How to Get Rid of Stuff When You Have a Hard Time Getting Rid of Stuff

Whenever people hear about our minimalist lifestyle they invariably say how they’d love to live like us, but they have a hard time letting go of the things. My partner and I don’t really get it, since neither of us is particularly sentimental about stuff.

I wasn’t always like this. As a young adult I was very attached to my belongings. I remember having a complete meltdown when I discovered that I’d washed a pullover my mom knitted for me on the wrong setting and completely ruined it.

It took losing her to Alzheimer’s to truly understand that memories are stored in our hearts, not the possessions we hold onto. The things she’d once held so dear meant nothing to her and yet, her face would still light up with joy when I came to visit.

That’s not to say she always knew who I was, but on some level she recognized me as someone she loved and that was enough. Her stuff on the other hand, she simply ignored.

Why Do People Have a Hard Time Getting Rid of Stuff?

how to let go of stuff

It turns out there’s a really good reason why some people have a hard time getting rid of stuff. A study conducted at the Yale School of Medicine found that for many, letting go of clutter is literally painful. By tracking their brain activity, researchers noticed that participants with a tendency to hoard showed increased activity in two regions of the brain when confronted with their own junk.

People hold onto stuff for any number of reasons. Understanding why you’re having a hard time letting go is an important first step. Once you have a handle on that you’ll be better equipped to move forward.

For some it’s simply a case of not having the time to sort through the clutter, while for others there’s the struggle of getting the rest of the family’s buy-in. It could also be that a certain item (or items) allows you to maintain a connection with a loved one you’ve lost.

Perhaps you’re hanging onto something that belonged to a past version of yourself or maybe you feel guilty about spending so much money on an impulse buy that didn’t pan out the way you thought it would.

Tips for Letting Go of Your Stuff

how to let go of stuff

According to Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist teaching at Stanford University, the technique of surfing the urge, which helps addicts resist cravings and dieters resist temptation, may help us deal with anxiety about getting rid of clutter.

Dealing with the anxiety is important, but you also need to be practical. Start by deciding what stuff you need and what you don’t need. It requires a level of ruthlessness if you want to do it properly —we’re talking big girl panties (or Superman undies)— but done right the end result will definitely be worth it.

If you don’t like it, if you haven’t used it in a month of Sundays, if you own 37 of something when four will do fine, get rid of it. As Marie Kondo says, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart…and take the plunge and discard all the rest.”

But what about getting rid of sentimental stuff? Believe it or not, it is actually possible to simplify your stuff and honor your memories at the same time. One way is to make it useful. Courtney Carver of Be More with Less suggests actually using that beautiful dinner service you inherited from your parents.

If you’re suffering from overwhelm (clutter will do that to you), one approach is to declutter your home room-by-room at your own pace. (Just don’t go too slowly or you’ll risk stalling.)

Letting go of other people’s stuff is also particularly tricky, especially when the items in question are family heirlooms. But at the end of the day, that’s still not a good enough reason to keep something you don’t like or use.

Give yourself permission to give the heirlooms away. If your family doesn’t agree with your decision tell them they’re welcome to keep them at their house. Chances are they won’t be so keen to hold onto them then.

If you’re someone who operates best when there’s a schedule to stick to, Family Circle’s Declutter Your Home in 31 Days is just for you. They assembled an A-team of mom bloggers to share their top organizing tips and tricks.

Delivered a day at a time in manageable chunks, you’ll be on your way to a much cleaner house for the new year. (If you start no later than Dec 1st, obvs.)

The Many Benefits of Decluttering

how to let go of stuff

The psychological benefits of ‘Kondoing’ your house are many. In her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo explains how releasing yourself from the clutter will leave you feeling much lighter —psychologically, spiritually and otherwise.

There are also emotional benefits to decluttering, such as creating space and time for investing in relationships and making way for new possibilities to come into your life. It can even serve as a way to release grief.

Decluttering will make you happier and more productive, plus it will save you money and time. You may not even realize it, but your household clutter is costing you a bundle. Between disorganized finances, unnecessary expenditures related to disorganization and hefty monthly bills for self-storage space, it’s easy to see why.

On the other hand, minimalism is a debt-demolishing lifestyle that will leave you with far less stress, way more money and the chance to retire early. When you think about it like that, suddenly hitting the mall seems like a really lame idea. (Unless you’re going to the movies, then have at it.)

Finally, nobody likes to think about it, but old age and death is imminent for all of us. It may sound a tad morbid, but there’s something to be said for the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning. For one thing, decluttering now means your kids won’t be left with the job when you’re gone.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Gino C
Past Member 4 months ago

Thank you

Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago


Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago

do some every year because the needs of the family change over a few years

Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago


Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer9 months ago

Really good article.

Marie W
Marie W11 months ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago


Chad A
Chad Andersonabout a year ago

Thank you.

Bailey R
Bailey Rabout a year ago

I try to declutter a little bit at a time. I haven’t been buying anything really and slowly getting rid of stuff. One day I will be happy with how little I have

Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago