I’m a Minimalist Lifestyle Coach and This Is My Two-Step Method to Get Over Downsizing Guilt

published Jul 18, 2022
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Credit: Andrew Cohen

Picture this: You pass by a hot nightclub. There’s a line swinging around the corner. There’s someone by the door, checking IDs and confirming dress code compliance. They’re the bouncer, and the club has rules about who can come in and who can’t. 

Now think about your own home, and how you may have been passively allowing stuff into it. No rules. What if you became your home’s bouncer? What if you stood firm before your door, only allowing the most important things to pass through the threshold?

It’s never fun to stare down piles of stuff that persist in your home. Sometimes, even worse than a pile is one tricky item that doesn’t quite have a place. Maybe it was something given to you that you didn’t want in the first place, and now it’s sitting next to all of the items you love and desire. You are struck with guilt.

Decluttering guilt is a common way for a downsizing project to derail. And it’s one of the reasons I became a minimalist lifestyle coach. 

I’ve always been naturally organized — efficiency and effectiveness are how my brain works. After a career at an environmental nonprofit, I switched paths to start my business as a professional organizer. Helping clients let go of their things and creating bespoke systems for them to maintain their newly organized spaces was fulfilling. But I started to notice a common underlying problem that wasn’t one specific item, but an intangible obstacle: Emotional attachment to stuff and a need for mindset change.

Often, I noticed my clients’ disorganized homes resulted from a chaotic mind and a lifestyle misaligned with their values and goals. This is where my yoga and mindfulness training came in, and I pivoted to helping people focus on their emotions before getting to the stuff. 

I use this thinking in my own life, too: I don’t feel guilty when I say goodbye to things because I’ve reversed how I think about them. Instead of passively letting things into my life, I actively address minimalism from a lifestyle perspective. I teach this same strategy to all of my clients, and these are the two key takeaways I always tell them.

Become the bouncer of your home. 

This is prevention with intention. I always end up feeling guilty about the things I accept by default. Think: Someone giving you a piece of clothing, saying, “I don’t want this brand new shirt, but I thought you’d love it,” or someone bringing you food you don’t need, hand-me-downs, this-made-me-think-of-you’s, and the like. As well intentioned as they are, people still sometimes give you gifts you don’t necessarily want. 

Sometimes these unwanted items are even things you got yourself: An item you bought for your kids to use later (but not for your current life), a freebie you snagged just because it was $0, or articles from a clothing swap that are now taking up precious space in your closet. Sometimes they are nice to have, and sometimes they completely miss the mark. 

However you come across these need-nots, they usually aren’t things you would use or want in your daily life. Taking on the bouncer role, you can see things for what they are. Instead of letting someone else (including the impulsive version of yourself) decide what you own, you stand firm. 

The wonderful part of taking agency over what you own is that you can’t feel guilty about something you never let into your home. Thanks to this active approach, you’re preventing the future possibility of guilt.

Credit: Look Studio/Shutterstock

Once something is yours, you can do whatever you want with it.

Part of overcoming decluttering guilt is reframing the idea of what’s yours and what’s not. When an item is still in someone else’s hands, it’s theirs. Once you accept it, it becomes yours. And once it’s yours, it’s not theirs anymore. Meaning you can do with it whatever you want, guilt-free. 

If someone gives you something but has expectations about its use, that’s really their problem, not yours. A gift with any strings attached is not truly a gift.

Here’s a shift that’s helped me: Reframe guilt as gratitude for what you’ve been offered and what you made the conscious choice to accept. And then, as the bouncer of your home, you can kick out any troublemakers. 

The result? So much more stress-free space in your mind and heart, in addition to the physical space in your home. With a calmer mindset, gratitude, and renewed agency, you can focus on simplifying your home and lifestyle. And the guilt is gone, much like the other stuff you no longer wish to keep.