How To Let Go Of Your Stuff (Part 1): The Emotional Side
Early on in the decluttering process it happens. You’ve stripped your shelves, sat with each item, and Spark-Joy’ed your way through another category. Maybe the first category: clothes. You carry your lovelies back to their rightful place, and breathe a sigh of bliss. You did it!
Then you turn around, and there are those dark, lurking Other Piles. Just glaring at you.
Let’s Still Be Friends
The first time I sorted my clothes, I felt so proud of how much stuff I’d tossed. At the time, I had a walk-in closet and it felt breezy. All the space I’d made between hangers. The newly organized drawers in the dresser. The paired down shoe collection that now fit on one shelf. I was so proud, I wanted to live in my closet.
Except, I hadn’t actually tossed anything.
My bedroom was lined with bags and bags of my discards. Which sat there....for weeks. I just couldn’t let it go.
Stuffing Your Feelings
Most of us are fully aware that stuff doesn’t feel, yet when it comes to tossing things, some of us find ourselves avoiding the situation. The fact remains, while stuff may not feel anything, we do!
The first time I Kondo’d my clothes, my inner dialogue went something like this, “I should’ve been a better owner. I could’ve worn you more. I should’ve worn you more. There’s nothing wrong with you! You did everything you could do!”
I felt guilty. As if I was sentencing bags of clothes to some sort of Fashion Mafia Firing Squad.
Guilt and fear will always rear their heads. It’s like whack-a-mole.
If I Forget It’s There, It Doesn’t Exist
There’s a reason Marie tells us to remove everything from our shelves, and closets, and cobwebbed corners. You can’t fully process what stuff you have until you’ve removed it from its natural habitat: that rotten container in the back of the fridge, expired medicines loitering in the shadows, moth-bitten sweaters on the closet floor.
Even things in plain sight can hide. Like large pieces of furniture. Or those discard bags you don’t want to let go of.
When our guilty feelings rise up, we suddenly find ourselves conveniently forgetting they’re there. We step over the tops of them, shove them into a corner, and continue adding to the list of reasons they need to stay:
I’ll use it someday!
It was so expensive!
It was free!
So-and-so gave that to me!
What if I need it someday?
Everyone says I look good in it!
There’s enough room for it!
Invasive Species Will Take Over
After you’ve sorted through the things you want to keep, you’re then left with a pile of things that no longer suit you. These things have essentially become an invasive species. They will take over if you put them back into your nicely curated space.
It’s like cannonballing into a mudpit.
You already decided that something doesn’t make you feel your best - for whatever reason. And that reason is perfectly valid. Maybe it does look great on you, but it reminds you of your ex-boyfriend. Or, maybe it was expensive and you want to get your money’s worth, but punishing yourself, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t bring about joy. Cut your losses, chalk it up to a lesson in knowing yourself well so next time, whether something’s expensive or not, you’ll recognize its value for your personality.
Putting something back out of guilt or some sense of loyalty won’t change your feelings. Ever gotten back together with someone for these same reasons?
Thank Your Stuff
Part of Marie's process is thanking each item. When I did this, one of two things would happen:
It made it easier to let go of something, or
It made it harder.
Essentially, you thank an item for the joy it brought you, in whatever form that was. Which can make grappling with those whack-a-mole feelings dissipate or strengthen. We do have memories attached to things. Sometimes thanking something for being a part of my life wrapped up my initial hesitation to discard it, by acknowledging the memory, or it increased my guilt. In which case I had to default to the more practical side of:
Things don't have feelings - I do.
I no longer have a use or need or desire for this. And that's okay.
What If I Still Can’t Do It?
I know Marie says to just bite the bullet and toss everything once you’ve chosen what to keep and what to toss. While I think that is the best route, I can’t say I’ve always been strong enough to do this. I encourage you to do it however because it will save you time in the long run.
But, if you find yourself at a crossroad, where you have that pile of “Maybes,” and you’re not moving forward with the process because you’re spinning your wheels, then try the following experiment. I can almost guarantee you will only do this once.
The Maybes Experiment
My hope is that you won’t need this, but if you find yourself stuck, not moving forward with tossing or sorting because you can’t tell what brings you joy, then give this a go:
Honestly, I’ve only done this a couple times. As you can probably guess, pretty much every single thing I put back eventually boomeranged back out the door. Every time I looked at something I originally wanted to toss, I felt that sinking feeling. It didn’t bring me joy. I was just slowly ripping the band-aid off because…
Letting go is hard!
This is a journey. We all learn in different ways and at different speeds. Remember, I anticipate you’ll need to repeat this Marie Kondo process, especially the first categories like clothes and books, about 3 times. Those are your training wheels categories.
While Marie would completely outlaw this experiment, as a person honing her own inner compass to what sparks joy, this experiment actually did just that.
Stay tuned for Part 2
I’ll go over the logistics of the discarding process:
Where to take stuff.
What about recycling and donating?
How to get your stuff out the door without getting overwhelmed.
Until then, Happy Kondo'ing!
What are the hardest things for you to toss out? What kind of inner dialogue happens? Does it sound anything like mine? Is it your voice, or someone else’s?
P.S. In case you’re wondering, Yes, I kept a couple Maybes. But seriously, it was less than 1%.