6 Emotional Challenges You May Face When Tackling Clutter

Decluttering your home is a satisfying but time-consuming project. What you may not realize ahead of time is that sorting through your belongings can bring up a number of emotions, from guilt to nostalgia to feeling overwhelmed.


These emotions are a completely normal part of the decluttering process. Keep in mind that the act of getting rid of things you no longer need can ultimately be very freeing. Read on to understand six emotional challenges that may come up as you declutter — because knowing what to expect can make the process easier.
Anna Wilson Interiors
1. Fear That You May Regret Letting an Item Go

Fear can cause you to hold on to unused items that you think you might need someday. But often these items no longer have a useful function — outdated or ill-fitting clothes, sports equipment you no longer use, crafting supplies for projects you’ve abandoned, extra towels and bedding that may be stained or worn and that you never use. These items usually sit untouched in closets, basements or garages for years.

Excess belongings can make you feel weighed down and hold you back. Instead of holding on to something on the off chance you’ll need it someday, remind yourself that you don’t need it now and probably won’t in the future. Stay focused on your goal of living in a clutter-free home. I urge my clients to create an ideabook of photos of their ideal home to remind them of why they’re decluttering in the first place. This can help you keep focused on your goals.

2. Fear That You May Lose Out on Something Valuable

Many people fear they’ll be letting go of something valuable. To overcome this fear, merely look up the item on eBay to get a realistic sense of its current market value. Many people find they’ve been overestimating the potential sales price of their valuables.

For items you suspect are truly valuable, consider having them appraised. That way you can identify the price at which you would be willing to part with the item, rather than have it continue to take up real estate in your basement or garage.

Treehouse Design, Inc.
3. Guilt About Getting Rid of a Gift or an Inherited Item

Many people find it difficult to part with an item because of guilt, especially if it was a gift. But professional organizer Marie Kondo reminds us that gifts are simply a way of conveying feelings — and that you can appreciate those kind feelings even if you no longer want to keep the gift.

Parents can also cause adult children to feel guilt. Some parents give their used furniture to grown offspring after buying new furniture for themselves. Children may feel guilty for not accepting the free gift. The children might never establish their own style because they haven’t had the opportunity to make their own choices. Guilt also can come into play when getting rid of items inherited after someone dies.

Family dynamics and guilt are among the more challenging issues you may face when decluttering. A good professional home organizer can help coach you through choices and keep you focused on your goals.

Folkway Design & Wares Co.
4. Guilt Related to Your Item Finding a ‘Good Home’

Others feel guilty letting go without knowing the ultimate destination of their donations. This is understandable, as they want their items to be used and appreciated.

One way of reframing this issue is to recognize that if the item is sitting unused in a closet or basement for years, it’s not really being appreciated anyway. Donating it will give it a chance to be used by someone else and enjoy a new life.

NEST Design Group
5. Nostalgia or Sentimental Feelings That Make Decision-Making Hard

Not being able to get rid of sentimental memorabilia is one of the biggest obstacles many of my clients face when trying to declutter. Childhood treasures, old books, travel souvenirs, baby clothes and children’s artwork are all difficult to part with.

Fortunately, we can keep images of the belongings we decide to let go. One client boxed up her favorite artwork by each child and bravely sent it off to an online company that took photos of each piece and bound the images in a beautiful book.

Another creative client made a quilt out of her daughter’s baby clothes. Still another edited her treasures down to one box for each child. She saved a few special memories from the baby and preschool years — the hospital bracelet, first shoes, a favorite outfit. Other items she photographed and then was able to say goodbye.

Bloomsbury Designs
6. Feeling Overwhelmed

This may be the most common emotional state someone tackling their clutter faces. Lots of people feel overwhelmed by decluttering and organizing and don’t know where to start. Others have a hard time getting motivated because they’re not sure how to sort their items or how to make decisions about what to get rid of. Still others have no idea what to do with the items they’re ready to part with.

In particular, decluttering a packed garage or basement can be extremely time-consuming. You have to make a huge mess of your possessions before items can be sorted, decided upon and packed away again. For this large task, you might consider hiring a professional home organizer to help you.

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