Decluttering: On Getting Stuck

clutter and hoarding
Our conservatory in 2009

We’ve all been there.

You start out full of enthusiasm, ready to tackle that drawer, wardrobe or cabinet, and after the first 15 minutes you find yourself staring at the same few things over and over, unable to make a decision about them.

You pick up an item and then you start to remember all the times you have used it. You think about the memories attached to those occasions and although you really thought you didn’t need it any more, suddenly it seems much more important. You decide to keep it, but aren’t sure where to put it. A nagging feeling eats away at you. You start to get bored with all this sorting out. It’s taking too long. Decluttering has stopped being fun and is now hard work.

What you thought was going to be an easy task, swiftly completed by your ruthless determination, becomes a headache. An unfinished job.

Maybe you bundle everything back into the drawer or cupboard, slightly less junky than it was, but not finished.

Maybe you leave it piled up somewhere to sort out some other day. Which only causes more mess and chaos further down the line.

Maybe you just move it somewhere else and postpone the decision.

I have done all of the above, but over many years of decluttering I have come to understand something that has really helped me.

When you get stuck on an item, you almost certainly don’t need to keep it

The very reason we get stuck on things is usually down to some kind of emotion that is attached to that object.

You should have used it more, looked after it better, saved it better, you wish it was better than it was, it reminds you of something sad, it’s the only thing left you have to remind you of Aunty Dora, it’s a token to remind you of something.

That object that you are agonising over is bringing you down.

If you loved it, your immediate reaction would be something like this:

Oh, I love that, it’s so beautiful/useful/lovely, let’s wear it/use it/display it now.

When you don’t love something, your reaction is more like this:

Oh, I think I want to keep this. I mean, everyone keeps these, don’t they? Hmm, but where can it go? It doesn’t live here. I haven’t used it for ages, but I might well do. Or my kids might want to look at it when they are older. I wish it was easier to find somewhere to put this.

You search through you mind’s archives looking for the gut reaction that says you want to keep it, but it isn’t there.

Instead you think about it. A lot.

You um and ah over the pros and cons of keeping it. You think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t get rid of it. Eventually you move on, and the object remains.

By postponing the decision to sort something out, you are really saying to yourself:

I need to let go of this object, but I can’t bring myself to do it today.

There are hundreds of things around your house that will speak to you like this. These items are the reason that so many of us live with so much stuff.

I have realised that when I get fed up of decluttering, when I stop making progress, when it all feels like a ridiculous job that I can’t believe I am spending time on, when I get irritable and fed up because I tell myself there just isn’t enough storage space in the house, that’s when I know I need to let an item go.

This kind of decluttering decision is a big deal – it makes me feel a bit wobbly, a bit worried, a bit ungrateful and a bit like I might regret it, but once the decision is made, I feel something else.


Each time I successfully navigate through that resistance to get rid of things that don’t make the sunshine come out inside my head, I  get better at learning what I really do and don’t need in my life.

And with each layer of stuff that I peel away, I get closer to finding the real me underneath it all.

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