The first step to an organized space is visualization. The first ACTION step to an organized space is decluttering. It's choosing which of your possessions you want to keep - which you use, which you love, and which brings you joy. It's letting go of guilt, the parts of the past that aren't part of your future, and the weight (literally and figuratively) of clutter. Decluttering clears the way (again: literally and figuratively) for you and your family to live the life you want and deserve. The first step to getting what you want is getting rid of what you don't. Wow, right? But those of you who have started decluttering know: it's easier said than done.
Why is Decluttering so Freakin' Hard?
If decluttering was as simple as keeping what you use and like and letting go of what you don't, there wouldn't be millions of books, articles, and websites on the subject. So, why the struggle? Because as much as we like to say "it's just stuff", the truth is: it isn't. It's our hopes and dreams and our history and our family and our successes and failures and the hours we worked and the lives we thought we'd lead and our experiences and our struggles - it's not just an item on a shelf. It has a story. It's worth something. We want to get rid of stuff, but.... We should let it go, but.... So, how do we get past this and move forward?
Clutter is anything we don't need, want, or use that takes our time, energy, or space, and destroys our serenity.
7 Reasons You Can't Possibly Let It Go
If you use it or love it or it brings you joy or makes you smile, by all means: keep it! We never force our clients to part with something they don't want to part with. It's their life, their home, and their stuff - they always get to choose. We help clients think about why they want to keep something, and determine whether it's really something they want to have in their home. Many of our clients are simply stuck. They want a professional, experienced, outside perspective. They have different stories and different goals, but they do repeat these seven common struggles.
#1 Reason We Can't Declutter: But I Might Need It
It's true. You might use any of those padded envelopes you saved from the trash or that sixth spatula with the weird handle. (The fact is, f you have multiples, you'll always reach for your favorites. So just keep the favorites.) But it's not just multiples. It's that thing you never used but could see the possibility of using it...someday, maybe. There aren't any plans, but it is a thing that could be used, and since you have one, you just might use it. Like a punch bowl or multi-tiered cupcake stand. Or travel mugs when you don't drink coffee. Or an extra floating shelf. The possibilities are endless.
If it's not difficult or expensive to replace, let it go. Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond will have the latest version when and if you do need it. Let them store it. Your space is limited.
If you're accepting, saving, and storing things you might need someday, where's the line? There are limitless potential futures and a limitless number of things you may need. There is a huge possibility here of getting crowded out by your potential futures and not having the room you need to live your present.
If you let it go and did need it, what could you use in its place? Odds are, you have something else that would work just as well. And if you have multiples, you'll always reach for your favorites. So, why not just keep the favorites?
If you're still not sure, you can always put it in storage for a few months and see whether you go searching for it.
#2 Reason We Can't Declutter: But Someone Else Might Need or Want It
I'm going to say it: You deserve to live your life as you like in your home surrounded by the stuff you use and love. Your home is not someone else's storage unit or dumping ground! I know. I'm terrible.
To all the parents storing their kid's stuff while they're off to college or starting their new lives: I get it. I think it's great that you're able to give them a head start in this way. You're keeping their stuff safe while they finish up their education or travel or get started in their new place. That's fantastic. The sticking point is the timeline: it's temporary. If you have adult children with their own homes and families and established jobs or careers, it's time. They need to come get their stuff and give you your home back. If they don't have room for it in their homes, they can figure it out. They can declutter or get more storage or store it offsite - as long as that "offsite" isn't your home. And they can pay for it. Again, I'm terrible. But it's time to honor yourself and your home.
If you're holding onto things you think your daughter might like or your son might use, ask them. If they don't need or want it, then you can declutter it without guilt. The culture has changed, and the next generation values different things and experiences. If they do want it, give it to them or let them store it.
#3 Reason We Can't Declutter: But It's Worth Money/I Paid So Much For It/I Want to Sell It
It's natural. to want to recoup some of what you spent. Understand this can be a huge roadblock, preventing you from getting where you want to be. If you want to sell something, great! Give yourself a deadline. If you haven't posted it in a week, you let it go. If it hasn't sold in another week, let it go. This depends, of course, on the item's size/worth. Larger-ticket items may take longer to move. The important part is that you make a deadline and stick to it. Anything less gets you a pile of stuff you're "going to sell one day".
You may have to face facts: that item you think is worth something, may not be worth anything. It doesn't matter what you paid for it, or what you saw it listed for on ebay. If no one is actually buying, it's not worth anything.
Selling takes time. What's your time worth? I mostly advice against it. The time it takes to photograph the item and list it and respond to various inquiries and to meet with the person - assuming they show - just isn't worth it for most of what we're trying to offload.
Sometimes the joy you get comes from the act of purchasing. And that's it. That's ok, but now it's time to pass it on so it can bring joy to someone else. Sometimes the act of decluttering and reflecting on things we've brought into our homes teaches us what we shouldn't have bought in the first place. Ouch. Not the easiest lesson to learn, but it's a good one that will help us from repeating the pattern. Would you buy it again today? How much are you paying to store it? If you think storage cost is zero, think again. You pay for your home and you pay to heat/air condition your home, etc. If you got rid of everything - or even just a large portion of it - you no longer need or what, could you downsize?
#4 Reason We Can't Declutter: But I Have Room For It
If you keep it because you have room, eventually you won't have room for what you love. THe more you have, more that needs repair and maintenance. Plus, less clutter in your home means it's easier to clean.
Remember: clutter is anything we don't need, want, or use that takes our time, energy, or space, and destroys our serenity. Clutter dilutes what you truly treasure.
Clutter dilutes what you truly treasure.
#5 Reason We Can't Declutter: But It's Perfectly Good/Still Works
Bottom line here: if you're not using it, don't love it, and it doesn't bring you joy, you're paying rent to store it. It may be paid in cash or paid in guilt, sadness, frustration, depression, anxiety, and time.
If you're not using it, don't love it, and it doesn't bring you joy, you're paying rent to store it.
Bottom line, if it's perfectly good and still works, you're in a wonderful position because you have options. If you haven't had it long, you may still be able to return it. If that isn't an option, you can donate it. Find a friend or family member who can use it. Look into groups or organizations that speaks to you, and support them. (If you're in or near the Wilmington, NC area, check out DonateILM.com for local options.)
#6 Reason We Can't Declutter: But It Was a Gift
Gifts are meant to make us happy. Sometimes receiving the gift is the happiness we get from it. Would they want you to keep something you don't want? If they knew it's not something you need or can use or just not your taste? Pass it on.
If you answered, "Yes. They would expect me to keep it, and they would be upset if I gave it away", it's time for a deeper dive. First, are you sure? It's common to feel guilt in these instances, and it's possible that your fear of hurting someone's feelings comes more from that guilt than from whether the gift-giver would actually be hurt.
If someone gives you a gift, regardless of the time or expense involved, you are not obligated to keep it. Again: if someone gives you a gift, regardless of the time or expense involved, you are not obligated to keep it. This is your life, your home, and your space. You deserve to be surrounded by things you use, love, and that bring you joy - not things that make you feel guilt and bring you down. If there's someone in your life that expects you to use and display everything they've given you over the years, you have choices.
To avoid confrontation, you can keep and display everything until one of you dies. Ouch, right? There are instances where I would possibly advocate for this, but they are very, very, very, very rare. You could open yourself up and be truthful with the gift-giver. Let them know you really appreciate the thought, the time, and the expense that went into the gifts, but it's just not something you or your family can use. You value the gift, and you're choosing to pass it on so that someone else can use and enjoy it. This is not a magic answer that avoids all hurt feelings, but it's the truth. What the gift-giver chooses to do with this information is out of your control.
Re-Gifting is always an option, and I'm 100% for it as long as it's something you truly believe the recipient can use or will enjoy, or you risk putting them in the same position.
#7 Reasons We Can't Declutter: But It Belonged to a Friend or Relative Who Passed
When someone we love passes on, we want to honor and preserve their memory. Having a physical reminder of someone we cherish is a wonderful way to keep their memory close. With this always comes a risk that the past will overwhelm the present and that our homes and lives will be overwhelmed and stymied by these items.
If you find yourself surrounded by too many mementos that you "can't bear" to part with, start by listing your favorite memories of that person and the times you spent together. Would they want you to be buried by the stuff they left behind? What do you have that best represents these meaningful times? Keep what you cherish the most and what symbolizes the relationship you had with that person. If you always cooked together, keep the recipe cards. If she taught you how to sew and crochet, keep the sewing box and a few crochet hooks. If your most fond memories of him were in the woodshop, keep the hammer and a few tools. If Christmas was a meaningful holiday, keep the tree topper and some cherished ornaments. If they loved entertaining, keep some favorite serving pieces.
Instead of the entire collection, keep your favorite, small portion: a few pieces of china, or a tea cup, or a few tools, or a small box of ornaments. Pass on the rest. Reach out to family members or other friends to see whether they would like something from this person's life.
The key here is to ask yourself how you can best honor your relationship. Whatever you choose, make sure you display or use it in a way that honors their memory. Click here to read about a client who was able to do just that.
Common Emotions: Guilt & Fear
All these reasons have a common thread: guilt and fear. Guilt for spending the money and not using the thing, fear of running out, guilt for not fitting into the clothes, fear of never losing the weight, guilt for giving away something your grandmother once cherished, fear of judgement, guilt for not liking a gift, fear of confrontation, guilt for not following through with a project, fear of growing older, guilt for not doing what we "should" do, fear of not contributing, guilt for having too much, fear of losing it all, etc.
Stuff is never just stuff. It's emotions and experiences and people and relationships. If it was just stuff, you could easily keep what you need and like and let the rest go. If you absolutely don't want to part with something for any reason, then don't. It's always your choice. You may feel the same about it months and years from now, but you may not. Maybe it's not time now, but it will be later.
If you're caught on something and can't decide whether to keep it or let it go, respect your apprehension and look into it a bit further. What does this item mean to you? Why the hesitation? Does it fall into one of the categories above? As much as we advocate decluttering, if you're truly unsure, keep it for now. This will not and should not be the only time you declutter. Your life, wants, and needs change, and so will your stuff. You may see it through different eyes later and have a much easier time deciding.
This is your life and space. This is about you taking back control, and that includes you deciding what gets to stay and what goes.
Would you like to live a more organized life? Contact us today to get started!
I'm Jen, a professional organizer ready to help you take charge of your space, free up your time, and lead a more organized life! (Read more about me here)