7 Keys to Letting Go of Clutter from simplify101.com

Do 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 ole “letting go.”

Key 1 of Letting Go of Clutter

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!

Key 2 of Letting Go of Clutter

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.

Key 3 of Letting Go of Clutter


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?

Key 4 of Letting Go of Clutter

Decide how much is enough.

Magazine BasketWe 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 and can find what you need and feel *good* about your answer—that’s what you strive for. Record your decisions on your worksheet.

Key 5 of Letting Go Of Clutter

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? What I’m describing here is the concept of an incubator. I used this concept when organizing kitchen utensils and even when I was decluttering some old car keys.

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 www.freecycle.org. 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.

Key 6 of Letting Go Of Clutter

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.

Key 7 of Letting Go Of Clutter

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!

For a more in-depth discussion on organizing obstacles and how to get around them, join my online class The FUNdamentals of Getting Organized. You’ll get a complete system for organizing your entire home using simple, yet effective, organizing principles. Better yet, you’ll get access to the simplify 101 community forum where you can share your progress and get the support you need—ensuring your success!

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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