There are things we keep because they're useful, things we love, things that make us happy, things we've inherited and adore, things we've inherited and keep out of a sense of familial obligation, things that are treasured gifts from beloved friends, things that will "do" until we get a better/nicer/not-falling-apart version, things that spark happy memories, things we keep as reminders of people and places and other times in our life, things we bought that we thought we were going to love but now feel lukewarm about, things we panic bought for a particular occasion, things we bought to treat ourselves when we were stressed or unhappy, things we bought because they were cheap, things we think we might need someday... and so on!
Our posessions are all tangled up with our feelings and our memories, with what our lives used to be like and what we hope (or worry) might happen in the future. Because of this, I think the starting point for any decluttering you're doing is to pay attention to your feelings about the things you own.
|Feelings can be complicated, just like this chart!|
Being honest with yourself about your emotional relationship with your stuff will help the decluttering process in three ways:
1. You'll have a much clearer idea about the things you really love and want to keep - and you'll also identify items with negative associations which you'd definitely be happier without.
For example, a few years ago I got rid of a whole load of letters from when I was a teenager. I wrote so many letters as a teen and kept all the ones I received from friends, and I loved the idea of having boxes of them to reread as the years went by... But in reality, re-reading them stirred up all sorts of angst and teen drama which was no fun to revisit. I sorted through the boxes to find a few special cards and letters to remember the friendships by and shredded the rest.
If you're dealing with really raw emotion - say, from a recent break-up - it can also be helpful to put the associated items away for a while (in a box under the bed or in the back of a cupboard) to come back to when time has worked her healing magic.
2. When you're clearing out a "collection" of things, like books or clothes, paying attention to your feelings about each item will help you spot the ones you're least attached to and can do without.
For example, when I was clearing out books from my childhood, the ones which overwhelmed me with heart-bursting happy memories as I looked through them went on the "keep" pile. The ones which I remembered fondly but which didn't have a strong emotional response to were all candidates for possible decluttering.
3. Asking yourself "why do I want to keep this?" can help you pin down why you still own each item, whether you still want to and what's getting in the way of you getting rid of it.
For example, people often talk about getting rid of clothes you haven't worn in the last six months or a year. This is a very practical, sensible idea! But I could never actually manage it - there were always things I never wore but still couldn't bear to part with.
Thinking about why I wanted to keep each of these items made me realise that there were things I felt guilty about getting rid of because they'd been an expensive purchase, things I associated with happy times when I used to wear them all the time, and things I liked the idea of myself wearing (and the stylish, professional person I'd magically become when I did) but which actually didn't fit in with my life or my personal style.
After being honest with myself about why I was hanging onto all this stuff it became a lot easier to let them go.
Are you a ruthless and logical declutterer? (Declutterer is totally a word, OK??) Or do you find - like me - that you've got all sorts of weird feelings going on when you sort through your stuff?
This post is part of a new series I'm writing full of tips and tricks I've found useful during years of decluttering. Click here to read all the posts in the series.