I always attributed our cluttered house to our busy lifestyle. Every time I see the messy house, I would think – if only I had more time on my hands I would have a much more organized home. Only after I quit my job and did have time on my hands did I realize that the lack of time is just another one of my excuses. It was not the lack of time that was holding me back from de-cluttering; it was my lack of motivation.
I do want a clean house, in fact I know that having a cluttered house gives me anxiety attacks and severely limits my productivity. So why am I lacking motivation to just sit down and clean the house? It turns out it was my attachment to stuff. Yes, I was too attached to all my stuff to let go of them. I do not have much space in our home, so naturally there is no way for me to actually do anything other than move the clutter from one space to another and simply waste my time.
How to let go of stuff and start really de-cluttering you house?
As we are planning to move to another city soon, I had to do something about it. So I figured instead of fighting with myself and wasting time, I will list all the excuses I have for holding on to my stuff and if I cannot come up with a reasonable argument against it, I will keep the stuff.
Excuse #1: I paid so much money for it
I do not know why I bought so much stuff as soon as I started working, but I did. Expensive shoes, multiple handbags, several pieces of clothing… all for which I paid a good chunk of money. At least I have something to show for it now, even though I have never worn some of those pairs of shoes in years.
Arguments against this excuse: Yes, I did pay a lot of money for it. But does it really make sense to throw good money after bad and keep paying more in my happiness and productivity to store this stuff? I should sell them and cut my losses instead of keeping them and spending more money on them.
Excuse #2: It is worth a lot of money
There is a subtle difference between my excuse #1 (I paid so much money) and this one. There is some stuff that I didn’t pay a lot of money, I got them because they were on clearance or deeply discounted! (Yes, I was one of those people until 2009). It was originally worth a lot of money, so it should be worth a lot now too. Esp. if I keep the collectibles for a while longer, I could get a lot of money for it.
Arguments against this excuse: If it is worth a lot of money sell it. Instead of dreaming about perceived value, check online and have a real estimate of how much the stuff is worth. Most of the time, it might be worthless or of little value, definitely a lot less than we perceive. It I can prove that it is indeed an appreciating asset then yes, I can keep them. If not, it goes away.
Excuse #3: Someone gave it to me
I have a lot of mismatched things I got as gifts. I felt it is not nice to throw a gift away; it is disrespectful. When the person who gifted me comes to my house next time and see the gift is missing wouldn’t they feel hurt?
Arguments against this excuse: When I thought about all the gifts I have given to other people, I realized that if I know the person well, I have always given stuff I know for sure they will like. For example, I know my sister is very particular in what kind of decorative items go in her house, so I have never given her anything like that. Most of the thoughtful gifts fit in my house naturally. I had to stop feeling guilty about gifts from acquaintances or someone who just gifts what they had sitting in the closet. People who really care about me had given me gifts that I will keep anyway. The rest, goes to the donation bin.
Excuse #4: Serves a purpose and is useful in making my life easier
This is the category of stuff that is actually useful and helps make things easier in our everyday life.
Arguments against this excuse: None. If it makes my life easier and I do use it regularly, it stays. There is no point in depriving myself, I am not a minimalist.
Excuse #5: I might need it some day
This includes all the stuff that we used once and stored it for later use, including home improvement tools & kitchen tools. I already paid money for it, why get rid of it now and buy again when I need it someday? It doesn’t stop with tools, I even had boxes that my electronics came in, what if I had to move? I will need it then. Extra keyboard, mouse and internet cables… Well, what if the one I am using breaks? I need a backup.
Arguments against this excuse: Agreed, almost everything could be used someday. But how much energy, money and productivity am I spending to keep them for an uncertain future which may or may not happen. I could always sell them on two criteria (1) If I have not used them in the last 1-2 years, I have to admit that the chances of me needing that item is negligible. (2) I could always sell the items and set the money aside for buying what I really need later that I cannot borrow or substitute.
Excuse #6: I plan to ____
All of us have this clutter. This is the stuff of the person we want to be. I want to learn knitting. I want to start painting again. I want to get back in shape and have a well-toned body. All these dreams and hopes are represented in my closet with hobby supplies and clothes that fit the dream me. I really would like to start doing everything I want to and letting go of the things that represent my dreams makes me feel like I am letting go of my dreams.
Arguments against this excuse: Again, agreed, but holding on to this future clutter is stopping me from fully living in the present. Will I ever start knitting in a crowded space? Will I have time to start knitting if I am always overwhelmed by the clutter and spending a lot of time and energy moving stuff to show a cleaner house? By discarding the old yarn and dried out paint I am not giving up my dreams. I am creating an environment in which my dreams can actually come true instead of being held on by shabby stuff that represents my failed projects.
Excuse #7: It is a family heirloom
It is very difficult to get rid of family heirloom because we feel we don’t have any right to do that. We don’t really own them rather someone has entrusted them to you in the hopes that you will pass it on to future generations.
Arguments against this excuse: If I value something high, I should be able to respect it and give it a place in my room. If I am hiding it in the attic or the basement then I am not giving it the value I claim I hold. It is just another meaningless clutter. If I can give the item a place and it is valuable to me, it stays. Also, clutter makes us forget what is really important – family. I have been ashamed to invite my friends and family over so many times because I won’t have time to tidy up the place before they arrive. I can’t invite anyone to stay with us because we have a lot of stuff. What is important – making new memories with people who matter to us or old cutlery that no one really wants or uses?
Excuse #8: I love the stuff; it makes my home feel like home
This stuff is not useful, but they are beautiful and have a place in my home. I display them proudly and the style agrees with both my husband’s and my taste.
Arguments against this excuse: Nothing. If it makes my home feel nicer and I don’t have too many of this, it stays. If I like them but they are sitting in a box in a closet, I have to re-evaluate why I keep that item when I don’t even know exactly where the item is. Also, if the item is mismatched and doesn’t go well with the other items in the room to create a streamlined effect, it has to go.
Excuse #9: It reminds me of a person, place or time that is important to me
This is the most difficult category for me. I am a stickler for holding on to memories. I somehow feel letting go of a stuff that reminds me of a person means I am being disrespectful to their memory.
Arguments against this excuse: I logically understand that memories reside within me, not in some trinket, but it is still difficult for me to accept it. One thing I have been doing is taking a digital picture of the thing that reminds me of an important memory and giving the actual stuff away. I found it gives me the same feeling. The memory floods me whether I am seeing the object itself or a picture of that object. That has helped a bit.
Excuse #10: We have simply outgrown the house; if I had a bigger house I can be much more organized
I got this excuse from other people actually. A lot of people who look at my house say, I already have very little stuff. If I feel cluttered I have to move to a grown up house instead of a dorm sized apartment.
Arguments against this excuse: I grew up in India in a similar sized house with 6 adults living in it. That house was not cluttered and I didn’t feel deprived. So obviously a lot of work can be done to de-clutter and make my space better. I can hope for a better and bigger place, but I cannot hold on to things for an unknown future and stop living my life. I only have the space that I have. I will have to work with it.
Excuse #11: I don’t have time
I had this excuse for a very long time. Organization takes time. Maintaining a clean home takes time. I simply don’t have time.
Arguments against this excuse: All the more reason to de-clutter the house, less amount of stuff, less time to maintain.
Excuse #12: It is not mine
I don’t have a lot of other people’s stuff. But I decided to include this excuse as I have heard it many times. I stayed with someone who had a garage full of stuff that was not hers. She stored her son’s and daughter’s stuff with the hopes that they will take it out of her hands and she can park her expensive car in the garage someday. She complained a lot about the stuff because it makes it very difficult for her to find anything she wants and she was storing her stuff in her bedroom. She could really use the space.
Arguments against this excuse: I would personally ask for a timeline on when the stuff will be moved. I would even help arrange for the stuff to be moved if that will get them off of me sooner. If you have clutter that doesn’t belong to you, it is time to make a call and ask them to be moved. It can be very difficult to handle this because someone entrusted this stuff on to you. But you do have to think about whose life you are living? Do you want someone else’s possession controlling your life? If the stuff is so important to them, why is it still sitting in your garage?
Excuse #13: I am overwhelmed
That is how I feel right now and one of the reasons I have not attacked the problem with full effort. I am not holding on to my clutter on purpose but it gives me anxiety attacks just thinking about the amount of work I have to do to get it under control.
Arguments against this excuse: If I ever want to have a clutter free space, I have to start somewhere. How would you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Right now, my clutter is the big elephant in the room and I have to handle it one piece at a time.
Questions to ask if you are getting stuck
With a task this big, it is easy to give up. I have had quite a few moments where I want to just rent storage and dump all the stuff instead of dealing with it. It is useful to remind why we started this task in the first place to get us motivated again -
- Is this how I want my house to look?
- What would my ideal home look like?
- What is the barrier between the current way my house looks to my ideal home?
- Is the barrier worth it? Will having this stuff make you happier than having your ideal house?
- How do I want my family or friends to feel when they visit my home?
Letting go of stuff is a difficult thing for me, esp. as I love my money and couldn’t stand the thought that I wasted so much money buying these. I have to understand that, it is sunk cost now and it is costing me a lot more in my happiness, productivity and enjoying my home to hold on to it. And finally, I have tried to sell/trade in most of the stuff to recoup some money and if it is not saleable but in good shape (example: clothes, cutlery) I donate them. It is a tremendous help to know that it is being used by someone else and not just thrown in the landfill.
The things we own should help us achieve our dreams and goals; it should not impede our progress and be a hurdle.