Why is it So Hard to Get Rid of My Stuff?


This past week, I was working with a new client, helping her edit and organize her wardrobe. In the process of going through items, she turned and asked me, “Why do people keep so much stuff? And why is it so hard for people to get rid of things?” I will share with you what I told her.

Many people are emotionally attached to their positions. It can be difficult to part with things, especially those that have had a place in your life. People have a variety of reasons and rationale for holding on to things.

Excuse #1: It Was Expensive

It may be true that you paid a lot of money for an item, but that, in and of itself, is not a reason to keep it if you aren’t using it or you don’t love it.

When I teach classes on organizing, I often tell my students that regardless of whether the item is used daily, is sitting on a shelf in your basement collecting dust, is given to a friend, or is donated or thrown away, in none of those scenarios does the money magically reappear in your wallet. The money is (long) gone, so don’t use that as the excuse to keep your purchase.

Instead, think about that wasted money the next time you are shopping on-line or in a store; determine if the thing you are considering buying will get enough use to justify pulling out your wallet or credit card.

Excuse #2: It Was a Gift

Sometimes you have to keep “the thought behind the gift,” but not the physical gift itself, especially if you don’t need, use or love it.

My belief is that once someone gives you a present, they lose control over the item; they do not get to determine whether you keep it, or what happens to it. Most people don’t even remember what they gave you for your birthday or Christmas five years ago.

In the unlikely event that they do, they probably aren’t tacky enough to ask where it is. But, if they are, in that case it’s okay to tell a little white lie – “oh, we were so upset when Fluffy knocked it off the counter and it broke!”

Excuse #3: Every Time I Get Rid of Something, I Need It a Week Later

Yes, it is possible that after you spend a great deal of time sorting, organizing, and editing your things, you may find a use for something you chose to discard. But here’s the thing. If you hadn’t just spent the time sorting through the clutter, you probably wouldn’t even remember that you owned said item. Or, if you did remember, the likelihood is that you wouldn’t have known where it was or been able to put your hands on it when you did need it.

One of my colleagues termed this “recently-seen regret.” The trade-off is having a clear, clutter-free space. Remember, there is a lost time and productivity cost when you spend hours trying to find a missing object.

Excuse #4: If I Get Rid of it, I Won’t Remember

Is your memory so poor that if you don’t save the plastic, tacky model of the Eiffel Tower you truly won’t remember that you traveled thousands of miles to Paris? Is it really likely that, if you don’t save the boxes of Grandma’s china that you never use, you will forget Grandma and how much you loved each other?

Perhaps you can save items selectively. Instead of saving an entire set of unused dishes, save one mug and use it daily for your morning coffee. Or, save a small saucer and use it to hold your jewelry when you take it off at night. Consider saving one or two representative photos instead of the entire album (assuming you don’t look at it); another option is digitizing the photos rather than keeping hard copies.

Excuse #5: I Need to Find a Good Home for It

I do believe in keeping things out of the landfills whenever possible. However, you do not have to find the perfect charity for your discards. There are many, many good-enough charities that will happily take your unwanted items and put them to good use.

Spending hours researching the ideal charity is not a good use of your time; it will also likely ensure that the unwanted item doesn’t leave your home. The goal is to de-clutter and free up space so you can streamline and simplify your life. If it goes to Charity B instead of Charity A, it’s really okay.

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Deborah Gussoff is one of only 200 organizers in the country to achieve the designation of Certified Professional Organizer®. Deborah founded her company, In Order, Inc., in 1994 to help individuals and businesses gain more time and space by organizing their environments and lives. She believes that, with a little help, every person can lead an organized life. If you need help editing your possessions, Deborah offers in-person as well as virtual coaching and judgment-free support. 

This guest blog post was originally published at InOrder.com/blog.

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