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It's OK to Feel Sad About Getting Rid of Stuff

reasons to downsize

Simplifying your life and decluttering your belongings is not easy, and most people struggle to part with things even when they no longer serve them. A lot of the advice out there on organizing makes it sound so simple: just make piles of the things you want to keep, toss, and donate, and start sorting! But there is much more to it, especially when it comes to items that you are emotionally attached to. Stuff is just stuff, but it also represents specific times in your life. You might be holding on to equipment for sports you used to play, supplies for a hobby you used to enjoy, or clothes for a job you used to have. The simple fact that you no longer use them is a reminder that your life has changed, and change is hard to accept.

We tend to associate grief with the death of a person, but it’s a normal emotional reaction to any type of loss. You can feel grief over the end of a relationship, moving to a new home, children leaving for college, retirement from a job, or any other transition in life. Feeling mixed emotions about a big change is to be expected. So how do you process these feelings and allow yourself to part with the stuff that is no longer needed in your new phase of life?

It’s important to let yourself feel the feelings. You may cycle through emotions such as sadness, anger, disbelief, and fear, among others. Experts agree that grief is not a linear process, and there is not a point when you have “gotten over it”. Over time the feelings become less acute and easier to manage. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be brave or to work through your grief according to a specific time frame. Seek out support from friends and family members or a counselor. There is no shame in admitting you need help.

Although I am not a mental health expert I see my organizing clients struggle with these issues all the time. I had a recent appointment helping a mom clear out baby clothes since her youngest daughter is now three, and her pain was acute. It may help to know that you’re not alone in these struggles, and having someone help with the process of sorting through your belongings can make it easier. My online course Too Much STUFF! also addresses these issues, and my co-teacher Nicole Christina provides insights from her 30 years experience as a psychotherapist. You can find more information about the course here.

If you found these tips helpful be sure to subscribe to the Pretty Neat weekly email! You'll get a short and sweet message each week with my best advice for a more beautiful and functional home. Click here to sign up, and you'll also receive my FREE guide: How to Get Rid of Stuff!

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