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How to Declutter Without the Guilt

How to Declutter Without the Guilt

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Decluttering can be a liberating process, transforming our living spaces into serene, functional environments. However, the emotional attachment to our belongings can make letting go a daunting task, often accompanied by feelings of guilt.

Let’s explore some practical strategies to help you declutter your home without the burden of guilt. Whether you're struggling with sentimental items, worried about waste, or simply don't know where to start, learn how to free up your physical space and bring clarity and peace to your mind.

If you or you think a client is struggling with mental illness,

visit SAMHSA for nationwide support.

10 Common Reasons Why You Feel Guilt When Decluttering

Decluttering can be an emotionally complex process, and it’s very normal to experience guilt for a variety of reasons. Here are some common reasons why you might feel guilty when decluttering your home:

1. Sentimental Value

Items may have sentimental attachments, such as gifts from loved ones, souvenirs from memorable trips, or belongings that remind you of significant life events. Letting go of these items can feel like letting go of the memories or the people associated with them.

2. Monetary Value

You may feel guilty about discarding items you spent money on. Especially if the items were expensive or if you feel like you haven’t gotten enough use out of them to justify the cost, it can be hard to part ways.

3. Gift Guilt

Gifts from friends and family can be hard to part with. You may worry that discarding them may seem ungrateful or disrespectful to the person who gave you the gift.

4. Environmental Concerns

The thought of contributing to waste and harming the environment by throwing items away can cause guilt. This is particularly true for items that aren’t easily recyclable or that seem to have more life left in them.

5. Perfectionism and Procrastination

Maybe you struggle with the idea of making the "wrong" decision about what to keep and what to discard. This can lead to guilt over not being able to maintain a perfectly organized space.

6. Inherited Items

Items inherited from deceased relatives often come with a strong emotional connection. Discarding these items can feel like a betrayal to the memory of the deceased.

7. Identity and Self-Worth

Possessions can be tied to your identity and sense of self-worth. So letting go of certain items might feel like losing a part of yourself or admitting to past mistakes or changes in your interests and values.

8. Future Use and Scarcity Mindset

Like many people, you’re probably holding onto things “just in case” you need them in the future. Letting go of these items can trigger a fear of future regret or a sense of wastefulness.

9. Cultural or Familial Expectations

In some cultures or families, keeping certain items may be seen as a duty or tradition. Letting go of these items can bring a sense of guilt for not living up to these expectations.

10. Overwhelmed by Quantity

When faced with a large amount of clutter, the sheer volume can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of guilt for having accumulated so much in the first place.

It’s important to identify how and why you’re feeling the way you do before diving into a purge. Once you understand how you’re feeling, it can help you address the emotional challenges of decluttering and approach the process with more compassion.

The Benefits of Decluttering

Clutter can have a negative impact on our mental health. From causing stress and tension, to unmotivation and depression. So it’s so important to keep your living space as clutter-free as possible.

Having a clear physical space gives your mind more space to think and just be. That’s why it feels so good to walk into a freshly cleaned and tidied room. It feels like you can breathe properly.

There are also other benefits to decluttering:

        • You can donate items you’re not using to those in need.
        • You can sell items you’re not using and make some money.
        • Less clutter means less things to pack if you ever move house (or kick the bucket).
        • Your relationships will improve as you won’t be arguing about tidying up.
        • It’s more aesthetically pleasing for you and your visitors.

So if you’ve been in two minds about decluttering for any of the reasons mentioned in the previous section, take all the benefits as your sign to start.

12 Ways to Declutter Without the Guilt

Because decluttering can be quite an emotional journey, make sure you’re always checking in with yourself throughout the process.

While decluttering is good for your mental well-being, self-care is equally important. So if something is too much for you, it’s overwhelming you or you can’t make a call on what to do with certain items, take a timeout, take a break, phone a friend, do whatever you need to do to feel better.

Now that you are mentally prepared, here are some tips to help you declutter without the guilt.

1. Separate Sentimental Items

When you’re ready to declutter, put your sentimental items aside. You can either deal with them later when you have the headspace, or store them somewhere safe.

Purging sentimental items can often be the most difficult, so taking these items out of the scenario altogether gives you the mental capacity to deal with everything else first.

Once you’ve decluttered the rest, you can address whether you really want to keep sentimental items.

2. Set Some Goals

Setting goals can help you feel more comfortable letting things go. When you can see an end goal you're trying to achieve, you will appreciate the journey more.

If you don’t have goals set first, you’ll be decluttering without purpose. This makes it easier to procrastinate or stop halfway.

3. Write Down Benefits

Another way to stop feeling guilty is to list down all the benefits to decluttering. And also write down why you want to declutter, what you’ll be able to do as a result, and how it’ll make you feel once it’s done.

Maybe you’ll finally have a space to do yoga. Or you’ll have more storage space for your kids toys. Perhaps you’ll be able to find things quickly without having to set up a search party. Or maybe you’re looking forward to not feeling so anxious and overwhelmed all the time.

4. Follow the One-Year Rule

The one-year rule is where, if you haven’t worn or used an item in over a year, it means you don’t need it. Of course, there are some caveats to this rule.

If you were pregnant, for example, you probably didn’t wear most of your usual clothes that year. Or if you moved from a region with a lot of snow to a warm climate, you’re probably not going to be wearing your ski outfits on the regular.

Clothes are expensive, so instead of tossing them out, put them in a vacuum bag and store them away. Use your own common sense and discretion to decide if you’ll actually need some items in the future.

7. Recover Some Costs

Another way to reduce guilt when purging items, especially on items you paid good money for, is to sell them. There are the standard platforms like Marketplace and Craigslist. Similarly, there's NextDoor and OfferUp.

If you’re looking for platforms dedicated more to fashion, try Poshmark or Mercari. For furniture, check out AptDeco.

8. Acknowledge Your Attachments

One of the most empowering things you can do to remove guilt when decluttering is to just acknowledge your attachment to things.

Owning up and taking responsibility for your clutter and realizing that it’s totally normal to have attachments to items can be liberating. Instead of denying or living in a world where you think it’s not OK, understand that it is OK. And if you’re not ready to let go of some of your things, that’s OK, too.

9. Ask For Help

Sometimes it can become all too much for one person. The guilt of decluttering along with the amount of clutter that needs addressing can overtake the benefits in your mind. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Whether you ask a close friend or family member, or you hire a professional, getting another person to help you might be the best and only way to get things done.

10. Practice Gratitude

Decluttering is a time for reflection. Show gratitude that you could afford to buy things, or that someone was kind enough to give you, and that you were able to enjoy using them for a time.

This kind of practice is not only good for your mental wellness, it can spill over into other areas of your life where you might feel you need it. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools a person can use to live a happy and fulfilling life.

“The more you practice the art of thankfulness, the more you have to be thankful for.” — Norman Vincent Peale.

11. Document Your Progress

Sometimes when we take a journey, like losing weight, or renovating a home, we take the “before” photo so we can look back and see how much we’ve achieved. Decluttering is really no different.

It’s a journey that, for some, can be life changing. If you’ve been holding on to a lot of items for many years, it can take a while to complete. So document it as you go to help remove any guilt you may experience, and be proud of your progress.

12. Give Yourself Grace

The ultimate way to declutter without guilt is to give yourself grace and be patient. It’s taken you X amount of years to accumulate your items. So, it’s OK if it takes some time to work through the clutter, starting with the mental clutter first.

Decluttering With Gratitude

Keeping your home clutter-free can be a challenge for most people when it’s human to get attached to things. But with these 12 tips, you can start decluttering your home with gratitude, not guilt.

If you’re really struggling to even start the process of decluttering, then you may need to seek professional help from a therapist to figure out why you’re stuck. But the fact that you’ve read this tells me you’re ready.

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