My Mom Calls Me for Decluttering Advice and This Is What I Always Tell Her
I can trace so many things about the way I run my home straight back to my childhood. Between the chores I was required to do (and the ways I was taught to do them) and observing (and absorbing) the way my mom did things, I learned how to keep my own home from the home I grew up in. This is why I scrub the sink with a powdered cleanser every night, practice “postage stamp” vacuuming, and don’t make my bed right away.
Although I attribute so much of how I clean and organize to my mother, there’s one thing that, somehow, I am better at than she is (and we both know it): decluttering. I’m so much better at sifting through belongings and making that crucial step of getting rid of things that aren’t serving me or my family. In fact, my mother calls me for decluttering advice and pep talks when she’s stuck on something that she knows she “should” let go of but can’t quite bring herself to do it.
Most of my advice centers around a couple of core concepts. Here’s what I usually end up telling her.
Everything You Keep Costs You Something
One of my mom’s biggest hangups when it comes to getting rid of stuff is what’s often referred to as the sunk cost fallacy. Simply put, the sunk cost fallacy involves the idea that something you’ve spent money on or even just kept for a long time is more valuable than it is just because you’ve already invested something of yourself into it. My mom has items that she’s had for decades and it feels difficult, understandably so, to get rid of these things after having them for so long.
Another way the sunk cost fallacy comes into play is that my mom, like many others, considers that if she already bought something, hanging on to it in case she needs it saves the money she would hypothetically spend if she needed the item down the road. These kinds of thoughts are a big roadblock when you’re trying to get rid of something.
And that’s when my phone rings and I remind my mom that everything you keep costs you something. Each item you hang on to needs to be handled, considered, stored, and cleaned, at the very least. There may also be additional costs like maintenance, refills, repairs, etc. (which also requires time and energy). You spend your resources with every choice to keep an item, whether that resource is time, energy, space, or money. Is that item that you never use but that you’ve had for 20 years and might need one day worth this cost?
The answer is almost always no, and realizing this almost always gets my mom unstuck and moving forward (with a donation box that’s filling up).
It’s OK to Get Rid of Sentimental Items
The other category of items that’s so hard to deal with is sentimental items. There are so many emotions involved in the mere thought of getting rid of any belongings that used to be owned by a loved one, that remind you of something special, or that were given to you as a gift. It feels wrong to get rid of such things and guilt keeps you in limbo — and your home is bogged down with items that you have to deal with and that you might not even like!
The first thing I remind my mother of when she struggles with decluttering sentimental items is that any memories associated with the item don’t reside in the item — they reside in her. Getting rid of the item doesn’t mean getting rid of the memory of that person or moment. When it comes to gifts, I remind her that the gift has done its job in conveying love and care from the giver and that she’s under no obligation to keep it.
The most impactful thing I point out, however, is that the fewer items you own that remind you of a person, the more powerful they are. Editing down the treasures that bring you back to certain moments or make you feel close to loved ones causes the items you enjoy the most to shine brighter and hold an even more special place in both your heart and home.
One perk of helping my mom with her decluttering hiccups is that repeating them to her strengthens the concepts for me and my decluttering journey! The best part, though, is that I’m so honored to be able to pass on something helpful to my mom after all the home-keeping lessons she passed on to me.