Home Decluttering and the Meaning of Letting Go of Stuff

Home Decluttering and the Meaning of Letting Go of Stuff is about learning to navigate one of the biggest obstacles we face when we start our decluttering process. Letting go of stuff is hard for some folks. The first step is to identify why you don’t want to let go of physical clutter and the tools to use to move beyond this.

There is a life-changing magic of tidying up that occurs when we begin to sort through a lifetime of excess possessions. We hold onto our things for many reasons. Often we may have sentimental attachment to all the mementos and gifts we have received. 

The obstacle may be financial. Do you regret the purchase you spent too much money on? Are you afraid if you toss away a thing you may need it someday?

The thought of letting go of physical things for me is made easier by visualizing the tide taking away the thing(s) that no longer serve me. I then think of the incoming tide as opening the way for new opportunities to present themselves to me.

Why do we fear letting go?

Becoming emotionally attached to things is easy. In my possessions is my deceased husband’s soft red and black checked flannel shirt. My husband died young 30 years ago. Do I have an emotional attachment to this special memento? Of course, I do! Is my emotional attachment hurting me or anyone? No.

My treasure brings me joy, takes up so little space, and doesn’t interfere with any dreams and opportunities I may have. 

Decluttering physical objects with sentimental value is one of the hardest things about the process. There are ways to get through this though!

When sentimental items and mementos bring you joy and you have ample room to enjoy your treasure, keep them. If you are rid with guilt because your grandma left you 40 year old lumpy paisley covered couch that you dislike- get rid of it!

A workaround is to take a picture of the couch, get rid of the burden, and savor the memory when you look at the photograph. The sentimental value will be the same whether you have the item or a photograph. I doubt Grandma wants anyone to feel burdened.

When you set out to make a clear and concise decluttering goal and plan keep in mind one man’s treasures are not necessarily another man’s favorite things.

Be creative!

I have seen gorgeous quilts made using pieces of clothing from a deceased loved one’s wardrobe. This is a brilliant way to enjoy a trip down memory lane and it is functional. Both beautiful and functional is a win-win! You don’t have to keep piles of stuff. There are much better options.

Imagine curling up in a snuggly warm handmade quilt made with a loved one’s favorite garments.

Do you have boxes of stuff filling up your storage space that you haven’t looked through in years? Maybe it is time for you and your family members to sort through your storage space and pull out the good stuff that others can use. Physical items packed in a box collecting dust are of no use to anyone. 

Sometimes all it takes is a mindset shift to start flexing your decluttering muscles. You will be amazed to notice the personal growth that will stem from this. I feel strangled when I am surrounded by too many material possessions. I avoid large stores for this reason.

The good memories will always be there and who knows maybe the recipient of some of these things will make new memories with the same objects.

My Mom and I were best friends and I miss her every day, I keep a couple of things of my Mom and I smile when I see them. I would not have smiled one iota more had I kept all of Mom’s stuff.

Old photos

While you are at it you may as well make some order of all the old photos you have. One thing I hear over and over again is your children do not want all your old photos and possessions.

You may have emotional attachments to these things. This is not necessarily true of your kids. Many young people cannot relate to things, not in a digital format. 

A lot of people tell me when they are sorting through boxes of loved one’s old unmarked photos it can be a burden to discard and a burden to keep. A burden to discard due to feelings of guilt and a burden to keep because you do not want these pictures. I do not wish to put others in this position.

When you are on your decluttering journey try to put yourself in the shoes of your survivors and adjust accordingly.


Folks on a tight budget may worry about regret if they let go of something that costs a significant amount of money. The money is already spent.

Have you tried reselling the object on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or any number of online platforms?

With the money from the sold object invest in something you love.

Another way clutter can affect finances is late fees. When we have too much stuff and are disorganized it is very easy to miss a bill’s due date. The amount of money financial institutions collect from us is staggering. Consumers were charged $14.5 billion in late fees in 2022.

The 80/20 rule

There is an 80/20 rule based on the Pareto principle. This rule states we use 20% of our possessions 80% of the time.

My best friends have a magnificent home. It is always a challenge for me to close a drawer or fit something back in a cabinet because they are so filled with stuff.

In my kitchen utensil drawer, you will find 1 wood spatula, a cheese grater, a pair of scissors, a potato peeler, a knife sharpening stone, and a couple of other things. I prepare from scratch almost everything I consume without an overabundance of utensils.

Please don’t tell anyone that I cut my hand-grown herbs with regular scissors I keep in the utensil drawer. I have not found it necessary to buy official herb cutting scissors.

Most people can fill a sizable bag with just duplicates of the things they have. Pulling out all your duplicate items is an easy way to get rid of clutter.


Self-identities can entwine with the things we possess, the labels our jobs put on us, etc. We may fear we will lose a part of ourselves if we let go of something. Volumes have been written about self-identities

I am working through a version of this in my life now. Circumstances changed and I am trying to decide if I should shut down the art studio that supported me for 30 years. It took some time for me to work through the fact that with or without a hot shop I will always be a glass artist.

Now all that is holding me back is it is fun to melt glass and I am not ready to give this up yet no matter how bad it may be for my eyes.

My useful art studio will become clutter the day I stop using it regularly. I will remain an artist with or without a physical studio.

If you practice medicine for 30 years and retire from the medical field you will still be a doctor.

Scarcity mindset

We may have a scarcity mindset. Maybe we grew up with what we remember as having had very little. We may believe there is a chance we could never replace an object.

If you can ever afford to replace an item may or may not be true. Still, why do you need an item that you are not using regularly?

The 20/20 rule

The 20/20 rule is a simple rule to follow and some, including me, resist. Can the item be replaced for under $20 or can you replace the item in less than 20 minutes? If the answer is yes, get rid of it.

Saving a bazillion scraps of something we may need in the future sure can cause clutter. As a lifelong artist and craftsperson, I identify with this. 

I hate clutter and don’t you know it seems like the day after I discard a piece of something seemingly insignificant I find it would have worked perfectly for the task at hand. Oh well. I smile and go buy a replacement.

Take action

Start small! No one expects anyone to declutter an entire home in an afternoon. It is always my suggestion to those wavering with fear to start with one object or one box if this is manageable. Most people can declutter 1 object at a time.

What is your intention or goal? Do you want a more organized space or a simpler lifestyle? There are no wrong answers. The answer is simply your preference or your goal.

When stuck and unable to decide if you should keep or discard an object refer back to your intended goal. If your goal is to reduce clutter to create more space letting go is the next step. I do not like being surrounded by stuff so my goal is to live minimally and free of clutter.

Letting go

As I mentioned some people find a good solution to letting go of clutter is to photograph objects. Another idea is to create a digital photo album or scrapbook.

You could have one photo album dedicated to the pictures of the sentimental items you let go of. This will be a big space saver!

Many people find it pleasurable to digitalize all their old photos, file them in an organized manner, and discard the hard copy. This can free up a lot of space. None of your survivors will be burdened by having to go through multiple cartons of all the pictures you collected.


It feels good to donate gently used physical objects when you are ready to let go of your stuff. It is a good feeling that someone in need can enjoy what no longer serves me. 

Many wonderful organizations make it easy for us to donate our goods. I compiled a list of the best places to donate stuff, large or small, in a free 17-page Resource Guide

This is a free download for you to take advantage of. This free guide lists several charitable organizations that will pick up for free old treadmills, furniture, clothing, and pretty much any of your physical clutter in good condition. Donating is a great way to declutter!


Practicing gratitude for the things that bring joy to you and letting go of the rest has a huge payoff. My secret sauce is to love everything I have and not whine for the things I do not have.

Nothing comes in my front door that is not functional or beautiful. I vividly remember my first home where I was responsible for all the maintenance. It took me a nanosecond to realize the less stuff I have the less stuff I will have to take care of.

I choose to spend my limited spare time doing the things I love, not cleaning. Creating art and walking my puppies is far preferable to house cleaning.

Understanding why we fear letting go of things is the first step to a more organized and simple lifestyle. By letting go of the past and not worrying about the future you will find yourself present in this day.

This is the day you can review your goals, take steps, and get yourself on the path to the life you dream of. Even one small step gets you one step closer to a fresh start and the life you have been dreaming of enjoying.

One last thing! When you declutter one object a day for one year you will feel 365 items lighter! You have nothing to lose by trying except clutter!

Marj pic

Marj Bates is a life long ridiculously organized declutterer and artist. Less is more are words Marj lives by in everything she does except collecting dogs. “Dogs are like potato chips! Can’t have just one.” says Marj. Marj has wondered if growing up with a fanatically clean Jewish mom means her decluttering and organizational skills are in her blood.

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