Decluttering is a difficult process to begin with, but it can become even more so when you factor in feelings of guilt, fear, and insecurity. These feelings can stall you in your pursuit to declutter your home, and can prevent you from making the progress that you want within your space. That is precisely why I have made this list of eight different types of decluttering guilt, to get you out of your decluttering rut. I am going to walk you through these different types and offer a strategy for each on how to avoid these guilty feelings in the first place. These mindset shifts will ultimately help get you to a place where you can actually enjoy some guilt free decluttering.
(1) Financial Guilt
This type of guilt often crops up when you have purchased something but have not actually used it or gotten your money’s worth out of it. You may also have something that you think is valuable, so you don’t just want to let it go and miss out on the value that you hold the item to have. Whatever the reasoning, you just can’t let go of an item because you have already paid for it, and don’t want to feel like you just threw away and wasted your money.
Mindset Shift #1: Be Able to Take Action
In order to combat this feeling of financial guilt, challenge yourself to put the item in question to the test. Give it a week’s time. If it is a piece of clothing, wear it. If you decide that you do like it after the week is up, then keep it. However, if you don’t like it, don’t feel the need to hang on to it – at least you put it to the test. Taking action will give you the clarity you need to make an informed decision on whether or not you should keep an item.
(2) Family Guilt
If you have had a loved one pass away and have been handed down some of their items, you may have run into family guilt at one point or another. This occurs when you may want to get rid of some items, but feel obligated to keep them since those items did previously belong to a loved one. This pulling of the heartstrings becomes difficult and makes you feel bad for even having thoughts of wanting to get rid of these items at all.
Mindset Shift #2: Quality Over Quantity
It isn’t really reasonable to think that you need to save every item that has ever been handed down to you. Don’t try to save everything that was given to you by a specific person. Instead, simply identify the top, most quality items that hold the most meaning to you specifically, and just keep those certain items. Then you will be able to hold onto the sentimental items that bring the most value to your life, whilst still not overwhelming yourself with too much stuff in the process.
(3) Gift Guilt
With the holiday season in full swing, it is good to remember that you should not feel guilty for wanting to get rid of certain gifts. Perhaps you received a gift you simply don’t want or know you won’t use, but feel guilty about getting rid of it since it was a gift; you know how much thought and effort went into the item and feel guilty about not wanting to keep it.
Mindset Shift #3: Feel Comfortable About Communication
Communication is the key to preventing this type of guilt. For the gifts that you have already accepted into your space, you can avoid gift guilt from happening later on by communicating and being clear about what types of gifts you would or would not like in the future. Offer alternatives of gifts that you may actually like to receive in the future. Be honest about the minimalist journey that you are on, explain that you don’t feel the need to have these excess possessions, and suggest opting for gifts of experiences or giving back for next time. Communicate and prevent the guilt ahead of time.
(4) Societal Guilt
Do you feel like you don’t need something anymore, but society doesn’t necessarily agree with that? You may feel as if through the messages that social media feeds you, or through the people you interact with, that you need a certain item to be happy. Sometimes, even, we are told that it is crucial to have so many of a particular item in order to fit in with what society considers the norm.
Mindset Shift #4: This is YOUR Life
Remember that you are on your own unique path in life. This life is no one else’s, only yours. YOU set the rules for your own journey in life, even if it is different from everybody else’s. Despite what society says, if you do not want or need an item, you do not have to hang on to it.
(5) Environmental Guilt
If you are a huge proponent of environmental consciousness, it can sometimes feel disheartening to know that many of the items that we get rid of ultimately end up in landfills. Even with your best efforts, it seems that so much of what you own is going into the garbage.
Mindset Shift #5: Everything is Going to the Trash at Some Point
As unhappy of a thought as this is, everything, at some point, will be trash. Even if not through your own doing, it will likely still end up there. Whether it happens now or later, the damage is going to be done. Instead of feeling guilty for your past consumption habits, simply focus on being a more mindful consumer in the future. Especially in this day and age, there so many eco-friendly, sustainable options for so many different common items. Focus on doing better in the future, don’t let yourself feel too guilty about what you can’t change in the now.
(6) Nostalgia Guilt
When feeling nostalgic about past experiences, you may find it difficult to let go of certain items that reflect the memories of that specific time. You may be sad to let go of these items that have such significant happy memories associated with them, or you may feel as if the item helps you to better remember the time that you are reflecting on to begin with.
Mindset Shift #6: Life is Always Moving Forward
Our lives are designed to be constantly in motion, moving forward. It may be fun to reminisce and remember the past, but too many of these nostalgic items, although associated with positive memories, may trap you in the past. Even for items that help you to remember the most beautiful moments, you have to remember, there are still so many new beautiful moments in life that have yet to come. It is important to not spend too much time looking back – instead, spend some time looking forward to all of the good things that are still in store.
(7) “Just-in-Case” Guilt
This type of guilt tends to be fairly common among people. It is the feeling that you could probably get rid of something, but there is a voice in the back of your head telling you to not get rid of something yet, just in case! Often these items are considered somewhat useful and could potentially be helpful in the future, but you just don’t have a specific time in mind for when you will for sure be using this item. These items could include any wide variety of thing, including specialty kitchen gadgets, formal occasion-wear, and more.
Mindset Shift #7: Get Practical (and Numerical)
Ask yourself: when was the last time you used this item? When is the next time you will likely use this item? Use the answers to these questions to help validate your decision on whether or not to declutter something. If you use the item regularly or even just moderately frequently, it could make sense to keep it. However, if you don’t truly use the item that often or don’t anticipate using it soon, it may make sense to declutter it.
(8) Identity Guilt
This guilty feeling occurs when you begin to associate certain items with who you are as a person; you connect the item to your identity. It can feel especially personal when you are trying to get rid of something because you might fear that if you let go, then you are losing a part of yourself along with that item.
Mindset Shift #8: Your Stuff Does Not Define Who You Are
Understand that you are not your things and that your stuff does not define who you are. YOU define who you are. Once you take that power away from your stuff, you can appreciate its existence without feeling chained to keeping it. Getting rid of something that you once felt a connection with does not define who you are as a person.
Feelings of guilt are hard to combat, but with the strategies provided above, hopefully now you will be able to prevent these types of decluttering guilt before they even surface. Learning how to declutter without guilt is a difficult process, so one strategy is probably not going to cover the entire shifted mindset that you will need in order to tackle each and every item that you are struggling with decluttering. If you feel you could still use some more in-depth insight into each of these topics and strategies for how to deal with them, check out my e-book: Declutter Without Guilt.
This e-book includes an overview of each topic and some feelings you might have experienced alongside it, a reflection sheet to see where you are at and what progress still needs to be made, and details about the mindset shifts and strategies that you can make step-by-step for each different type of clutter.
For more detail on the strategies you can use to get yourself out of a decluttering rut, check out this video!