Inside: Learn what underlying emotion is preventing your decluttering progress so that you can move past it to simplify your home and life.
Do you desperately want to declutter your space – but just can’t seem to make it happen?
You aren’t alone.
There are all kinds of things that might be preventing your decluttering progress. For some, it’s finding the time to make it happen. For others? It’s indecision and simply not knowing where to start.
But for many?
The thought of parting with so many possessions can be downright scary. What if you regret your decisions?
What if you’re afraid of change and the way your home might feel after you’re done?
Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, there are a variety of ways that fear can play a role in the decluttering process.
Even when you know that decluttering is for the best, overcoming that fear can be a big obstacle standing in your way.
If you’re wondering how fear might be preventing you from making progress with decluttering, I’ve got you covered. Keep reading to get a little insight into how fear might be a bigger barrier than you think to achieving your decluttering goals – and how to push past those fears.
Why do I need to overcome my fear of decluttering?
While the idea of decluttering your space might be a scary one, it’s an important step to take toward your well-being. Believe it or not, clutter negatively impacts your life and your health in various ways.
From a physical standpoint, living with clutter often means living with more dust than you’d like. Clutter can pile up, untouched, for months or years. All of that dust it accumulates can contribute to breathing problems, aggravate allergies, and more.
Not only that, but clutter can take a tremendous toll on your mental state – even if you don’t realize it. Living in a cluttered space creates feelings of stress and anxiety that you might experience consciously or subconsciously.
Clutter makes it more difficult to focus, stifles our ability to be creative, and reduces our productivity.
Clutter can even have an impact on your relationships. If your space is filled with clutter, you might hesitate to invite friends or family over to hang out. Or it may cause tension with the people in your household.
How Is Your Fear Preventing Your Decluttering Progress?
Not sure if fear is holding you back when it comes to decluttering? Here are the most common ways fear can impact your ability to declutter your space. See if one – or more – of these resonates with you.
1. Your fear of regret is preventing you from decluttering.
You want to declutter – but you can’t stand the thought of getting rid of something you might regret later.
This is a big fear that many people have to overcome before they can declutter, and it’s easy to understand why. The process involves getting rid of stuff you’ve had for a while – sometimes for a number of years.
What if you need that thing once you get rid of it? Or what if you find yourself really missing it?
To overcome this fear, try approaching the situation with logic. Come up with a few examples or scenarios where you might regret getting rid of something you’ve decluttered.
In many cases, something else could be used instead or could be borrowed or replaced if absolutely necessary (it rarely is).
While there may still be a chance that you could potentially temporarily regret getting rid of something, that situation is often overstated. It doesn’t happen too often and the benefits of having a decluttered space outweigh this small percentage chance.
Don’t buy the lie that you have to continue to hold on to too much stuff because you’re afraid you may regret something.
Make informed decisions and be thoughtful. The likelihood that you’re going to suddenly want an item you haven’t used or needed in years is very small.
Give yourself the freedom to let it go.
2. Your fear of wasting money is keeping you from decluttering.
Another reason for holding onto clutter is because we don’t want to waste money.
All that stuff we’re getting rid of? We bought it with our hard-earned money.
Sure, some of your clutter might be gifts or family heirlooms – but chances are, most of that clutter ended up there because you bought it, took it home, and never got rid of it.
The thought of wasting money can be a bit frightening – especially if you’re on a tight budget, or you grew up in an environment of scarcity.
But clinging to your clutter like a security blanket is no way to live. In fact, it’s impacting your ability to live to your life to the fullest more than you realize.
If finances are tight, consider ways that you can make money while decluttering. Garage sales, online marketplaces, and consignment stores are all great ways to earn a little cash in exchange for your stuff.
It’s common for people to overvalue what their things are worth. It’s helpful to do a bit of research to see what similar items have sold for when you’re pricing.
Setting a deadline to get it out of your house is also helpful so that you don’t let those items to endlessly take up your time and your space.
As for the stuff that can’t be sold? Consider donating it – and reflect on the positive impact you’re making for someone in need.
That stuff you aren’t actually using could make a massive difference for a family who truly needs it. Using your local Buy Nothing group is a great way to give directly to someone who could use it.
3. Your fear of change is holding you back from decluttering.
Change can be scary. And that fear of change might be preventing you from decluttering.
When you’ve been living with your clutter for months, if not years, the thought of getting rid of it all and leaving yourself with a blank slate can be a little intimidating.
What will you do with all of that space? What will you do if you get rid of something you actually wanted to keep? And what will you do if you…
You can go on forever, working yourself up over nerve-wracking scenarios. It’s a pretty successful way to talk yourself out of the whole process of decluttering.
When you continue to keep items for someday when x, y, or z it prevents you from fully embracing your life now.
To overcome your fear of change, consider a journaling exercise. Write down all of the ways that decluttering might be scary, or create problems – and then come up with an easy, actionable solution for each of those fears.
By addressing each situation and giving yourself the comfort of a contingency plan, you’ll see that there really isn’t anything to be afraid of.
If your fear of change is related to having a hard time letting go of the past, know that you can keep the memories without having to hold onto all of the stuff.
Not all change is bad and learning to love your life now is a change to welcome and enjoy.
4. Your fear of failure is preventing you from decluttering.
The thought of dealing with all of your clutter might be a little overwhelming – or a lot overwhelming, depending on where you’re at.
That’s completely normal.
Many of us exist with our clutter for so long because we’re afraid we won’t be successful when it comes to getting rid of it all.
And when we fail, that’s it. We’re going to be stuck with our stuff forever, unable to move forward.
That fear of failure is a huge barrier for so many people when it comes to decluttering. After all, you can’t fail when you don’t try.
But that’s not a good excuse.
We can do scary things. We can push ourselves out of our comfort zones and take on tasks that might be challenging – like decluttering.
To overcome your fear of failure, a good strategy is to break your decluttering mission down into small, actionable tasks.
Instead of telling yourself you’ll declutter your whole bathroom this weekend, start with one drawer.
Instead of trying to declutter that entire closet filled with stuff, take it one shelf at a time.
By giving yourself easier decluttering tasks where you can achieve some quick wins, you’ll overcome your fear and give yourself the motivation you need to continue.
5. Your fear of others’ opinions is making your life cluttered.
Another way that fear can create clutter in your life is by being overly concerned about what other people think.
Maybe you’ve tried to have conversations with family members about not buying your kids so much stuff, but they either ignored you, or worse, insulted you in the process.
Or perhaps you personally received gifts that you didn’t love or use but you worried about hurting someone’s feelings if you let it go.
Maybe the person’s opinion your concerned about is your own because your identity has been tied to a fantasy version of yourself.
Or possibly you’ve been the person who is expected to be the family historian so various items get left with you when people pass and you’re afraid to let any of them go.
In any of these scenarios, the fear of the opinions and potential judgements of others are keeping you from living in freedom. It’s only when you’re able to acknowledge these situations for what they are and let go of the need to try and please everyone (because spoiler alert, you can’t) that you can unburden yourself from the things that no longer serve you.
The stuff that you keep is often not about the stuff itself, but rather what it represents to you. Once you can untangle all of the thoughts and emotions around it, you can free yourself from it and move forward without being constantly weighed down.
6. Your fear of missing out or going without is keeping your house cluttered.
And a final way that fears plays a role in keeping your house cluttered is by worrying that you might miss out.
This fear shows up in the form of sales you feel like you can’t miss or the new latest and greatest gadget you think you have to have.
Decluttering is not a one-and-done process. It’s about changing your habits and making lifestyle changes to stop the cycle of clutter from continuing.
In order to maintain your progress, acknowledge FOMO when it happens and choose to not react to it.
For people who grew up going without, that fear of that happening again is a very real thing. It can be more of a challenge to let go when you know what it’s like to not have money to buy more or replace things.
With the supply chain disruptions that we experienced the past few years as well as the inflation, we are currently experiencing, for some missing out looks like prepping for the next Great Depression.
While it’s good to be aware of what’s happening in the economy and in the world and prepare for a potential recession, that doesn’t have to mean holding onto clutter that you have very little likelihood of ever needing under any scenario.
Instead of worrying about missing out on some potential scenario, be more concerned with how you’re living now.
If you’re feeling burdened by your stuff, it’s worth taking the time to identify the fear preventing your decluttering progress. Once you do that you can work through them and begin the process of decluttering your home and simplifying your life.
The benefits of living more simply are worth the effort it takes to get you there.
How is fear preventing your decluttering progress? Leave a comment and let me know!
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My local buy nothing group is “at capacity” and not accepting new members. Thought?
Well that’s interesting. I haven’t heard of that happening. It must mean they need more admins so they can break off into even more hyper local groups. Mine started out covering a bigger area, but over time has gotten even closer to home as they broke into additional groups. You could try messaging the admin of the group to see what the situation is. Another option is looking for another community Facebook group not associated with BN where you could give things away.
Thank you so much, Julianna. This is a seminal article in the field. Congratulations!
You are such an exquisite author with a beautiful, well planned, well written website.
This article will hit home with every person interested in beginning or continuing to walk the road of living more simply in a serene, easy to view and easy to manage environment.
When I read this I am reminded that some consider the opposite of love as fear. Lately when I have been trying to decide whether or not to purchase something I as the question “do I love this?”. It has actually stopped me from purchasing things.
On the decluttering note, “do I love this?” can also be helpful. But really stood out to me is being in touch with my feelings as I try to declutter. Whenever fear becomes part of the process, I will go to this article. For me, the overwhelming part definitely gets in the way. Breaking it down to a shelf at a time, for instance, is very helpful. Thank you for this!
Suggestion for Nancy, above–try the nearby Buy Nothing groups in your area. I belong to one that is next to my own neighborhood. Another idea is the Trash Nothing groups online. Facebook has the Marketplace also. I use all of them.
I don’t think my emotion was mentioned so I’ll share. The emotion I have is “overwhelm.” So, maybe that is a fear of not finishing the project? Thank you for your articles! They help.
Yes, Kelly. In most cases I think that would tie into a fear of failure. I’m so glad the posts are helpful for you!
As I declutter there are lots of empty spaces and it reminds me of an empty life which is a negative way of looking at this, but it also holds me back.