3 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How To Get Over Each)

mbg Contributor By Cary Fortin
mbg Contributor
Cary Fortin co-authored New Minimalism: Declutter and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living, alongside Kyle Quilici. They also run San Francisco-based decluttering company New Minimalism.
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As a minimalist and a professional declutterer, I've seen firsthand how changing your space can change your life. I've seen just how powerful the transformation from a cluttered and overwhelming home to one that is simple, beautiful, and streamlined can be.

The process of creating these spaces is actually quite simple: Step one is to go through your stuff. Then, you keep the very best of it—the items that are your favorite, that inspire and delight you, and that are useful to you right now—and donate the rest.

 But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. Our relationship with stuff can be complicated!

According to one new poll by Porch, a digital network of home professionals for hire, over 61 percent of us are ashamed of the extra stuff we hold onto. Let that sink in.

So why do we do it? Why do we hold onto stuff that makes us feel so bad? 

Imagine a baseball cap. An objective observer might note that the cap is worn out, ragged, and ill-fitting. But to the owner, this is the hat they got on their first date with their first love. It's the hat they were wearing when their team finally won. It's the hat they always grab when they go to the beach. Or it's a hat that works perfectly well and doesn't need to be replaced, thank you very much.

All of those reactions to the cap are actually about much larger forces: our relationships, our sense of self, our values. So maybe you know the hat is on the fritz, but it's still hard to let it go.

Porch also detailed three "reasons" or mental blocks that we most frequently use to convince ourselves to hold onto items. Their findings aligned completely with my experience and the archetypes I detailed in the book I co-authored with my business partner, New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.

The good news is that these blocks can be fairly easily worked through. With self-awareness and self-kindness, you can release these shame-inducing items and create the home you've always dreamed of.

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Here are the three main reasons people give for holding onto clutter, and how to overcome them:

Reason No. 1: "I might need it someday."

Archetype: Practical

Practical people are mind-driven, tend to be logical, strategic and pragmatic; they see potential use in all objects.

The key for the Practical personality is to reframe what exactly makes something useful and to elevate your standards accordingly.

So rather than asking yourself if a third box of paper clips is potentially useful, ask yourself if those items are useful to you right now. Consider not just the costs of perhaps needing to replace something someday but also the costs of keeping items that you don't need. How much space do all of these items take up? How much time do you waste hunting for things you do need or wondering what you have around?

Reason No. 2: "It was expensive."

Archetype: Frugal

Frugal types tend to be very self-aware and clear on their priorities. They are intentional about where they spend their precious resources. They don't like the idea of wasting, whether that be money, time, or energy. This gets tricky when Frugal folks come up against items that aren't useful or wanted but for which they've invested precious resources.

The most important lesson for the Frugal archetype is self-forgiveness.

It can be frustrating to have made a purchasing "mistake." While you can't go back in time and undo that action, you do get to choose how you feel about it moving forward. You can keep items you regret and feel a pang of guilt and shame each time you see them. Or you can acknowledge the sunk cost, internalize the bigger reason this investment didn't pan out, and let the item—and your negative feelings—go and vow to do better next time.

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Reason No. 3: "It brings back good memories."

Archetype: Connected

Connected folks are heart-led; they value relationships and shared memories above all else. In general, if objects elicit positive feelings, this is a good thing. But homes oriented toward memories can quickly become museums of the past that don't allow space for new experiences and relationships.

Allow one to stand for many.

Don't feel like you need to part with everything from your beloved grandmother or treasured travels. Instead, select an item or two to represent the relationship or experiences you want to recall. Rather than sticking all of these items in a closet, choose to display and interact with those couple of items and then graciously let go of the rest.

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