The Real Reason You Can’t Clear Clutter

Why is it so difficult to just get rid of stuff? As a recovering pack rat – I totally get it. It seems easy enough but sometime there are items like those boots you never wore or that candlestick holder your friend gave you when she moved out of her apartment.

The important thing here is to know that you’re not alone in struggling to get rid of stuff. I recently attended a Running with Heels dinner in NYC. Running with Heels is a women’s networking group run by my friend Jenny Powers. She books all kinds of speakers and interesting experts.  The dinner I went to featured productivity expert Julie Morgenstern. Julie kindly wrote the foreword to my book Listful Thinking.

The topic of discussion was about clearing clutter and why it’s so difficult to get rid of our stuff! This included a heartbreaking story of how Julie often found her kitchen over stuffed with cookbooks she never used. When she thought about why she clung to these cookbooks so desperately, she realized it was because the represented the mother she wished she could be. A mom who was well known for her delicious home-cooked meals.

Once Julie accepted that these books represented a fantasy alternate self she was then able to finally purge them from her kitchen and get that space back! It’s true that it can be difficult to get rid of personal clutter until we really get to the root cause of why we’re holding on to it! Even the ‘Horders’ reality TV show represents this on a much more extreme level, there is almost always a unresolved emotional incident or trauma that started the behavior . So if you having some clutter that you keep holding on to, try to think about why that might be.

Here are some of the other clutter-clearing wisdom Julie shared:

Realize Your Concentration Threshold – There’s only so much time you can spend clearing out before you start to lose interest. Often people try to clear out everything in one go, which can be a mammoth task in itself, and requires a lot of patience. As you become more frustrated you act more impulsively, which could lead to you making decision you may later regret. Julie recommends clearing clutter a little bit at a time, so you can really focus on what you want or don’t.

Pick a Theme – As part of your decluttering in stages, Julie also suggests picking a particular theme to work on. Pick coats and then books and then kitchen stuff. It will help you stay focused and clear on the task at hand.

Account For the Evolution of Your Stuff – Everyone who knows about decluttering knows about Marie Kondo. I just love her and was fortunate to meet her earlier this year. . However, Julie raised a good point at the dinner that the KonMari Method doesn’t really allow for how the importance of your possessions can change over time. Just because it doesn’t spark joy in that moment doesn’t mean it never will. For example, a boring every day shirt could one day become the shirt you were wearing when you got promoted. It’s important to give your stuff the chance to have it’s moment in the sun before you toss it out.

What problems do you have clearing clutter?

1 reply
  1. Beverly
    Beverly says:

    I find I have a lot of clutter when it comes to books, magazine, newspapers and my daughters baby items. My daughter is now 24 and for the first 5 years, I saved all her clothes and toys. As she got older, I had friends who had kids so it was easy to pass on items of clothing. I find it hard to get rid of the items from when she was younger because I see the items and remember how small she was. I think the issue really is that my mom never saved anything from when I was younger and I don’t even many pictures from I was younger too, so I find it hard to let go of my daughters stuff.

    As far as book, magazines, I want to read them so I hold onto them hoping to get to them. Newspapers tend to pile up but I really enjoy reading the headlines on older papers and only if an article interests me will I read it. Once I have done this, I have no issue recycling the paper.

    I see you get lots of magazines which is awesome, how do you find the time to read them all?



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