5 Simple Decluttering Strategies to Make Letting Go of Items Easier

The decluttering process can bring up strong emotions. Be ready for them.

As anyone who's ever attempted to KonMari their home can tell you, decluttering is not just a physical process. It's an emotional journey. While deciding which items to let go of, certain belongings are bound to bring up cherished memories and strong feelings. Letting go of these items may make you feel a sense of relief, but it might also inspire guilt or sadness. No matter if you're packing up following a messy divorce, practicing Swedish Death Cleaning, or just doing some routine tidying up, certain strategies can make decluttering a little bit easier. Check out the five tips below to help let go of the physical—and emotional—clutter.

Snap a Photo

Oftentimes, we hang on to items that hold emotional meaning but are no longer serving us. Favorite outfits your kids have long outgrown might fall into this category. Try this simple trick: Snap a photo of the item before you donate it. In fact, a 2017 study by Penn State University published in the Journal of Marketing found that this simple act may make you more willing to actually part with the cherished belonging. The photo will help carry on the memory and meaning of the item, without having to keep the object itself. This trick can help you let go of guilt while freeing up space in your home (sorry, just not in your camera roll).

Donate Rather Than Sell

The same study analyzed exactly how many items college students let go of as they were packing up their dorm rooms at the end of the school year. One group was told the items would be donated to a good cause, while the other group was told they would sell their items in exchange for cash. The results: People were more willing to let go of belongings when they believed they were donated to someone in need.

Try this trick: If you're feeling sad or guilty about parting with clothes you don't need or kitchen appliances you rarely use, donate them. Instead of dwelling on the past and your own emotions, the simple act of giving flips the script, focusing on the future of the item and how it can help others.

Phone a Friend

If you never go shopping without getting a friend's trusted opinion, why would you declutter your closet by yourself? Whether it's a friend, a sibling, a cousin, or a roommate, recruit the help of someone you trust, who makes you feel good, and who supports your decluttering journey. Then, in person or over video chat, let them help you decide what "sparks joy" from the mountain of clothes piled on your bed. Remember, it's ultimately your decision what to toss, but a friend can help you stay on track. Besides, who else is going to call you out on the fact that you haven't worn that floral dress in over a decade?

Ask Yourself Tough Questions

Marie Kondo knew the importance of a consistent vetting process when decluttering, which is why her question Does it spark joy? became so popular. If that works for you, keep asking it! But if you want to get a little more specific, try pondering some decluttering questions. Answering some objective questions will balance out the decision-making process.

Deal With the Emotions

Especially when you're decluttering alongside a big life change, like the death of a family member, a cross-country move, or a breakup, it's helpful to take time to deal with the emotions directly. Consider booking in-person or virtual therapy sessions, take time to meditate, talk to loved ones, and practice your favorite stress-relieving hobbies, such as yoga. After openly exploring the emotions that were holding you back from decluttering, you'll likely find it much easier to part with the items.

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