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5 Ways to Dig Yourself Out of Clutter

Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner

Most of us have too much stuff. Our belongings accumulate in closets, drawers, guest bedrooms, and storage facilities. Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College reports that people collect clutter for three reasons: sentiment, utility, and aesthetics. Your clutter could be the result of one or all of these.

  • Sentiment. We keep objects that represent memories of positive people, places, or emotions. These include family heirlooms, photographs, and souvenirs, to name a few. Discarding sentimental objects can be difficult; as Dr. Frost states, letting them go might feel like erasing a memory or a part of your life.
  • Utility. We hold onto items that we feel we may need one day. These “useful” items can include piles of cardboard boxes, old car parts, and broken things that we intend to fix one day. The need to keep these objects can be related to a desire to be prepared or not to waste anything.
  • Aesthetics. We collect attractive items that we may think of as a collection when they really aren’t. A person who collects stamps and keeps them organized, identified, and safely stored is a stamp collector. A person who collects stamps that are scattered in various locations with no rhyme or reason is not so much a collector as a clutterer.

Being surrounded by clutter can have a negative impact on your mood by contributing to feelings of irritability, sadness, or anxiety, to name a few. My former clients have reported that they’ve felt freer, happier, and calmer in their living space after they’ve decluttered.

Try these steps to tame your clutter:

1) Set short-term goals. Do not attempt to declutter everything you own at once, as this can be overwhelming. Instead, try setting a goal that you can achieve over a period of weeks or months. Try focusing on one room or even one drawer at a time.
2) Take pictures. If you’re keeping something for purely sentimental reasons, take a few photos of it before discarding it. A picture can help preserve the memory while allowing you to let go of the item itself.
3) Create timelines for future use. Identify all the items you’re keeping for their utility and give yourself a realistic timeline to use them. For example: If I have a crockpot that I’ve never used, I’ll give myself one month to use it. If I don’t, then I must not need it, and I’ll discard it. Be careful of creating timelines too far in the future—months or years—as this could delay the process of getting rid of things you won’t use.
4) Imagine that your belongings have feelings. Let’s say you’ve been hanging onto a toy that no one has played with in years. If this toy were a character in the Disney-Pixar movie “Toy Story,” how would it feel—abandoned? Neglected? Would the toy want to stay in your closet or would it want to play with a child? Sure, it sounds silly, but this method might help motivate you to donate unused items to those who could use them.
5) Create an outgoing box. Find a box, label it “Outgoing,” and gather up things that you suspect might be clutter. If you’re not sure about a particular item, the co-founder of Apartment Therapy, Maxwell Ryan, recommends that you ask yourself three questions: “Do I use it?” “Do I love it?” and “Does my apartment/home/office need it?” If you answer “no” to all three questions, place it in the box for now. Go back to the box now and then to reassess the contents and discard them when you’re ready.

Decluttering can be stressful, but in the long run, it can improve your mood. If you’re considering this process, it might be beneficial to meet with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 today to schedule an appointment.

Peterson, V. (2018, January 17) I was getting buried in clutter. Here’s how I finally got free [Blog post] Retrieved from

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