In a previous post, I shared 6 essential decluttering tips everyone can benefit from. I encourage you to read the full post first if you haven’t done so yet so you can understand the basics before diving into more complex challenges, but here they are if you don’t have the time for it right now:
- Be clear on your why
- Research your disposal options
- Define retention rules
- Sort your castaways by disposal option
- Set deadlines.
The above tips are guaranteed to save you time and make your decisions easier when decluttering. But they might not be enough if you have a strong attachment to your belongings. So here is another series of decluttering tips for those who really struggle to let go – well, who doesn’t really?!
TIP 1: START WITH THE EASY DECISIONS, NOT THE SENTIMENTAL ITEMS
Many people hold back decluttering because they can only think of items that they know they would struggle to let go of, whether they are sentimental items such as old photos, heirlooms, or their children’s artwork, or items they have developed a strong attachment to such as clothes or books. They don’t realise there are plenty of other categories of items they wouldn’t struggle with and that would make a big difference in their homes and lives if they were to tackle those first.
Even when I’m involved assisting a client throughout the decluttering process, I always recommend starting with the category of items they have a lesser level of attachment to, whatever this category is as we all have quite different relationships to our stuff, so they can get some quick wins and build their momentum.
TIP 2: PROCEED BY ITERATIONS INSTEAD OF GOING IN ALL AT ONE GO
I know Marie Kondo advocates discarding “all at once, intensely and completely”. But if like many your clutter is the result of years of accumulation, it’s going to be a lot of stuff to face and a lot of decisions to make. You might soon suffer from decision fatigue and either give up or press on and make decisions you might eventually regret. And that will be the end of the decluttering.
My clients are often surprised when I tell them that the goal of a decluttering session is just less stuff and that they should only let go of items they feel 150% confident about letting go of. Every time, I witness how, by removing the pressure to let go, they build their confidence about decluttering and quite often let go of more than what they had anticipated.
And the thing is, by building your confidence and learning the benefits of living with less, you’ll be more inclined to revisit your choices. Over time, you’ll learn to make tougher decisions and eventually let go of stuff you thought you’d never have been able to let go of in the first place.
Decluttering is a journey, not a one-time affair, a journey that has spanned over a 10-year period as far as the decluttering of my bookshelves was concerned. Books had always been a category of items I had struggled to let go of. So, when I decided to face the music, I started purging the travel guides and the recipe books, books I had less attachment for. Then came the novels, first the ones I didn’t enjoy or hadn’t been able to finish reading and realistically wouldn’t, even though I’d have liked to read those and come across as a well-read person. Then the ones that deep down I knew nobody else in my family would be interested in. Then all the rest as they were old and probably full of dust mites and were making my son sneeze endlessly. At that point, I sold my bookshelves and created more space and energy in my home. I’d never have thought I’d reach such an outcome when I started the whole process, but the iterative process gave me the confidence to carry on.
TIP 3: OUT OF SIGHT
I believe there’s a right time to part with our things and that our minds need to process the evidence that we no longer need them. In that case, putting them out of sight might be the first step towards freeing ourselves from their burden. But you need to attach a deadline to it, otherwise, you might turn your home into a storage unit or end up storing them in a self-storage unit and pay a monthly storage fee for stuff that’s unlikely to see light again.
Let’s take clothes. Many clients resist letting go of clothes that don’t fit, hoping they might fit in them at some stage. I advise them to keep the ones they really like and would consider wearing again but to put them out of sight on the higher shelves of their wardrobe for example. To ensure that those clothes are not forgotten, I ask them to mark a date in their diary say 3 or 6 months later, and check at that point whether they do fit and whether they still like them. Most of the time, part of, if not all, those clothes will go, even before the deadline, because they might realise that they have more than enough clothes in their wardrobe, or because they rather treat themselves with new clothes after losing weight.
And for those who still struggle to let go at that point, you can always repeat the cycle. The greatest advantage is that you won’t get confused with clothes that don’t fit you in your “active wardrobe” which will save you a lot of time getting dressed. Also removing the feeling of guilt for not being of their ideal weight when facing clothes they couldn’t fit in has helped some of my clients lose weight.
If weight is not the issue, yet you have too many clothes in your wardrobe, try Courtney Carver’s Project 333 whereby you select 33 items of clothing with which you’ll get dressed for the next 3 months and box up the remainder of the wardrobe and put it out of sight. At the minimum, you’ll be able to remove some stress from getting dressed. But you could also learn the benefits of living with less and be prepared to let go of some of your clothes at some stage.
TIP 4: REPURPOSE
Besides helping the environment by reducing the amount of waste, repurposing, also known as upcycling, can be a creative way to give a second life to an item that has outlived its purpose yet that you struggle to let go of.
Something that was purely decorative can be turned into something functional. A silverware bowl or jar can be turned into a key or pencil holder for example.
Or the other way around. Something functional can be turned into something decorative. Your late mother’s national costume, which is taking space in your wardrobe and that you know you won’t be wearing but that you struggle to let go of, can be turned into a pillow cover to be displayed on your bed or couch.
TIP 5: REGIFT
I’ve come to realise in my years as a professional organiser but also from personal experience that many of us find it easier to let go when we think of someone who might enjoy our item as much or even more than we did.
I mentioned earlier that books used to be a category of items difficult for me to let go of. Today, I don’t keep books I’ve read except for some reference materials such as business and self-help books. What helped me part with them was the realisation that they had served their purpose for me but could be enjoyed by someone else. One of my greatest satisfactions in reading a book has become figuring out who I can pass it on to and who might enjoy it.
Now it shouldn’t be assumed that people want our stuff. So, it’s important not to force your items onto someone but to be respectful and let them decide if they want it or not. At the end of the day, you don’t want your stuff cluttering someone else’s life.
TIP 6: TAKE A PHOTO
We tend to think that we need the physical item to keep intact the memory of the person who passed it to us or of the event in which we acquired it. But this is not true. My grandmother whom I loved had given me many items that over the years I decided to let go of, but I can tell you she is still very much in my heart.
Now if you are really worried about losing the memory by letting go of the item, take a photo and either simply store it on your computer (make sure it’s organised so you can easily retrieve it) or make a photo album with your special memories.
I recently helped a 7-year-old declutter and organise her bedroom. Her mum had warned me of her strong attachment to things. We played a game whereby she would sing whether she wanted to KEEP, BIN, or take a PICTURE of her artwork before letting go of it. She subsequently took all the photos and stored them in an app called ArtKive. She was very pleased with her decisions and said afterward that she didn’t have any regrets.
TIP 7: THANK THE ITEMS FOR HAVING SERVED THEIR PURPOSE
According to Marie Kondo, “By saying ‘thank you,’ you are respecting the spirit of the items that you’re letting go of with gratitude, instead of getting rid of them with negativity or force.”
People who form a strong emotional attachment to their stuff and struggle to let go might indeed feel better about their decision by showing appreciation for the items that have been part of their lives. This ritual was instrumental in helping the teenage son of one of my clients let go of his belongings.
TIP 8: FACE THE DISCOMFORT
Sometimes we don’t realise how much our clutter weighs us down until we face it. So, at some stage, you’ll need to face that stuff you’ve been holding onto and ask yourself deep down how it makes you feel – ashamed, resentful, guilty, sad, angry, etc. I know it’s going to bring you a lot of discomfort but please sit down with it. Because unless you ask yourself the hard questions and are true to yourself, you will struggle to let go.
The thing is that keeping those items is not going to change your reality. But by letting go of the physical stuff, you’ll free yourself from the unnecessary emotional and mental burden of your clutter. You’ll free yourself from the overwhelm and the shame. You’ll free yourself from the guilt and the resentment. And trust me, this is priceless. Much more than the price of the most expensive dress or kitchen appliance in your cabinets.
I experienced myself that holding on was in fact weighing me down more than letting go. I had kept until my son was 6 years old all the baby stuff hoping for a second child who never came. So, one day, because of space constraints, I decided it was time to let go. It was tough to let go of the idea of having a larger family. But in the process, I learned to feel contented with the family I had and started to look forward to our future together.
A few years later, my father passed away and left behind a garage full to the brim with 40 years’ worth of stuff. It took me a total of 3 weeks to clear it. In addition to dealing with his loss, I had to deal with a range of emotions when going through his belongings. I told myself that I would save that pain to my son and it has made me more resolute in being very intentional about what I’m keeping in my home.
Based on my own personal and professional experience helping people declutter their lives, I know most people struggle to let go, at least in some areas of their homes. So I hope the above tips can support you as you embark on your own decluttering journey. I’d love to know what has worked for you!
I also want you to know that there’s no shame in asking for help if you feel stuck. As Aloise, one of my lovely clients said, “It’s easy to say that one can do this alone, but I haven’t in twenty years, though the mindset has now been created, thanks to Nathalie.” I’m here to provide you with the hands-on help and emotional support you need. Feel free to reach out if you want to have a chat.