Decluttering, Minimalism…and the Emotions that Get in the Way

Decluttering, Minimalism…and the Emotions that Get in the Way

Inspired by the Tiny House movie I saw last weekend (I wrote a review of Tiny: A Story of Living Small in Tuesday’s blog post), I decided it was time again to tackle our stuff, and to declutter some more. We may not live in a Tiny House, but I still believe in minimalising our possessions. There’s no need to keep things in our home that aren’t useful, that no longer serve us and that create mess, take up time (to clean, to find, to sort) and bring up negative emotions (guilt for buying, guilt for keeping, stress for maintaining, frustration, and so it goes on).

As I’ve said many times before, I’m a natural hoarder, and letting go is something that I’m having to learn. A lot of this hoarding is attached to my dislike of waste – any waste. I’m someone who keeps used matches in case I can re-use them! But I also think that I use my dislike of waste as an excuse – even subconsciously. After all, it’s easier to say “I just hate waste”, than admit to myself that there’s more to it than that.

Thing is, there is a lot more to it than that. It’s not just about “stuff”. If it was, we’d decide we didn’t need it, and get rid of it. Simple as that. But that isn’t what happens. Particularly if you’re a hoarder, but it’s true for most people; our emotions play a much bigger part in the decluttering process than we realise.

Here’s some examples.

Say you buy a pair of trousers, and you know that they’re a bit tight, but you think to yourself – I’ll slim into them. Maybe you will. More likely though, is that they will hang in the wardrobe, not being worn, but a constant reminder of how you failed to slim down, how you failed at the task you set yourself; how you made a bad decision and how you wasted money buying something that you may never wear. Maybe you bought them, knowing you wouldn’t fit into them, because you wanted to hold onto the past. You don’t want to accept that you’re getting older, and you can’t wear the things you used to.

What about the ornament you’ve got sitting in a box in a cupboard – the gift from your nan? The ornament that you never really liked. The ornament that reminds you that your nan really doesn’t know what styles you like. She really doesn’t know what you like at all, actually. The ornament that reminds you that you aren’t as close to your nan as maybe you should be. You aren’t the person you want to be; the one you imagine you would be. The ornament remains, because you want to like it. You know that she spent quite a bit of money on it. You feel guilty about that. You feel like you should keep it, and what’s more, you feel like you should like it. But you don’t, and it reminds you of all the feelings that you wish you felt, but don’t.

Or the fancy kitchen gadget that you bought after seeing all the adverts – the ones where cooking looked so easy and hosting friends for dinner was made to look effortless? The gadget that you were convinced you’d use every day, that would turn you into a wonderful cook, yet it sits there, untouched. Because the reality was very different. You still don’t actually like cooking, the gadget is a pain to wash up, and actually, you’d rather go out for a meal with friends than invite them to your house. You still love the idea of being a great host, even though you know this probably won’t happen. The gadget remains because you feel foolish for being duped by the adverts, you feel guilty at having spent so much money on something you use so little. You want to see the gadget  as a symbol of that hope. Really though, it is a symbol of what you are not; an unwelcome reminder of a dream that didn’t come true.

Whatever it is, we all have moments like this. Most of us have things in our houses that we know, deep down, we should get rid of. Why can’t we? All of the items we have sitting in our homes that we don’t-use-yet-can’t-get-rid-of have some kind of emotion attached to them. These aren’t necessarily emotions relating to how we feel about an object, but how we feel about ourselves.That’s what makes it so hard to get rid of them.

We don’t want to admit that we made a bad purchasing decision, that we failed at a hobby, or that we weren’t the person we wanted to be. In this way, these objects represent us, and by keeping them, we still feel that there’s a chance that we might change…that it will become a useful purchase, that we will take up that hobby or that we will start to appreciate Grandma’s eclectic taste. But this pressure doesn’t make us feel good. It’s not accepting what is. We don’t live in the future, and we don’t live in the past. We live in the now, and we need to accept things as they are. To focus too much on the future or the past is draining. The guilt, the sense of failure, the embarrassment.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remove all that bad energy and all those negative emotions? Well, we can. Simply by giving things away.

That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Don’t underestimate the power your possessions hold over you. But don’t give your power away, either. Take things slowly. Notice any resistance you feel, but don’t let it take control. Tackle one item at a time. Find the things that no longer serve you, and slowly let them go.

Do emotions play a big part in decluttering for you? Do you hold onto things you know you should get rid of, or do you find it easy to let things go? What emotions do you feel when trying to clear out your unwanted possessions? I’d love to hear from you – please tell me what you think in the comments!

14 Responses to Decluttering, Minimalism…and the Emotions that Get in the Way

  1. I find myself so much in this post… I have an old egg cooking machine that my grandma always used when I was a kid and it reminds me of my time at home (we lived in a house together with my parents, grandparents and my brother). She died two years ago and I took it home even though I have no use for it at all, plus it’s made of plastic… but it’s just something that I feel attached to because it reminds me of her. It’s silly, really and other people could use it and be happy about it but I’m not ready yet… This takes a lot of willpower!

    • It certainly does! I think I wrote this because I needed to hear it myself. Once we understand why we do things, once we look past the excuses we tell ourselves, it makes it easier. Knowing the truth and consciously choosing how to deal with it means a far better outcome. I guess it’s to do with acceptance…accepting why we do things, or not accepting and doing them differently. I struggle with minimalising my wardrobe. I have plenty of things that I could give away, that are so new they would get lots of use by other people but I struggle. When I really look, I see it’s nothing to do with waste but my own issues of how I see myself. But my decluttering muscle gets stronger all the time : )

  2. crystalsmile,if it is only the egg-machine… hold it.
    I feel liberated, if I get rid of things. We move to the UK in a few weeks and I have to sort out many things. Often the problem is, where to bring all that stuff; you don’t want to litter everything; if could be usefull for other hoarders ;) Ebay may be a solution, but much work and they get a lot of money for the sold items. Charity-shops — here in Germany there are only 2 of them near my village, and they seem to burst. Friends — they have more stuff, as they need, too. Once I had the dream to move with a suitcase, but that never ever will happen!

    • Suzanne, when you move, do you plan to bring most of your things with you, put in storage or sell/give away? I like eBay – well not the huge fees they charge, but being able to connect my old stuff with someone who will actually use it. Gumtree is good too, especially for stuff that you can’t post like furniture… it’s fairly well used in the UK.

      Good luck with the move! : )

  3. Funny, I just recently watched Tiny as well! I would love to build a micro home for myself after I finish college…
    But more to the point of your post- I’ve been decluttering, minimizing, getting rid of, and organizing this past month, and it’s been great! Before, I would just find a place for everything, and my very small living quarters looked cramped and unpleasant. After letting go of old notebooks (There’s still unused pages!! Much along the lines of your used matches ;) ) and other junk, I downsized my wardrobe. Once I had less clothing, I had space in my dresser to store art supplies, which before, were unceremoniously left in a large bin on my floor.
    Now my space is clean and tidy, yet warm and inviting! :)

    Simplifying is the way to go!

    • Ah, that sounds great! It also sounds very smooth : ) Was it that easy for you?

      Yes, I also keep notebooks that have spare pages! I also used to have a thing about saving notebooks (so not using them) so as not to “spoil” them. Ridiculous!

      I really need to tackle my closet (again). The wardrobe here is double the size of the old one which ISN’T HELPING! I’m building up to it. Simplicity is definitely the way to go!

  4. LIndsay, I have two items I had trouble letting go of but pulled them out and am listing them on Craigslist. Both were gifts. The first is a juicer, at one time I did a lot of juicing but finding organic produce in large enough quantities to juice is just too expensive. I have only used the juicer once in the three years I’ve been here. The other is a soup tureen. I purchased plates and bowls from a local potter, one year for Christmas my son’s father thought he would “build my collection” and thought this was beautiful. It is but it’s not functional. If I am serving soup I will make it in the slow cooker and turn it to warm so it keeps a consistent temperature. I’ve used this as a planter but the design is impractical. It too is being listed this weekend.

    When I first began purging my stuff 4 years ago it was much harder for me. What to do with gifts and the family heirlooms I didn’t want and felt trapped by. I finally realized my grandmother, who left them to me, didn’t have her home filled with her mother/grandmother’s things so why should I.

    • We have a juicer – I would only juice organic vegetables and can’t stand the waste; I made a cracker recipe using carrot pulp (which was pretty much the only thing I juiced – they are fairly cheap to buy organically here). But really, I don’t use it much anymore so maybe it should go. I need to dry blending carrots and straining – if that works then there is definitely no need!

      That’s a really good point about your grandmother! Just because something was sentimental to someone, of course that sentimentality isn’t necessarily passed on and we shouldn’t feel trapped by it.

      Decluttering and letting go definitely gets easier over time : )

      • We are going to flood the website with used juicers. ;-) I agree I would only juice organic produce but even carrots are expensive when you need so many.

        Letting go does get easier over time. Once I finally faced the truth about the heirlooms it was a breeze.

  5. Slow and steady is the key for me when it comes to decluttering :) I have also had to learn to be patient with myself when time gets away from me and several weeks or months go by without a lot of decluttering being done. Being hard on myself for not changing fast enough is counter productive to the meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle decluttering and minimalism hopes to create.

    • Yes, you’re so right. I think it’s a reflection of our society… we want everything now, and that includes wanting to have less! There’s no appreciation of the process. I think for me, realising how hard it is to get rid of things really makes me understand that I don’t want to get any more stuff, because I don’t want to go through this process again! Don’t be hard on yourself because things take time.

      It’s all about the journey rather than the destination : )

  6. After decluttering with a vengeance, I had one item that I held on to for an extra year. This item was my car. I’ve had 2 new cars in the past 4 years and this old car just sat in my garage, never driven. This was a special car, an anniversary car, low miles, immaculate condition, worth $15,000. My problem was, it held 22 years worth of memories. All my dogs had loved hanging their heads out of the t-tops, my Mom and I went everywhere in it. All of my dogs and my Mom have passed away this past year. How could I part with it? I finally sold it. I cried and cried. I realized that I’m not throwing away history, I don’t need the car to remember. It was like another death, which I couldn’t possibly bear. But after a few days, I felt good, really good. I did it!!!! The impossible and I’m okay. The memories are still in my heart. I know someone else is living it as much as I did, back in the day.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story Kedren, I loved it! You’re so right – you don’t need the car to have the memories. And knowing that someone else is living it, and their dogs are riding with their heads hanging out – what an awesome feeling! It’s creating new memories, which is great. Far better than sitting in your garage guilt-tripping you every time you go in there : ) Great job!

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