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4 Obstacles to Decluttering — and How to Beat Them

My husband and I began dating when we were still kids. He was 16 and I was 15 back in the olden days when people still talked about the phone and wrote letters. From the time we got married and had three children, we had almost twenty years of correspondence. I came across our box of letters and cards a few years back and read it at a single sitting. Subsequently I had the urge to travel back in time and smother my teenaged self with a pillow and possibly Paul’s also while I was at it. Failing that, I considered burning off the box. I phoned Torey, my sister, rather.

“Throw them away,” she said without a second thought. Torey is a neatnik and also the smallest bit twitchy when it comes to cleaning and business. “If reading those letters brings you down, get rid of them.”

Next I called Nathan, my younger brother, and he recommended the opposite: “How a lot of individuals in their own mid-30s possess a 20-year correspondence with their spouse? For archival purposes alone, you need to keep them.”

Finally I phoned Tanner, my older brother. We laughed about the conflicting information Torey and Nathan gave, and then he was silent for an instant. “How do you know how far you have come if you can’t remember where you began?” he asked. That resonated with me personally. I tucked the letters back in their box, and there they stayed, untouched, until the day that they burned in a house fire. And I have not given them a second thought.

Looking back I can see I really wanted to get rid of them but did not think I ought to — that was the tension. It was not that I did not know what I wanted to do, it was that what I wanted to do conflicted with what I believed I need to.

This is why decluttering (and losing weight and handling cash) can be so painful; it is the tension in the numerous feelings, often in battle. Simply being aware of what’s underneath the surface might help us. There are some common reasons we hold onto things we do not want from a sense of obligation; view of some of those resonate with you.

Ryland Peters & Small | CICO Books

1. ” It is a family heirloom.” Even if the value is just sentimental, how many things do you hold onto because they were your grandfather’s or your aunt’s, dentist’s cousin’s? My beloved friend Sharon inherited her grandmother’s china. In the plus column it was beautiful, valuable and from a beloved relative. On the minus side, it was not really Sharon’s style, and it reminded her of several painful parts of her childhood. She decided there were better ways for her to remember her grandmother, and wrapped up the hamburger in a huge box and gave it to a mutual friend who awakens exactly the same pattern and for whom it was a surprise and a joy.

2. “This was a present.” Following our fire we were flooded with donations. In the very first weeks, I sorted through truckloads of things we had given us. I was so grateful for the incredible generosity and, at the same time, there were so many things which didn’t match or that we did not require. It was not long until I got over any qualms I had about passing things on to various charities. I presume a present is really mine to do with as I please.

3. “I may need it someday.” This comes up across the spectrum, from overbuying consumables to keeping extra furniture. This could be the largest one of all, and at the bottom of it’s fear. A subcategory of the can be: “I’m not really sure what it is, but it can be important!” A couple of months ago I was sorting through a drawer in my desk and came across a random twist. It was thick and substantial; I understood it belonged to something. And I recognized the old and comfortable pressure forming in the pit of my belly with the idea, “Keep it! Keep it! You will need it!” I’m pleased to state that I reminded myself I’d survived losing that which and was not likely to permit an anonymous piece of hardware to freak me out.

Justine Hand

4. “I paid a great deal of cash for it.” That’s a big one. If you’re in the midst of a big purge, I do not recommend trying to sell your things, to get a couple of reasons. First, it will probably slow you down. Second, when you feel as if you’ve wasted money on something you do not need, you probably are not likely to make enough from its sale to remove the sting. It might appear counterintuitive, however, the most favorable thing to do is to let go, give it away and move on. It is a paradox that the more people go, the more control we gain.

Finally, that’s what’s all about: taking control of your house rather than being subordinate to your possessions. For some, once we talk about minimalism, it conjures up images of primitive interiors, the notion of not having sufficient or of things being removed.

To me minimalism is having what you adore, but not a bit more than you can assert. The way that looks in your house can vary from how it looks in mine. It comes down to making the home you long for. Life, such as art, is all about editing and removing to make room for what you really want and desire.

Next: Not My Precious Novels! Pain-Free Ways to Declutter Your Library

Past: 7 Ideas to Get With a New Minimalist Mentality

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