How Overcoming a “Scarcity Mindset” Allowed Me to Truly Declutter My Home

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illustration of a woman at her desk writing a list of things she loves with a box of donations in the background

During my early years, my family didn’t have a lot of money. My parents taught me to care for my belongings, take advantage of a good deal, and hang onto certain items in case I needed them later. While I can appreciate the wisdom in these habits to some degree, I’ve also learned that being over-cautious can prevent you from being objective about the things you own and cause a lot of fear and anxiety in the long run. 

As I got older, I felt a lot of fear around money, accumulated many items I didn’t need, and had trouble getting rid of things. I thought that this would go away by the time I graduated from law school and started my career, but having money didn’t help; in some ways, it made it worse. I felt like the best was already behind me, and that the future would be difficult. 

I realized then that no salary or amount of savings would help me feel safe or comfortable with owning less. I was living in a scarcity mindset, and I needed to move on from it to build a more peaceful home and life.

What Is a Scarcity Mindset?

A scarcity mindset is a persistent belief that there won’t be enough of something a person wants or needs. 

“A scarcity mindset is a fear-based mentality that typically is passed down generationally, is learned from parents, or [is the result of] traumatic events that make us see the world as an unsafe place,” explains Devin VonderHaar, a professional home organizer and founder of The Modern Minimalist, who works with many clients that struggle with fears around scarcity. “It can manifest in a variety of ways, but in the home, we see it as the fear of letting go.” While a scarcity mindset often revolves around fears and anxieties about the future, VonderHaar says it can also “coincide with being stuck in the past.”

How do you know if you have a scarcity mindset? Here are some potential indicators.

Signs That You May Have a Scarcity Mindset 

  • You have experienced poverty or the loss of your home or belongings due to a natural disaster, theft, or another life-altering event.
  • You often worry that you won’t have enough food, clothing, other items, people in your life, or time.
  • You fear that you’ll run out of money, no matter how much you make or save.
  • You struggle to get rid of items.
  • You always feel like you’re behind on your to-do list or in your finances.
  • You have trouble saying no to things because you’re afraid another similar opportunity won’t come along.

Scarcity Mindset vs. Abundance Mindset

The opposite of a scarcity mindset is an abundance mindset. “When in scarcity, there is never enough,” VonderHaar remarks. In contrast, “An abundance mindset is about believing there is always enough. This can apply to food, money, clothes, friends — anything really. In the home, it looks like being able to let go of things without emotional resistance.” 

Having an abundance mindset makes it easier to declutter because you believe you’ll always have everything you need, so you can get rid of things without fear.

Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

How a Scarcity Mindset Can Cause Clutter

A scarcity mindset can lead to clutter by making it difficult for people to get rid of items they have an excess of or no longer need. “Having a scarcity mindset makes it impossible to declutter on your own because you will be frozen when trying to make a decision,” VonderHaar says. “People are [often] scared to let go of something they may need in the future, and oftentimes have an intense fear of money.”

For example, I used to hang onto all kinds of home improvement, office, and other supplies I never used because I was afraid that if I lost my job or experienced financial hardship, I wouldn’t be able to replace them. This caused clutter, which, paradoxically, made it harder to find the items I did need and led me to rebuy them unnecessarily.

How to Overcome a Scarcity Mindset

Overcoming a scarcity mindset can help you declutter your home and release unnecessary fear, worry, and doubt. 

VonderHaar personally struggled with a scarcity mindset that resulted in a shopping addiction and credit card debt

Here are some strategies from myself and VonderHaar that can help you overcome a scarcity mindset.

  • Work with a therapist, life coach, and/or energy healer.
  • Practice decluttering and routinely moving items out of your home.
  • Find an accountability partner or hire a professional home organizer to help you talk through decision-making, stay focused, and get out of your head.
  • Let go of purchases you regret by accepting that the money you spent is a sunk cost, and you can’t get it back whether you keep the item or not.
  • Remind yourself that if you need to repurchase something, you can.
  • Make a list of items you love and want to keep, then review it and savor the abundance in your life.
  • Say affirmations such as, “I’ll always have everything I need” or “I can let this go.”
  • Think about items you’ve gotten rid of and acknowledge how little you’ve missed them.

Final Thoughts

Getting curious about my self-limiting beliefs around scarcity and using the tools described above have helped me declutter in a whole new way. I’ve donated clothes I no longer like because I know I can always buy new ones if my style changes again. I’ve given away tools and gadgets I never used because I believe I’ll be able to borrow or re-purchase them if I need to. And I’ve let go of items I wish I’d never bought in the first place because I forgave myself and know I won’t make that mistake next time.

Choosing abundance over scarcity can help you declutter more objectively and effectively. It can also give you a sense of freedom and peace, making life feel a little bit lighter both within and outside your home.