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The Decluttering Blocks That Are Keeping You Stuck (And How To Get Over Each)

Tracy McCubbin
mbg Contributor By Tracy McCubbin
mbg Contributor
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 from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and most recently authored Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Decluttering Book You’ll Ever Need.
The Decluttering Blocks That Are Keeping You Stuck (And How To Get Over Each)
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Spring cleaning season is upon us! In the coming weeks, mbg will be sharing some of the easiest, most effective tips and tricks we've heard for nixing germs at home. (Check out what we've run so far here.) Today, we're sharing a pro's take on working through common decluttering holdups.

This is the gist of one phone call I've been getting a lot lately: "Hi, so in a fit of 'sparking joy,' I was able to clear out some of my closets, but then Amazon boxes started showing up again. It feels like I keep decluttering and then suddenly the clutter is back. What am I doing wrong?!"


For most people, asking if their excess stuff makes them happy or not isn't the right way to go about decluttering—because it's a superficial question. 

The questions we should really be asking when we declutter.

Think of decluttering like dieting. If someone goes on every fad, quick-lose diet out there, only to find themselves losing and gaining the same 15 pounds over and over and over, there's probably an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Similarly, if someone purges their closet every six months only to find it stuffed again, something deeper needs conscious correcting.

We all want a quick fix, but these likely won't stick.

What I've found over the last 10 years and thousands of decluttering jobs is that the questions people need to ask are:

1. Why did I get all this stuff in the first place?

2. What emotions have I attached to this stuff since it moved into my house? 

3. What is where I leave my stuff in my home telling me about what I might be literally burying? 


How emotional clutter blocks can get in the way.

This is where "emotional clutter blocks," as I call them in my upcoming book, come in. Let's take old clothes. When my client looks at that old Van Dutch trucker hat (that, ahem, she hasn't worn in 10 years), she immediately remembers where she was when she wore it in the early 2000s. Now, she's a grown-up with a full-time job and the early 20s seem so far away. So many of my clients have closets filled with every single piece of clothing they ever wore, every pair of shoes they ever bought, every shopping mistake they ever made.

But once they confront that being stuck in the past is a known clutter block, they can embrace that letting go of clothes they haven't worn in years in no way erases their fun and fabulous early adulthood. Instead, keeping a few cherished things will not only keep those memories alive but will enable a better future. Plus, there are always the photos!

Look a little deeper at the emotional meaning you have projected onto your stuff.

The kitchen is another prime place for clutter blocks. This is where fad dieting meets fad decluttering. I see a dusty Nutribullet next to an unused Vitamix beside a basket steamer under a spiralizer. None of it is bringing anyone joy, but they can't bear to throw any of it out because it was expensive and letting it go feels like admitting failure.  

This clutter block, holding on to a vision of a fantasy life, manifests as buying aggressively for something that hasn't happened yet: a promotion, a new relationship, a canning hobby, a tennis practice. But if you haven't used something (or worn something) in the months since you bought it, there's a really, really good chance you won't ever. And that thing you are hanging on to has now officially become clutter.

While everyone on Instagram makes decluttering look easy, if it's difficult for you, there are likely very good reasons. And until we get honest with ourselves, the clutter is going to keep coming back.

What I love about watching people release their emotional clutter blocks is that now that they truly understand why they bought and kept and maybe never put away that object, they don't do it anymore. In turn, this frees them up to use their home as the tool it's supposed to be: one that supports the life they want to be living. 

So look a little deeper at the emotional meaning you have projected onto your stuff. When you realize you are in control, it will be a lot easier to let go.

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