How to Respectfully Help Loved Ones Declutter

Perhaps your significant otherís tee shirt drawer is packed a little too tight. Maybe your mother keeps every single thing from your childhood at her house. If theyíre the crafty type, maybe your loved ones can turn their sentimental nature into useful things. But the lack of organization in a household may be a sign of a larger problem.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines hoarding as ďthe persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.Ē This is a hard line to draw with loved ones, especially when the things they canít part with might at one time have been yours. Furthermore, the symptoms are on a spectrum, so a little clutter may not actually belie a bigger problem. The clues will be in their reasoning behind not getting rid of things.

If your loved one has severe anxiety when parting with items, has difficulty organizing things or an irrational fear of running out of something, they could be suffering with problems with hoarding. In this case, simply decluttering isnít enough to truly help. Instead, supporting them through therapy and empathy is appropriate.

However, if your loved one is just disorganized and needs a little motivation from a well-meaning minimalist, then there are tactful ways to help them sort through their clutter.

Maybe all they need is a buddy to brave the storm.

For most of the population, sorting through old things isnít exactly their idea of a fun weekend. However, it is made exponentially better when someone is there to offer moral support. Decluttering is a pretty personal endeavor considering no one else can actually decide what to get rid of for another person.

However, if your loved one starts to overly defend and rationalize why they need to keep something, having you around can bring some perspective. I know from experience it’s also helpful to have someone put things in their respective piles (donate, recycle, etc.) while they focus on sorting through as many things as possible.

You can help them tackle feelings of guilt.

I find that this is an issue most likely to occur when parents want to clean up but they have a lot of items from their children. More than likely, you moved on from that nonspecific baby onesie years ago. There are certain items that are more than fine to hold onto, and maybe turn into a keepsake, like baby blankets and photographs.

However, assuring your parents it’s fine to get rid of that school project you made in first grade will hopefully help them see the bigger picture of decluttering. Itís important to understand why they may want to keep those things around, but perhaps there is a solution like digitization that would clear up space and preserve memories.

They may not know where to start.

The decluttering craze is a fairly new trend. Whether it’s a book or a website, there are plenty of places to get ideas on how to get started decluttering. Becoming Minimalist has a great list of 10 ways for anyone to get started getting rid of material items for peace of mind. Simple questions and principles are the best to start off, especially since true organization and decluttering is more about a mindset than just blindly throwing away things.

They end up right back where they started.

In this case, the problem is likely deeper than a simple lack of organization with the possessions they already have. If it seems like the clutter is an unbeatable cycle, it’s probably because the flow of things coming into the house hasnít been stopped. After helping a loved one get rid of things, talk to them about what they like about acquiring new things and what particular categories they struggle with (clothing, books, electronics,etc.) will help get a better picture of the next step they can take to keep their home clean.

While a level of clutter that is considered hoarding can cause real harm to children growing up in that environment, helping loved ones with more mild forms of disorganization is out of love for them rather any discomfort you may feel. Coming at it from an empathetic and understanding angle will likely help them confront problems they struggle with daily. The object isnít to force them to adopt an ultra-minimalistic lifestyle, but rather to help and support them.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Teleanu C.
Teleanu C3 years ago

A very nice article . Thank you .

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

I have to do my own house before I can help anyone else. lol

Jeff C.
Jeff C3 years ago

Addressing a hoarding situation can be a difficult process. This helpful Hoarding Help Guide will make it easier to approach and help with a hoarding situation:

Claudia Acosta
Claudia Acosta3 years ago

Thank you

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

I have to start with my own first, hate to selfishly admit. Thanks

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Scott Simon
Scott S3 years ago


Anne F.
Anne F3 years ago

Think one of the bewst things we can do for each other is to show up and offer tangible help. (Maybe just say, I'm going to donate stuff tomorrow, can I take any items away?)

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

One of the best way to show love