Emotional Clutter – or – You’ll Have to Tear it From My Cold Dead Hands

Emotional Clutter

We’ve all been there – standing amidst a sea of our belongings trying to decide whether to keep this particular tchochka or that knick knack. It’s debilitating. We pick an object up, spend 10 minutes with it trying to make a decision, come to some conclusion and then look out at the seemingly thousands of other objects that need our attention. That’s emotional clutter…

Exclusive Bonus: Download my clutter score sheet to help you make decisions about difficult objects in your home.

Why is it so hard? Why can’t we just chuck it all and be done with it? Clutter has an emotional charge to it. We imbue our belongings with meaning and that meaning ties them to us. Below are some of the reasons behind the attachments we form.

1. Sentimental Attachment

This is perhaps, the #1 emotional hook belongings can hold us with. So many of our objects become identified with a person, time or place that means something to us and this makes it difficult to part with these objects. Now this, in itself isn’t a problem. What becomes problematic is when we amass too many of these objects and we have no place to put them.

Some techniques that we can use to tame the sentimental emotional clutter are creating a photo album of these objects. Taking pictures of them to keep rather than keeping the actual object can help us let them go. We can also look at the objects in groupings – collecting together the ones that are tied to specific people or events and consider which ones in that grouping represent the event most. This can make it easier to let the other ones go.

2. Usefulness

Another trap we can fall into is: “I may need that some day.” This emotional clutter hook is tied to a feeling of shortage consciousness. What you’re saying is “what if I need it and don’t have it, or can’t afford to replace it or can’t find another one?”

Being aware of this shortage-consciousness can allow you to assess the truth of those statements. Do you really need 17 different church keys? Who needs to open that much tomato juice? Keeping the trap of shortage consciousness in mind while going through your belongings will help you make sound decisions about them.

3. New With Tags

“But it’s new and I paid so much for it.” We’ve all done it. That pair of hot pink satin stretch pants looked so good in the store, but when you get them home, you realize they don’t go with any of your sport jackets and ties. Retail missteps can account for lots of price-tag-bearing clutter. We remember the good money paid for that lurex tube top and can’t bear to part with it until we’ve found a lamp post to lean against while wearing it.

This emotional clutter hook is all about stubbornness. We’re unable to admit we were wrong. It’s too painful. In this case, it’s important to be kind to yourself. We all make those mistakes and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. Money may be tight, but more will always be coming in. You don’t need to justify the expense of the item by holding on to it when you’re never going to wear or use it.

4. Priorities

The last major emotional clutter issue is less about individual objects and more about a general inability to see the forest for the trees – or in this case rather, the trees for the forest. Sometimes we can’t see the individual objects with any kind of objectivity. Prioritizing things becomes impossible – each object seems as important as the next and we can’t make rational decisions about any of them.

This is a question of perspective. You address this issue by stepping away from the mess and analyzing your feelings about your life. What’s important to you? What are your priorities? You can spend some time writing, go for a long walk, even take a shower. These activities will help you get some distance from the problem so you can become more grounded. Once you have a clearer idea about your desires and goals you’ll have a better sense of how these particular objects fit into them. Then you can make some intelligent decisions about them.

Here’s the next step:

If you’re struggling with emotional clutter, I have something that will help. I’ve created a score sheet that helps you make decisions about the most difficult of objects.

It’s a free tool that gives the object a score based on some of the criteria mentioned above. This score sheet is part of my home organization course, The Home in Your HeadClick here and enter your email to get access to the free score sheet.

8 thoughts on “Emotional Clutter – or – You’ll Have to Tear it From My Cold Dead Hands

  • March 20, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Instead of thinking about maybe needing an item someday and being afraid you won’t be able to afford it when you actually need it; think about that person who needs it right now and can’t afford it. If the item were in a thrift shop, that person could afford it. And, if everyone took these items to the thrift shop, you’d be able to pick one up when you need it. One of the twisted things about hoarding is that in the name of an object’s usefulness, it is placed in a pile of objects that will never be used, thus rendering it useless. (And if you have clothes you’ve bought and never worn, you are a hoarder.) In the name of saving it from the trash, many a useful object is made into trash. The hoarder’s pride in recognizing value in and capturing the object prevents it ever being used.

    • March 20, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      You make some good points, Hugh. Thanks for chiming in!

  • March 20, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    When going through “stuff”, I try to do a “have you used it in the past year?” thought. If the answer is no, then it either gets tossed or donated. If I am temped to keep something, even though I wont use it, I tell myself “Enough of this foolishness! Get rid of it!” I also haven’t purchased a lot in the way of clothes. I have bought so much over the years that I have forgotten what I have. So when I get rid of worn out items, I have found stuff to wear. Almost like found treasures so to speak. Saves me money for the future in a way.

    • March 20, 2017 at 6:34 pm

      If you have the room, then having a stash of new, unworn clothes can be a great way to be prepared…

    • March 20, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      Just be sure that fire conforms to your local fire code… 😉

  • March 21, 2017 at 6:18 am

    It’s a serious pain though when you are an artist, and create your OWN clutter, and can’t afford a studio space to stash it away in. And if said object require trapping (i.e. props and such to dress them out a bit during an exhibition, then there again, heaps of stuff that “might get used one day” for a group of solo show. *sigh)

    • March 24, 2017 at 12:43 am

      Yes, these are the problems with decluttering. I struggle with the same issues. The best way to handle it is to maximize storage – find ways to increase storage with case goods, make efficient use of existing storage. Being organized is the only way to deal with being a confirmed pack rat…


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