Decluttering can be a journey with ups and downs. There are moments of high motivation and quick progress, but there are also moments of slow going and tough decisions.
There are some people who can get rid of everything in one weekend, but that personality-type tends to be pretty rare.
For most of us, the journey takes a bit longer. There are some things that are easy to remove, others tend to be difficult—for any number of reasons.
I want to offer you my best advice for decluttering those items you never thought you could. Just because something is hard to part with, doesn’t mean we should keep it.
Difficult to declutter items could be items with a sentimental attachment. But they don’t have to be. These ten tips (+ 1 bonus tip) could also be applied to books or hobbies or collections or gifts—anything you are having difficulty minimizing.
If you’re struggling to get rid of some things in your home, I hope you find these ideas helpful.
Before we jump in, let me mention that you don’t need to start decluttering by getting rid of your hardest things first. In fact, I’d recommend beginning in easier spaces, removing less difficult items.
My full approach to decluttering involves working through your home, room-by-room, easiest-to-hardest, starting with the most lived-in areas. So always begin there.
Eventually you’ll reach those items that tug at your heartstrings or challenge your resolve. And while making these decisions becomes easier after starting to experience the benefits of owning less elsewhere in your home, they are still difficult.
Here are 10 Life-Changing Tips for Decluttering Items You Thought You Couldn’t
1. Start with Easier Items
Decluttering is a little bit like building a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger and better you get at it. So look for easy decluttering wins in your home. Pick the low-hanging fruit first.
As you experience the benefits of owning less, you’ll be more prepared (and motivated) to declutter the things you thought you couldn’t.
2. Adopt a Museum Mentality
Museums are enjoyable not because every piece of art ever created hangs on the walls. Museums are enjoyable because someone has taken the time to choose the most representative pieces of art and display only them.
Think of your life and home in the same way. Your home isn’t the most beautiful when everything is displayed—similarly, your life isn’t best lived when everything is held onto. Curate.
3. Explore Your Emotions
We’re all tempted to stop decluttering when we reach the point where we say, “This is just too hard for me to get rid of.” Rather than stopping there, ask the next question, “Why is this so hard for me to declutter?”
Searching our heart and motivations to understand why letting go of certain items can be difficult. It might reveal underlying issues or attachments that need addressing in your life. But you’ll never discover those motivations until you start asking the question.
4. Express Gratitude
This idea I first heard articulated my Marie Kondo in her culture-changing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. In her book, she encourages people to thank the objects in your life that you are removing. Thank them for the role that they played and the joy that they brought.
This can be particularity helpful with difficult items to remove. Thank it for the service, joy, or memories it provided. This practice of gratitude brings closure and helps in mentally and emotionally preparing to part with the item.
5. Take a Photo
Take a photo of items you struggle to part with. Studies show that this simple practice makes parting with items of sentimental value much easier. The photo allows you to preserve the memory without keeping the physical object. After all, the memory is in you, not the object.
The television show, Legacy List with Matt Paxton, does a great job building and expanding on this helpful technique—taking it to a whole new level of effectiveness.
6. Choose Only the Best
“Only the best” is a strategy that I first heard from a caller while I was appearing on a Canadian Radio Call-In Show. The caller told me that her approach for deciding which sentimental items to keep was based on “keeping only the best.” For every relationship, experience, or accomplishment she wanted to remember, she kept only the one item most representative.
*This is the approach that I use most and have found it be particularly helpful.
7. Implement Defined Limits
If keeping only the one best seems too much for you at this time, try setting a physical boundary instead. For example, if you currently have three boxes of memories from college in the basement, see if you can condense it down to just one box. Another option is to try cutting the number of items in half.
You’ll find the physical constraint helps your mind quickly decide between what is kinda-important and what is truly-important.
8. Embrace Life’s Seasons
Life is about change and growth and never stays the same—regardless of how badly we want it to. Some of the items you are struggling to minimize may represent past seasons of life that you loved very much.
Recognize that getting rid of those items doesn’t change the previous season of your life, it only prepares the way for you to make the most of your current season.
9. Imagine a ‘Role Reversal‘
Reverse the circumstances surrounding your clutter and see if you can picture it in a new light. This can be particularly helpful when decluttering the possessions of a loved one who has passed away.
Ask yourself, “If I were to die today, would I expect my son, daughter, or spouse to keep all of my things? If I found out that my possessions were cluttering their home and keeping them from living their best life, would I want them to keep my stuff or get rid of it?”
Almost certainly, we answer “It would be nice for them to keep a few things. But I would never want my belongings to keep them from making the most of this season in their life.”
If you struggle with minimizing the possessions of loved ones, reverse the roles and see if it becomes a bit easier to declutter those items you’ve been storing for years.
10. See the Benefit in Generosity
Think about how the items you’re holding onto could benefit others. Donating to someone who needs or appreciates them can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Generosity is not just a byproduct of owning less, it can become the very motivation for it.
Bonus: Seek Support:
As a bonus idea: If you find it overwhelmingly difficult to declutter certain items, don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or a professional. Sometimes, having an external perspective can provide clarity and strength.
One word of warning here, if you are going to ask a friend or relative to come help you with this, work hard to accept their advice. It would be unfair for you to ask someone to come help you and then argue with every suggestion they offer. Asking over someone that you love and trust can help quite a bit in this regard.
Each of these ten strategies and tips can be life-changing if you allow them to be.
Certainly one or two of them may resonate more with you and the difficult decisions you are making about what to keep and what to remove. But owning less is a decision that holds benefit for all.
You can do it. And you’ll love owning less.