Why is Getting Rid of Things So Hard? How to Overcome the Struggle

Throughout my years of organizing, I have heard a wide array of reasons as to why people can’t get rid of things and why they think they “need” to keep them.  I understand: organizing and downsizing is a difficult process and there’s a lot of emotions involved.  As an organization coach, it’s my job to help you understand why it’s so difficult for you, analyze the reality of the situation, and come up with solutions. The following are examples of typical reasons people hold onto things, and how you can overcome the struggle of making difficult decisions in the downsizing process.

“But I might need this one day”

Even if an item is potentially useful, does that mean you’re actually going to use it?  Not necessarily.  These things are difficult to get rid of because everyone hates the idea of possibly having to buy something again if they get rid of it and then need it down the road.  But if your goal is to downsize, then obviously you can’t keep everything, so evaluate what serves a purpose in your home at this present time and what is just taking up valuable space.

“It was expensive – I can’t just get rid of it”

Keeping something just because you or someone else spent a certain amount of money on it doesn’t do you any good.  If you’re not using it or don’t even like the item, then it needs to go.  Try to sell it to recoup some of the money if that would make you feel better about getting rid of it, but don’t fixate on money that’s already spent.  Let it go and move on.

“It was a really good deal”

Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you need it, and it sure doesn’t legitimize keeping an item that you don’t use.  If your only reason for holding onto it is because it was a good deal, then it needs to go.  If this is something you commonly struggle with, be mindful of that when you’re shopping.  When shopping online, put the item that you want in the cart but then wait to purchase it.  Give it a day or so to think about whether or not you actually need it and can see yourself using it before buying it.  Oftentimes you’ll forget about it completely and won’t feel that you missed out by not purchasing it.

“But my kid made this”

Anyone with kids knows how hard it is to part with anything your child has ever made, whether it be artwork or some kind of homemade craft.  But you cannot keep all of it.  Come up with a system, for example displaying recent artwork on a bulletin board or the fridge, and replace them when new artwork is made.  Keep the favorites and recycle the rest.  Taking photos of the artwork can be a way to keep them without holding on to every single piece they’ve ever created.

“My daughter wore this on her first birthday”

Items that we have an emotional attachment to are typically number one on the list of hardest items to part with.  Baby clothes and toys are filled with wonderful, happy memories and going through them brings back a flood of emotions.  How can you possibly part with these items?  But if you think logically about it, what purpose do these items now serve in your home?  If the amount of keepsake items is taking up a large quantity of space, consider picking out your favorites and only keeping a portion of those things.

“It was my Grandmother’s”

Inherited items are another challenging category of things that people have a hard time letting go of.  Of course if you love it, use it and have room for it, then keep it.  But what about when the item is not something you particularly like or have any use for?   It somehow still feels wrong to get rid of it, and guilt keeps us from parting with it.  The problem is, that item is not your grandmother, and it’s necessary to detach the emotion from the physical item.  If the item doesn’t bring you joy, is taking up space and doesn’t serve a purpose in your home, then the difficult solution is for you to part with it.  See if there is anyone in the family who would like to take it, but if not, consider donating it.  Often times there is someone else who could use that item and you don’t need to feel guilty about giving it up.

All of these reasons for keeping things are based in psychology and emotions, and understanding our attachment is the first step in being able to make decisions about these items.  If you want to downsize, then you can’t keep everything, so it’s important to evaluate what brings you joy and serves a purpose in your home.  Letting go gets easier as you work towards your goal of getting organized and your space starts to be less cluttered.  Having less stuff can be freeing, as the weight of all the items we accumulate is lifted and we have room to breathe again.