What Makes Decluttering So Challenging (And What To Do About it)?

This could well be the reasons why decluttering is hard for everyones, including myself !
Have you ever started decluttering, only to find yourself buried under a pile of stuff, unable to exit the room easily, wondering what you did? Decluttering your life and choosing to own less can be overwhelming. But it wasn’t until I understood why I was struggling that I realized it was more than just the obvious. So today, I want to share with you ten of the most common and true reasons why it’s challenging for people to own less.


Reason 1: Sense of security and safety 

Sometimes we find it hard to own less because owning more makes us feel safe and secure. Maybe you’ve invested so much of your identity in the things you own that the thought of cleaning them out makes you feel like you’re letting go of a part of you. In my experience, I identified in large part with what I owned. My things supported a personality I clung to, protecting the person I thought was providing me protection and security.

Reason 2: Scarcity Mindset  

Similar to the false sense of security, the thought of decluttering makes you feel like you’ll never have enough. But, in turn, it gives you a sense of security. The feeling of knowing you’ll never have to go without something because you’ll always have it.
When you start to let go, you’ll realize that there’s more to life than things and stuff and that you don’t need as much as you think you need. Owning less doesn’t mean getting rid of everything, but you should get rid of anything that doesn’t serve you, doesn’t add value to your life, or is used so often that it takes up space in your room.

Reason 3: Guilt   

Believe it or not, guilt takes you further than you want to go, keeps you stuck longer than you want to stay, and costs you more than you want to pay. Sometimes we have a hard time letting things go because we feel guilty, so we feel obligated to keep them. Guilt can come from the fact that an item was a gift or that we spent our hard-earned money on it.
Assuming it’s a gift: remember that gifts are given to show love or congratulations. So when you receive a gift, you should appreciate the intention behind it by expressing your gratitude. What you do with the gift afterward is up to you. If you decide to get rid of it. You shouldn’t feel guilty because the gift has already served its purpose as an expression of love or congratulations. If, on the other hand, you feel obligated to keep something just because you spent your hard-earned money on it, then that’s a quick reality check for you. The money is gone, and you won’t get back what you originally spent on it. So instead of focusing on how much you spent before, think about how much the item will cost you if you keep it: more money, time, energy, and peace. You might as well let it go because otherwise, the item will continue to cost you more than you expected.

Reason 4: Wardrobe Shortages    

Many of us have more clothes than we need. In fact, we’ve too many clothes that we’re not even aware of. Here’s an exercise I encourage you to do. Open your closet and count how many individual pieces of clothing you own. Let me repeat : a single garment or item that fits into one of two categories. 
A piece of clothing you rarely wear and often forget your own. It’s a garment you really like and want to wear but have a hard time pairing it with other garments to create multiple outfits that you can wear over and over again and in many different ways.  
It’s common for you to have a closet full of separates but no cohesive wardrobe. I, too, have struggled with this. I’m a closet full of brand new and barely worn pieces, but I didn’t have a closet. So I’d have a hard time parting with it because I didn’t want to feel wasteful.
Plus, I didn’t really know how to build a closet, so I felt like if I cleaned out, I’d just buy a whole bunch of individual pieces again. So here’s what I did. First, I told myself enough was enough and started letting go.
Second, I resolved not to buy anything new until I learned how to put together a wardrobe that makes me feel confident and comfortable and allows me to express my personality without owning more than I need.

Reason 5: The Fantasy Self Syndrome     

Here’s a question for you: How many pieces of clothing do you own that you don’t actively use? Is this the result of your fantasy self?
Let me dig in for a second: Who’s your fantasy self? Why do so many of us struggle to break free of it? Your fantasy self is a highly idealized image of who you want to be and how you want to be perceived by others. So if I ask you, how many things do you own and not actively use that result from your fantasy ego?
Ask yourself who you want to be and how you want to be perceived by others. Here’s an example, maybe you have an overwhelming amount of kitchen gadgets you are not using as much as your fantasy self thought you would. At the time of purchase, you told yourself that you would start cooking gourmet meals and throw holiday dinner parties so your friends and family could see how polished and professional your kitchen looks. But in reality, you’re not cooking as much as you thought you would, and you’re not actually using any of those fancy gadgets you bought. In fact, you probably still have the instruction just in case you do decide to use it one day. Whatever it is, holding onto things for the sake of maintaining an idealized image is the worst thing you can do. And if you’re struggling to let go, then I challenge you to question your fantasy self. Trying to be someone or something you’re is no fun at all. I promise you’ll find more joy in being yourself and getting rid of anything that’s not truly you. 

Reason 6: The “Just -In-Case’ Mentality      

Let’s keep it real. How many “just-in-case” items do you have? Do you know? I mean, we all have them. How many? That’s a different story. “Just-in-case” items are a big reason many people struggle to declutter. We hold on to these things we don’t need but keep just in case because we worry that if we let them go, we might need them later and then regret that we got rid of them to begin with.
Now it’s easy to talk ourselves into keeping just about anything just in case. So, with full transparency, I was going through some of the leftover items we still have from years ago. And in doing so, I caught myself mid-sentence telling myself something along the lines of “well, someday we might…” and then I paused. I thought to myself and said, hmm… We don’t need this and doubt there will be a ‘just-in-case’ moment where we do.

Reason 7: You Get Decision Fatigue      

Oh boy… this might be the most important reason why decluttering is so hard – at least, it’s the most important reason I can think of (even counting the other reasons in this list). When we declutter, we’ve to take each item we own (big or small) and make a decision about it. That decision will be either to keep it (and therefore where will it go) or to get rid of it (and therefore how will we let it go). 
Each decision takes a little energy away from our decision bucket for that day – and we only have a certain amount available until decision fatigue sets in. As we make decisions over and over again, they become more and more difficult as the day goes on. Not only that – if we’re not careful, but we also start making the wrong decisions because we’ve exhausted ourselves…

Reason 8: Prioritising Organising       

Now maybe you’ve thought to yourself that “if only I had a right-size basket or another storage container, or little buckets and drawers dividers, my home would feel less decluttered”. If so, you’re not alone. This was my thought process for the longest time, and I even went to the extent of redecorating and reorganizing my furniture in hopes that it would make me feel less cluttered.
But guess what, it didn’t work. See, it’s easy to think that all we have to do is organise more or better, and that will solve our clutter issues. But it won’t. Organising is not the answer. 
Clutter is still cluttered. Organized clutter is still cluttering. It doesn’t matter how creative you get or how good you are at Tetris making a lot of stuff fit into a small space; if you don’t need or use it, it’s clitter, So if you want to own less, stop prioritizing organizing, and start prioritizing your need so you can let you of what you don’t need.

Reason 9: Past Connections       

Here’s food for thought for you. The past hinders your present, which in turn hinders your future. Sometimes it can be difficult to let go of things we used and enjoyed in the past, but not so much today.
Think of an old hobby or items from your past. It feels like we’re letting go of that part of our lives. Personally, I’ve learned from the experiences I’ve had in my life so far that the only way to overcome this struggle is to face it. So take a moment and acknowledge how you feel and stay with it for a while. Take as much time as you need to process those feelings. Again, it’s been my experience that this is the only way to allow you to move past them and let go. So don’t forget to let go of the past so you can enjoy the precious moments in the present and create new memories that will carry you into the future.

Reason 10: Sentimental Items       

Let’s face it, decluttering sentimental items is hard. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of it, but like anything else, we need to find ways to overcome this hurdle if we want to declutter our lives and own less. Acknowledge that decluttering is emotional. You’re going through all your personal belongings, after all. Being aware that it will be hard will automatically make you a little more prepared.
And there you have the reasons why decluttering is hard. Which of these 10 reasons do you find most relatable ? I hope this helped you see that we all find it hard in different ways – and if you find it hard to declutter your home and create the spaces you want, know that you aren’t alone. 

The article was initially published on 22nd February  2022.