Home Columns & Viewpoints

Getting Rid of the Guilt, De-cluttering Your Space

Guilt. It is a very complex emotion, especially when it comes to organizing and de-cluttering your home or work space.

A good friend gave you a ceramic zebra for your birthday, but it is hideous to look at.  You really like the person so you don’t want to give it away.  So there it sits in the corner of your bedroom.  Then there is the ugly neon tie your mother gave you for Christmas. Maybe if it were 1985 you would attempt to wear it, but…well…it’s not. So there it sits taking up space in your closet.

So why don’t you throw it away?

Guilt keeps us from making clear, conscious decisions. Both men and women equally tend to hold onto things because it represents a part of their lives or their family and friends. Many of these items are of no use to them and don’t even like them.  All it does is take up space and negative emotional energy. 

You may feel ‘the guilts’ keeping it and ‘the guilts’ giving it away.  It is a double-edged sword. You want someone to honor it even if you don’t keep it. It is easier to get rid of something if we know it will be respected by another person.

The best thing to do is keep it in perspective. Ask yourself the following:

  • Have I honored it in the time I have had it?
  • Do I have other items that are equally sentimental from that person?
  • If you keep the objects, will they live in your home where they will be respected?
  • Does it create the vision I have for this space?

One way to test the sentimentality of an item is to put it in a storage container (not see-through!) and tape it up.  Keep it in the attic or basement for 6 months.  If you haven’t gone back to the container for anything, then toss or donate the items. You might be surprised that is wasn’t as sentimental to you after all.

Here is something you should always remember when clearing out your home or office:

You are not giving up the person or the memory; you are giving up the object.

Nothing can replace how you feel about that person. Keep only your favorite pieces and donate the rest. Once you see the big picture, it won’t be as difficult to make the decisions and the guilt will subside.

Do any of you have a case of ‘the guilts’ de-cluttering your space?  Would love to hear your story!

Nina Jacobs is a professional organizer for residential and small businesses and the Owner of Ship Shape. She serves on the board for the Richmond Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) as the Professional Development Director.