Bring it to Barb


Dear Barb,

I have made an effort to de-clutter my home while being cooped up for so many months here at home. Why is it so hard to let things go? It is not even feelings of sentimental essence. Most of the time I don’t need what I am apprehensive about letting go of, but I simply want to keep it. Is there a method to de-cluttering with efficiency without guilt or regret? 


On a De-clutter Mission

Dear On a De-clutter Mission,

Your mission is very noble, as it is one of the hardest things to do as we begin to age and acquire things in our lives. 

There are two main reasons why we keep things that we spent a significant amount of money on. 

One reason is that we perceive the item as high value because we remember what we spent on it. It would feel wasteful to just let it go. Selling your items or donating them are good options. It is sometimes worth the effort to get some of the money back. OfferUp is a great new online quick selling alternative and it is free. Just upload the app. Donating to charity or a neighbor, friend or family member is rewarding because it feels like your keeping the enjoyment of the item going, so to speak. Make sure you are not continuing to hang on to the item of clutter so you can remind yourself over and over again of a mistake you made by purchasing it. Better to be conscientious about future purchase choices if there is a continuous pattern of regret. 

The second reason is guiltfor how much money was spent. Unfortunately, the money was already spent and you can’t undo that. Guilt is a poor motivator for anything! There is no feeling good about doing something when guilt is your driving force. If you give someone a gift, would you want them to feel guilty and hold onto it even if they don’t want or need it any longer simply because they felt they couldn’t get rid of it? Most wouldn’t desire that when they give someone a gift. Gifts are the benefit of the receiver. If the item is no longer beneficial, guilt should not determine your decision to keep it. If you happen to have a relative who gives with the motivation of wanting you to feel obligated to keep items to display when they visit, I can suggest you not participate in that game. It is an unkind expectation to put on someone else and you should not enable that behavior. 

It is so easy to rationalize how useful something could potentially be, especially when we start to consider getting rid of it. Suddenly we can create all sorts of scenarios under which something that has sat lonely and unused for years could in the future solve all our problems. If you are a frugal de-clutterer, this could be a problem for you. Be honest with yourself that you’ve forgotten you even owned it, or never used it, and you will likely realize you don’t need it and it is time to move on. 

The hardest part is if you haven’t de-cluttered in a while, the whole idea creates a feeling of being overwhelmed to the point that it paralyzes you. What will help is simply taking the next step and doing it. You may be surprised what you can get accomplished in just 20 minutes each day. 

I taught an organization course many years ago at Clover Park Vocational College, which included a system to de-clutter. Simply starting at your front door, you streamline clockwise through your home. Each closet and cabinet, excluding the kitchen, is evaluated for categories – keep, give away, re-home or sell – until you reach the front door again. The kitchen is last. This process may take days, weeks or years, but it simplifies your life and gives you an unbelievable feeling of freedom.

Why we hang on to things varies from person to person, but often it is based on the reasons I have described. The best lesson to learn after you de-clutter is how much freedom you feel and happiness you can have even without accumulating and holding onto possessions. Preventing the cycle of accumulation from occurring again in the future will be easier once you de-clutter.  

Barb Rock is a retired mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at or text to (253) 377-9668.

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