“Where did all this stuff come from and why is it so hard to let it go?”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard this from one of my wonderful clients as they scanned a hot spot in their home, I could have a hay day at The Container Store for like, a couple of hours. So NO… you are NOT alone.
There are many reasons that we accumulate stuff: relationships, kids, pets, careers, cars, and houses. All of these things require STUFF. Some of it is necessary, a lot of it is not. To add to that baseline of accumulation, we have hobbies, sports activities, gifts, papers, and one of those George Foreman Grills that get added to our stockpile. Our society is stuff-driven and moving at the speed of light. Add the loss of a loved one, trauma, or illness to the equation and you just might wake up and feel like you are being pushed out of your own home by the various piles encroaching on you.
Once we are aware that our home feels like a living, breathing to-do item on our list; filled with clutter, old memories, and piles to go through, you think it would be easy to just start filling bags and boxes up and get out the door, but that’s rarely the case.
Here are some of the most common (by no means all) reasons from my perspective as a professional decluttering geek (I gave myself that title thank you very much) that I see most often:
Time. As I mentioned, we are unfortunately moving at the speed of light. Time is a rare commodity for many. It’s hard to find time in our schedules when something is about as fun to you as getting a tooth pulled or spending half a day at the DMV.
Pro tip: Start small! Set your timer for ten minutes and do a dash through the house. Film the bag with donation items, trash or recycle!
Physical limitations, illness or mental health reasons. Many of us are struggling with depression, anxiety, or chronic pain. This can rightfully make some projects seem extra daunting.
Pro Tip: Reach out for support. Ask for assistance from family or a professional. Work with a mental health professional around your obstacles with decluttering and simplifying your environment. The time you invest will increase your likelihood of decluttering success.
Directly linking someone no longer with you to a physical item. Once we have had to say goodbye to a loved one, it can be extra challenging to let go of items directly related to them. Please remember that they live on in your memories, not in the things they left behind. If you have boxes or totes with items stored away, this is not honoring them, it is a way of delaying difficult decisions. Use the items, display them, or strongly consider letting them go. Your home should be a reflection of the life you want for yourself, not a memorial to others.
Pro-Tip: Utilize services like Chatbook to photograph sentimental items. Create a memory book to honor and remember your loved ones. Create a treasure box to put your very favorite mementos into and allow the size of the treasure box to limit how many items you keep.
Sunk cost fallacy. Sunk cost fallacy is when we can’t accept that the money or time we invested in something is gone for good. Loss aversion can keep us holding onto things, people, and habits that are no longer serving us because we feel so invested. We hold on tighter and tighter when the true value is in letting go and shows up in the forms of freedom, time, space, relief, and clarity.
Pro-Tip: Ask yourself if you would make this same choice today (a piece of clothing, a gym membership for example). If not, it probably is not valuable for your current life and is costing you in many ways!
Endowment Effect. The endowment effect is the psychological phenomenon that humans have when they perceive a higher value of things simply because they own them. Also, we can unknowingly apply a higher value or sense of ownership over something just because we touch it. There is a reason the Apple stores make it easy to touch and handle their merchandise! This can be a very harmful bias when you struggle with accurately assessing the value of items in your home.
Pro-Tip: Know your numbers! Utilize eBay to research SOLD prices of items. Do not judge it by LISTED prices! Those folks can be struggling with their own endowment effect.
Guilt. This is a big one. We hold onto things because we think we should. Because we are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. Living an uncluttered life is critical to the average person’s well-being. Release what isn’t serving you and know you are not responsible for the emotions of others if they were to feel upset that you donated something they gave you.
Pro-Tip: Photograph gifts that you don’t need any longer so that the thought behind the gift can be remembered.
I hope this helps you understand why it can be so hard to let go of your stuff. Our human brain highly despises loss, but with some awareness and a little work, you can do it!