Techniques for Decluttering Without Emotion (When You’re an Emotional Person)

published Nov 9, 2016
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(Image credit: Nicole Baas Photography)

So, you’re a “stuff” person. It’s okay—a lot of people get emotionally attached to their things (myself included!) to a point where it’s hard to get rid of anything that has any sort of meaning to it. But you probably know, on some level, that collecting things you don’t need and don’t use can lead to a ton of clutter, especially if you live in a small space or lack an abundance of storage.

So, you know you need to get rid of some things and make room in your home—but it doesn’t make it any easier to get the job done. You need a decluttering game plan, and you need one that takes your feelings into account, too. Try these techniques to declutter without your emotions getting in the way—and without totally losing everything that has sentimental value.

Create a checklist

Before you even attempt to declutter, make a checklist of criteria your possessions need to meet in order for you to keep them. Consider asking yourself things like “Have I used this in the last year?” or “Is there something better I can replace this with?” Then, as you go through everything and come across an item you’re not sure about, think about your checklist—if something doesn’t meet your criteria, it goes. You can also make a list of ways to get rid of your clutter that doesn’t feel like a waste—think donating items, giving them to friends, or recycling them. Having both of those tools handy—criteria to stick to and a plan to follow through with—might help you make more concrete decisions as you work through your things.

Take photos

If what you really want to keep isn’t the clutter so much as the memory related to it, there’s a solution. You can hold on to the sentimental value of your things (without the part where they collect dust on a shelf) by taking photos of them before you get rid of them. Keep those photos in a file on your computer (just be sure to back them up!), or if you feel like getting crafty and creative, make a scrapbook of them. The photos will take up much less space than the actual objects, and you can still look at them and think about the good memories you have associated with them whenever you like.

(Image credit: Jacqueline DuBois)

Get a friend to help you

If you think you really won’t be able to part with your things, it might help you to have someone there with you who doesn’t have the same emotional attachment you have to your things. An unbiased friend can help keep you in check and make sure you don’t keep anything that you really don’t need—this works especially well if you’ve made that checklist, as they can help you look at things more objectively and ensure that you only keep things that meet your criteria.

Sell things of value

Sometimes parting with possessions is less about the sentimental value they hold for you and more about the money you spent on them. Buying things—especially expensive things—that you never use can make you feel guilty, which makes it hard to come to terms with getting rid of them when you’re decluttering. If you’re worried about getting rid of expensive items, sell them—you may not make back all the money you spent on them, but you won’t lose out entirely. Use an app specifically for selling your stuff, post ads on Craigslist, or take them to consignment shops, and hopefully knowing you’ll get some value back will help you say goodbye.

Make a quilt

To part with clothes and other fabrics (baby blankets, for example) that hold sentimental value for you without getting rid of them entirely, try turning them into something you can use, like a quilt. It’ll free up storage space in your home, and you’ll actually be able to look at your quilt and think about what all the patches mean to you. If you don’t want a quilt, you can also cut out patches of sentimental items and put them in a scrapbook, just like you would with photos.

Any “stuff” people out there? How do you deal with decluttering?