Decluttering Paralysis: Strategies When You’re Struggling to Declutter

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The Burden of Stuff

So you’re ready to declutter but something is holding you back.  Not all the stuff in your house is equal. Some things you can easily and happily let go of but some items can be really hard to part with.  Determining why you struggle with decluttering can help get over the hump and fill your trash, sell and donation bins.

Related: Decluttering Motivation When You’re Overwhelmed by the Mess

How to Declutter Your Home: No-Fail Strategies to Clear the Clutter

What’s Your Why?

This question actually needs two answers:

  1. Why are you trying to declutter?  What’s the motivating factor as to why you are here trying to learn about decluttering?  Is all the stuff making you feel stressed?  Are you embarrassed to invite anyone over to your house because it’s so cluttered? Knowing why decluttering is important to you will help you throughout the decluttering process.
  2. Why are you struggling to let go of your stuff?  I’ll go into several of the top reason people hold onto stuff and how to overcome it.  If you don’t see your “why” below then add a comment or contact me.

Ease the guilt

So many people hold onto stuff because the items are still in good condition…even if they aren’t actually using them anymore.  Ease any guilt about getting rid of items that you don’t use by passing it along to a friend or family member, donating it to a charity or selling it.  Knowing someone else will get use from the item can make you feel better. Or sometimes making money from selling it is the motivating factor.

Don’t let your donate or sell boxes become your new form of clutter, sitting in your house for weeks or months.  Make plans (and act on them) to immediately giveaway, sell or donate.  

Change Your Mindset

The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don't.

Holding onto stuff can actually hold you back from having the life you really want.  You may be thinking that decluttering can’t make that dramatic of a difference in your life.  This can be a really hard concept to understand until you’ve been through the process.  I challenge you to at least start and see how even small changes can make a difference.

Think about why you want to declutter and how decluttering will change your life. A clutter-free house can mean being able to find what you need quickly or inviting friends over for dinner or game night.  Picture how you want your space to look after you declutter and organize.  How will a decluttered home make you feel – less overwhelm and more peaceful.    

Recognize the purpose each item served in your life – even if that lesson is purple is not your color – and then let it go.  Don’t think about the money you wasted on all that stuff.  It’s too late to change it but you can learn from it.  

Decluttering Sentimental Items

After my grandma passed away the family got together to go through her things.  Most of it was donated or given to extended family or friends but I walked away with a storage bin of things to remember her.  But guess what? That bin sat unopened in my basement for years. Yet I still have great memories of her even though I never opened the bin.  I don’t need her stuff to remind me of her. The memories of her are in my head and in my heart.

My grandma loved Christmas and I do, too. So I’ve since saved a few of her Christmas ornaments and I love to think about her every year when I put up the Christmas tree.  

Consider saving just a few items from a person special in your life and decluttering the rest.  Only save what you will actually use or display. Take pictures of any other things you’d like to remember and then donate or sell them.   Storing stuff in boxes is not the best way to honor them.

Decluttering Unwanted Gifts

It can be difficult decluttering items gifted to you, especially if it was given by someone special to you.  Similar to unused items, you need to let go of any guilt about getting rid of the item. Your relationship with the gift-giver is most likely not defined by the gifts given over the years.  Focus on other ways you celebrate your relationship, like pictures or a journal of special activities you’ve done together.

Once a gift is given to you, you should be able to do with it what you want.  But sometimes gift-giving comes with too many expectations by either the gift-giver, the receiver or both.  Getting rid of gifts you don’t like or need can be complicated if the gift-giver is sensitive or will notice if you don’t keep it. 

Getting rid of a candle from a co-worker should be easy to let it go without the gift-giver ever knowing. But your mom will likely notice that you never wear the sweater she got you.  Now, I’m close enough with my mom to tell her that I would rather exchange it and she won’t be offended but I know it doesn’t always work that way.

If you’re really concerned the gift-giver will be upset, then think if you can wear, use or display the unwanted item for a short period of time before letting it go.  Relationships are always more important than stuff.

To read more about how to deal with unwanted gifts, check out this article from Real Simple.


Holding on to stuff you don’t want or need can hold you back from moving on to the life you want.  Your stuff is yours to own and do with as you will. Don’t let guilt stop you from letting go of unwanted stuff.

Do you have decluttering paralysis?  Is there a certain type of stuff you struggle to declutter?  Let me know in the comments.

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