Overcome The Regret Of Decluttering

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

One of the most common gripes I hear about organizing goes like this: “As soon as I get rid of something, I end up needing it.” 

I tolerate such statements. But in truth, I dismiss them. Mostly because they’re self-fulfilling prophesies. 

See, it all comes down to the mental state in which you let go of things. The reason my clients find it so helpful to work with me is because doing so helps to ensure that the decisions they make about what to keep and what to get rid of are well thought out, arrived at with intention, and with consideration towards the larger collection to which one item belongs. 

Decisions made this way rarely result in regret. I can’t say I’ve ever had a client say to me, “Annie, I can’t stop thinking about that red tablecloth we let go of last time. I just can’t sleep over that tablecloth.” Instead they say things like, “Did I mention how freaking fantastic I feel at having let go of that red tablecloth?? How much lighter?” 

When you let go of things with a resolute, objective, and deeply contemplative mindset, you sever the emotional tie to that material thing. It ceases to exist in your universe, and, therefore, you don’t end up wandering back to it mentally. 

If, however, you approach the task of decluttering as a punishment, as an obligatory task that’s bound to end in heartache, if you think to yourself as you declutter, “I know I’m going to end up needing this again. It’s inevitable. But fine, let me prove myself right,” you’re bound to.

You can overcome the regret of decluttering, or avoid it all together. Here are a smattering of pointers on how:

– Approach decluttering ready to sever your emotional ties to material objects. Allow yourself to shift back to that perspective, wherein a thing is just a thing, and not all it has come to mean and be to you.

– Ask yourself not only when the last time you used something was, but also whether you can realistically envision yourself needing, wanting and using the item in question in the coming week or two. Answer honestly or this game lacks any point whatsoever. 

– Don’t be impulsive. While I never want to emphasize this point too strongly, for fear of actually dissuading individuals from decluttering, I do advise bringing a measure of thoughtfulness to the process. Don’t hesitate to edit out, but do not rush, either. Take your time to think the decision through, and ensure in the end that it’s one you can live with (hint: you always know the truth deep down, always). 

– If you end up missing it: shift your mind from a place of regret to thoughts of fondness. Instead of “Man, I shouldn’t have let that thing go,” think to yourself, “I have such nice memories of that thing. It served me so well. It was with me at a certain time in my life and the thought of it reminds me of that time, and isn’t that nice.”

Challenge yourself to see that all things cannot move with us throughout the life process- if for no other reason than it would be too heavy and complicated a load to carry. Accept that the item you’re pining for was merely a thing that was in your life at a specific time and which served its purpose. It needn’t have gone on forever and your time with it, however long it was, happened the way it did. It was used or not used and ultimately, it is now a closed chapter.

We may miss our kindergarden class, we may still wish for it sometimes, but I don’t think any one of us could argue that we just shouldn’t have let it go when we did with any sort of sanity. Things end, and so do things.

– If you end up missing it: rather than viewing it as a grave error, view it as a fun challenge; congratulations, you just got something to perpetually keep your eyes peeled for–how fun!

– Realize that ownership is fluid; it comes and it goes and it will continue on this way. The only way to maintain a Simplified life and space is to regard your stuff with fluidity. It’s when an attitude of rigidity is coupled with the role of proprietor that situations of clutter are born.  

– If you are thinking or talking more about the pantsuit from ’89 you let go of than the dear friend from college with whom you’ve let go contact, things are looking outa wack. Take a look into that. 

But really? If you really feel ready, let it go. And, what’s more, if you think about it after having let it go, get over it.

After all, unlike people or pets, material things are replaceable. If the loss of that black cardigan ends up being intolerable, go out and buy yourself a new one. Then allow the universal cycle of give and receive to spin ever onward. 

Image credits: Ballet Pumps and Roses, Small Notebook, unknown 

7 thoughts on “Overcome The Regret Of Decluttering

  1. S Germe

    What a great way to guide those of us who want to declutter… and those of us who give away a never-used item, only to “need” it the following week! Good perspective!

  2. K

    My main problem along these lines is that I forget that I got rid of things. Then when I want it, I waste time looking for it and then feel annoyed that I no longer have it.


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