How to Deal with Decluttering Guilt || Decluttering Roadblock #1
Updated: Mar 1
Decluttering can bring a cathartic release of emotions. Facing an item, defeating the hold it held on you, and then physically removing it from your home can offer a sense of triumph. A release of something tangible can give you a release of emotions, too.
This blog post is part 1 of a five-part series presenting decluttering roadblocks (plus solutions) for guilt, fear of failure, volume, shame, and time.
How to Deal with Decluttering Guilt
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in the brain and gets a boost when you declutter. You can even get a dopamine boost from the thought of decluttering because of the anticipated joy. Read more about the pleasure chemical in this blog post.
However, it is possible to get stuck while decluttering. Letting go of items can be difficult and emotionally taxing to process. There are many reasons to hang onto something when you don't even want to keep it. Asking questions like "what if I need this later?" or beating yourself up for spending money on an item you did not use can hold you back from letting go of stuff.
Getting stuck can be hard. Sometimes we look at a pile or a messy drawer and try to decide what to get rid of from it. The decision making process can stall your progress and cause you to feel stuck while decluttering your home. Inverting your thinking can solve for this problem. Think about what you'd keep from the pile and be ruthless about the thought process. Truly, honestly - what would you keep? Then, evaluate everything that is left over. In this popular video, I apply this reverse thinking to decluttering.
What is a decluttering roadblock?
A decluttering roadblock is an emotion or thought that prevents you from moving forward on your decluttering journey.
Maybe you are spring cleaning or you have a routine of getting rid of items from your home a few times a year. Maybe you are working on living with less on a daily basis. Regardless of the frequency you declutter, you can come up against a decluttering roadblock.
Let's review a few examples of roadblocks:
Decluttering Roadblock: Guilt
In this blog post, we are diving deep on guilt as a roadblock to accomplishing some decluttering. This post is part of a Decluttering Roadblocks blog series, in which we will tackle fear of failure, shame, volume, and time. Let's dig into GUILT.
Guilt can appear as an voice inside your head while decluttering and pull you down. Like a bully. Like a big, ol' guilt bully.
Three Types of Decluttering Guilt
financial guilt: emotions from spending money on items we don't need or use
sentimental guilt: emotions from nostalgia holding us back from decluttering
gift guilt: emotions from items given to us we do not want to keep
Should we push through the guilt decluttering roadblock?
Conquering this roadblock and clearing it from your path requires emotional strength and fortitude. This strength comes when the thing you want is greater than the thing you have. If you want to clear the clutter and live with less, then the desire to have that must outweigh the pain you feel from guilt.
Short answer, yes. If you want to live with less and you don't want to live with the item causing guilt, then you'll need to push through the guilt.
How do we push through GUILT?
acknowledgement of the guilt
identifying the purpose it needs to serve today
feeling the pain of the guilt
acceptance of the guilt
absolve the guilt
releasing the guilt
For instance, let's break down pushing through financial guilt. Financial guilt stems from buying something we didn't use or something we spent more money on that we received value from over time.
I have a pair of brown boots I'd throw myself on top of to save in a flood. OK, not really but you get the picture. I spent maybe $80 on them (it was so long ago I just don't recall the exact amount) and I certainly have worn the money's worth out of them over the years. However, I spent $700 on an awesome camera that I rarely use. I thought I'd use it considerably more and get the value I perceived when I purchased it. But I simply use the camera on my phone instead. It's easier and less bulky. I have financial guilt about a camera that sits in my closet and collects dust to this day. I should sell it but financial guilt holds me back because I MIGHT use it and absolve my guilt.
acknowledgement of the guilt: I hold the guilt in my head and my heart for having spent so much money on something I thought I would use all the time. I have been living with this guilt for a year. A YEAR.
identifying the purpose the guilt needs to serve today: This guilt is a reminder to think through the decision to purchase costly items in the future.
feeling the pain of the guilt: Over and over, I think of how I would spend $700 differently now. How I would save it instead of spending it, but now that it is spent I can't save it.
acceptance of the guilt: The pain is leaving a mark on my future financial decisions and I cannot get the entire $700 back to put into savings again. I have to accept that recouping the money is not possible and that the guilt has served a purpose.
absolve the guilt: Forgiving yourself may be one of the hardest things we learn to do. Admitting to the mistake, accepting the financial loss, and allowing the guilt to do the job it needs to do can lead you to "space and grace."
releasing the guilt: by physically letting go of the camera, I can release my guilt. Maybe I could sell it for $50 or give it to a family that does not have a camera. Or I could find a budding student interested in photography.
Letting Go of the Guilt
We tell ourselves that if we keep it and end up using it, then it wasn’t a mistake to have purchased it. We are transferring and delaying dealing with the guilt by creating a loophole. BUT if we change our thinking to hold positivity, we can think of the purchase as a past decision that taught us a lesson today. Face the pain of the financial guilt as a lesson in how not to feel in the future. That pain will leave an emotional impression and guide us against future purchases that may make us feel the same way again.
Decluttering my homeschool supply closet is an ongoing project. Volume and financial guilt are roadblocks I'm working on breaking down with each shelf I declutter. One decluttering trick to work through the guilt is to reverse my thinking.
Instead of assessing a shelf for what to donate to another family, I try to decide what to keep instead. Then, assess all the items that were NOT chosen to keep. I have applied this trick a few times and shared it in this video while decluttering a random shelf in my house.
The next blog post in this series tackles the fear of failure. Subscribe to my email newsletter to be notified of future blog posts!
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