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Tackling The Stress of Getting Rid of "Stuff"

Have you put off going through a pile of stuff and deciding what to get rid of? Read on!

Have you put off going through a pile of stuff and deciding what to get rid of? Read on!

Two weeks ago—before I lost power and endured Sandy—I wrote about the lure of shopping and acquiring new possessions. This week we look at the reverse problem… the painful, stressful process of shedding items we no longer need.  Unfortunately, this just isn’t much fun.  In fact, the idea of “clearing out” can be so unpleasant that many people just procrastinate the whole process, which of course just makes everything worse. Why do we get stressed out about this? Here are some reasons:

  1. We are emotionally attached to our belongings. Have you ever heard a wife talk about wanting to pitch her husband’s dirty/dated/torn old shirt? To her, it is just a piece of trash. But to him it is a familiar, comfortable, dependable piece of clothing that makes him feel good. As a result of emotional connections, we struggle to get rid of objects to which we have a special attachment. But there are some solutions:
    1. Take a photo of the item (perhaps with you holding/wearing it), frame it and hang it up. You will smile every day when you walk by.
    2. Set aside a box exclusively for storing objects like these (nothing wrong with keeping sentimental items, just limit them to one box)
    3. Dispose of items that can no longer be used (e.g. cassette tapes, outdated appliances, broken items, etc)
    4. If you love an item, but it is simply beyond its useful life, allow yourself to replace it with a newer item that you love just as much (or more!)
  2. We feel guilty. Think of the ugly Christmas sweater, or the artwork given by the in-laws that just isn’t our taste. Somehow, we feel that keeping an object (while silently hating it every time we see it) is better than getting rid of it. In fact, the opposite is true. Keeping objects out of guilt honors nobody and nothing. Better to pass it on. If you fear recrimination from the giver, emphasize your deep appreciation for the gift, be honest about it not fitting your taste or needs, and communicate that you took care to ensure it ended up with someone who loves it.
  3. It makes us feel lonely or sad. For those of us who are social, sorting through a stack of paperwork, alone, in a quiet house, may seem like punishment. If this is you, tackle that barrier by inviting a friend to come and help you, or to bring her own stack of stuff to sort through. Many of us need emotional support as we cull through sentimental items (e.g. from a recently deceased family member), so don’t feel silly about rallying friends to come alongside.
  4. It just isn’t fun. Let’s face it, going out shopping in a cheery mall, with upbeat music playing and stopping for lunch may be much more appealing. But organizing can also be fun. Once again, be intentional about creating an atmosphere you love. Put on your favorite playlist, pour yourself your favorite drink, and reward yourself for achieving certain benchmarks. For example, “Once I sort through the stack on the dining room table, I will __(fill in the blank with whatever you love).” Also, take “before” photos, which motivates you to stay strong until you can take the “after’’ photos.  Organizing your environment can be very rewarding. For more on this idea, check out
  5. We don’t know what we need to keep. Frequently we avoid starting a job we feel uncertain about. When cleaning out, we may not know what papers to keep, or whether we should get rid of this article of clothing because we might need it. This is a subject all to itself, and I’ll be addressing it directly next week.

Overall, the key to addressing the stress we may feel about sorting through our belongings is to tackle it head on. Make a list of everything you love, then find a way to make as many as possible a part of your organizing project. And always focus on the reward at the end. BEING organized is extremely rewarding!  Start small, but start! Once you get going, you may find it hard to stop!

Next week: The paralyzing impact of a lack of knowledge.

Submitted by: Seana Turner, founder of The Seana Method.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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