Decluttering: Things I Have Learned

I was supposed to work with Kyle and Kim yesterday, but as luck would have it, all of us were feeling under the weather! So we decided to reschedule for next weekend.

Today I thought I would share a few things I have learned from my personal experiences, particularly in regards to sentimental hoarding.

Things I Have Learned

Start small. If you have struggled with clutter and mess for years, don’t make your goal to clean out your entire basement over the weekend. This is especially important for sentimental hoarding, as the process is bound to stir up a lot of uncomfortable feelings.

Since it can be so hard to get in the mindset of being able to look at things logically and get rid of what you don’t need or want, I always recommend starting small. Start with one box. (I suggest not starting with a box that is full of keepsakes, as those are items that you will feel reluctant to part with at the beginning. This could potentially set a discouraging tone; you may feel that because you couldn’t get rid of any of those items, you won’t be able to let go of anything.)

I like to start with boxes of paperwork. It’s easy to sort into piles of recycling, shredding, filing, or keepsakes. As the shredder and the recycle bag begins to fill, you can see physically see your progress, which is reassuring that you are making a dent!

Then I move on to boxes of random items. (If they are left over from a move, these are the items that didn’t fit in with kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and other obvious categories.) These boxes are usually filled with pens, notepads, flashlights, picture hangers, stamps, and all sorts of odds and ends.

Sort them into piles. Test out all of those pens and throw out the ones that don’t work. (If you have kids, this is a great way they can help you out!) You may not know exactly where their final place is going to be, but sort them into boxes or clear Ziploc bags. Maybe you’re going to set up an office, but haven’t started yet. Make an “office” box. Make a “cleaning supplies cupboard” box. Make whatever categories you need, and make sure they’re clearly labeled so they’re easily located when you’re ready for them!

Recognize your needs. This refers to determining what you require for working through this process, both physically or emotionally. If you have a chronic pain disorder, or a bad back, or whatever reason you may have physical limitations, enlist help from family or friends or a professional to assist you with moving boxes, bins and large items.

As I mentioned before, this process may bring a lot of emotions to the surface. Therefore, it is important to figure out what you need. You may want friends or family or a professional to help with the bulk of your items, but perhaps you have a few boxes of things that belonged to your mother, who passed away. You may feel that you need to be alone as you go through those items. Or you may feel that you want emotional support from others as you look at those items and ask for help in letting some of them go, especially if you know that they are logically not items that you have any use for other than sentimental value.

You are the expert on yourself. If you know you need help, find it!

Be realistic. One of the things I have seen people do, and that I am guilty of as well, is coming up with all sorts of reasons to justify keeping something they really don’t need. I’m sure many of you have heard some of the common decluttering tips. (If you haven’t used it in a year or more, let it go. Hold it in your hands. If it doesn’t bring you joy, let it go.)

These are good suggestions, though they might not always work for you. (See my next point for more explanation.)

People who hoard, sentimentally or otherwise, are very good at finding reasons to hang onto something. “I might need this in the future.” “I can use this for that purpose.” “I really love it; I need to keep it.”

I’ve also seen people say, after I have made a suggestion for finding a particular item to assist with organization, that they could probably just make one instead. Yes! I’m all about DIY projects. However, be honest with yourself. Often when you have reached this overwhelming state of clutter and chaos, the motivation to work on projects isn’t there. Is it realistic to hold off on dealing with a pile of items until you make the project that you will then store them in?

Probably not. Focus on what you have to work with at the present moment, and don’t overload your plate with extra projects.

Be willing to reconsider. I have kept things that I haven’t used in more than a year. I put on weight over the past year due to a medication I was on, and I packed away all of my “skinny” clothes into a bin. By the logic of some professionals, I should let go of those things because I can’t use them now, and I have no definite timeline of when I can use them again. Maybe I won’t be able to lose the weight in a year. Maybe I’ll never be able to lose all of the weight that I gained.

But I am not ready at this moment to let go of those clothes. I am working on losing the weight, and since I am tight financially, I can’t justify getting rid of so many clothes and then having to buy new ones later. However, I am prepared to reevaluate my need for these items in a year or so.

Being willing to reconsider certain items is important. Things I kept for a long time I eventually decided that I did not, in fact, want to hold onto any longer. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of things that at one point I thought I would never, ever let go.

As you keep working at going through items, you will find yourself growing stronger and more willing to let things go. It does get easier. The more you practice, the better you get at it.

Know when it’s time to stop. That being said, it is extremely important to know when you have reached your limit for the day. I know I have reached mine when I take the items out of a box to look at, and then just put them straight back in the box. I may also feel emotionally and physically tired.

At this point, I can’t make decisions anymore. I can’t logically and rationally work through whether I really need to keep an item.

So I have to stop, walk away from the sorting process, and take a break. I may feel up to doing some more after resting for awhile, or I may not. Trust your feelings. Don’t push yourself to keep going if you’re just not feeling it.

(Please note this is different from getting anxious about the entire process and walking away as a means of avoidance. For those who may be hoarding, they may have to push through their uncomfortable emotions in order to make progress. However, they still need to be able to take a few moments to calm down if things are overwhelming.)

Remember that things are going to look worse before they get better. I think everyone can agree that the results of decluttering and organizing your space are well worth it! Just keep in mind that before you reach those incredible, satisfying results, there is going to be chaos.

When I started sorting through items in my basement, it looked like it had been ransacked. There were open boxes and bags everywhere and spilled out all over the place. Sometimes I’d walk downstairs to do laundry, see the disaster that was the basement, and have an anxiety attack over how much work still needed to be done.

It can be really discouraging, but in those moments, I remind myself of all the bags of recycling I’ve taken out to the curb. I remember how many boxes and bags I’ve dropped off at a donation centre. I remember how many more boxes and bins I used to have piled in the basement.

I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff. That’s something to be really proud of!


When you have lived with clutter and disorganization for so long, it can be hard to know where to start. If you don’t have an idea of what you want your end results to look like, the process can be frustrating and overwhelming. It may feel like you’re running in circles and just shifting items from one place to another.

Don’t put unreasonable expectations on yourself. Keep working at it however much you’re able to, even if that means you only sort through one box a day. That’s okay! Small steps are important, and small steps lead to bigger steps.

I hope you enjoyed my suggestions for tackling your clutter, and that you will find them to be helpful!


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