Emotional Strategies for Decluttering (part 2)

If you are looking for emotional strategies for decluttering, this is the second part of a series. Someone recently asked me if there was some main underlying reason that we all have trouble with letting go. The answer, of course, is no. There are as many different reasons for cluttering and decluttering as there are shades of skin tone. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes us interesting. That’s what makes us human.

Emotional Strategies for Decluttering part 2

Because we all have different histories and motivations, I’m giving you a ton of different strategies to deal with the emotional part of organizing. One strategy might work well for you in the bedroom, but not quite so well in the basement. One strategy might work better for both you and your spouse when working together in the family room. To get the best result from your organizing projects, try as many strategies as you can and see how they make you feel. You’ll see that not all of these strategies are about parting with things, but rather helping you make better decisions faster and with more confidence and less regret.

  1. Visualize decay. I’ve seen so many things molded and rotted, and of no use to anyone. Think of decades-old baby items in the basement or attic. Instead of falling apart and being no use to anyone, those clothes, toys, and baby care items could be useful to someone else less fortunate than you.
  2. Forget what you paid. You might not be emotionally invested, but plenty of people feel guilty or trapped by what they originally paid for something. But keeping something just because you paid more than you should have is only punishing yourself twice. Turn that item into cash by donating or selling it, and move on. I promise, you’ll feel lighter and healthier without that old clutter and guilt. Keeping it longer does not make it cheaper. And it never will.
  3. Give yourself time to grieve, but not too much. Yes, parting with things, stuff, material possessions can feel like any other loss, which means honoring the grieving process. So, you might need a few minutes, days, or even weeks to honor the intent or memory of your items before you can feel ok about letting them go. This is normal for a few things, but not healthy if you go through the grieving process for every single item that has ever passed through your hands, or if you grieve even for things that others consider trash. Which leads to the next point.
  4. Seek counseling. It can really help to have someone to talk to, who can gently challenge your assumptions, and open up new ways of thinking about your situation. Sometimes family can stand in that role, but often times, a neutral party who does not have the same family history can be a better alternative. Not everyone who is in the decluttering process needs counseling, but if you really struggle, this is one additional strategy to use.
  5. Trust your first instinct. Your rational brain might intend to purge, but your lizard brain (it’s called the amygdala, which operates your fight or flight response) throws fear into the equation, and you end up holding onto a whole room of things you meant to purge. Don’t talk yourself back into keeping something.
  6. Recognize that you are not the official archivist, unless you are. If you hold an archivist position in a company or community group, start working on a succession plan, while you organize the collection so the valuable items will be in good shape when they are passed on. Keeping things for a club but letting them get damaged amongst your clutter is bad for everyone. If you’ve become the de-facto photo archivist for your family, you should probably have a succession plan or start digitizing the family’s collection. After all, what would happen if the collection were damaged by fire or water or theft? Keeping grown children’s belongings, committee notes and old magazine collections is an unappreciated and potentially dangerous position without benefits.
  7. Work with a professional organizer. A professional organizer, especially one who is active in NAPO and continuously seeks training and stays current on research, can save you time, frustration, and even money. It is very common for my own clients to earn as much or more than my fees by selling things they no longer use, taking tax deductions for donations, and learning how not to buy or re-buy things that they already own.


Ironically, this list, along with part 1 of emotional strategies for decluttering, might seem like an overwhelming amount of strategies. But you may only need one strategy that really works for you. Try a new approach and see what happens. These are all real strategies that I’ve used with my clients at one time or another, and I can promise you that they all do work.

Visit Emotional Strategies for Decluttering Part 1 here:

emotional strategies to declutter

What works best for you when it comes to emotional strategies for decluttering? Please comment below.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Ellin Hlebik

    4 yrs of helping our young adult daughter cope with cancer has left us,both retired, time bereft and exhausted. Have no problem giving away selling trashing stuff but have no time to do cancer, insurance, appointments, doctors and her finances plus all our daily living needs. By then I’m SO tired I want to relax! How to catch up??? Have made several tiny moves i.e. To Sell the family piano-not moving it!- and emptied and unplugged our over 40 yr old freezer. It just refused to die so we emptied it. Waiting for electric company pick up.
    But I had my own business and have a remote office in the basement many files my mother was an artist and a packrat, still have her stuff as an only child from her family just overwhelmed!! Have organized and purged some basement storage closets Pls help?

    1. Darla

      Ellin, of course you are exhausted helping your daughter with her treatments and recovery. I pray that she is improving. As you said, getting organized may not be hard, but it’s likely the last thing on your list right now. When you are ready, I highly recommend getting some help. Whether it’s a caring and empathetic and non-judgemental friend or neighbor, or by hiring a http://www.NAPO.net professional organizer, you can and probably should get help. The tiny steps you mentioned aren’t really so tiny. They are VERY GOOD steps. Rather than working all over your house, you might want to take just one area and work at it until it feels good to you, which might take several days or weeks. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and scattered and end up not doing anything. But keep plugging at the areas in your home that you need to feel healthy and calm. I hope that helps. And please join us this month for our 31 Day Organizing Challenge in our Facebook Group. Just click here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/heartworkorganizing/

      1. Ellin

        Thx. Yes need help but current messy home is cleanup first. That’s January. Then febr for decutter process.
        No Xmas secs or tree this year either. We went to conn. But it felt right to cut way back. No time. Other priorities like our daughters needs. Many conflicting priorities.

  2. Ellin Hlebik

    If anyone reading this is interested or knows someone or an entity interested,in learning more about the piano for sale pls let me know. I have photos and more information readily available via e mail.

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