Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, you have heard phrases like “spark joy”, declutter, hygge, and minimalism floating around EVERYWHERE. I love these words…I’ve gotten rid of 1,000s of items in the past three years and am much happier for it. But not everyone is like me. Hearing the words “clean out” or “declutter” might make some of you cringe…and I know why. Getting rid of our stuff that we spent our hard earned money on or received from a loved on is hard…really hard. It’s something psychological that we don’t always understand.
Honestly, most of the items in our home that we don’t want anymore comes down to one word: GUILT.
We feel guilty because that ugly dress from our friend is really bad but we don’t want to offend anyone so it must live in our closet for 5 years taking up space after we wear it once in front of her.
We feel guilty because we spent SO much money on that new air fryer for our kitchen so now we must keep it forever.
We feel guilty because we aren’t quite sure if we can rid of that doll that our grandma gave us the day we were born because she might find out…even though she died 10 years ago.
So we keep stuff…out of guilt…and it consumes our closets, garages, and living rooms. The items that we actually like are drowned by all of the “guilt items” and we just don’t know how to make it stop.
I took a survey on Instagram a few weeks ago and I am answering all of the questions that I got about how to declutter specific items. Ya’ll gave me some great topics and I’m going to share how to let go of the items listed below and the guilt that goes along with them. If you have any more questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will add them to my post. 🙂
Clothes/T-Shirts: The first place people usually go when they want to declutter is their clothes closet. This is honestly not the best place to start because it’s such a big job but here we go!
I wrote a post a few years ago with a printable checklist with questions that you can ask yourself about each item as you put it back in. I talked about taking EVERYTHING out of your closet and then adding things back in one at a time. This will take a few days to actually do it right.
After a few years, I’ve decided that there is ONE question you need to ask yourself when decluttering clothes:
Would you pack this item to go on a trip?
If the answer is “no way not in a million years” that item needs to go.
Now when you are asking this question, I’m not really talking about your comfy sweatpants or a formal ballgown. I’m talking about your everyday, nice clothes.
I sometimes think about my clothes in my closet when I’m packing for a trip. When we pack for a trip, we take our absolute favorite clothes. I might be packing for a winter ski trip, look at a sweater and think “I would never pack that…it’s not even close to my favorite.” Then, nine times out of ten, I’ll put that sweater in the donation box because I realized I just don’t like it anymore. I might be packing for a beach trip, and realize that I really hate how that swim suits looks on me now or that those shorts are way too tight now. That’s when they go straight to the donation box.
Next time you are packing for a trip, really pay attention to what you would never pack, and when you get home, take those items out of your closet and only wear those clothes that truly make you feel great.
Shoes: Shoes are a tough one…especially for us girls for some reason. We love them and if they’re cute AND feel good too…that’s a pair that you never want to part with. The funny thing is that we really hate getting rid of shoes…even those $5 Old Navy flip flops. 🙂
My tips for letting go of a pair of shoes are pretty simple:
The first tip is that if they are painful that you are miserable about 5 minutes in, they need to go. No cute pair of shoes is worth that much pain.
The next tip is to just have one or two types of each style of shoe…not 10. If you’re like me, you wear the same 5 or 6 pairs of shoes ALL year and the other ones just sit there collecting dust. Donate those shoes that someone that would actually use them or needs them.
We also can’t keep a pair of shoes because they were expensive. I have a pair of really cute gray boots…they’re adorable…and SO uncomfortable. I wore them twice and they were $100 (which is A LOT for me) and I finally got rid of them after “guilt storing” them for a year.
Kid’s Artwork: This used to be SO hard for me. As an artist myself, I value art so much and I basically thought that everything my son painted, drew, or cut out was pure genius!
I was keeping everything in a box, until I realized that this box that I had intended to hold everything from his 18 years of life with me was almost full…and he was only 5.
So I started throwing away his art…and he saw me doing it and got mad. 🙂
So I learned a few things:
Don’t let them see you throw their artwork away. Do it when they aren’t at home. I sometimes fold it up very tiny and strategically place it under something in the trash. Now my son knows that I throw most of it away and he’s cool with it. I sit down with him, look at it with him, let him tell me about it, and then in the trash it goes.
My kid’s also know that I’m obsessed with their art too. I have an entire wall in our hallway dedicated to everything they have made in the past few months. My refrigerator is also covered in what they made.
Basically, they don’t question whether I love them just because I threw their art away.
So what artwork do we keep? Every once in a while, there is that awesome drawing or really sweet note that they wrote to you and those are special. You’ll know because it will be set apart from the rest. It won’t be just another coloring page or a unrecognizable drawing. It will be worth keeping. When I’m decluttering art and deciding what to save, I think, will they want to see this again in 20 years. Usually the answer is no.
Books: This one is a little bit hard for me to give advice about because I’m not a big bookworm. All I will say about decluttering books is that if you have no intention of ever cracking that book open again that you already read, it needs to go. If you have owned a book for more than a year or two and still haven’t read it, it probably needs to go.
Now if you collect books I understand that but I would advise you to give your book collection a space and keep the collection within the confines of that space. Choose one bookshelf for your collection and if you run out of room, that means some books need to go. Don’t let your books take over every room in your house.
If you read a book that you love but will never read again, give it to friend or donate it.
Cards: We love getting cards from our friends and family. They make us feel SO loved and honestly keep some really sentimental words that people have written in their own handwriting. They’re special. But we don’t need to keep them all…I would say that you should only be keep about 1% of the cards you receive.
I’m going to separate greeting cards into two categories:
Cards We Should Throw Out: These are the thank you notes, save the dates, party invitations, wedding invitations from someone other than your immediate family, holiday cards, and birthday cards with one sentence written in them. These can be saved for a few weeks if you need the information from the cards on your refrigerator but most of these can be read, appreciated, and then tossed. These shouldn’t be saved.
Cards We Can Keep: Cards that were written by someone you love. These aren’t just signed by someone you love. They have an actual original message from a family member or friend. They have something truly meaningful inside that you want to remember. They were written by someone who isn’t alive anymore and you want this card as a reminder of them.
Just remember that we don’t need 25 cards from our grandma…keep your favorite one and toss the rest.
Those Things You Don’t Need Often but Use Occasionally: This one is tough! On one hand, you should keep things you occasionally use because you will need them sometimes and it’s financially irresponsible to get rid of something you will need to re-buy in a few months. On the other hand, if you keep every little thing in your life because of a “what if I need it” scenario, your house will be a storage shed before you know it.
My advice about occasional items is to only have one of that item…not 6. I live in the desert where it NEVER rains. I have one umbrella for our household. We don’t use it very often but I need it for when I pick up my kids and it’s pouring down. I don’t have one umbrella per family member because we just don’t need that.
The other tip I will tell you is that if you haven’t used it in years, let it go. I had SO many kitchen gadgets that only served ONE purpose so I let all of those go. For example, I had a little strawberry slicer for years that I had registered for when we got married. I maybe ate strawberries once a month and it was a PAIN to clean. I got rid of it when I realized that it was basically a tiny knife. 🙂
We will have to store some things, whether its our artificial Christmas tree, other holiday decorations, or our sleds for the snow in the mountains. We just need to minimize these items and really stop and think if we use them enough for them to take up space in our lives.
Baby Clothing and Items: Uhoh! We’re getting into sentimental territory now! Those baby clothes, baby blankets, and other little items that were associated with your cute little baby’s first few months. The cuter an item is, the harder it is to let go. I get it.
I also know that your kid WILL NOT want boxes and boxes and boxes of their baby junk when they graduate college and get their first house. They just won’t.
I had so many boxes given to me with my baby stuff and it was so much that I had to go through it with my mom to even know what was special and what was just junk. After all was said and done, I maybe kept less than five items. My daughter never really wore my old clothes, played with my old toys, and most of it was so old it was falling apart.
Now I know most of you think I’m an unemotional, terrible monster right about now. 🙂
I don’t keep those items because I don’t want 100s of baby items cluttering my kid’s closets for the next 20+ years. It’s not worth it to me.
So if you are a mom of young children, this is the system that I use. I think I got this idea from Morganize with Me but basically each of my kid’s will leave my house with a tub of treasures from their childhood. One box. I have saved just a few little items from their years as a baby or toddler. I saved a special blanket, one or two outfits that were significant, and a few little other things. Their baby stuff can only take up about 5% of that tub if it’s going to hold their treasures until 18 years old.
So why one tub? Because giving their treasures a container means that you have limits to what you save. I frequently go through each of their tubs and let a few things go that I realized weren’t as special as I thought they were. Keep in mind that this is FOR THEM and to only save what they would actually want to look at 20 years later.
So do I get rid of baby items that were especially made for my kids? Yes. Those items were made to serve a purpose while my baby was still a baby. Once they grow up, I don’t hold on to every sign, toy, and blanket just because someone made it. That’s never a good reason to keep things.
Old Photos: I’m not sure which generation I’m talking to here because there are lots of different answers for this one.
I’m a millennial so I have one drawer filled with photos from my childhood and from current day. I also have a computer JAM PACKED with 1000s of photos.
My mom’s generation (baby boomers) is going to have WAY more photos to deal with because most of their life was not with digital photos. Everything had to be printed so there are way more photos to deal with.
Either way, if you have old photos, put on a favorite movie and just start looking at them. It’s fun to look at everything that has happened in your life and remember. My advice is that when you come across a blurry photo, a random landscape, or a double…let those go. That’s the easy part.
Now start thinking about photos that actually mean something to you and that you want to see again and again. Do you really need those pictures of your ex-boyfriend from college still? Do you need those pictures of your random cousins that you don’t even know very well from Thanksgiving at your Great Aunts house 20 years ago? There are so many pictures that will be easy to let go. I went through mine a few years ago and I bet I got rid of about 80% of my photos because they were just random.
Keep the special ones…don’t let them go. Scan them if you need to so that you have them digitally. There are websites that you can send your photos to and they will scan them for you. It’s ok to keep photos that remind you of an amazing trip or special occasion…you just don’t need 45 pictures of the trip…maybe just keep your favorites.
Sentimental Items: I saved this one for last because honestly these are the items that we have the hardest time going through and letting go of. These sentimental items are different for every single one of us. For someone it might be a doll from their childhood, a trophy from their high school team, or a Christmas ornament from a grandparent that passed away. These items “hold” memories that we cherish and it’s very hard to separate that memory from the inanimate object. It’s ok to keep a few of these things…it’s ok.
The problem is when we hold on to EVERYTHING and associate everything with a memory and before you know it, there are boxes and boxes full of “special items” in your garage that you never even see and they become a burden.
Let me tell you a story about a bowl. I had a voice lessons teacher who I adored. I went to church with her and she really impacted my life in a big way. She died at a young age unexpectedly when I was in college and just a few weeks before she died, she gave me this bowl for my wedding shower. The bowl wasn’t really my style but I LOVED it because it reminded me of her. It sat on my table with fruit in it for years. As time went by, I didn’t really like it as much and I started just storing it in a cabinet. I moved that bowl to three different houses. One day I looked at it and decided that I didn’t want that item anymore and I felt VERY guilty. As soon as I decided to let go of it, I realized that her memories weren’t kept alive because of that piece of pottery. Her memory was alive every time I hear a song that we sang together, or every time I see a red convertible, or every time I get up in front of a crowd to speak. She is very much alive within me and I didn’t need a bowl for that.
So keep a few treasures but if you do, display them in your home. Don’t just store them in the garage. If they aren’t worth being displayed in your home, they probably aren’t worth keeping.
I know that this rule doesn’t apply to everything. I do have one box for me and Dane’s memories and I sometimes go look in it and it makes me happy. My kids each have ONE box for their memories and I want that ONE box to hold everything from birth until college graduation. I go through it every summer to make sure that it only has REALLY special items and not just a bunch of junk.
Remember to only keep sentimental items that really make you happy and that you love…never keep something out of guilt…it’s not worth the storage.
I hope these tips have helped you and please comment below if you have any new tips or advice for my readers!