Lots of us want to be clutter busters, but we've got emotional issues with our stuff hindering us from decluttering.
How do I know this? I know it because many of you shared that your emotional reactions and thoughts about your stuff were the main thing holding you back from decluttering your home. You can read these heart felt comments (and share your own) at the bottom of the Decluttering Your Home Series Introduction Page, to see if you identify with anything anyone shared. I know I did.
Not everyone has exactly the same reactions and thought processes about decluttering, and not everyone has the exact same issues holding them back from the process, but I did notice many common themes. These themes are all things I know I can relate to, at least to some extent, and I'm betting many others of us can too.
What follows is a discussion of the major themes I discovered from examining your responses to the obstacles you faced in decluttering your homes, so we can talk about them, think about them rationally, and hopefully work through some of them together.
I don't claim to have all the answers, and let me assure you that I am in no way perfect. I hold onto way too much stuff sometimes. However, I've found when I voice my fears and emotions it helps me think about them more clearly, and come up with a solution that will work for me. I hope this can help you too.
I would say the number one comment I received, in some form or another, is the statement from readers that an item had sentimental value, so they didn't want to give it up, or declutter it.
The first thing to think about is, who's making you get rid of it?
If you've got space for it in your home, and you are able to access it often to help you remember that wonderful and special memory, than it's not clutter. It doesn't fit the definition of clutter we discussed last week. Instead, this object is loved, and there is space for it in your house.
The real problem is when you have too many items we consider to all have sentimental value, all competing for space and attention. If that is the case you've got to make some tough calls about what is most special because realistically you've only got so much room and attention.
This is where, in my opinion, actions speak louder than your words saying it is sentimental. If it's not important enough for you to display proudly, or have in a special place you can access often, and you don't find yourself paying any attention to it for months on end, it really isn't as sentimental as you think, at first blush.
Many people are reluctant to declutter gifts they've received from friends and family, whether they like the gift or not, and whether they have room for it, need it, or want it.
The primary motivation for keeping it is so you don't hurt the gift giver's feelings. I completely understand that. I don't want you to hurt anyone's feelings either if you can avoid it.
However, if that gift alone, or cumulatively along with lots of other stuff, is making you feel unhappy about your home because it is so cluttered, you've got to treat yourself nicely too, and deal with the problem.
The important thing to remember is to separate your feelings of the person with the object itself. Deal with each issue separately, to preserve your friendship and love, and also your own peace and sanity in your home.
Another very emotional reason people don't want to get rid of certain objects in their home is because those objects symbolize some type of dream that they don't want to let go of in their lives.
For example, someone may not want to get rid of lots of craft supplies they haven't touched in years, because it signifies they just don't have time, desire, and/or talent to do those crafts, like they dreamed they would.
I personally identify with this clutter busters problem a lot, and I think from reading the comments, that many others do too. No one likes to admit they didn't accomplish a dream, whether that was from failure or just choosing to go on a different path instead.
When you can identify this as your source of discomfort with decluttering, you can make a significant breakthrough though. You can deal with your emotions and move on, and get rid of the actual stuff. And let me tell you, there is nothing as freeing as letting go of objects that no longer fit in with your current plan of how your life should be.
It can be like you've given yourself permission to mark lots of stuff of your to do list that you know you'll never get to anyway, but still write on there over and over for some reason.
It can also remove a layer of guilt and emotional baggage you may not have even realized you were carrying around, and let's you feel that peace all of us who are decluttering are looking for.
Now, with the next clutter busters problems, we're moving into emotional issues with money, and I know I personally identify with this and many of you do too.
Who can blame people for being worried about money in this economy? Money is tight for many of us, my family included. When money's tight, and you count every penny, thinking about getting rid of an expensive object you've bought can seem crazy.
However, we've all got to get our head around this thought -- keeping the object will not bring the money back. Once it's spent, it's gone. Further, not everything that was once expensive really still is useful for us, because of changed circumstances and the passage of time.
We can't fix what we've done in the past with our money, even if we've spent it unwisely. However, keeping objects that are clutter just because they cost us a lot of money in the past just compounds the problem because clutter itself costs money, along with taking an emotional toll on you, and robbing you of time.
Clutter costs you by making you spend time taking care of it, cleaning it, insuring it, storing it, and paying for the space it takes up in your home.
What it all boils down to is forgiveness of yourself for past money mistakes, or acceptance that not everything continues to have a high value over the years. Accepting these things will allow you to get past the emotions of it, and actually part with the object without guilt.
Another common emotion for would be clutter busters when trying to declutter is finding objects and thinking, what if I need this someday?
There is the practical advice I'm sure you've heard, that if you haven't needed it for a year or two, you most likely never will need it. That's very true advice, and I stand by it myself.
However, I'm not sure that addresses the mental and emotional reasons you feel this way about certain pieces of clutter. Instead, I think it comes from a fear of not having enough, which is more primal than just wanting to be a mass accumulator of things.
I think this fear and emotion comes from not trusting yourself, or others, to provide for you in the future. If you could replace the item with a couple hours of work, or a few hours of creativity could provide a low cost work around or solution for the problem the object is supposed to help with, let it go.
There's a point and time where you've got to take a leap of faith and trust in yourself and your loved ones to help you with things, instead of thinking you're all on your own with no resources or skills.
The final major emotional issue that may be holding you back from decluttering your home, and joining the ranks of clutter busters, is just a feeling of the sheer volume of the project ahead, which can be quite overwhelming.
Many of us, when we feel overwhelmed, don't even feel like starting, since the task seems too daunting. I completely understand that feeling.
Because I've felt that feeling many times I've researched how to get rid of it. What I've found is that consistently the advice in such situations is to break down overwhelming tasks into smaller, bite sized chunks, to make the task seem less stressful and more doable. I've also practiced this in my own life, and I'm here to say, it works!
That's why anyone who feels this way should consider joining the 52 Week Organized Home Challenge, if you haven't already. The reason is that it breaks down the task of decluttering and organizing your home into weekly tasks, focusing on small areas at a time, so you can see progress and gather momentum to keep the clutter busters train rolling along.
Do you have any more emotions that are chaining you to your clutter that I've missed? Please tell me about them in the comments below, since if you feel that way I know others may have too.
Further, I don't claim to have all the answers when it comes to these emotional issues. I'd love for you to share your own thoughs too in the comments about how to free yourself from the grips of your clutter when it is your emotions and feelings holding you back.
Next week, as part of the Decluttering Your Home Series, we'll discuss what to do when it is your family member who is the clutterer (or at least part of the problem).
Working with someone else to deal with their clutter can be even more difficult than dealing with your own issues. However, it often has to be done to get your home clutter free, and to get you on your path to peace.