How I Conquer Clutter (When it’s Emotionally Difficult)

I understand the emotional attachment to stuff

I love the idea of minimalist living. I strive towards it, in fact. (At a snails pace, yes, but still – I’m striving!)

Those who are naturally minimally inclined don’t quite understand the emotional turmoil that some of us feel when we try to take on the (should be freeing) task of de-cluttering. So this post is for all you emotionally attached clutter bugs out there. The ones who WANT to live in a clutter free space, but struggle because you feel controlled by your stuff. 

I get it. I am high-anxiety, seriously over-sensitive, and easily overwhelmed. Or at least I can be (I’ve really come a long way in learning to deal with anxiety). I work everyday to bring my Sane Self to the surface. (That’s what I like to call the little voice of reason that allows me to function – when I choose to listen to her – and I do that more and more these days).

Related: Bathroom Cupboard Organization: Facing the Truth Under the Bathroom Sink
Related: How to Clean Your House When You Feel Paralyzed by THE MESS


I’ve learned 4 little tricks to make de-cluttering easier

De-cluttering is something I have worked on a lot the past couple years and man do I love how it feels to live in a home with less stuff. It hasn’t been easy.

If anyone can benefit from these tricks I’ve learned to make it easier – well that’d be the icing on the cake. So let me walk you through a typical (for me) de-cluttering session:

(First I tell myself that I will do it no matter how hard it is, because I can do hard things.)

# 1 – Get Permission

The first drawer goes ok.

I get the un-used, broken, don’t-even-know what this is into a box and I feel pretty proud of myself. Then I pick up something that I KNOW needs to go… but it can’t because (insert ridiculous reason here).

In the past I would have become discouraged, given up and probably drank some wine. But now I do this:

GETTING RID OF THE THING TRICK # 1: I call someone who I know values a tidy house and understands the burden that excess stuff can be (usually my mom, because she also understands how hard this is for me) and I explain that I need permission to get rid of the thing.

I’m no psychologist and I can’t tell you why this works, but having someone else’s permission and support to get rid of the thing helps immensely.

Related: A Simple Solution to Clutter & Disorganization

# 2 – Turn the tables

So then I continue, encouraged.

Until I pick up something that someone gave to me. (This totally derails my de-cluttering train.)

I WANT to get rid of it (oh the guilt)!

But I can deal with it because I’ve learned:

GETTING RID OF THE THING TRICK # 2: I imagine that I was the one who had given this thing to someone else and I know that if the thing I gave them was causing them this much stress, I would feel terrible! I would WANT them to get rid of the thing.

I never gave it to them to burden them. So chances are (very) good that whoever gave me this thing wouldn’t want me burdened with it either. They would want me to get rid of it. Plus it helps to remember that I am emotionally attached to stuff, and other people ARE NOT. There is also a good chance that the gifter doesn’t even remember giving me this thing and just sees it as a thing. 

# 3 – Ask for help

Then I get to the thing I can not get rid of.

There is no way. I sort of want to, but my resolve is going and I need this thing for absolutely no reason. I can’t.

GETTING RID OF THE THING TRICK # 3: I get someone else to get rid of it for me. I have to say, I don’t do this very often, and I do it less as I get better at allowing my Sane Self to be heard.

But sometimes, I call my mom (‘cus really, who else am I gonna admit this level of crazy to?!) and I ask for help.

# 4 – Get rid of the thing… NOW

I’m done for the day, so I set the box of stuff on the spare bed. I’ll donate it next time I go to town. I feel ok right now about the things I’m getting rid of, and even if some of it was difficult to imagine parting with, at least I got it in the box so I can start coming to terms with the fact that it’s gone.


I’ve noticed that 89% of the time I never even think of the thing again after it’s out of the house.

(Ok I made that # up, but it’s A LOT of the time.)

I’ve also noticed that if the box stays on the spare bed, the stuff will get out of the box.

Related: 7 Tangible & Life-Changing Benefits of Decluttering

GETTING RID OF THE THING TRICK # 4: get rid of the thing. Now. While you feel determined, while you have permission, while you understand why it needs to go.

Drive that box right to the thrift store, to the donation bin, to the dump if it’s stuff no one else will use. Do not let all your hard work go to waste.

You can do this. You can conquer the clutter. Your stuff does NOT have to control you. (Plus once you have conquered clutter it is SO much easier to stop being messy.)

Also, consider addressing the disorganization in your home – FOR GOOD. Sometimes just decluttering isn’t enough.  

Addressing the disorganization in my home took me a LONG way towards keeping clutter at bay.

But I didn’t know where to start, with getting organized and I actually needed someone to TEACH me how to do it.

If your house is constantly buried in clutter and mess, check out The Organized Home Course by Hilary from Pulling Curls. It is created just for people like us, who need to be given  bite-sized tips & lessons on organization so we know where stuff is, save time & feel more peace at home. (Because we do ACTUALLY deserve to feel at peace in our homes!)

This is the perfect course for organizing a messy home if:

  • You always need hours of notice before having guests because you’re embarrassed about the state of your home.
  • You’re always worried you misplaced an important document or won’t be able to find things when you need them.
  • You’ve ever wondered why can’t YOU enjoy peaceful time on the couch or enjoying your family instead of always stressing out about the state of your home?

If you need someone to TEACH you how to address clutter and get organized, Hilary is your girl, and you can get 10% off the course here with the code MOP10. 

I have had to be very intentional about making sure stuff leaves my house. (I’ve also become very intentional in making sure stuff doesn’t come into my house.)

(My Sane Self gets to celebrate with a glass of wine. And when my Sane Self is happy, everybody’s happy.)

More from Mommy on Purpose:
For the Exhausted Mommy
10 Things I Quit Buying to Save Money
Tackling Clothing Clutter: Confessions of a Clothes Hoarder



clutter organization ideas how to have a clutter free home

declutter when you are emotionally overwhelmed

60 thoughts on “How I Conquer Clutter (When it’s Emotionally Difficult)”

  1. I am so thankful I came across the pin to this post. I have a problem. I have never admitted to anyone. I am waaaay to emotionally attached to my stuff. I am very comforted to read and know that I am not the only one struggling with this issue.

    My story goes back to when I was a child and my father died. My parents were newly divorced, due to my father’s many affairs. There was a lot of stuff still at the home my parents had built because when my mom left 2 years before, she had to get us out quickly and we downsized to a subsidized housing apartment. My father’s mother and sister flew across the country and packed up all the belongings my little brother and I had. My aunt and grandmother packed all our belongings in boxes as we watched. We were told to sit on the sofa and not get in the way. They took all my dolls, music, toys, dresses, etc. (my brothers stuff too) and stuffed them in boxes to go to auction. (Just a side note: they kept all the proceeds.) I kept sneaking things out of the boxes, hoping to be able to take them home to the apartment with me. I was able to grab my father’s watch and military medals for my brother because I figured he would want them when he was older. I also nabbed a few of the many beautiful dolls my mother had sewn for me. Our hearts were broken from the divorce, my father’s lifestyle change, no support for us from our extended family and then my father’s sudden death. Even as a write this, I get teary remembering the hollow feeling of my childhood being stuffed into boxes and marched out while I sat helplessly watching.

    Ever since I have had an extremely difficult time letting go of stuff. BUT, I am also realizing that I am an adult and I have to let go of the past and move on. This means letting go of the stuff I have here I don’t need. I am not a hoarder, but I do keep some stuff and have some unsightly piles in my room of things that should go. Tomorrow I am purposing to fill 2 boxes and take it directly to our town’s charity shop. Thank you for the wonderful tips on letting it go.

    I didn’t even realize why I was holding onto the junk until I read your post. I am already relieved to have shared this. I have never spoken of it before. It is embarrassing. I think when we are not able to control some situations in our lives, we tend to hyper control other things. But the joke is on us, because the stuff is really controlling our lives. Vicious circle. I am ready to break free and be rid of it. God bless you!

    • O my word Steff, that is a heartbreaking story! I am SO glad you shared – thank you – and I think other people who don’t understand the root of their emotional overwhelm will benefit from reading what you have to say here too 🙂 It is absolutely time for you to try and heal from that experience! Maybe even some counselling could help? (I am a big advocate of counselling and tackling our emotional crud!) Good for you for deciding it’s time to do something about the mess in your life!! Congrats!

  2. Im glad i stumbled upon your page! I dont feel so alone knowing that someone else had had the same “guilty” feelings and needing permission to get rid of it ? im using your tips after i send this! I got sidetracked while trying to declutter! ? thanks again for the tips!

    • Thanks for reading Cheryl – you are TOTALLY not alone!!

  3. Thank you, thank you, and thank you! This is a big boost to my confidence on dealing my my stuff! Growing up, my family moved a Lot, and after leaving so many people behind and only being able to take Stuff, it’s hard not to fear that if I get rid of the Stuff, I’m also getting rid of the memories attached (which isn’t always the case!) In my twenties I was in a terribly abusive, toxic relationship for 7+ years, and less than a year after I extracted myself I ended up responsible for cleaning out the apartment my ex and I had shared for so many years. Because I had so little time to complete the job I took some of it home, gavrome away on the spot, and threw the rest in storage. Just over a year later I’m still terribly caught between the practicality of keeping things that will be/are useful to me, and facing all the memories attached to them. Since then my will power to deal with clutter started to erode, and now I’m fighting what feels like a vicious space circle!
    I try put stuff away, but the spaces to put stuff away in are either too cluttered already, or I struggle knowing how to sort things (especially craft things!) Efficiently. I’ve started with going through my drawers and closet to get rid of things (yay donating!) but so much of the clutter is so Random! Craft projects next to papers with sentimental value next to a couple binders of notes from my classes next to something else I don’t have space for etc etc etc… How do I cut through all this instead of feeling like I’m just shifting piles/stacks?

    • Hey River 🙂 I’m pretty sure there is no easy way to get through all the feelings. You can just choose to feel them and get on with it, or let them pile more clutter on you… And FYI, I totally believe you can DO it. Face the memories, and still win.

  4. Thank you for sharing how difficult it is to do, it makes me feel less bad. If keeping everything and rubbish is the 10 end of the scale, then I am at 5. I tend to clutter for a while and in my personal areas, like little craft room. I’m guilty of all the emotional reasons, why some things are not let go straightaway, but sometimes find the reason. The moments I can let go are justified with “Where do you really think you can put this safely and for easy access to use” ” will it still be usable when I think I’ll need it for retirement” “is this item really practical or very valuable, then let it go”. When I go through the I can face decluttering, I select an area, drawer, box etc and then do more the next day. It seems easier if you do it in chunks. I’ve not worked out why I eventually re offend, but I do feel grateful to know, I am not alone.

  5. Thank you for the post! We have just downsized to less than half the space. I was drowning in boxes because of the sentimental aspect of letting go of personal items, especially pictures of my kids and keepsakes. I enlisted the help of my 37 year old “baby” who had no problem discarding “stuff”! She kept the pictures that she wanted, made a small packet for her brother and one for my husband, the rest she discarded. The emotional relief at the decisions was very surprising to me. Today we tackled boxes and boxes. My job tomorrow is to go through items left in designated boxes! This is very liberating!

    • What a great point Vicki! There IS an EMOTIONAL RELIEF to getting rid of stuff, even if it’s stuff that’s hard to let go of – just a FREEDOM in the lack of clutter! It sounds like you’re doing FANTASTIC! woohoo!

    • You have inspired me to try to deal with my mountains of kid and family keep sakes! Maybe I will try to enlist the help of my 21yr old daughter! Thank you ☺️ I feel sometimes like it’s an anchor in my heart. I find it difficult because my mom passed away last year and so I have all the stuff she saved as well. My brother passed years ago and she never really got rid of anything of his. I literally have little containers with broken watches, cars, a few random hockey cards etc in them. There are many like this. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the emotional attachment to the original person.

  6. Man….. I can’t believe it. You are legit reading my mind and making an entire blog about it. I cannot begin to tell you the feeling of relief and hope I feel to finally come across a blog about getting rid of clutter written by someone who actually gets what it’s like to be me. THANK YOU. I have come a long way, too- but it’s still really hard. Partly because I just still have so much left to go through and purge and organize, but also because there are still curve balls at every turn that just stop me in my tracks. Such as- things I am unsure about whether or not to keep for my daughter, simply because I don’t know if it’s my place to make that call. Of course if you are anything like me (which I feel like you are..), you have struggled with getting rid of things you think your kids might want to have one day, or at least things you might want them to have one day.. but Specifically I am talking about things pertaining my daughter’s biological father whom she has never met. She is only 2, but there isn’t a relationship there. It’s obviously a very complicated situation, but the bottom line is that I am hoping against hope for HER SAKE that she has some kind of positive relationship with him one day. He has expressed very much wanting that as well, but without going into a whole rant about him, I’ll just say I’m not holding my breath or risking letting him hurt my baby girl until he has given ample proof that he is truly stable and committed to his word. SO, My quandary is whether or not I should hold onto things that technically do not do anything to make me happy, but have got me totally stumped. Last Christmas he bought her some Christmas onesie pajamas and a few weeks later a funny graphic print onesie. He had them shipped to my parents house. This was the first time he has ever given her anything at all, besides a couple of brass animals from his collection that he dropped off at my house one night while I was pregnant, “that he wanted her to have since he would be gone soon.” (One of his multiple suicide threats throughout the duration of my pregnancy.) The other thing is a shirt I’ve held onto for years that I was wearing the night I met him.
    If it were up to me, I would get rid of all of it, and if he one day tried to tell her he had gotten her stuff in the past that I never gave her, I would gladly explain to her why I did not keep those items. But then there is another part of me that’s like, damn. But….. what if. I need to make it clear that this is not about me, it is totally about her. My struggle is because of her. I don’t want her to one day have a relationship with him and wish she had something he had given her, or to resent me for not holding onto the things until she was old enough to make the choice on her own about whether or not she wanted to keep them. But then (yes, I am insane) I immediately think- should she have to make that decision???? Isn’t it my job as her mother to protect her from this kind of thing????? Whew. I just don’t know what to do, and my fiancé is no help at all. He would have already burned all of it if he could have. I’m really sorry for this huge long comment. You totally don’t have to publish it, but if you ever had a few minutes to shoot me an email with your advice I would really appreciate it more than I can say. As you can probably surmise, I am coming out of a long stretch of some rough years, and I’m finally FINALLY FINALLY getting to the point where there really actually is a light at the end of the tunnel that has been a life of clutter, clothes hoarding, constant chaos and self sabotage. I’ve never felt more confident and resolved about changing my life and my habits, and it’s not just for my daughter- although she was my number one motivation for working on my life, because I refuse to raise her in my tornado of a life and pass on my horrible habits to her, I’m doing it for me. So as much as looking at that shirt or even just knowing that the few items I’ve mentioned to you are still sitting around somewhere in my house or garage or wherever brings me down, and as much as I would love to part ways with them as I continue down this new path into our new life, if it is something I owe to my daughter to keep, then I will make peace with that and I will carry it into our future under a banner of hope, instead of the banner of fear and sadness that has been covering everything. I’m just so tired of worrying about how the situation will effect her one day, and whether or not Im doing what’s best for her, and if he will ever make the effort to be what she deserves. I’m tired of my heart breaking every time I think about the disappointment or abandonment she might feel one day because of her (biological) father, and most importantly I need to work past all of it in order to prevent that negativity from becoming a self-fulfilling reality with regard to how I communicate with my daughter about her father and handle the situation in the future. In light of these facts, I can simultaneously see why keeping the stuff and why getting rid of it would be equally beneficial. So I’m just stuck. Again, I’m so sorry to ramble on like this- I just feel like I’ve found this Oasis in the desert of trying to literally teach myself how to get rid of things and live like a normal, functional human who doesn’t hoard ridiculous stuff all the time. Thank you so much for your blog and for taking the time to read this.

    • I am SO glad you found this helpful..and yes – clutter is a real struggle for a lot of us and it takes a big toll emotionally. I wish you the best with everything – it sounds like you’re doing an amazing job. <3

  7. I’m the sole heir of my parents, and their inherited items from their parents and grandparents. Whatever of the family history, and “feel good” things I get rid of, are gone forever. I did a large auction, but also kept quite a bit. My house runneth over. But I can not bring myself to get rid of it.
    I have given things to my kids, one still lives at home; the other is storing some items here. Some things are from people I never knew or met, they passed before I was born. But their things were precious enough to my parents to be kept in very special places to them. Oh, the things I got rid of…. some break my heart now, but, I can do nothing about it.
    Being an only child can be very difficult sometimes. You are the sole preserver of family history, and heirlooms. Things that tell stories. If you are sentimental like me, it’s even harder.
    On top of that, I am a crafter – I have tons of things for many crafts, I was going through them to thin them out, then found out we were having a granddaughter! So, I went back and got all the fun crafty items and rubber stamps a little child would love. I was a homeschooler – I have so many books and curriculum; my daughter plans to homeschool, she has much of the stuff, and I still have many books. I love to read. So many children’s books that were mine that are going to be great to read aloud to my granddaughter.
    I want the fancy, nice looking neat homes I see – the dining room is like that, the entry grand foyer, the sports den, the guest bedroom and bathroom — but then, watch-out!! The great room, kitchen, craft room and office/library …. well, if you came to judge me, go on home, if you came to visit me, come on in.
    So many treasures in this house, tucked away. (important papers kept in one place, safe.) I have a beautiful mantle clock from 1886. With the original price and the genealogy of who it was passed down to. A ring made from the plane of a Japanese bomber plane from Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked. Doilies that were part of a young woman’s hope chest. The autograph book of my great-great grandmother. My grandparents commencement paper from their high school graduation. Ration booklets – an the list goes on. Collectibles that my parents loved, from my childhood. Gracious!! I did divide family photos and send out to extended family if they were of them, or mostly them. Cook books and recipe boxes with all the old family recipes. How? How do you get rid of those things? My mother kept every childhood thing my children made for her, and most that I made for her, they were treasures to her heart. Do they bring me joy to hold them? they bring me tears. My mom should still be alive, she was too young, these are her treasures, so I will treasure them.
    A hoarder a I remain. (much to my husbands dismay, but he understands, some he can’t part with either.)
    Congratulations to the rest of you. I still hold on to the broken stop watches that were retirement gifts from 4 generations ago. Maybe they can be repaired? They were treasured by my dad, they were his Pap’s. I’m hopeless.
    I need a bottle of wine, a lot of wine.

    • Tracy – it’s a HARD thing. There isn’t a right answer..and we do have a lot of attachment to our sentimental things. I do think wine sounds appropriate in this case – and eventually you’ll figure out what’s best for your family. Best of luck!!

  8. Great Pin! It really hit home, and you made me laugh, too!
    Thanks for all the great tips!


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