Earlier this year I went back to my childhood home. My mission was to help my empty-nester parents empty the attic and declutter my possessions still at their home. I was able to accomplish that, but there was some decluttering guilt leftover.
I want to put into context for you just how much was stored in the attic. I’ll round the number down to 100 to make it even. One hundred boxes came down from that hot, dusty attic. Guess how many were mine!
If you read about my stuff addiction, you’ll know that I really like my stuff as a kid. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that about HALF of those boxes were mine.
At first, I was shocked. Then a twinge of decluttering guilt crept up.
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Why feel decluttering guilt?
That little, tiny twinge of guilt that I felt in my gut as I opened those fifty boxes was hard to place. Was it because my parents and grandparents had spent hard-earned money on these things that were long forgotten? Or was it that I let these items go to waste when some other child could have benefited from them?
As the discard piles grew (one for trash, one for sale), I understood why that emotional punch to the gut happened.
My once loved belongings meant very little, if anything, to me now. The loving parents that purchased those items for me spent money on them and now I don’t want any of it. I saw piles of wasted money.
If I would have delcuttered my childhood things fifteen years ago, I would not have this type of reaction. Instead, I’m nearing thirty. We have a baby and as a family we have an income. Now I spend our hard earned money. What would my reaction be if my child were to declutter his childhood items that I purchased for him years from now?
Even with the items we have purchased for our home, I feel that same emotional punch. I purchased it, it made me happy and was useful for a while, but now I no longer need it.
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It’s not wasted money if it once made your life better or made you happy.
The top reason people don’t want to get rid of something is because they think they would be wasting money. “If it’s still good, why get rid of it?”
Just because something is “still good” or still useful to you doesn’t mean you should keep it.
The day you bought the item, if that purchase made you feel happy or provided you with a rush of those feel-good endorphins, that item did its job.
Say it’s a dress you like but will never wear again. If you felt amazing wearing to one dinner party, then the dress did its job.
That cookware set that just isn’t right for you enabled you to cook a nourishing meal for your family. Maybe just a few times, but it did its job.
That dress and the cookware set are still good and useful. But they don’t bring you that jolt of happiness when you see them. They instead bring you down by taking up space that could be better used by something you do love.
How to deal with guilty clutter.
There are two types of guilty items: things you spent money on intentionally and things that if you were to get rid of, would make you feel wasteful.
Items you intentionally spent money on
Let’s revisit that dress I described earlier. I have one similar. It has been with me to several weddings and on formal dinner nights while vacationing. But let’s face it – that dress just doesn’t work for me anymore.
I’ve lost weight but had a baby. My body just doesn’t look the same as it used to. Even all the shapeware in the world could not make me be less self-conscious of my arms and belly in this dress. Yet, I hold on to it.
The decluttering guilt is strong with this dress. I’ve tried THREE TIMES to get rid of it. It’s still tight within my grasps though. So I took a picture of myself in it one last time and said good-bye. I then deleted the picture because the dress just doesn’t work for me anymore.
Using an item one last time before discarding it can be a helpful reminder of why you’re decluttering. Like my dress that didn’t fit right, you too might have items lurking in your wardrobe that don’t fit or ones that don’t look right no matter how hard you try. Try it on one last time as a reminder. Same goes for cookware, movies, books – try to use it one last time and you’ll be reminded of why you are discarding it.
Say “thank you” to the item before you let go. This is straight from Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Expressing gratitude towards the item that no longer suits you and your needs is a wonderful way to let go. I practice this method every time I let go of baby clothes. A quick “thank you for keeping my baby warm” keeps me from hanging on to those cute baby items I no longer need.
Items that make you feel wasteful
My grandmother loves to save jars. I also love to save jars. The difference is that she actually uses them. Me? I will sometimes use them, but then again maybe not.
All the packaging CRAP that our food comes in is wasteful to begin with. Whether it is food from the grocery store or a take-out dinner, most food items have waste.
Let me throw down some truth. That K-Cup won’t get reused. You don’t need that take-out box. And you aren’t going to make a craft out of that toilet paper roll and sell it.
Unless you need a take-out box (those plastic ones) because you have no food storage containers, please get rid of it. But when take-out is ordered so frequently and your cupboard is bursting with the stuff, why hold on to it?
Check the item to see if you can recycle it. If you are able to recycle the item via your cities recycling program or taking it back to the store, you can reduce the waste that will end up in a landfill. Whenever I purchase products that have packaging, I always try to grab the ones that I can recycle. For my family of three, we only take out 2 bags of trash a week.
Envision what your cupboard could hold if all of that junk wasn’t there. Those empty, washed out K-Cups still take up space. Picture what your cabinet could look like without all of those in there. Then actually remove them from the space. You probably won’t want to put them back. See this FAQ on how to recycle them.
Spark that decluttering fire.
I hope that this sparks a decluttering fire within you if you struggle with decluttering guilt. Just writing about this makes me want to discard so much more! Is there a particular type of clutter that you struggle with? Let me know in the comments!