How to let go of clutter without feeling like an idiot

Wondering why your feed is filled with tips on how to clean up your storage space? Clean the showers from mold. Are you swapping your normal cleaning agent for a more environmentally friendly one? It’s National Cleaning Week, or as one of my clients put it, National Week “feeling bad because my house is a mess and I’m not interested in doing anything about it”.

Although a clean, organized space can increase your focus, reduce stress, and sometimes even improve your relationships, most people are far too busy to adopt the anti-interference mindset, but is it really a lack of time that is preventing you from doing this or is something other at work?

I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of things in your house that you don’t use (hello, burnt plastic food lids) but for some reason you just can’t bring yourself to throw something away or even donate it.

Why can’t you get rid of anything?

Jean Piaget, one of the founding fathers of child psychology, says the reason we become so attached to our belongings is due to a psychological phenomenon known as the endowment effect. Basically, we attach more importance to objects that we own than to objects that we do not own.

There have also been tons of studies on this phenomenon. Like this one where participants were divided into three groups, then asked for research assistance and given a reward for their help. The first group was offered two reward options: a coffee cup or a chocolate bar. Half chose the mug and half the chocolate, suggesting that they rated each reward equally. In the second group, participants were given the cup first and then offered the option to swap it for the candy bar, but only 11% took up the researchers’ offer. A third group started with the candy bar, preferring to keep it rather than swapping it for the cup that was offered afterwards.

Participants increasingly value the reward they started with.

Debugging has an emotional component

Another reason your things are so hard to part with? Self-esteem matters, according to this study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Instead of viewing the things you own as “mine”, view them as part of who you are.

If relationships are important to you, you may have trouble parting with gifts. A little like you are unfaithful to the person who gave it to you. When you value success, it can be difficult to part with things that serve as reminders of your accomplishments, such as: E.g. an award at work or a decade-old trophy from your high school soccer days.

With some possessions, you also feel closer to people. Take family heirlooms, for example. You may find it difficult to get rid of a work of art or jewelry passed down from your great grandmother because these items make you feel connected to her.

There are many reasons why you can feel bad about eliminating interference. Here are a few more you might consider:

  • You tell yourself that you might need it in the future. You have never used this article, but it might come in handy someday! To avoid regret, believe that it is safer to hold on to. You know, just in case.
  • You spent a lot of money on it. You feel guilty about wasting money on something you don’t use (or no longer use) and hold on to it to make yourself feel less guilty about that situation.
  • There is a sentimental bond. This is the most common reason people struggle to disappoint. After all, you have important memories of this article!
  • When you have a lot of belongings, you feel safe. Washing things up around the house can cause worry that you won’t have them when you need them. This scarcity situation makes you hold onto your belongings only for security reasons.
  • You feel overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start. Depending on how much you need to flush, this can be a huge task. One that can be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding.

Sometimes attachments to things can go too far, like a hoarding disorder, which is an exaggerated sense of responsibility and protection towards your things. This is why people with this disease find it so difficult to get rid of things – they feel an obligation to own them.

Get ready to overcome the cleansing paralysis

While we may be a few years behind the Marie Kondo “spark of joy” trend, knowing how to calmly and safely tidy your space is a skill you’ll want to harness. Mastering this skill is not about having enough garbage bags and fresh sharpies on hand. It’s about learning the proven behavior change strategies that can take you from holding on to letting go.

  1. Understand that this is how you are wired. Your brain is wired to appreciate the things you own (this is the endowment effect in action) even if you don’t give them a second look. Just knowing the psychological reasons why your possessions feel so important to you can help loosen your grip.
  2. Let time heal your attachment. You will always be reminded of how much your old college jeans mean to you when they are in sight. Try putting them in a box in the back of your closet or garage for a few months. They may become easier to donate after a while.
  3. Update the situation. If getting rid of your belongings makes you feel guilty or sad, try looking at your situation from a different perspective. Donating items is a great way to bring joy to someone else. And if you happen to be selling something, you can get the much-needed money out of the business. Oh, and by the way, you’re not deliberately hurting anyone by giving a gift. Appreciate the luck received by the reception, and then move on.
  4. Realize what you value. Debugging doesn’t mean erasing everything you own. Take this opportunity to see what you really value, like a family heirloom or something you’ve worked really hard on and know that those items can still have a place in your home.
  5. Know that you are braver than you think. Change is scary. And giving away or throwing things away that you think make sense can be one of the hardest things you do. But when you’ve done it once or twice and you realize why you’re holding onto things, it becomes easier to let go of them.

5 strategies for letting go of clutter

It’s more than deciding what to keep, donate and throw away. Debugging has deep psychological roots and it’s completely understandable why it’s not so easy to fill a bag with freebies and drive to the nearest nonprofit. Whether you’re hesitant to remove old clothes, broken kitchen gadgets, or items you’ve inherited, or just don’t know where to start, use these strategies to take small steps toward troubleshooting.

  • Understand that this is how you are wired
  • Let time heal your attachment
  • Update the situation
  • Realize what you value
  • Know that you are braver than you think

What about you? Do you find it difficult to let go of things?

About the author

Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director of the Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients reestablish loving and trusting relationships with their bodies – while restoring their metabolic health so they can lose fat and gain energy – through her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you are passionate about health and wellness and want to help people like Erin for their clients every day, you should consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. In this special information session hosted by PHCI Co-Founder Mark Sisson, you will learn the three simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in a maximum of 6 months.

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