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The 7 Emotional Blocks That Cause You To Collect Clutter & How To Get Over Them

Image by Emotion Matters / Stocksy
October 4, 2022
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Buying doesn't make us happy. We know this. We all know this. We have seen enough celebrity behind-the-scenes and where-are-they-now shows to know that unhappy people who run out and buy and buy and buy are still unhappy people. Just with multiple castles to mope around in and thousands of pairs of shoes to wear while they stare at their equally unhappy exotic pets.

Know that you are not alone—very famous, successful people have fallen into this trap. But whatever you bought didn't do the trick. It didn't do the trick because what we want is the feeling we think that item will give us. We want to feel younger, more successful, more desirable, more on our game.

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The biggest buckets we're looking to fill when we buy things.

The problem is that, while we may feel safe or loved or desirable or organized in the store shopping, rarely does that feeling follow us home. But the clutter does. What I have found is that if we can identify the underlying yearning dictating people's clutter patterns, we can address that emotional need and then do the real work of magnetizing what they really want to be feeling.

The seven emotional clutter magnets I have identified are:

  • Clutter Magnet No. 1: True Connection, which is our primal need for tribe and community
  • Clutter Magnet No. 2: Strong Self-Confidence, which is our belief in our inherent attractiveness, both to others and ourselves
  • Clutter Magnet No. 3: Free Time, which is the knowledge we can move through life with ease and calm
  • Clutter Magnet No. 4: Big Love, which runs the gamut from romantic to familial, and where some of our deepest wounds lie
  • Clutter Magnet No. 5: Self-Respect, the knowledge that we bring unique attributes into the room, even without any status symbols to telegraph them
  • Clutter Magnet No. 6: Real Purpose, meaning our craving for professional or vocational fulfillment
  • Clutter Magnet No. 7: Lasting Wisdom, the confidence in our ability to implement all we have learned
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When my client has a Clutter Magnet, they are running up against their inability to stop overbuying to cultivate a feeling. They are yearning for something intangible, like self-confidence, and that yearning gets shifted onto stuff—creams and serums and shapewear. Instead of attracting more love or a greater sense of purpose, they call me because they are bringing in all this…garbage. They pull it with a seemingly unstoppable force into their homes and lives.

Once the flavor of their clutter points to the corresponding magnet, I ask them, "How can you feel respected, irrespective of what purse you're carrying?" Or "Can you feel connected to your grandchildren without buying them a cartful of toys every time you visit?"

Now that we understand what it is we want to feel, we can begin to choose the actions that reinforce those feelings instead of the possessions. Because behaviors—not things—reinforce positive feelings.

How to fulfill these clutter magnets — without just buying more stuff.

On a recent Facebook Live session, Anne, one of my regular participants, asked the group to support her in letting go of her collection of crafting kits.

"Crafts?" I asked to clarify.

"No, my collection of kits. To make crafts. Unopened. I have dozens of them. Including this unmade sock monkey kit that's just sitting on the counter."

I asked her what emotions came up when she thought about getting rid of them. She said, "I just feel like a failure! My mother was crafty, all my sisters are crafty, my nieces are crafty, and I live alone and can't even make a sock monkey!"

Crafting was clearly entwined with her idea of what it meant to be a successful woman. Then I asked her, "Do you want to make a sock monkey?"

"Well," she said tentatively, "no."

"Anne," I said, "what else do you do to give yourself a sense of self-confidence?"

"Well…I—I mean, currently I'm working on the issue of border detention. I'm a lawyer, but our role now includes ensuring these children are treated humanely until we can get them out. I'm doing everything from filing briefs to fundraising for diapers."

There was a moment of silence as we all processed this. "OK!" I said. "I give you permission to stop buying crafting kits to make you feel accomplished. And the next time you are tempted to buy one, I want you to say, 'I do not need to do this craft to feel good about myself. The work I do is so important, and at the end of the workday, I deserve downtime that replenishes and relaxes me. Making potholders and sock monkeys is not it. And that's A-OK.'"

She felt enormously relieved.

Since our session, she has donated the kits to a local after-school program, she has not been to a Michaels in over a year, and she has moved on with her amazing life. By releasing the need to compare herself to her family and instead learning to celebrate all the ways she is valuable, she was able to heal the hole that she had been filling with crafting kits.

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The takeaway.

My clients, readers, and followers who overbuy or over-acquire are looking externally for a sense of purpose, connection, confidence, and love. They want to stop overbuying, but they don't know how because they don't know why they do it. Understanding the Clutter Magnets is the answer. Because the feeling won't be in the next Amazon box.

Adapted from an excerpt from Make Space for Happiness by Tracy McCubbin. © 2022 by Sourcebooks. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Tracy McCubbin
Tracy McCubbin

Tracy McCubbin is a decluttering and organizational expert who has spent the last decade decluttering over 1,200 homes around the country. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and most recently authored Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Decluttering Book You'll Ever Need. She is a regularly featured expert in the media, including KNX News Radio, KABC7, and KOGO Radio.

When McCubbin isn’t decluttering, she is speaking and giving seminars on decluttering, senior downsizing, and female entrepreneurship.
Visit to learn more and sign up for The Weekly Sort. She lives in Los Angeles, and always knows where her keys are.