I have a confession to make. It’s about my decluttering project.
Here’s the Situation.
I don’t actually go around my house every day and pick a thing to get rid of that night. I discovered, through trial and error, that I don’t work well that way.
Instead, I periodically purge a certain room or type of object, piling everything up in a corner. Then, I pull from that pile for my daily thing to get rid of. When the pile is gone, I do another purge.
This approach means I look at each thing twice before I actually get rid of it: once when I put it into the pile, and again when I take it out to photograph it.
I’m ashamed to say, every now and then I don’t get rid of every thing in my pile. Sometimes, I replenish the pile rather than get rid of that last thing I’m not ready to part with. Sometimes — *gasp* — a thing I’d meant to get rid of finds its way back into my life. I just can’t make myself let it go.
I’ve been mildly annoyed at myself for reneging on my decisions. I finally decided to get to the bottom of this so that I’d know best how to counter my tendencies.
Why I Keep What I Keep
I asked myself: Why was I ultimately unwilling to be rid of particular objects? After a bit of pondering, I determined that I keep things for three primary reasons:
- Preparedness: I already bought this item, so even if I don’t love it, it’s better to hang onto it for future use than get rid of it and have to by a new one later on. This is the case with a laptop bag I haven’t yet given away. I have a great bag I like and use frequently. But this other one is, well…smaller. And you just never know when you might need a slender little laptop bag. Right?
- Guilt: I paid good money for this, or someone else did and gave it to me, so I am bound to keep it forever and ever. I have a nice winter coat that is way to big for me and that I never wear. It could be keeping someone else warm — and yet it hangs in my coat closet, unworn. All because it cost a decent chunk of change.
- Identity: My identities depend on the objects I own, so getting rid of them means letting go of that identity. When I talked about this a few weeks ago, I used the example of baking books. I’ve struggled to get rid of my favorites, even though the ingredients of traditional baking don’t agree with my body and I can’t use those books anymore.
The Plot Thickens
As I thought about it some more, though, I realized the three categories I identified aren’t separate, by any means. They overlap in sneaky, amorphous ways.
The baking books, for instance? They’re an identity thing, but they also hook in with guilt (I paid for them, or they were gifts, so I should keep them) and preparedness (what if something changes and I can suddenly eat flour and sugar again? I don’t want to have to re-buy my favorite cookbooks!).
Or take the entire preparedness category. That’s basically an identity I have for myself. I’m someone who has what she needs on hand instead of having to run out to the store. Letting go of my stashes would force me to challenge this identity.
The good news is that as I looked at what I’d salvaged from my donation pile, pretty much all of it fit into at least one of these categories. At least I’m making progress…
How does knowing this help me? Well, for starters, it’s easier to fight (and defeat!) an enemy you know than one you don’t.
Even better, knowing what’s driving my resistance lets me use emotions to get rid of things. And as most people who have tried to declutter know, emotions can be a real sticking point in the process of letting go.
A few examples of how I might use my newfound insight to help with the decluttering process:
- If my pride in my preparedness is offended, I can work on building a new identity for myself, maybe as a resourceful person who can make do with what she has or figure out how to get what she needs instead of holding onto everything she can “just in case.”
- If I feel guilt over an object, and every time I look at it I feel that negative emotion, letting go of the object will help assuage the feeling. I can even turn guilt over having bought something I never use into guilt over holding onto something another person might need.
- If it pains me to let go of a cherished identity, as when I got rid of my baking books, knowing what’s making me reluctant to move on helps me find a replacement, if needed: here, new recipes that don’t make me sick.
Getting to the Bottom of Things
When you try to get rid of something and encounter resistance, explore that feeling. What’s being threatened? What’s the sore spot?
Pay attention to any emotions that come up alongside flat out resistance. Can you use them as clues to get to the bottom of what’s bugging you?
Listen to the excuses you give, to yourself or others, for not letting something go. Keep a list, if you want. (“I paid good money for this.” “I might need it someday.” “I’ll get back to it eventually.” “It’s fixable.” “What?? I could never get rid of my ___!!” and so on.)
Look for the patterns. Once you’ve found them, think about how you can leverage them to make the process of letting go easier.
What’s Your Take?
Why do you hang onto the things you do?