Why We Hold Onto So Much Stuff, and How to Let Go

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Kelly Brown and Melissa Milakovic)

We all know the role that clutter plays in our households. To varying degrees, it’s a nuisance, or it distracts us, and —in the worst cases — totally overtakes our lives. Here are some of the underlying reasons why you’re reluctant to let go of physical objects, and some steps to take towards living a life less burdened by stuff.

1. You Feel Like You’ll Need it One Day

What if you threw it out and missed it later? Because of that aversion to loss, you hang onto that huge ball of rubber bands, or those hotel-sized toiletries that accumulate just in case your need them for a trip someday. Furthermore, it feels wasteful to get rid of things you might — just might — need down the road.

Focus instead on the right here, right now, and what you need in the present. Banish the “what ifs” and “what thens” and let go. If you need a framework, use a year as a guideline. If you haven’t used something in that time period, get rid of it.

Let It Go: How To Let Yourself Finally Get Rid of Things

2. You Get Caught Up in The Idea of Something

We all know those people who love gear and accessories. They take a music lesson and run out and buy an expensive guitar. Or, they have brunch one Sunday, and dream of waffles everyday, courtesy of a new waffle iron. They might envision dinner parties full of good food and friends. The problem is, either these pursuits are fleeting, or they never happen at all. Yet, in reality, all the aspirational stuff just lingers around in disuse.

Curb impulsive buying (even when it’s in the seemingly noble and worthwhile form of a project, acquiring a new skill, or interest) by making lists of things you must buy and sticking to that list. Give yourself a waiting period to cool your buying jets (say two weeks or so) to make sure that it’s something you truly need and desire.

3. It Reminds You of Something or Someone

Getting rid of stuff that holds meaning only makes it harder to purge. You might need the connection you feel by holding on that object, or worried you’ll forget about it once it’s gone. Whether it’s your mother’s magazine clippings, or your kids artwork, they hold emotional weight that’s hard to dismiss.

Select a few things to hang onto physically, and keep them close by. For everything else, try taking a picture instead to remind you. Or scan items to keep in a digital file if you must. Try other ways to record your memories, such as writing in a journal, or keeping a blog.

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4. You Think You Should Keep It

Your guilt weighs heavily when you’re favorite aunt gives you a vase that you outwardly thank her for (but inwardly really hate). And you can’t bring yourself to get rid of it when you know she went to the store, selected it herself, and paid good money for it. You resign yourself to dragging it out to display every time she comes to visit.

Remind yourself that you don’t have to hold on to a lifetime of presents that other people bestow upon you. Once the gift is given, and you thank the person, your responsibility is over. You get to choose what to do with it, or where to put it. Then, set aside some time to make a pile of items to regift, donate, sell, or return for store credit.

Apartment Therapy’s Guide to Regifting
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