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How to Emotionally Let Go of Clutter

If you’re wondering how to emotionally let go of clutter, you’re not alone. Our stuff has a lot of emotions and memories tied up with it. Even if it does just seem like “stuff.” Trust me. I know.

Shortly after one of my moves across the country, I lost my camera.  It was just a camera.  Totally replaceable.  I could probably get a better one for less money than I had spent on the one I had.

But I cried over the loss of that camera.

I had just made a big move, leaving all my friends and everything familiar behind.  I really liked that camera.  There were great memories of moments I had captured with it.  It was just one more “loss” than I could bear at that moment.

We may have emotional attachments to our possessions for a variety of reasons.  And it can be hard to let go of things, even when we know we should.  For example, when our homes are filled with the clutter of things we don’t really need, but don’t want to let go.

“As soon as I give that away, I know I’m going to need it.”

“I can’t get rid of that.  It was a gift from my good friend.”

“There’s a great memory associated with that old thing.”

Do any of these sound familiar?

If sadness about letting go of things keeps you from taking action, I get it.  Letting go can be hard.

But if you really want to make an effort to clear out some clutter, I’ve gathered some helpful tips you can try.  They really work to help you let go of the clutter and get more organized right now.

Clutter control checklist


1.  Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers

I learned this tip from Denise Allan, professional organizer and owner of Simplify Experts.

When Denise is helping a client sort through collections, she uses the methods outlined in Judith Kolberg’s book Conquering Chronic Disorganization.

Denise says:  “For example, we look at book collections and deem the books Friends, Acquaintances, or Strangers.  This is a more emotionally based organizing technique, but very powerful.”

The books that are Friends go back on the shelf.  Acquaintances go into a maybe pile.  They get one more chance to become Friends, and if they don’t make it, they’re out.

Strangers are promptly shown the door.  They immediately get taken out and put into a pile to donate.  Or if your collection has any value, perhaps you may be able to sell them.  They just can’t stay in your house anymore.

I like the concept of labeling less used items as Acquaintances or Strangers, as a means of learning to let go.  It’s much easier to say goodbye to a stranger than it is to leave a friend behind.

2.  Farewell, Not Goodbye (yet)

A friend of mine, who admits to struggling with letting anything go, uses this tip for donating items to charity.

My friend keeps a box for items to give away in the garage, adding to it over time.  She tells herself that she can always take something back out of the box if she realizes she needs it.

By keeping the donation items in the garage, she doesn’t see them frequently.  She doesn’t feel the need to constantly look at what’s there, or fret over whether she might need it.

cardboard box

Generally, when it comes time to donate the items, everything is still in the box.  My friend has learned to live without those things, sometimes even forgetting what’s in there.  But, having the option for a time to get an item back makes it easier for her to decide to let the things go.

Just don’t go back through the box before taking it to the donation center!  You may weaken your resolve.  “Hey, I forgot about this thing!  I may need it….”  Just load the box of stuff into your car and go.

3.  Photographic Memory

If it’s time for something to move out of your home, but you don’t want to fully part with it, take a picture.  That way, you can keep the memory, without keeping the actual thing.  And a picture takes up so much less storage space.

For example, several My Little Pony’s were gathering dust in my closet.  I had enjoyed them very much as a child, but clearly I didn’t need them anymore.  So, I took a few pictures, and then sold them on eBay to a woman who was thrilled to get them.  She was excited to share her own fond childhood memories with her daughter.

my little pony toys
A photo is all I need to keep of my former favorite toys.

Ticket stubs and programs get scanned, and then recycled.

That ugly old vase that you never liked, but it reminds you of the great aunt who gave it to you.  Take a picture, and then sell it.

Let it go to someone else who actually wants it, and doesn’t feel like it’s a burden.  Use the extra cash for something you love, not something that weighs you down.

Keep the memories, not the stuff.  And let the items you do have bring you joy.

Learning to let go

There are a lot of practical tips out there for how to get organized.  I’ve shared many myself.  But none of those tips will do you any good if you simply have too much stuff.

[pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]Wait!  I might need that![/pullquote]Clearing out the clutter and letting go of things can be hard.  You may feel guilty about giving away something that you associate with a loved one.  You may feel sad about moving on from something that once had special meaning to you.  Or you may feel worry that you might need those things one day.

Your emotions are real and valid.  But make an effort not to hide behind them.  Try to take a step.  Start practicing these tips.  If you need more help, consider asking a friend, or a professional organizer to work with you.

Be sure to download your free copy of our Clutter Control Checklist to help you stay on top of the clutter.  Start controlling your clutter, rather than letting it control you.

P Young

Friday 1st of June 2018

I never get rid of anything unless I DEFINITELY know I don't need or want it. It is really true that as soon as one chucks something, it's the very thing on needs the next minute. And I cannot afford to go out and buy something new every other minute. The things that I keep for emotional reasons are often grandmother's bureau for mother's very old sideboard. Other things I want to pass onto my children (those who have expressed interest, as some of the things may be a little valuable money-wise, but also it connects them to grandparents etc.


Friday 1st of June 2018

That's great that you're making intentional choices about what you keep.

Carroll Leafe

Sunday 4th of February 2018

Love your idea of the utensil tray, creates so much storage in the same drawer.


Sunday 4th of February 2018

Thanks, Carol. It was a happy accident, but adds much needed extra space to my limited kitchen storage.