Seven Keys to Letting Go

posted by Aby Garvey 13 Comments

donation binDo you crave the peace, calm and beauty greater organization would offer you? And yet, at the same time, dread the process of getting there? Here’s the good news: you’re not alone! For many, the mere thought of letting go creates an almost insurmountable obstacle for getting more organized. And yet … letting go of excess possessions like supplies, shoes, unused gifts, clothing with the price tags still attached, and incomplete projects, along with letting go of old habits and beliefs about organizing is key to creating a future filled with greater calm, control, and organizational bliss.

So how to do it? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The trick is to figure out what works for you. What will motivate you to overcome “letting-go inertia” and move forward to the peace, calm and beauty you crave? The answer may be just words away! First, let’s get into action write away — yep, that is the kind of write I mean. Go grab a piece of paper and a pen, or better yet, download a handy-dandy worksheet here. Then, come right back here to get yourself ready for some good “letting go”.

#1: Connect with the finished result.

The more clearly you can describe to yourself the benefits of letting go, the easier it will be to make any tough decisions that come up during the process. Write down your answers to these simple questions:

1. Why do you want to change or get more organized?

2. What are you making space for?

3. How will your space look, feel and function when you’re finished?

4. Now … list in vivid detail the benefits you will realize when you are more organized.

Don’t forget to write down your answers in complete detail!

#2: Call upon past successes.

Do you remember the last time you really dug deep and let go of unwanted and unneeded things? Close your eyes and think for a minute. How did it feel afterward? Did you feel lighter? Did you feel more positive? Did you feel calm and yet energized at the same time? Were you more able to relax? Did you feel more motivated to do things you really love to do?

Add everything that comes to mind — all those good and happy feelings — on your handy-dandy worksheet.

#3: Prioritize.

Decide up front which possessions and activities are priorities in your life — before you ever step foot into the space to be organized.

Answer these questions on your worksheet:

1. Which belongings in your home are most important to you?

2. Which activities in your life do you want more time or space for?

#4: Decide how much is enough.

We all have things we love to have plenty of. For some it’s tea. For others it’s t-shirts. For you it may be shoes, scrapbook supplies or purses. For me … it’s magazines. I just can’t seem to get enough! However, for everything you love to love, it’s important to strike a balance between too much and not enough. When you have too much of a good thing you may start to feel bad about the excess or you may even forget what you have. On the other end of the continuum is the point where you feel deprived. Where is your comfort zone on the continuum? How much is enough and how much is too much?

For example, before you step into your closet, set a goal. How many t-shirts is enough — ten, twenty or one-hundred? As long as you have the space for it, can find what you need and feel *good* about your answer — that’s what you strive for. Record your decisions on your worksheet.

#5: Anticipate and remove your obstacles.

Before entering your space of excess, the place you want to whittle down a bit, think about which items will be easy to let go of and which will be a challenge. Add the challenging items to your worksheet along with the reason they’ll be difficult to let go of. The reasons are your obstacles. Now, let’s figure out some simple strategies for removing common obstacles.

Obstacle 1: I might need it someday.

Strategy: Decide when someday is.

Here’s how it works. You come across something and think “I might need this someday.” Ask yourself, “realistically, *when* will I need this?” If you can’t come up with a definite answer then assign an arbitrary date up to six months out in the future. Put the item in a box, write the date on the outside of the box, and move on. If the “someday” (the date on the box) comes and goes and you haven’t needed the item … you are now free to send it off to a happier place. Ah, doesn’t that feel good?

Obstacle 2: I paid good money for this. 

Strategy: Accept that the money is spent.

No amount of hanging-onto an item can bring your money back. Whether you keep it or not, the money is gone. Forever. Cut your losses and move on. If you look at something and feel guilty about what you paid for it, yet you’re not using it, the guilt won’t entice you to use the item. You’ll continue to not use the item and continue to feel guilty about it. Why linger in the yuckiness? Let it go.

Obstacle 3: I could make good money selling this.

Strategy: Find an alternative happy home for your previously enjoyed items.

The “garage sale syndrome” sets in when you have decided to let go of some things and yet they continue to linger in your presence, waiting for the big garage sale. It’s true; garage sales can be a way to turn some of your no longer needed items into cash. But not without a cost. If letting go of things is difficult for you, a garage sale simply extends the process. Instead, find a charity you’ll feel good about donating your items to. Schedule a pick-up for the day after your letting go session. Or check out In no time, you’ll have treasure hunters lining up to relieve you of your things!

Obstacle 4: This was a gift.

Strategy: Take the fact that the item was a gift out of the equation.

When you come across a gift, ask yourself “Do I need, use or love the item?” It the answer is no, you aren’t obligated to keep the item. A gift doesn’t come with strings attached. I know this one can be hard to swallow… but it’s true.

There are ways you can honor the memory of the gift, without actually holding onto the actual item. For example, if you’re a scrapbooker, you could take a photo of the gift and create a mini scrapbook or scrapbook page called “gifts of love.” Record who gave you the gift and for what occasion, and then, why that person is special to you. This will allow you to focus on the person who gave you the gift, and their meaning to you, instead of feeling tied to the gift itself.

#6: Create results quickly.

If you’re faced with a mound of things to go through, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Look for ways to create visual results quickly. For the things on your list that are easy to let go of, go on a scavenger hunt and collect a box or two full of “don’t-need-it” items and start lightening your load right away. As you go through the process, take note of the positive feelings that come up for you. Add this to your handy-dandy worksheet … and let those positive results fuel more positive results.

#7: Keep building on your successes.

Energized by your quick and easy results, keep moving in the direction of your goals. Set aside thirty minutes a day for tackling a corner, drawer or shelf. Or block out a couple of hours each Saturday to go through a small space in your home. Little by little you’ll lighten your load and create peace, calm and beauty in your home and life!

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  • March 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Im the I might need this someday/ I spend money for this type of person. Need to let go. Thanks for that motivating blog!

    • April 10, 2013 at 8:55 am

      I love your article! Very helpful!the part about the garage sale someday hits home, and I have deceased parents items too! For years and years!!

      April 11, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks for your comments Lorraine and Glenda. Glad you found the article helpful.

      • April 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm

        Wow, this article is so wonderful. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with all the junk and clutter filling up my house that I have been putting off doing anything at all. This article is exactly what I needed to help me take the first step into sprucing up my house and my life! I’m looking forward to, piece by piece, removing/organizing the material things and making a cleaner, better home for my furry kids (and me and my husband, too!). Thank you so much!

        • May 30, 2013 at 7:58 am

          Thank you for helping me to realize my madness,yes ,yes,yes!!!!!
          I have mounds of stuff with sentimental values that date back years(so ashame!)
          I didn’t realize i had accumulated so much,it too me being layed off from my job after X amount of years to move on to the phase of letting go,needless to say,I have so much stuff in my “this can go” packings I can’t believe There was space for it in my apartment,Mounds!! Your article helped me to make the tough call,lord knows I needed to see this.
          Thank You So Much!!!!

          Oh and I did have plans for a garage sale but…….that’s gotta go too!! :) )

          May 31, 2013 at 8:24 am

          You’re welcome Brenda! I’m so happy to hear this. Good luck letting things go and congrats on your garage sale decision!!
          ~ Aby

          • June 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm

            Thank you, I think this is going to be very helpful…I’ve just moved into a smaller space and now I’ve got to cut back on my possessions or I know I’m going to be miserable. I have all the problems listed above for getting rid of things, and an additional one…an “I made this” problem. It’s especially difficult for me to get rid of anything that was a sewing project, even if I know I won’t wear it again. I even have a dress that I made that has paint spilled on it @_@;; (Consequently, sewing and craft supplies and sewing supplies have always been a big problem as far as “I might need this” thinking goes, but I think I’ve finally come to the realization that I’m never going to use all those bins of scrap fabric and mismatched buttons…I think I’m finally ready to get rid of the bulk of them and keep only the essentials!)

            June 10, 2013 at 6:48 am

            Good for you Carrie! Sometimes it can take a while to reach the place where you’re ready to let things go…glad to hear that you’ve reached that point with your sewing supplies. As you declutter, keep in mind how you want your new home to look, feel and function. Then, as you reach difficult decisions, ask yourself if keeping the item moves you closer to your vision for your space, or further away from it.
            Good luck to you!


            • December 6, 2013 at 2:23 pm

              I dont know where to start….. and I cant stop bringing things home because it was free and I can make me some money from it. I am so overwhelmed with things/clutter and dont know where to start. I know that I am neglecting my family from a clean usefull space and I am so stressed everyday just looking at it but I cant find a starting point. How do I let go and where do I start?

              January 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm

              Hi, Carey,

              I’m so sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed. You’re not alone in not knowing where to start. I’ve put together a mini guide to help people get started.


              I also think it’s important to think about what the clutter is costing you. It’s easy to focus on the money that could be made from free stuff…but if you’re overwhelmed by stuff then that is a real cost to you. Perhaps you could set a limit on the selling…only sell items that you think could bring in $X or more…and donate the rest. Begin creating some space by decluttering items you’re okay selling, and see how your energy begins to shift.

              Best wishes to you!!


              • January 7, 2014 at 1:40 pm

                Hi there! I so needed this & I’m sure others do, too. So far this year (2014) I have managed to declutter my kitchen somewhat. I need lots of help & motivation, though. We are a family of stuff overload!

                I want to blog about it on my website & include links back to you. If that’s not ok, be sure to let me know. I’m thinking of posting by the end of the month, ‘cuz I’ve got a long way to go!

                Thanks again!

                January 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

                That would be great! We appreciate the link back. Best of luck with your project!!

                • May 26, 2014 at 7:43 pm

                  This article will help me. I’m sure I’ll read it seversl times. I’ve always dreamed of having a large home full of antiques, and with room to display my beloved pottery collection. My husband and I have decided on a home smaller than our current one. I almost had an anxiety attack when I realized I would not have room for some heirloom items, plus my collections. I can store a few items for my daughters, but I know it’s crazy to try to keep most of it. What we’re exchanging it for is a life that is less burdened with clutter, cleaning, and moving about. And Less cleaning, more time to relax, and a nicer home for entertaining. Lord help me be strong in the meantime!