Dealing With The Guilt of Letting “Useful Clutter” Go

Is your home filled with “useful” junk?

I’ve written often about the overwhelming despair that can take over when we’re living in homes filled with clutter. It’s crazy stressful when you’re chronically late because you can’t find things,  you miss paying bills because they get forgotten at the bottom of the pile, or you plain old can’t relax on your couch because that’s where the kid’s clothes live.

Some kinds of clutter can be controlled (or prevented) pretty easily, for example – by putting away the clothes on the couch or paying bills as soon as they arrive.

But there is one kind of clutter – “useful” junk clutter – that can be especially hard to deal with… because it often comes with an extra emotional punch – guilt. 

It’s easy (natural?) to feel guilty or wasteful for not being able to use perfectly useful things. Guilt is a gut reaction that you maybe don’t even notice when it comes to your clutter. (Do you automatically save take out containers because you “should”?)

To address the “useful” junk clutter we need to accept some hard things. We now live in a world that is overflowing with junk… and unless we are going to go completely off-grid – with no more grocery stores or convenience items – we need to find a way to deal with this junk that is not going to allow it to consume our homes. 

(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)

Related: How to Conquer Clutter When it’s Emotionally Difficult
Related: Where to START When You Are Drowning in Clutter

Pasta sauce jars, K-cups & take-out containers = JUNK

Also:

  • broken appliances you don’t have time to / don’t know how to fix
  • stained and torn clothes you don’t wear
  • phone chargers that work great (but you don’t even own a phone that goes with it)
  • and – possibly – anything you haven’t touched or looked at in years

If you are naturally inclined to fill your cabinets with junk, then we need to talk. (And if your cabinets are already packed and you are just filling boxes by your bed now – you really need to listen.)

Related: A Simple Solution to Clutter & Disorganization

Why do you have this stuff? Is it – likely – GUILT?

Guilt  over being wasteful, over-consuming resources, over not taking action to save money, is one that really haunts me. I grew up in a frugal, environmentally conscious family. (A huge blessing, I’m not complaining about that.)

My great grandmother saved every glass jar she ever got her hands on, but she used them. (Also, she didn’t get one every week.) With the way I shop for food – buying pre-made pasta sauce instead of buying tomatoes and making pasta sauce, for example, I don’t NEED to save every jar that comes into my home because I can’t possibly USE every jar that comes into my home.

But my gut reaction is to wash the jar and save it.

Recognizing that things have changed a little bit in the last 50 years helps me to adjust my views on keeping stuff accordingly.

There are awesome recycling programs (and thrift shops) so the stuff that I get rid of isn’t necessarily wasted.  It’s maybe more wasteful to hoard a bunch of jars than it would be to allow them to be recycled.

I keep a box of about 8 jars with lids (mostly tiny ones, because that’s what I use) in the top of my pantry and other jars are not allowed. They must leave. I have decided that my home will not be filled with guilt-induced clutter. 

(Guilt induced clutter can include sentimental clutter – here’s great tips to deal with sentimental clutter!)

Keeping things that I will (likely) never use – out of guilt – does not make me less wasteful.

It makes me frustrated with the clutter, sad about the state of my home, unable to properly put useful things in their places. It makes me a hoarder.

This train of thought needs to apply to all the things that could come into your house and be “possibly useful”: sturdy plastic takeout containers, shoe boxes, clothes that people offer you (that you won’t wear), toys that your kids don’t need, used wrapping paper, the pretty little jars candles come in.

Ever seen those “things to do with used k-cups articles?”

Are you reading them because you are SUPER crafty and just can’t wait to do something with those little cups? Or because you feel incredibly guilty about the plastic-y waste?

DO NOT keep a box of cleaned k-cups – out of guilt –  because you might use them one day. Nope.

If there’s something you really want to make with them, then plan the project, save THAT number and the day you finish saving, do the thing you’ve got planned. If you’re only saving your k-cups and planning these “projects” out of guilt over all the wasted plastic, then you need to make a choice. Either no more k-cups come into your home, or you give yourself permission to throw them out. A or B. No weird box of unused k- cups you can’t bear to send to the landfill.

Related: How to Clean When You Feel Paralyzed by THE MESS
Related: 7 Tangible & Life-Changing Benefits of Decluttering

It might be useful. But it will definitely be clutter.

It is OK for you to say no to clutter, and goodbye to guilt. 

I’ll say (adamantly) that there are things that I DO NOT KEEP, even though Pinterest (and sometimes other people / my guilty brain) tells me

A) I should re-use these things to make awesome stuff
B) I could sell these things for money on e-bay (toilet paper rolls anyone?)
C) I’m a horrible person because I’m so wasteful

But I get rid of the “useful” junk anyway.

Because am I really better off if I assuage my guilt but drown myself – and my home – in crap?

No. Worse perhaps, since I can teach myself new and healthier thought patterns (you can too) – but I can’t actually teach myself to live comfortably when my home is being taken over by the clutter. Not to be hugely negative, but sometimes in this world, things look lose/lose.

I don’t think this has to be one of those times 🙂 This is win/lose. Teach yourself to be OK with letting “useful” stuff go, and you win. Keep piling it into your house and you lose.

Related: Bathroom Cupboard Organization: Facing the Truth Under the Bathroom Sink
Related: Tackling Clothing Clutter: Confessions of a Clothes Hoarder

guilt from decluttering

declutter and organize without guilt

 

21 thoughts on “Dealing With The Guilt of Letting “Useful Clutter” Go”

  1. The clutter can possibly be a good thing on days when you feel you have “writers block.” I say this because we all get the block including me. This is when the clutter comes in. It can be a topic to discuss for the day pertaining to any piece of clothing that you’re about to do away with and write in detail what the brand name and size of the item is, and why you feel you need to get rid of it. The clutter can be good content to discuss on your blog for a few days or perhaps a week, followed by how you feel after you let go of it and put it all in the garbage. If that was me, I know I would most likely discuss it before getting rid of everything. 🙂

    Reply
  2. I deal with guilt sometimes because 1. I dont want to be wasteful and 2. I know what I can sell it for on eBay so it around the house until it sells! ha!

    Reply
    • LOL hmmmm, that would make it REALLY hard for me to let go of some stuff… I mean, you INTEND to get rid of it…

      Reply
  3. This is my BIGGEST problem! Not being able to successfully declutter is ruining my life and destroying my 20 year marriage. I’m desperately trying to declutter my house. This article helped me a LOT. And thank you for linking related articles in the text! They are all helpful!

    Reply
    • O no Wendy! Clutter is SO stressful and I can totally see how it could strain a marriage. I wish you all the best!

      Reply
  4. THANK YOU. dealing with an overload of clutter now. seems like ever decluttet article is a repeat now. thank you for giving me permisdiin to let go.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome Carol – I TOTALLY get how important permission is.

      Reply
  5. I feel like I have wasted years and ruined most of my kids life hiding in our cluttered home. Afraid to even let the repair man in. I have even contacted a cleaner to help and then chickened out. It’s hell. Thank you for the tips. The ‘one thing at a time’ tip and throw away ‘useful junk’ tip make the most sense to me right now.

    Reply
    • YES Deee – take the things that make the most sense and RUN with those things. Let the guilt go… lives are not ruined by clutter, but also let it motivate you to move forward <3

      Reply
  6. My guilt comes from wanting to get rid of things that were given to me. Like gifts or things from family. I have a hard time letting go of things that were my grandmas because shes gone and I miss her. I dont know how to let that go. ?

    Reply
  7. I have a problem with guilt over getting rid of things that could be useful. I find it a lot easier to get rid of things if I donate the majority of things other than just throwing it away. It is in this way that I feel like someone is getting use out of it and therefore I don’t feel so guilty about getting rid of it.

    Reply
  8. I’ll be downsizing very soon and I’m an artist with an OBSCENE amount of crafting supplies including an entire IKEA bookcase of fabric that I cannot take with me when I move out. We grew up poor and we never knew if we’d need a thing down the line, and we couldn’t just BUY a new thing if we did. Like clothing or plates that we’d get second hand from other families or neighbours. Even as an adult now, I save those jars just like you because “what if I need them for pickling in the fall? I can’t know I’ll have that $25 for new jars come October!” and reading this has been like an aha! moment for me. Thanks so much for this post because now I can objectively say “hey self, you’ll get more jars in the fall cuz you’ll ask your neighbours for some or you can buy sauce you’ll need anyways and that fabric is ugly anyways so just donate it” and not feel like I’m dishonouring my upbringing.

    Reply
  9. This has been by far the most useful article on decluttering I’ve read. I have a tendency to hold on to things I can use and as a result I’ve practically run out of storage space. My biggest issue are my clothes. I fluctuate somuch in weight that when I thought I was done with the yo yo dieting, I got rid of my “fat” clothes and then a year later I had nothing to wear because I gained all the weight back

    Reply
    • I have a real problem parting with my clothes and keep buying more as this makes me feel good. My wardrobes are now bursting, last year I bought thin hangars so I could fit more in. They are all colour coordinated immaculately pressed and like new, I am really struggling. Any tips?

      Reply
  10. Thank you! My husband and I are doing a huge purge of our home right now. And I have realized the huge role that guilt plays in all of the clutter and I am letting go of that……

    Reply
  11. I am literally crying right now. All these years of friends and family “picking” at my saving every jar, container, tp roll, box, bag, etc… I have finally read an article written in a way to realize that I have a real problem, and WHY. Thank you so much for this!

    Reply
  12. Thank you for this excellent article. This is my biggest struggle related to clutter and I’ve never read anyone who addressed it. One way I compromise is by saving those things (toilet paper rolls, kcups, egg cartons) and donating them to a local preschool or School. Ask around – some programs LOVE free craft materials coming in!! Yes they probably still end up in the trash at the child’s home but at least it got another use.

    Reply
  13. My house is at the worse state it has every been in. It was bad a year ago. But its worse now! Another year might see me living in a hoarder-like apartment.

    I am too burnt-out to organize things to recycle and give away. Plus my city is in another lockdown for the next month.

    I just want to throw things out (old books, clothes I don’t wear, toys, and of course jars unused jars and plastic spoons etc). But I feel so guilty throwing “perfectly usable things” away. Especially when I think about the homeless, war refugees, the poor.

    I don’t know what to do. But I know I can’t continue living like this.

    Reply
  14. Just one question have you been spying on my bedroom? How could you see those boxes hiding under the cute vinyl table cloth? Lol

    Reply

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