I recently received an email from a reader. She openly and honestly shared that she feels she's being 'strangled by the clutter of the past'. At times in my life, I have felt the exact same way. I’ve been completely stuck in the clutter. Unable to move forward and utterly overwhelmed by all of my stuff! After a decade spent working in client’s homes and closets, I’ve come to realize that this is a very common issue...and an area where we could all use a bit of encouragement. I replied to the reader’s email privately, but wanted to share my thoughts here. I hope this post helps you let go of the stuff that might be holding you back.
The reader wrote about having 'strong sentimental attachments'. I understand! In the past, I struggled a lot with letting things go. I saved every ticket stub, dried any special flowers, held onto old favorite articles of clothing, clung to past issues of magazines. I kept anything that I felt sparked a memory that I feared I’d lose if I let go of the item.
Here's one of the most important things I've learned...
It's the first real round of purging that's the hardest.
I can honestly say that once I started parting with things, letting go became much easier.
Every single client I’ve worked with has felt same way. I regularly receive emails after helping a client with a closet cleanse. Each and every email contains thoughts like this...
”Now I’m motivated to attack my entire house!”
“I find myself decluttering a little each day, all over my house”
“I feel like I can breath again...I’m on a roll to get rid of the stuff”.
Note: If you feel you have a serious problem with hoarding, I strongly suggest you seek professional help. There are people trained to help hoarders learn to let go safely and begin to heal.
Moving has usually been my best catalyst for getting rid of stuff. In the packing process I’d realize that some items had been in boxes in our basement for years...never used or even opened. I knew letting some of those things go would make the move easier. When we moved across the country, I was fairly ruthless. I knew I'd be paying to move things I really didn't need and wasn't using. I carefully sorted and discarded and saved.
I honestly have never missed any of the things I let go.
Are you at the breaking point?
If you’ve had it with the clutter and you’re ready to begin a serious purge, I suggest purging like you're moving.
Donate or sell anything that still has use. Making a bit of cash from unused pieces is a nice trade-off for letting them go. I always use Craigslist for selling things. I've had only really great experiences.
Recycle or trash the rest.
Try to remember...
The memory is in your mind, not in your stuff.
I know a couple whose home was damaged in the terrible flooding in Boulder, Colorado in September of 2013. They were in the process of renovating their home. During the reno they were staying in a small apartment nearby and most of their belongings were being stored in the basement of their house. The flood filled the basement with muddy water.
Literally, it filled the basement. The contents of that space was completely ruined. Everything they considered sentimental, important, or valuable was gone.
This truly opened my eyes to the fact that our stuff really doesn't define us. These friends have since finished their home and are slowly collecting new treasures that spark joy for them.
Imagine losing everything and still being okay...still holding your special memories inside.
Realize that it’s really just ‘stuff’.
In my own experience, the process and aftermath of letting go of things I don't use or love...is so freeing that it's worth the risk of not having those items in my possession any longer.
I have never regretted letting something go. Anything I've needed again in the future has been easy (and inexpensive) to replace. I no longer save things 'just in case'. That's big for me.
I've discovered that 'just in case' rarely ever happens...and holding on to all the stuff simply clutters our minds and our homes while we are waiting for 'that day' to arrive.
If a big purge is just too scary, then I suggest that you start small.
Tackle one area of your home first...an area that's not sentimental. The rush from purging is awesome!
The space you create in your home from letting things go will open up incredible space in your mind and in your life.
And it feels amazing!
Here are my tips for letting go of specific types of clutter and stuff….
If you have several items that represent the same memory, save only one. Let the rest go.
I knew I was finished having babies, but the tiny clothing still made me happy and sentimental. I selected one favorite baby outfit for each of my three kids. The three outfits are hanging on small hangers in my laundry room. I smile every time I see them:-)
Take photos of items that you love. I had very fond memories of a few pieces of maternity clothing and some kid toys. I took photos of the items and then donated them...figuring someone else would love having them as much as I did.
Would you want someone to keep a gift they received from you if it didn’t bring them joy? Forget the guilt. Let it go. Give those gifts away...regift them or donate them. Someone else will enjoy having them...it doesn’t have to be you!
One episode of Antique Roadshow will have you saving every old thing under your roof. Unless you buy and sell antiques, plan to attend the Roadshow in the next six months or are moving to a new house where you’ll actually use all of those ‘saved’ pieces…get rid of the old stuff.
Like many young couples, early in our marriage, my husband and I couldn’t really afford to buy all new furniture. During this time we gladly and gratefully accepted any and all donations that came our way. We made the most of the gently used pieces and remained thankful for each item.
Years later, we took a look around our home and realized that our style wasn’t being reflected authentically. We didn’t feel joy from the pieces that surrounded us. We decided to let some things go. I put my first post on Craigslist...a hutch and sideboard that had belonged to my parents. I had a very strong sentimental attachment to the pieces, but the style wasn’t really ‘me’. The couple who purchased the pieces was thrilled with their find! I was happy the furniture had found a new home.
We began to list and sell everything that didn’t feel like us. Slowly we started to purchase furniture that fit our lifestyle, our taste and our budget.
What a difference it makes to dwell with items we truly love!
If one is good, more must be better! Not so. Decide how many of something you actually need. Build in a tiny cushion of ‘what if’ and let the rest go. For a while I had a very large collection of Ball mason jars that we used for drinking glasses. I envisioned hosting a huge party and all of the guests drinking out of these jars. Reality is...I’m not currently hosting big events and storing the jars was stressing me out. I saved enough for my family plus a few extras for company. Plenty.
Being 'strangled by the clutter of the past' is such a true (and sad) statement. It's probably time for you to let the excess go!
I really believe that you will feel much lighter and happier without all of the extra stuff! Clutter creates stress every single day!
Best of luck with the process. Be gentle with yourself.
It took years to accumulate all of the stuff.
Change takes time...
Please feel free to reach out with comments, questions or suggestions. Let's be sure to recognize that we all have our own issues, each journey is unique and being supportive of one another can really go a long way.
Thanks for being here.
Hello, I'm Kristen.
As a personal stylist,