Strategies for letting go of your uncluttering fears

Continuing on the theme of letting go of fear from yesterday’s post, I wanted to provide some strategies for how to let go of your uncluttering fears. Most of us have them — I certainly do — but they shouldn’t keep us from achieving our uncluttering and organizing goals.

  1. The fear that you’re making a mistake. Mistakes are a part of life, and you’re going to make them. As long as the mistake isn’t fatal, you can recover from it. Thankfully, very few mistakes related to uncluttering are life-threatening. It’s okay if you get rid of what you think is clutter and then later realize you need it. Borrow the item from a friend the one time you need it or rent it or buy it used off Craigslist. With one-of-a-kind items that you don’t know if you’ll be able to easily replace, consider long-term loaning these objects to close friends or family members who are interested in using the objects. Then, borrow the item if you find you ever need it.
  2. The fear that you’ll fall on hard times. You may actually fall on hard times at some point in the future. Unfortunately, a smooth path through life isn’t guaranteed for anyone. Owning clutter, though, isn’t going to help you through those difficult times. Clutter can keep you from being able to quickly respond to a problem or handle it well. Clutter can sometimes make the problem worse. The fewer things you have to clean and maintain during a tragedy will allow you to focus on what really matters during those times.
  3. The fear that people in your life won’t understand. This is going to happen. Someone in your life will be confused by your desire to live without clutter. Don’t worry, though, you’re confused by other people all the time. It doesn’t keep you from loving them or being friends or enjoying their company — and the same will be true for other people who are confused by you. Life would be boring if we were all the same.
  4. The fear that someone else in your house will just clutter it all up again. Once again, this is a real possibility. It’s also a real possibility that you’ll be the one to clutter up the space again. The risk that the space might become cluttered again isn’t a reason not to unclutter. There is also a big possibility that the space won’t get cluttered again. Uncluttering and organizing take practice, just like all skills. Michael Phelps didn’t win an Olympic gold medal the first time he jumped into a swimming pool.
  5. The fear that your life will change, and change is hard even when it’s good. Your life will change. You won’t ever know how amazing an uncluttered life focused on what matters most to you is until you give it a try. It’s your choice, however, and you should only make the change if you really want to. No one can unclutter your life except for you, other people can help, but you’re the one who has to do the majority of the work.

23 Comments for “Strategies for letting go of your uncluttering fears”

  1. posted by Camille Gaines on

    Great article. The fear that you’ll fall on hard times is my favorite, as founder of a financial educational site for women. Love that this links clutter to financial fear. Thanks for the read.

  2. posted by Amy on

    Ah yes – ” fear that someone else in your house will just clutter it all up again”. I’m so there!

    But thankfully I’m starting to see the other side of the coin. My children are learning that routine culling of things is part of life and that recycling the picture they drew last year and is now tattered is ok to do. We can take a picture of if if they really want. And they are helping to make the decisions – what a blessing!

    I’m finding that after uncluttering once, the next time around isn’t as tough!

    I’ve also realized that I make as much clutter as the rest of the family. (I always though I didn’t! (>.<;)

  3. posted by Momma Yen on

    “The fear that you will fall on hard times.”

    This one made me smile because it’s when I’m sick and don’t feel like doing anything that I really get to thinking how much I would love to be a minimalist instead of looking at everything that needs to be done. Such as this past weekend! :)

    Great post!!

  4. posted by Erica on

    We had a total loss fire and dealing with the insurance co was a nightmare. I’m now a minimalist and dealing with a lot less stff is very liberating! Recently in our new house we had a small flood that affected the smelly photos pulled from the fire (one of the only things pulled from the fire 6 years ago). Moral of the story: if you don’t deal with your stuff, you create a source of aggravation in your life. Waiting for the locust to hit next ;-)

  5. posted by priest's wife on

    ‘fear of falling on hard times’ YES! One has to trust the future to get rid of usable junk

  6. posted by Laura, The "Argie" on

    Thanks for this help in our daily battle against clutter!
    Your advice has helped me enormously in the past months (since I discovered it), as I am uncluttering my life to move light from Argentina to the US. Not an easy task, but completely worth it!!!
    THANKS A LOT!

  7. posted by MaryJo @ reSPACEd on

    I would like to add another fear: Fear of insulting others. Many of the women I work with as a professional organizer are reluctant to part with unwanted gifts, because they are afraid the gift-giver will find out and be insulted. Also, many of these same women receive family heirlooms, hand-me-downs or boxes of their baby things from their mothers/mothers-in-law, and they feel afraid to get rid of them even though they don’t want them.

    It’s a tough dilemma, and no one wants to be seen as uncaring and cold. I wrote more about it, in case you want to read more or can relate to this! http://respacedpdx.blogspot.com/2011/06/dont-throw-away-this-gift-or-i-will.html

  8. Avatar of

    posted by chacha1 on

    “you’re confused by other people all the time” – LOL ain’t that the truth!

    I am sooooo lucky that DH and I are geographically distant from all of our families … there is NO family pressure to hang onto stuff, and no fear that they will notice if we just happen to pass along something we were given.

    “Justin Case” is occupying a smaller & smaller part of our lodging as time goes on. He is a pest of a houseguest but his days are numbered.

  9. posted by Ready to Change on

    I just got your book from my local library. (This is one of my recent steps to becoming uncluttered–utilizing my local library.) I love it. I have typed out and posted your lists and tips, moving them from room to room as I work through the chaos.

    I have to say, my inspiration to unclutter is my daughter’s room. In her eight years, I have slowly but surely taught her my cluttering habits. My ultimate goal is to set an example for her rather than to keep telling her “Pick up your clothes off the floor. Yes, I see that my clothes are all over my room. Do what I say, not what I do.”

    In these efforts, “fear of insulting others” came to me today. I was looking at a touching but dated item my mom made me 30 years ago for my room. I was thinking I’d keep it in case my daughter might want it. Then I realized, I was escaping the guilt of giving up something I really didn’t want by passing the buck to my daughter.

    It’s a tough road, becoming a model unclutterer.

  10. posted by snosie on

    My fear is that I’ll declutter and be sad. I’m not sure if that’s common. I’ll feel like my life is empty. That I’ve ‘forgotten’ my past, that I don’t have any treasurers, and that my space won’t show any personality.

  11. posted by Stephanie on

    The fear that people in your life won’t understand.
    Well it’s true that most don’t. Many people have said to me things like “oh but you love such and such so much” or “but you might need it one day”. I’ve faced that fear and have let go of so much. A lot of it was just old paperwork or too many books, cds and movies. We’re still on a journey that will soon involve giving away things like gifts from family and friends. I can just imagine what people would think if they realized what we have given away or plan to. It makes me remember when giving a gift that it should be a gift not a burden they need to keep hold of.

  12. posted by Stephanie on

    snosie – I forgot to say up above that now that I’ve gotten into the groove of donating or selling my excess stuff that I feel liberated and happy. It gives me a high like shopping used to. Just today someone picked up a baby gate I had put outside with a “free” sign. It made me so happy. Don’t be afraid! It helps me to think that someone out there didn’t have to buy something new because I finally released something from my home that I wasn’t even using.

  13. posted by Teresa Roth on

    The gift thing is difficult for us:
    Hubby had everything people had given him because he felt obligated to keep them, I had stuff that was given to me that I never wanted by family too. Questions we asked each other as we sorted stuff: Did you like the gift when you received it? Did you enjoy using/having the gift for a while? Does it still have meaning to you beyond the memories? Does it represent who you are now? Is it useful? We where able to get rid of half or the things in the first sort. Another 1/3 left again this year and we decided to display some special items rather than store them. We both sorted out gifts and mementos and could discard them without regret; Iffy ones went into storage for later. It really helped us identify which ones were important and what was kept out of obligation.
    As a side note my MIL asks what happened to some very ugly gifts she has given us (clothing, a huge ceramic toilet paper holder and some thrift store wine glasses)that we discarded shortly after getting them. My response is the items just didn’t fit/work. When she persists I ignore the question. If she doesn’t let it go I tell her we gave x away.
    We have specifically asked family not to give us gifts for birthdays and holidays because we would rather meet them for a meal or a fun outing.

  14. posted by Jess@miniMum on

    I pictured these fears as “inner voices” stopping us from succeeding.

    Here, I also ask you to imagine all that stuff that you’re not using, added to all the stuff your neighbours aren’t using, all the way across the country – what a dead weight of waste!

  15. posted by Lynda on

    Hi, Erin and Unclutterers,
    here’s a link from the Guardian website on memory boxes and curating your memories or the things you keep to prove you’ve been there (number 6: people won’t believe you’ve achieved something without proof??)
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/aug/19/memory-boxes-oliver-burkeman

    Hey, we have 2 Justins living in our house, a techie one and a crafty one! And they’re shrinking every month, I’m glad to say.

  16. posted by evelyn Cucchiara on

    Great article! For those of us who have the “organized gene” it’s hard to remember that people put all sorts of feelings and meanings into what is just stuff. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. posted by Rondina on

    I hope you address the post by Snosie. She fears that she will forget her past if she declutters. After almost nine months after downsizing my framed pictures are still in boxes. Only my grandmother’s portrait, a portrait of the kid’s when they were young, and three individual pictures are hung out of hundreds of framed pictures that I inherited and framed myself. There is simply no wall space in this early 20th century bungalow. I miss my pictures, but I don’t see a place for them here. Unless she suffers from something more than “senioritous,” I can assure her that the memories remain intact.

  18. posted by Amy on

    @snosie – Try decluttering a little at a time to see what aspects work best for you. I’m decluttering 10 minutes a day in an area until I find it finished. You decide if it’s clutter or not. Just don’t let fear be the motivator. Do I need my grampa’s tea set from Japan? No. Do I want it? oh yes I do! And I keep it.

    Do I keep many papers that my kids did in school even though they are adorable? no. But the way I cope with giving them up is scanning the best of them and putting them in our yearly photo book. (We do the printed photo book for our own memories and enjoy looking at it several times a year together. We also give them as gifts to the grandparents – who enjoy looking at them.)

    You find the ways to declutter that fit you. It’s amazing the freedom that decluttering brings when it’s on your own terms.

  19. posted by Jane on

    Freedom – yes! Understanding from others? Maybe not, but I keep moving forward and try to be gentle with the feelings of others.

    Just had a milestone birthday – 50 – and am overjoyed – I didn’t get any “stuff”!!!!!

  20. posted by Celia on

    @snosie – Oh, you are not alone! you have put into words the fear I’ve felt for years. I used to not want to ever finish “cleaning” because I was afraid that there would be nothing left for me to do!

    Something that has really helped me is to think of decluttering as distilling out the precious & treasured things out from all the stuff.

    What if I have no treasures? If I am only keeping the things that I love, use, that make me happy, those things are automatically treasure *for me*! They infuse my space with my personality. My memories are all still there – but I have chosen the physical reminders that I want to encounter every day (the ones I want to encounter only by choice, those will be carefully, deliberately stored).

    My goal isn’t to “get rid of everything” (which is where I start to feel vulnerable and scared), but instead to clear away the things that aren’t precious to me, leaving only the things that are precious.

    I’m not there yet, and some days I get scared all over again that I’ll be left with nothing. That is when I remind myself that I am unearthing the precious things, like an archaeologist, or maybe seeking out the treasure like a hero on an epic quest. And if that starts to sound a bit like a fairy tale? Who cares! It makes me smile, and anyway, there’s a castle in here somewhere buried under the flea market… I just have to find it. :-)

  21. posted by momof3 on

    the best way to declutter: Having not one but two of your daughters move away from home and into university housing. WA HOO! Their at home bedroom has NEVER looked so uncluttered. True, they have shared a room since the younger one moved in once she was able to sleep in the crib. and the room was overtaken by a ton of toys.

    One half of the closet is completely barren, as are all but two drawers of the eight in the room.

    I miss them DEARLY, since one is up to 6 hours south, and the other, 5 hours north(and out of state)!!!!!!!

    I personally am dreading the day they both move back home. ALL that stuff they have for college dorm and.or apt. life…..where to put it in our 920 sf home!!! This is when I break into my Scarlett O’Hara mode: I will think about that another day!!!

  22. posted by serin paul on

    Fear is the greatest enemy,it breaks relationships,it makes you perform less and and prevent you from moving forward and the only way to get moving is to remove the fear,indeed it was a great article thank you

  23. posted by Helen on

    Hi there,

    Following up Lynda’s link to the Guardian website – the full printed version that went out in the Saturday supplement magazine quotes Erin and this website. In fact, I think it was a previous reference from Oliver Burkemann’s column that led me to Unclutterer.

    I love this website; it has helped me in my battle to stay on top of ‘stuff’.

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