuff everywhere can be overwhelming. As the years go on we accumulate “stuff”, Everything from birthday cards to large pieces of furniture just fill ours homes.
If I am not directly looking for it, I don’t see the clutter. We become numb to the things filling our home. This “stuff” is everywhere. Closets, cabinets, garages, spare bedrooms, laundry rooms, under our beds…
We tuck our items away and make a mental note of where it is for when we need it… if that time ever comes.
Research says that people only use only 20% of their things- 80% of the time.
How crazy is that? 20% of our things.. But think about it. When was the last time you wore every piece of clothing you own in a year? Or when was the last time 100% of your dishes were being used? Those numbers blew my mind.
Realistically, I know I should get rid of a lot of stuff but it is so hard for me to do that. So many emotions flood through my body when I think about going through my things and getting rid of them. I need to declutter my laundry room but the thought of going in there completely overwhelms me and I, instead, close the door and refuse to look at it. The room is so packed with things that I am having a hard time trying to figure out where to even begin.
On top of the complete overwhelm, I also deal with the anxiety of possibly having to get rid of stuff that I need or that I’ve had for years. Decluttering is so hard for me having come from a family that hoards and I know I’m not alone.
Where do I Even Start?
First things first, we have to understand what decluttering actually means. Decluttering isn’t throwing away things that mean everything to you. It means getting rid of useless objects that are causing clutter and making the space untidy.
So you aren’t getting rid of family photos, but you might get rid of the broken frame it is in. Or the package that the photos came in that has 20 wallets inside that you aren’t giving to people.
I also want to point out that while a lot of people will say to take everything out of a space and sort it all, sometimes that can be very overwhelming for me because the space is already so crowded and if I put everything in the middle of the room my brain can’t function enough to even see individual items in the pile.
So what I will do is take one item at a time and decide what to do with it.
Ask yourself: (per Clutterbug)
- Have I used this in the last year?
- Do I love it?
- Would I buy it again?
If you answer no, then the item can likely move onto it’s next home. If you are unsure, place the item in a box to re-evaluate later.
You don’t have to start with overwhelming spaces first. You can start with small things, like a junk drawer. Choosing small spaces to declutter first gives us that quick reward and satisfaction that we crave. Seeing small progress will give you the motivation to move onto a bigger space. You don’t have to take on an entire room. You can do a closet or a kitchen cabinet first.
Decluttering the “Just in Case” and “I Might Need This One Day” things
Some of us have a lot of things stuffed everywhere for the “just in case” moments. Or because of the “I might need this one day” mindset.
I struggle with this a bit when it comes to craft supplies even though I don’t craft every day. I justify keeping random craft supplies because Ember will probably come home with a project to do for school one day and I’ll already have it.
The only crafting I tend to do is making vinyl decals with my Silhouette. So I have a mountain of scrap pieces that I figure I can make small things, like bows on a picture or letters. But the truth is, I haven’t used a scrap piece in years because when I need to make something, using those small pieces is hard so I always reach for the bigger pieces. Yet, there the scraps sit.
What I have to remind myself is that I can easily replace a poster board for like $3 so I don’t need to keep five of them in my cabinet for the one time a year we might need it.
I also have to factor out whether the item is more important than the space it is occupying. Would I rather have these poster boards rolled up and shoved in this cabinet or would I rather have this cabinet to store the things I use often? Do I need this box of scraps that I’m not touching or could I use the space to better organize the large pieces I actually use?
A lot of minimalist live by a thing called the 20/20 rule. If you can replace it for less than $20 in 20 minutes, then you don’t have to keep it. Now, I live about thirty minutes from the nearest Walmart, so that rule may not apply to me directly, but the concept still applies. I can easily order from Amazon and have the item I need in two days.
Ask yourself this: “What is the worst thing that can happen if I get rid of this item.” You might have to buy a new one if, for some reason, you need it again? Maybe you have to borrow from a friend? The likely hood of you needing the item in the future is slim. You already haven’t used it in, how long? Do you really think you will?
This is the idea that resources are, or may become, limited. People with this mindset tend to stock pile things like canned goods, paper items, or bottled water in fear that they will not have access to these items in the future.
People who grew up in a household that was low on food or money tend to stock pile things in fear that they, too, will be low on food and money one day.
Going to the grocery store and buying bulk meats that are on sale, for instance , because you have the money now and might now have it later is an example. I don’t mean buying an extra pack of ground meat, I mean buying 10-20lbs and putting in the deep freezer and then never having the chance to eat it, allowing it to go bad.
It is a very hard to break the habit of always being in fear of not having something when you need it. Especially when there was a time that you suffered from not having it. I remember when I was struggling to buy groceries for Ember and me and I was watering down whole milk into two gallons and freezing the gallon we were drinking from.
I had to stretch every bit of food we had because groceries were just so expensive and I couldn’t keep up.
Having lived that, I am terrified to get to that point again, of having to stretch our food so much and worrying constantly about what we are going to eat. So when I have an extra five dollars, I’ll grab another pack of beans or rice. If I see something is low in the panty, like tomato sauce, I’ll grab two or three more cans.
Having the over abundance of things comes in handy when we are faced with natural disasters, like hurricanes. When Hurricane Ida tore through Louisiana our house flooded and we were out of power for just about a month. So having those extra goods did come in handy but I didn’t actually need extra of everything and I didn’t have extra of everything we actually needed at the time. Stock piled things like freezer foods all went to waste.
That was a pretty hard lesson to learn. Emergency stashes need to be the appropriate items. Not everything can be stockpiled.
Getting out of this mindset is hard. Now that I plan our weekly meals I have to remind myself that I don’t need extra of everything because the majority of the bulk goes bad before we use it. I try very hard to get just what we need but I still feel that pull to grab things for storage.
I, then, remind myself that I have what I need for an emergency and I don’t need more. The more I remind myself of that, the easier it gets.
Decluttering Things of Value and the thought of Losing Money
This is one of the big things that my family had issues with while I was growing up. If something looks like it has “value” it is staying right where it is. This goes for any and everything, really. Old furniture found on the side of the road, old books, magazines, cassette tapes, VHS tapes… the list goes on.
If the old books we believe have value aren’t early editions and in pristine condition then we aren’t even going to get half of the money we spent on them back. Instead, we’re losing money by letting it sit.
I was told over and over again about how “this will be worth money some day”. And perhaps the holiday Barbies that were sitting in the box, untouched, for years will be worth something one day. However, worth money or not, it’s not doing us any good sitting there.
If we don’t plan to sell the item then why does it’s value matter? If the item is unused and we aren’t selling it, we are letting it lose it’s value right there. The item becomes useless.
Something else I struggle with is letting something go that I’ve spent money on. I feel like I’m throwing my money away if I let the item go. I have a juicer that I bought, spur of the moment, because I believed I was going to juice all the time. Spent $100 on it. I used it about 3 times, realized I hate juice and now it just sits on the top of our freezer.
I haven’t donated it yet because I’m still struggling with the guilt of having spent $100 on it. After writing this up I plan to pull it down and post it for sale because I realize how irrational I am being. It is leaving my home.
Every time I can work up the courage to declutter a room I have to remind myself that my space is more valuable than any object. The money has already been spent. It is gone, Whether I keep the item or not the money is gone. I am wasting the items value and worth by letting it sit, unused. Instead, I can give it to someone who will use it.
Some people have a hard time letting items go because they are worried to lose a part of who they are. This could be trophies from sports in school. Craft supplies for crafty people. College text books and notes.
Anything that you feel that made you who you are.
Your items do not define who you are. Your items to do define your worth. Having more doesn’t make you superior. Having a little doesn’t make you inferior.
If you got rid of your text books from college, you will still have your degree. You are just ridding yourself of clutter. Clutter that is serving you no purpose. If you don’t plan to read those books again, then they serve you no purpose. If you don’t plan to use that material to make something, it is just taking up space. Space you could be using for a material you do love and you will use.
Challenge yourself and the things that are in question. Take those items and put them in a box. If you don’t use them in, say, the next two months, it has to go. They are taking up space that you could have things you will use. These items are causing you to cheat yourself of the satisfaction you get when you complete the things you love to do. Like read another book in a series or make another craft.
I just recently went through my craft cabinet. We don’t craft often but it was overrun. I didn’t know what was even in there. I had two packs of shirts for Ember’s school projects. Of the same size. All because I didn’t know I had the first one. There were two shirts I’ve actually needed and now I have 8 just sitting there. Next year, they won’t even fit her. I wasted money.
After decluttering that craft cabinet I can see everything in there. I know exactly what we have. No more wasting time searching and no more wasting money on things I already have. Instead of feeling overwhelmed when I open up that cabinet I get excited about the crafts I’ll get done.
Decluttering Sentimental Items
This is the part of decluttering that is the hardest for me. Growing up, my mom was very attached to her belongings and she raised me to be the same. Every single item that sparked a memory was something to keep. Every. Single. Thing.
She kept school papers, scribbles I had done, birthday party favors, hair, umbilical stump.. Just everything.
Growing up, I always heard, “XYZ gave you that. Don’t get rid of it.” So, in turn, that’s how I lived.
When my grandmother passed away my parents took in so much stuff that it filled an entire bedroom with no walk space. They had craft supplies, furniture, breakables, collections, clothes…. I found her dentures in the clutter.
My mom and dad refused to let it all go because my grandma had “willed” it to them. They felt like they didn’t have a choice and if they didn’t take it all they were somehow dishonoring her. Whether they wanted the stuff or not, it was staying.
When my dad moved out the house after my mom passed, he started going through some of that stuff and started sending it with my sister and me. I had to be stern and let him know that I just didn’t have the room but I still think I offended him. At the end of the day, I was guilted into taking so many things because, “your grandmother loved this” and “your mom would want you to have this”.
I suppose, in my dad’s head, he was decluttering. In reality, he was only passing on his clutter to us.
Now that I am facing the truth here and realizing that I have to declutter it all, I am haunted with, “that was your grandmas” and “your momma loved that” and it makes me feel physically ill to think about having to let this stuff go.
I am getting it out little by little, though, with reminders that while my mom isn’t here anymore, the object doesn’t hold the memory, my mind does. This item brought my mom joy but it doesn’t bring me joy and it is actually making me unhappy.
Instead of letting it sit here, I can give it to someone so it can continue to ignite joy. By decluttering and sending things to a new home I am not disrespecting my mother or my grandmothers memory. I am respecting myself and my own happiness. In the end, I believe my grandmother and mom would want me to be happy.
We will always have the memories but we need the space to continue to make new memories. We don’t need the objects.
Decluttering is Hard but we can Overcome it
Decluttering is a slow process for some of us but it is achievable. Taking it at a pace that we can mentally handle makes a huge difference in the eventual success. Getting our home decluttered and organized doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time, but you can do this.
Remember the peace that a clean and tidy spot will bring you. Remember that you and your happiness is more important than any money spent on an object. You will always be you and our memories are with us, not with our things.
I would love to help support you through your decluttering journey. Please send me a message and I’ll be happy to help you through your journey.