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Taking the Emotion Out of Decluttering

Decluttering can be an emotional process. There is no doubt about that. If you feel your blood pressure rise and you start getting a little sweaty - yup, that's anxiety creeping in.

Anxiety comes when we face things we don't want to. Maybe we start thinking of letting an item go that we really want. Or throwing out a picture and then forgetting the memory. Emotions - both good and bad - can make decluttering draining and time consuming.

So if anxiety makes decluttering hard, how can we make the process easier? You can do this by taking the emotion out of the equation. This is most easily accomplished by asking yourself more neutral questions.

Here is a graphic I use with my clients when we start the process of organizing. As you can tell, the questions are pretty black & white. Do you need it? Does it have value? Can it be recycled?

But is it really that easy? Yes and no. For 80-90% of the things in the typical home, these questions will suffice. That's the good news. The bad news is that there are things that aren't so cut and dry.

These things are sentimental items like photos and memorabilia. We really don't need them right? So they automatically fail the test. How do we take the emotion out of these decisions? It starts with building your decluttering muscles.

There is something to be said about momentum. Sir Isaac Newton's Law of Motion in basic form says: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. This means that if you start decluttering you are more likely to keep decluttering. If you aren't doing anything, it's easier to stay idle.

Momentum is what keeps us moving. And you get momentum by starting with the easy stuff. I begin each of my online Facebook challenges (see my upcoming ones here) with a very basic item - SOCKS. Why socks? Because they are so free of emotion that almost anyone can easily declutter this category. You, too, should start with the least emotional thing you can find.... which may even be socks.

Once you have worked through your non-emotional items using the checklist above, you can begin chipping away at memento's. Just like you did before, you will ask yourself questions to decide what to do with the item. But this new set of questions is a little more in-depth.

Here are some questions that can help you declutter sentimental items:

  • Is there another item that captures this memory better?

  • What would happen to the memory if I let this item go?

  • Do I have room for this item?

  • How am I honoring this item - where am I storing it?

  • Would a picture of this item capture the memory just as well?

How to keep the memory alive without keeping the item

Often I will take a picture of the item to keep the memory fresh. You may print the photo or just keep it on your phone or laptop. I like that I can easily access the memory without digging through a big box of stuff.

Another way to display memento's is by placing them in a see-through lamp or vase. I have a lamp version that I keep on my desk and it contains things like movie tickets, buttons, and anything else from past trips and events. Here is one similar to mine:

Yes, decluttering can be that easy. My best tip is to start with the non-sentimental before moving on to the tough stuff. It is also essential to be mindful of the emotions behind the stuff and to acknowledge whatever feelings arise in the decluttering process. Take the first small step and then keep the momentum going!


Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

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