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Decluttering Anxiety: Why Decluttering Makes Us Anxious

Decluttering Anxiety: Why Decluttering Makes Us Anxious

Have you tried to declutter but worry about what to keep and what to get rid of? Here are some reasons why decluttering makes us anxious and some simple, gentle tips on how to overcome decluttering anxiety.

DECLUTTERING ANXIETY vs ANXIETY CAUSED BY CLUTTER

Clutter can make us anxious, stressed out and overwhelmed. Removing clutter can reduce our stress levels and provide calm, peace and focus. However, in this article I’m looking at the flip side of that coin, how the process of decluttering can itself also cause anxiety!

WHY DECLUTTERING MAKES US ANXIOUS

Decluttering is going to make life easier, help us reclaim our space and clear our homes and mind of stuff we don’t use or don’t need. Right? Well, yes, but getting to that point isn’t always easy.

Apart from lack of time, lack of motivation and not knowing where to start or what questions to ask, decluttering can make us anxious.

We can feel anxious for a few reasons and I’m sharing some of them here in case you’re struggling with clearing your clutter and are worried about decluttering.

DECLUTTERING GETS EASIER WITH PRACTICE

Decluttering is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. It takes time to build confidence in letting go of things. And, in fact, decluttering is more than just letting go. It’s a conscious act of getting rid of stuff and actively getting it out of your home.

Decluttering is a proactive activity whereas letting go feels more passive. Therefore, it’s not surprising that decluttering stirs up some difficult emotions.

The more you practice decluttering, the more you get stuck in and learn how to overcome decluttering anxiety for yourself, the more adept you’ll become at making decluttering decisions more easily and confidently.

But to make that happen, you have to start!

Declutering anxiety - why does decluttering make us feel anxious

REASONS WHY DECLUTTERING MAKES US ANXIOUS AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM

In this article I’m sharing some tips on how to deal with decluttering anxiety if you feel it’s getting in the way of you tackling your unwanted clutter.

You’re not in the decluttering mindset

Mindset is key to what we do in life and the outcome and decluttering is no different. To get motivated to declutter, to stay motivated when decluttering feels hard and to overcome some of the challenges we’ll talk about in this article, you need to be in a positive frame of mind.

  • Be clear on your decluttering goals and exactly why you want less clutter.
  • Remind yourself often of what you’re hoping to gain and the benefits of decluttering to you and your family.
  • Keep these in mind when you’re struggling. Repeat them to yourself every morning, put them on a post it note on your fridge.
  • Don’t declutter when you’re feeling emotional or tired.

Further reading: Decluttering Mindset: How to Get Into the Right Mindset to Declutter

You’re worried about wasting money

I understand this. When I first began decluttering, we didn’t have much money to spare. I was working all the hours but still trying to make ends meet. Every time I went to declutter something, I tallied up in my mind how much I bought it for and how many hours at work I’d put in to buy it in the first place.

  • The waste of money happens when you purchase the item in the first place.
  • Decluttering means YOU are getting rid but that doesn’t mean the item is being wasted. Someone else could benefit if you donate it.
  • If you’re not using it now, your clutter is costing you in different ways, not just through your money.
  • Use this feeling of wasting money to your advantage to encourage better spending habits in the future.

Further reading: How To Declutter Without Feeling Wasteful: Is Decluttering a Waste of Money?

You feel guilty at letting perfectly good stuff go

Guilt is a powerful feeling but not particularly helpful. Guilt is often about what’s happened in the past and, unless we can change the past, then maybe it’s better to channel that guilt into positive change for the future. So, in terms of letting good stuff go, reframe your thoughts.

  • Just because it’s good stuff, doesn’t mean you have to keep it if you don’t use it, need it or it doesn’t add value in some way.
  • Maybe someone else can benefit from these items instead? Someone who couldn’t afford to pay full price but would love to receive it second-hand.
  • It helps the planet to be a little mindful of how we approach stuff. Avoid unnecessary consumption, re-use items and buy second-hand as much as possible and that you feel comfortable with.

Further reading: How To Decide What To Keep and What to Get Rid of When Decluttering

Declutering anxiety - why does decluttering make us feel anxious

You want to keep things ‘just in case’ you might need them

There’s a distinction here between getting rid of things for the sake of it and getting rid of things because you don’t want or need them in your home and life. Decluttering is hugely popular but sometimes I think it’s easy to get caught up in the trend for less is more. However, if you begin to think about your long-term plan for a clutter-free home and work towards it slowly but surely, then you’re much more likely to think obectively whether you need something ‘just in case’.

  • Try slow decluttering so you can lean into it slowly and in a way that’s right for you.
  • Put your ‘just in case’ stuff in a box with a post-it note with the date on which you last used it. Review that box in a month or 6 months and see if you’re able to get rid of stuff that you haven’t needed for that time.
  • Consider what’s the worst that can happen if you got rid of something you later needed? Could you borrow it, make do without or do you have something similar that you could use instead?

Further reading: Just In Case Clutter: What It Is and How To Deal With It

You can’t afford to replace something you’ve decluttered

This can be a real trigger for decluttering anxiety, especially these days when the cost of living is rising.

We stockpile stuff because it’s on special offer and it saves us money, or you get rid of that bag sitting in your wardrobe because you only wear your favourite but then the strap breaks on your favourite and you now don’t have another.

Decluttering is about finding a balance between TOO much stuff and the impact that clutter is having on you and your life. Decluttering is not about making you live in scarcity and deprivation. It’s about making you live better with you have, want and need.

  • If you’re unsure of something, declutter something else instead that you ARE sure about.
  • Some items are more difficult or expensive to replace than others. A bag is more expensive than a bottle of shampoo.
  • Use space to define what to keep and what to get rid of. It removes the burden of emotional responsibility for making good decluttering decisions from you as you’re only keeping what you have space to keep. The space you have designated for that item does the deciding for you.

You’re worried you might be decluttering the ‘wrong’ things

What do the ‘wrong’ things mean to you? It’s likely to be something you feel worried about decluttering for some of the reasons we’re talking about in this article.

  • Can you explore exactly what you mean by ‘wrong’ things? What’s the worst that can happen?
  • Decluttering is very much about confidence so try building that confidence with some easy-to-declutter items, such as your bathroom or your medicine cabinet.
  • If you start a bigger project or a room or area that makes you worried and anxious in decluttering, leave it for now and do something else, or just do a sweep for obvious clutter and leave it at that. Come back to it again for a second sweep when you’re ready.
  • Decluttering is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Every time you declutter you’ll find a little bit  more that you’re ready to get rid of.

Further reading: Where to Start Decluttering

You’re worried about what others will think, say or do

Decluttering is about YOU and your home. You live there and it’s YOUR stuff so you get to do with it as you wish. It’s nothing to do with your neighbours or your friends or what you see on social media.

If you’re worried about what other members of your household will think then you essentially have two choices.

  • Firstly, don’t tell them what you’re doing but focus on decluttering your stuff and leave their stuff alone.
  • Secondly, start a conversation around what you feel about your home and life at the moment, what you want to feel instead and exactly how decluttering can help you get from position A to position B.
  • Both approaches can pose problems along the way and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to bring your household on board with what you’re trying to do. I’ve tried both approaches over the years and there’s pros and cons to both.
  • Instead, I think it’s about compromise, taking responsibility for improving your life, the importance of having open and honest communication and an awareness that we all have different priorities and goals but it’s helpful to find a way to meet in the middle. Oh, and it’s about trial and error and finding out what works for you and your household!

Further reading: How to Declutter When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want To

You’re worried about losing memories

“Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are in us.” (The Minimalists).

I agree with this, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. Having lost my mum not that long ago and exploring my own relationship with decluttering through loss and grief, I do understand that this is a tough topic for many. In fact, losing memories has been a trigger for my own decluttering anxiety.

I found it difficult getting rid of baby clothes from my kids, my mum’s books, old musical memorabilia from my dad (who was a musician), travel mementos from when I was young, care-free and without kids so I could travel and explore more.

  • So, I didn’t get rid of ALL these things, I kept my favourites.
  • I found a way to use them, display them or re-purpose them so I could enjoy and get use out of them regularly instead of letting them gather dust in the garage. Grandma’s fruit bowl now sits on my kitchen counter holding my weekly fruit delivery.
  • Use space to define how much to keep. Create a memory box and keep only what you can fit in there, safe and sound. Sift through it when it gets filled with too much stuff.

Further reading: How to declutter sentimental items

Declutering anxiety - why does decluttering make us feel anxious

You’re worried you won’t declutter perfectly

Decluttering is not an exact science and what might be a perfectly decluttered room or drawer today will probably be less than perfect next week, month or year.

Perfectionism also prevents us from getting started, makes us over-think things and give up sooner than we would otherwise because the end result won’t be as good as we hope or expect.

Any decluttering is better than no decluttering.

Further reading: Progress Not Perfection in Decluttering: Why Decluttering Doesn’t Have to be Perfect

You’ll feel nostalgic and sad

Decluttering when we’re feeling down, for whatever reason, means we won’t be decluttering as well as we can. It could trigger feelings of anxiety, grief, guilt, regret and nostalgia at times gone by and people no longer with us.

I’m all for being aware of these feelings as they guide us to make changes and look after our needs and wants, but they’re not particularly helpful as a decluttering strategy.

  • Ask a friend to help you declutter.
  • Instead of decluttering when you feel sad, make a plan for decluttering when you’re feeling better.
  • Leave sentimental items until later on when you’re more comfortable with the decluttering process.

You’re worried the clutter will just build up again

Clutter will try to build up again so no need to feel anxious about it. It’s going to happen! However, putting in place some habits to stay clutter-free will help keep the clutter away. You can declutter confidently, safe in the knowledge that you can deal with the new clutter that tries to creep into your home regularly.

  • Keep a box or bag handy to put in clutter that you come across during the day or week.
  • Reset your home, once or twice a day, so that the clutter of the day doesn’t build up.
  • Assess your storage and make sure everything has ‘a home’ when not in use.
  • Keep flat surfaces (floors, stairs, tabletops and kitchen counters) free of clutter.

Further reading: Decluttering Habits: 20 Daily Habits for a Clutter-Free Home

You’re overwhelmed at the scale of the task

Decluttering can feel overwhelming, particularly if you have a lot of stuff! Maybe you’ve never decluttered before, you need to move home and/or downsize. Perhaps two households have joined into one so you have two lots of stuff and just one home.

  • Break decluttering down into small windows of time, 10 minutes here and there.
  • Declutter often but regularly.
  • Focus on one project, room or area at a time.
  • Get rid of your unwanted stuff immediately so you’re not cluttering up your home with bags and boxes of stuff waiting to go (or be tempted to sift through them!).

Further reading: How to Declutter When You Feel Overwhelmed

You’re a hoarder and find it tough to get rid of stuff

Most people with a hoarding disorder have a very strong emotional attachment to their objects. If you feel that this applies to you or anyone in your family, then be kind and go slow.

Explore through counselling, or your own research, the reasons behind your hoarding tendencies. Decluttering could be especially painful and tough for you if you don’t address these underlying issues first.

That doesn’t mean to say that a clutter-free life isn’t possible but for decluttering to be as successful as possible, it might be better to approach it from the inside out. Start within you instead of what’s around you.

Further reading: Decluttering Tips for Hoarders

You’re worried you can’t stop decluttering

Decluttering can be empowering and cathartic and slightly addictive. It feels great to clear your home of unwanted stuff and create a calm, peaceful and tidier home.

However, sometimes it’s possible to take decluttering to the extreme so that it stops becoming a tool to improve your life and instead starts to rule it.

  • If you feel that decluttering is getting a little all-consuming or it’s affecting how you enjoy your home and live your life then limit decluttering to weekly or monthly slots.
  • Set a timer for just 10 minutes.
  • Notice what triggers you to want (need) to declutter and find ways to distract yourself when those triggers happen.

Further reading: Can You Declutter Too Much? When Decluttering Goes Too Far

Reasons why decluttering makes us anxious

NEED MORE HELP WITH DECLUTTERING?

If decluttering feels tough for any of the reasons I’ve mentioned above (or more that I haven’t) please don’t feel you’re alone. Decluttering takes trial and error to find a strategy that works for you, your home and your lifestyle.

To help make decluttering easier, I’ve put together a guide, workbook and decluttering checklists where everything is all laid out for you to help you declutter your home with minimal stress, hassle or anxiety!

Simplify Your Home is a practical, no-nonsense action plan to clearing your clutter and keeping it away. There are step-by-step instructions and plenty of advice to help you work out the best decluttering strategy for you.

Best of all, you can use the decluttering checklists to track your progress and tick off as you go, room by room, project by project.

Click here to learn more about Simplify Your Home and see if it’s right for you.

MORE RESOURCES ABOUT DECLUTTERING

  • Decluttering Mistakes and How to Overcome Them – Decluttering is easier if you know how! In this article I’m sharing some common decluttering mistakes and tips on how to overcome them.
  • The Connection Between Mindfulness and Decluttering – Decluttering a home can be difficult, especially if you have years’ worth of memories stored up. However, practicing mindfulness while going through each room is a great way to decrease stress and help you finish the chore faster. In this guest post from Mia Barnes from Body+Mind magazine we explore the connection between mindfulness and decluttering.
  • Clutter-Free Living: 7 Ways to Get Started – Clutter-free living is about defining what’s important, simplifying the excess and making intentional decisions about what to let into your life and what to keep out. In this article I’m sharing my thoughts on how to live clutter-free and 7 ways to get started.
  • The Clutter Cycle: 5 Tips to Help You Break the Cycle of Clutter – Do you declutter but then find your home fills up again with stuff so you have to declutter again? Does the cycle of clutter repeat itself and bring down your motivation and energy levels at the same time? If this sounds familiar then you may be trapped in the clutter cycle. Here are 5 tips to help you break the cycle of clutter and stay clutter-free!
  • Ways to Declutter Without Regret or Fear – How many times have you decluttered something but later regret your decision to get rid of it? Maybe the fear of decluttering regret is holding you back from successfully clearing your clutter? Here are some tips to avoid decluttering regret and how to declutter your home without the fear of regret but with more confidence and ease instead.

GET YOUR FREE DECLUTTERING CHECKLIST

One of the ways to reduce decluttering anxiety is to remove some of the decision-making that comes with working out what to keep and what to get rid of. This is where a checklist might be helpful, that you can just follow and tick off as you go.

You can get a free Decluttering Checklist with 100 things to declutter right now. Pop your details in the box below so I know where to send it!

DON’T MISS OUT!

I’m Antonia and on this blog I share practical inspiration to simplify your home, time and life. Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest! You can also subscribe to Balance Through Simplicity and receive regular simplicity tips straight to your inbox for free. Make sure you never miss an article plus you’ll get a copy of my free Declutter Starter Kit as a welcome gift!

Laura

Sunday 30th of July 2023

I think I've encountered nearly everything you mention in this article during my ongoing attempts to declutter! As you say, it takes time to learn to trust our decluttering decisions, and we may need to take smaller steps first. I'm definitely still practicing finding that 'keep/get rid of' intuition.

One thing I found very helpful comes from Marie Kondo. Many people mock her "thank the item for its service" guideline, but I found it very useful. The simple reason for that is that I do get emotionally attached to much of my stuff. I find that if I acknowledge the way in which a piece was of service to me, and additionally sometimes tell it that I'm letting it go to be of service to someone else, it eases the process of decluttering it.

Thanks for all your great tips on dealing with decluttering anxiety, Antonia. I use many of them myself, and probably got them from you in the first place!

Balance Through Simplicity

Wednesday 2nd of August 2023

Hi Laura, I wrote another post a little while ago about how our stuff sends us messages (the idea of the Silent To Do List from Fumio Sasaki). Your comment made me think again on that, and how we speak back to our stuff to acknowledge its presence, its value (not just monetary) and that it maybe time for us to let go or it to move on. Thank you for sharing that. I think it may be very helpful to others who feel that their stuff holds power and it's just a one way conversation!