4 Common Types of Emotional Clutter—And How to Clear It From Your Home

Because letting go isn't always easy. 

Decluttering everything you've collected over the years can be challenging in more ways than one—and the emotional component plays a large role. You might hate that piece of art your aunt gifted you, but you still feel compelled to keep it. And what about that guitar you promised yourself you'd learn, but haven't picked up once in the past 10 years?

Part of what makes decluttering difficult (besides the time it takes and the literal heavy lifting required), is the emotional weight objects carry. Letting go of a gift may make us feel guilty, while throwing away childhood belongings may make us feel sad or nostalgic.

To deal with your clutter and finally let it go, begin by identifying the types of emotional clutter in your home, using the list below as a starting point. From there, follow these pro-organizer-approved steps to make letting go a little bit easier.

Nostalgic Clutter

One type of emotional clutter you're bound to meet is nostalgic clutter, or the collected odds and ends from your childhood, past lives, or glory days. These items hold emotional value, but oftentimes serve no real purpose. It's that NSYNC CD you've been holding onto since 1997, even though you got rid of your Discman in 2005 and already have all of your favorite songs on your Spotify playlist.

If you no longer have space for these items, try this trick to make it easier to let go: Take a photo of the item. This way, you can remember and have a record of that tattered college t-shirt or old prom dress, without having to keep the physical item itself.

Gifts You Can't Let Go Of

It's inevitable: Most of us have received a gift we didn't really want, but have felt compelled to hang onto. Whether it was a wedding gift that went off-registry or a hand-me-down you didn't ask for, getting rid of something a loved one gave you can be difficult. One thing to keep in mind when decluttering gifts is how often the gift-giver is likely to visit your home and notice the item. If it's unlikely your great aunt will visit and notice the missing Crock Pot she gifted you, it's okay to let it go if it simply isn't serving you.

Try this: Extend the generosity by donating items to Goodwill or to someone who you know will use it often and enjoy owning it. Paying it forward may help you let go of potential feelings of guilt.

Your Kids' Stuff (Especially Artwork)

It's natural to want to collect mementos from your kids' childhood—adorable baby booties, their first toy, their original artwork. But if you don't have room to stash it all, it may be time to let go. If your budding Picasso's artwork is taking over the house, try this: Think like an art curator and narrow down the collection. Then, use one of these ways to display your kids' artwork in a tasteful way—when matted and framed the right way, even a finger painting can work on your kitchen counter. Once you and your child have curated the five or ten favorites, you can feel okay about getting rid of the rest.

Try a similar method for other mementos, too. Is there one pair of baby booties that are too cute to toss out? Consider the classic tradition of getting them bronzed, but then donate the others if they're in good condition.

Aspirational Clutter

Maybe it's an instrument you promised yourself you'd learn or supplies for a craft project you'll eventually complete, many of us have some form of aspirational clutter we'll get around to using "one day." To avoid keeping this clutter for years, try setting a realistic timeline. If you haven't knit that sweater by winter, it's time to let go of the yarn. The timeline will prevent you from storing things you aren't using, and it may even motivate you to make moves on your past projects and plans.

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