Stuff and clutter just seem like things until we dig into our reasons for hanging onto them. What stuff and clutter really represent is our emotions in physical form. Below are some common barriers to decluttering and some ways to re-think them.
ONE: I SPENT MONEY ON IT
It can be mighty tough to let go of items we’ve paid good, hard-earned money for. It’s tempting to hold onto the item or try to recover some of that money. Ask yourself these questions:
Is there a market for it?
Does selling it require time, money, or effort?
Does the recoverable value outweigh the effort required to sell it?
Am I spending time, money, or effort to store or maintain the item?
Would I gain peace of mind I didn’t have to keep thinking about this?
I once had a brown leather jacket, which I paid good money for. I bought it mostly to please someone else and didn’t ever really love it. It developed a stain around the collar (probably from hair dye – something else I used to pay for to please other people), and I stopped wearing it. When I found my way to a more minimal lifestyle, I let the jacket (among other things that didn’t make me happy) go. I gave it to goodwill and I’ve never regretted parting with it. After all, it was a sunk cost. I’d spent the money. Getting it ready to wear or sell was going to cost me, not serve me.
One popular argument for holding on to clothing and other stuff is “I paid so much for that” but holding on to something because you paid for it once will only ensure that you keep paying. – Courtney Carver, Be More With Less
TWO: I MIGHT NEED IT OR I’M GOING TO USE IT AGAIN ONE DAY
Hanging onto things just in case is problematic for a variety of reasons. Are you holding on because you’ve fallen in love with an idea of what the item says about your life or personality? Does parting with the item feel like you are admitting failure or defeat? Ask yourself these questions:
Have I ever used it? How long ago? Has my life changed since then?
Am I hanging onto this because of guilt or a feeling of failure that I’d planned to do something I haven’t?
In the (possibly unlikely) event that I do actually need this, will I remember I have it? Will I be able to find it? Will it still be usable?
Release yourself from guilt and unrealistic expectations. Acknowledge the ways in which you and/or your life has changed. Remind yourself that it’s okay to shift interests, priorities, and goals. And it’s ok to fail, too. Failure is the best teacher we have in life. Your stuff doesn’t define your personality, but your choices and priorities speak volumes.
THREE: IT HAS SENTIMENTAL VALUE
This is a really tough one for folks. We assign memories to physical items, especially when they relate to a person who is no longer with us. Are you transferring feelings about a person onto an item? Do you feel guilt? Gifts are to bring joy, not bestow burden. Your loved ones would agree. Only hold onto useful items you use regularly. For items with meaning that don’t provide usefulness, allow yourself a small box of trinkets and photograph larger items then re-home them. In the enduring words of The Minimalists – Love people, use things. The opposite never works.
FOUR: I DON’T WANT IT TO GO TO WASTE BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH IT
Hello, overwhelm. Not knowing what to do with things you need to part with is a real challenge. Start by identifying if it has real value – that is, value that can realistically be recovered in today’s society. Here are some possible scenarios:
It has value and can be sold
If an item has value, can reasonably be sold, and the effort required to sell it does not outweigh the worth, go for it! Some possible avenues:
- Flea markets & yard sales (for large lots of mixed things) – be prepared to donate what doesn’t sell
- eBay – for easy-to-ship items that are sought-after or commonly collected
- Kijiji (in Canada) or Craigslist (in the US) – for furniture and common household items that people are regularly looking for (appliances, office furniture, etc.)
- Antique dealers, auction houses (for whole estates or quality antique pieces)
It has value but would be difficult to sell:
This can be true for items like bedding, small household wares, some furniture, clothing, etc. Many organizations take these sorts of donations. Check with local organizations to confirm what they do and do not accept:
- Thrift stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army)
- Registered charities (Diabetes Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters)
- Women’s shelters
- Immigrant settling service organizations
- Homeless shelters
The curb – inquire about curbside giveaways in your city – it’s fun to see who comes and sees value in your discarded items! Be sure to label with ‘WORKS’ or other relevant info to help move things quickly.
It does not have value
Old paint, chemicals, and unrepairable goods are examples of no-value items. Contact waste management in your area to find out about recycling and disposal programs and locations.