Inside: Do you have a hard time getting rid of stuff? Knowing why it’s so difficult is the first step to being able to let stuff go. Here are seven common reasons getting rid of stuff can be so dang difficult, with tips to make it easier.
As much as I’ve decluttered over the years, I still have difficulty throwing things away. Just yesterday, I filled yet another basket with 15-20 items I needed to let go of that I’ve been holding onto for way too long.
All the reasons why I decided to hang onto the clutter for just a few more weeks (o.k., months, I admit it) seemed perfectly rational at the time.
That’s the thing about clutter, it’s subtle and stubborn. Once you let that thing in the door, it’s ten times harder to get rid of it.
But here’s the truth about stuff: every single item you decide to bring into your home takes your precious time.
Even if it’s only a few minutes a week, do you really want to spend those minutes cleaning up a book no one reads anymore (but the toddler pulls off the shelf every day), or moving that kitchen gadget out of your way in order to get to the object beneath it?
And when you add up all the minutes for fifteen items, that’s 45 minutes of your life stolen by clutter.
Knowing why you hold onto stuff, even when you know deep down that it’s clutter, is an essential step in the decluttering process, in learning how to throw things away.
When you’re going through a closet, and you have an irresistible urge to keep nearly everything you pick up, you need to know why.
Otherwise, your decluttering process is going to be ridiculously time-consuming and ultimately unsuccessful.
Why You Have Difficulty Throwing Things Away
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1. You think you’ll fix it.
The key word here is “think”. If you love to fix things, have the tools and the time to do so, and overall enjoy learning how to tackle a new project, that’s one thing.
You’ll probably fix it. If that’s the case, then this isn’t a clutter trap for you.
But this one becomes a trap when you’re not being honest with yourself.
I know because this one trips me up a lot.
I’m frugal by nature, but DIY is NOT my thing.
I don’t enjoy it. I make excuses not to do it. I’d pretty much rather be doing anything else, and I’d much rather go without the item or replace it when I have the funds to do so.
So, every time I set aside a ripped shirt to sew back together, I’m falling prey to this trap. I’m better off giving it to a friend who has the time and desire to fix it than keeping it for months (yes, it was months) thinking I will eventually get around to it.
However, if I do have the tools and the knowledge to fix something, it’s simply a matter of deciding whether or not to actually do it.
Just today, I came across one more time a few extra parts for an outdoor shed we purchased a few months ago. We never got around to finishing it, and as the shed is relatively functional, it didn’t seem to matter whether we added the extra parts or not.
I knew I needed to either finish the shed right then and there, or throw the extra parts away.
I gave myself a deadline: today.
In the end, I decided to install the extra parts. It took about fifteen minutes, and as it reinforced the shed’s roof, it was absolutely worth it.
Solution: Instead of setting the broken item aside in a closet somewhere, first decide whether or not the fix is something you can actually do.
If you CAN fix it yourself, give yourself a deadline. If you haven’t fixed the item by that date, determine to donate it, and get it out of your house.
If you CAN’T fix it, decide whether or not the time and money you would spend getting it fixed by someone else is actually worth it. If you decide it’s worth it, again, give yourself a deadline; then, if the deadline passes, give it away.
2. You could sell it (and you paid good money for it in the first place).
This clutter trap is even more difficult to escape than the “I might fix it” one. Knowing that you own something with possible value, and that you could recoup some of the money you spent on an item you are no longer using is definitely tempting.
But will you actually sell it?
Will you go through the trouble of photographing it? Listing it on eBay or Facebook Marketplace? Responding to inquiries and meeting the person who wants it?
How long has it been sitting around your house? How long since you decided it was actually clutter and needed to go?
How much longer still since you decided selling it was the best option?
The truth is, the longer it sits in your home, the longer it takes up your time and space and energy. The longer it sits, the more likely you are to convince yourself that it isn’t in fact, clutter. That you might use it again one day.
You need to get that thing out of your house, ASAP.
Solution: Again, you need to decide whether the amount of money you can get for this thing are worth the effort it will take to sell it.
If you know (not think – know from a little online research) that you can get a substantial amount of money for this item, then give yourself a few different deadlines. The first deadline is for listing the item. The second deadline, for when you will donate the item if it doesn’t sell.
If those deadlines pass, it’s time to get rid of it.
3. You might need it.
This is probably the most common reason people have difficulty giving things away, and it’s especially difficult to overcome if you’re decluttering on a low income.
The thought that you might need it, especially if you paid a lot of money for it, is hard to overcome. No one likes to admit they wasted money, right?
Or what if you didn’t waste money? What if you got as much use out of it as you could? If the item is still semi-functional, but you just don’t use or like it anymore, how can you possibly justify throwing it away?
These recent decluttering successes in my own life might help you let go of the things you think you might use.
Exhibit A: A white Target Threshold bathmat that cost more than the IKEA ones I love (and that actually work well).
I have a three other bathmats that work well, and that I absolutely love. The Target one gets shoved to the back of the linen closet again and again. Why? It works, sort of. It doesn’t dry quickly and looks like it needs washing one day after it’s been on the floor.
I finally decided it was time. If I ever needed another one, I could get another at IKEA that I liked twice as much for half the price.
Exhibit B: Two silver mixing bowls I never, ever use. They work perfectly fine. They’re functional, but I no longer use them because I have other mixing bowls that I prefer, and enough for any baking or cooking project I could ever do.
After two years of non-use, I finally knew I wasn’t ever going to use them, and if I did need more one day, I knew I could easily find them at the thrift store for a couple of dollars.
I dropped them off at the thrift store today. I’m sure someone else will be grateful for a nearly brand new bowl for cheap.
Solution: Ask yourself the following questions.
- Ask yourself if you’ve used it in the past 6 months. If you haven’t used it in 6 months, unless it’s a seasonal item, you probably won’t use it.
- Picture scenarios where you might need or want to use that item. Do you have another tool or piece of clothing that you could use instead? Could you make do without it? Having a game plan for what you will do when you don’t have that item will almost always diffuse your anxiety, allowing you to finally let it go.
- If you absolutely needed to replace something you decluttered, could you easily get another one at a thrift store or on Craigslist or eBay? Could you borrow it? If it’s relatively inexpensive to replace, and you haven’t used it in 6 months or more, it’s time to let it go.
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you make the best decision without knowing what none of us can: the future.
Decluttering takes trust, trusting that life without clutter will be better than life with the clutter, even if life with clutter feels more secure in the moment.
4. You have room for it.
Those mixing bowls I mentioned? I kept a third, extra-large one simply because the other bowls I have are smaller. When I need a bowl with an extra-large capacity, that one is my go-to.
But the other mixing bowls nested perfectly inside the one I decided to keep. Technically, I had room for it.
And yet, that one extra step of pulling the remaining two out from inside the bowl I actually needed took time. Not much, but still, it took an extra minute to get to what I really needed.
Even if you have room for something, if you don’t actually use it, you will likely waste time, energy and space moving it around trying to get to what you actually need.
Also, little do you know the room it’s taking up, room that might be made for something else that you actually do need, that would add value to your life, instead of take up empty space in your life. It sounds philosophical and a little out there, I know, but it’s true.
Once you declutter and let go of the things that are just taking up space, you make room in your life: physical space in your home, yes, but also mental and emotional space, as well.
Solution: Acknowledge the possibility that there could be a better use for the space that object is taking up right now. Choose to trust that by giving it away, you will make room for something better, something more valuable and more meaningful to you than something you never use.
Just because you have room for something, doesn’t mean you should keep it.
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5. Someone gave it to you.
If you are a person who likes to make other people happy, a “people pleaser”, then it’s understandable why you have a hard time throwing away or giving away a gift from someone else.
That person spent time and money and energy to pick out whatever it is that they gave you. You feel obligated to honor that by holding onto the object.
While I’ve learned a thing or two about accepting gifts graciously in my few years as a minimalist, simply because I graciously accept a gift does not mean that I am obligated to keep it long-term. I may use the item for a short period of time, or keep it for a few weeks to see if I really won’t use the item.
But after those weeks, if I don’t have a use for it, if I know that for me, that thing will be clutter in my house, I let it go.
If it’s a particularly sentimental object – something handmade, for example – I may offer it back to the giver (perhaps after a bit longer than a few weeks), graciously explaining that I can’t use it any longer. If it wasn’t handmade, I donate it or give it to a friend who can use it.
Solution: First, you need to realize that the person probably isn’t thinking about what happened to the gift as much as you are. He has probably forgotten he gave it to you in the first place.
Second, even if he does remember, gifts are generally given out of love, affection, or obligation. If it was given out of the first two, that person who cares about you shouldn’t want you to be burdened by their gift, not really.
If they do, that’s his problem, and you shouldn’t need to keep something because of someone else’s problem.
If it was given out of obligation? Then you can give it away guilt-free.
6. It has sentimental value.
In my mini-decluttering session last weekend, I went through our bookshelves yet again. I pulled off the shelves a falling-apart copy of Watch the Rainbow Grow.
The book hasn’t been read in ages. And when I do read it to my younger kids, it doesn’t grab them in the same way as it did my daughter when she was small (over seven years ago, now).
The book was a gift, but it wasn’t the fact that it was a gift that was holding me back from decluttering it. It was the memories the book held.
I read that book to her over and over again. She had it memorized.
The truth is, though, the book has lived its life. No one else remembers it like I do.
We have videos and pictures of us reading it. The spine is cracking, and the pages ripping apart.
Again, it was time. I had avoided decluttering it for ages, not wanting to let it go. But it was time to make room for new books with new stories and new memories.
Solution: Having photos or videos of sentimental objects makes it much easier to get rid of them. Snap a few photos or take a video. Realize that the memories you do have with that thing aren’t going anywhere just because you give it away.
No one can ever take the memories away, and if you have a photo or video, you won’t forget them, either.
Pass it on to someone else who will make new memories.
7. You forget you have it.
This excuse is simply from a lack of purposeful decluttering. When you decide to declutter, you work your way systematically room by room, leaving no cupboard untouched, no room with items you didn’t touch personally and choose to keep.
It’s pretty difficult to throw something away if you don’t realize you have it in the first place.
Solution: This one is pretty simple. Choose to declutter. Pick a method, set a timeline, and decide on an end date.
My favorite book recommendation if you are wanting something cheap, but effective to help you declutter is The Joy of Less. It’s realistic, and doesn’t encourage you to give away 98% of what you own just because, minimalism.
Minimalism is not about sucking the joy out of your life, or about living with the least amount of stuff possible. Realistic minimalism will give you back your life and allow you to live your life to the fullest. I should bring you joy, not take it away.
- How to Declutter When You Have No Time & A Tight Budget
- 8 Tips for Decluttering on a Low Income
- Where to Start Decluttering When You Are Too Overwhelmed to Start
The Ultimate Solution to Make Getting Rid of Stuff Easier
I’ve offered you tips and solutions for specific reasons you might struggle to get rid of your stuff, and those can be helpful. But really, this solution trumps them all. Without it, you might have a hard time decluttering from start to finish.
Are you ready?
In order to get rid of stuff, you need to have a driving purpose. You need to know your “why”.
Otherwise? You’ll probably end up replacing the stuff you manage to throw away with new stuff that you don’t really want or need.
And you’ll end up needing to throw that stuff away.
All that effort, all over again.
So before you start, know your “why.”
Why do you want to declutter in the first place?
What is worth taking all this time and effort to declutter (it will take a LOT of time and energy, by the way)?
What do you want to do with that time and space?
How do you picture your life being better without the stress that clutter brings?
Write your answer(s) down and put it on your fridge, or on your bathroom mirror.
That’s what will keep you going, what will help you plow through the days you don’t think you can keep going and get rid of anything else, when you decide that decluttering is just too difficult.
You need to know that the end result is going to be worth it.
Do you have difficulty throwing things away? What is your biggest hang-up?
I’m sure I missed one, and I’d love to hear yours. Share in the comments!
P.S. I created The Declutter Your Home Checklist just for you. It’s over 100 items that just about anyone can agree need to be decluttered ASAP – the easiest of the easiest things to throw away/give away TODAY.