Organizing Tips

Feb 05

How to Let Go of Stubborn Clutter


We all have them: those things that are just harder for us to get rid of than other things. I can tear through my kitchen cabinets and closet, but weeding out my crafting supplies is like pulling extremely reluctant teeth (see below “One Day” stuff). There are five types of clutter that most people have some trouble getting rid of: gifts, sentimental items, and “used to,” “one day,” and “worth something” stuff. Sometimes, all my clients really need is for me to tell them it’s OK to get rid of a certain item. So here it is: you have my blanket permission to let go of any and everything that’s not beloved or useful in your home. Life is too freakin’ short to be weighed down by stuff. If that’s not quite enough for you, these are some ways to think about those types of clutter.


Ask yourself this: would the person who gave you this gift demand that you keep it, knowing that having too much clutter is stressing you out? If the answer’s no, then say a quiet thank you, take a moment to feel grateful that this person is in your life, and add the item to your donation box. If the answer’s yes, then that person’s kind of an asshole so you shouldn’t keep stuff from them anyway. Receive gifts thankfully, in the spirt that they’re given, and let them go if they don’t enrich your life.

Sentimental Stuff

There are two things to take into account with sentimental items: quality and quantity. Why hang on to a generic birthday card from your grandmother that just says “from Grandma,” when you have a full-page letter she wrote you as well? Do you really need 15 different mementos from your graduation, or will a few scanned photos and your diploma suffice? Be selective about the mementos you choose to keep. Here are a few ideas for those things that make the final cut:

  • Use it! Your grandmother’s china, the quilt your mom made, the photos your dad took of you and your siblings. Put them out. Use them. There’s no better way to show love to your stuff than to use the heck out of it.
  • Take photos and set them to be a rotating background or screensaver on your computer
  • Have t-shirts turned into a quilt
  • Have childhood artwork scanned and bound into one book
  • Last resort: box them up and put them away. I don’t particularly love this one. If it’s special enough to keep, it should be special enough to display. I know this doesn’t really work for everything though, and it’s better to have non-decorative sentimental stuff out of the way than taking up prime functional space. If you do this, go through the box every couple of years or so. I guarantee you’ll find things in there that you now have no idea why you were saving.

“Used To” Stuff

This is where the “When’s the last time you used/wore/read/whatevered this?” question comes in handy. Life changes. Sometimes it changes in crappy ways we’re not ready for, and so we hang on to stuff in the hope that things will go back to the way they were (which, sorry to be a downer, usually doesn’t happen). If you don’t let go of things you “used to” use, then there’s no space for new, relevant, positive things to come into your home and life.

“One Day” Stuff

The real question is not “will I use this someday?” but rather “when will I use this?” If you can’t come up with a very realistic situation in the next year in which you’ll use this thing, it’s probably not gonna happen. This also counts for gifts you plan to give to “someone” “someday.” Repeat after me: I am not a warehouse for a hypothetical person’s stuff.

“Worth Something” Stuff

It’s expensive? OK then, sell it. Now. It’s not gaining more value taking up space (which actually is valuable) in your home. If it’s worth something, make it your #1 priority to sell it. If you’re dragging your feet, then it’s probably not worth the time and hassle it’s going to take, and you should just donate it.

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