Why We Hold On To Clutter

Why Do We Hold Onto Clutter?

When your belongings are either physically or mentally in your way they have officially become clutter. Why do we hold on to that clutter?

We don’t recognize it as clutter

Oftentimes, the piles of clutter become white noise in the background. We know something feels a little “off” or “heavy” but we can’t identify exactly what’s causing this mental weight. We get so used to the clutter piling up around us that we don’t even recognize it as clutter. We become numb to it.

I have a simple rule of thumb for identifying clutter: Pick up an item and honestly answer these two questions: 1) “Do I love it?” 2) “Do I use it?” If you answer “no” to both questions, it’s clutter. Time to let it go. I recently got rid of an old trinket box that a former boss gave to me. I held onto it for 22 years simply because it had always been around. I didn’t love it. I didn’t use it. I let it go.

We feel guilty 

We may hold onto something we don’t use or love simply because someone gave it to us. Getting rid of something that was gifted to us can sometimes carry huge guilt. Keep in mind that clutter is a burden, so it’s OK to release the burden no matter how it came into your life: a new store-bought gift, a used hand-me-down or a family heirloom you inherited. These items may have been given to you with good intentions, but they have now become clutter. You have no use for clutter.

Here’s how you can handle the guilt –  know that your genuine relationships will still be intact after you have made the self-loving decision to let go of clutter. When someone has gifted you something it is now yours to keep or to release. You get to decide. Do what makes you feel less burdened. That usually means letting it go. 

We are emotionally attached

Emotional attachment can start very early in life. Small children get emotionally attached to a favorite stuffed animal or a “lovey.” For most of us, this kind of emotional attachment carries over into adulthood. When we look at old items that we’ve held on to for a long time they bring up memories. These memories bring up emotions.  

I recommend dealing with clutter that has emotional attachment the same way I recommend dealing with any kind of clutter. Ask yourself, “Do I use this? Do I love this?” You may love the person or memory, but not the object so be aware of how you are answering.

Also pay attention to how you feel when you look at an item. Are the emotions you feel positive or negative? If negative, get rid of it! Boxing it up and putting it in the attic is not getting rid of it. That’s only avoiding it. 

We are overwhelmed

Not recognizing the clutter, having guilt associated with getting rid of the clutter or being emotionally attached to the clutter is all very overwhelming. It’s hard to even know where to start. Take a breath. Tackle a little bit at a time. Sorting and decluttering is very time consuming so you must have patience with yourself and the process.

Everyone has their own “why” but give yourself permission to let go of anything that no longer serves you. Letting go of physical clutter oftentimes lifts mental clutter. Remember, if you get stuck there is always help. There is always a way to declutter, destress and simplify.


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