The heat and humidity have dropped so I no longer break out into a sweat when I do small tasks, yet, I still “sweat it out” when making clutter control decisions. It is hard to separate trash from treasure. Like anyone, I get attached to my stuff. Some are gifts. Some are inherited items. Many are purchases and were described as “on sale” or “a good deal.”

Whatever “it” is, it is difficult to toss an item we are attached to. After all, we have acquired it, paid for it, cleaned it, and stored it. How can we let go of stuff we feel tied to?

Here are some thoughts I use in my fall clutter control, and they can help you too. They are mental tools to separate myself from my “treasures.” My “treasures” have attached themselves just like the burrs and seeds that attach themselves to my dogs during our fall walks. Some stuff is like that—it manages to cling to us like a burr and hang around in our homes whether or not we really still need it or even like it.
Unused items: If I haven’t used something in a year or two, I probably won’t suddenly “need it someday.” At any rate, I ought to trust in the Universe that I will be able to get a similar thing if I do need it later. Another mental exercise I use as I weed out my stuff: I pretend I am suddenly deceased. As a hovering ghost, I get to watch friends and family going through the same stuff I am looking at and remarking, “Why on earth did she save that? What did she think she was keeping this for? What are all these for?” and so on. If I see them shaking their heads at my ghostly explanation or if I hear muffled laughter, then I know I don’t want to keep the item any longer.
Gifts: What about “special” gifts from special people? I feel disloyal if I don’t save a gift. Yet, it is the people who are special to me not the gift. When I sort out these gifts, I change roles. I pretend I am the giver not the receiver. If someone can’t use a gift that I gave him or her, I hope they would decide it was the thought that counted. I would want them to know they are free to send it on to someone who might use it, rather than bury it in the back of their closet.
Stuff is us: Next, think about the stuff we let hang around because we feel it defines us. I kept school papers and dated textbooks—as though keeping them somehow proved I really went to school. Do I have stuff from former hobbies so I can remind myself that I really am an interesting person or tell myself that it is still my hobby? Do I hang onto too much outgrown kid stuff so I can definitively say I am a great mom? Ouch. This stuff does not define me. It is time to let it go.
Guilt by association: Sometimes I hang onto stuff that makes me feel bad. Maybe it is a hobby I haven’t made time for in years. Or, it is a gift given from someone where our relationship ended badly. Maybe it is clothing that is too small and doesn’t fit. Will keeping a hobby force me to make time for it again? Will an old love letter or a gift from a former friend remind me to be a better person? Can hanging onto small clothing make me lose weight? No. No. No.
Why do we sometimes use stuff to punish ourselves? Don’t keep physical reminders around that have negative associations that make you feel bad or fill you with guilt. If you have items like that hanging around, please choose to pass them on and allow yourself to feel better.
Used to like: Finally, there was stuff that fell into the “things I used to like” category. Some stuff stuck around because I hadn’t figured out it no longer worked for me. I used a rocking chair in a baby room. Then, I put it in the living room. For a while, I liked it there…but it didn’t really belong there. We were past the rocking babies stage of life.
People change. I change. Sometimes I can work to be a little quicker to pass on stuff that doesn’t provide what I need anymore. If it is no longer beautiful, useful, and/or sentimental, send it on!
Ultimately, I use two formulas to keep my head on straight when making clutter control choices: Stuff (does not equal) Person. Person (is greater than) Stuff. We are not the sum total of our possessions. We are bigger than that. I hope I don’t define myself by what I own, and I hope I don’t judge others based on what they own. Finally, my stuff can support me, not the other way around. Use these mental tools to toss the extra stuff, and the guilt, the next time you clear clutter.

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.

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