Why is decluttering so hard?


Let’s be honest. Getting rid of stuff is hard work. It’s exhausting, and not just physically. I remember the early years of trying to get my clutter under control. After a day of sorting and decision making about what to throw and what to donate, and where to store the things I wanted to keep, I was absolutely smashed. Totally spent.

Apart from the decision fatigue associated with spending a whole day in decision-making mode, there was emotional and even spiritual exhaustion caused by letting go of things I had accumulated.

Through my own decluttering and simplifying journey and talking to numerous other women who are struggling with similar emotions, I’ve discovered three big reasons why decluttering is so hard. 

The mindset you need for successful decluttering of your home and you life.

1.    Guilt

The buyer guilt is real! I berate myself for spending hard-earned cash on clothes I only wore a few times, craft supplies for a project I never finished, uneaten food in the pantry for a recipe I wanted to try. I have great intentions. I have an idea, a great idea, and then, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out. Those jeans just aren’t comfortable, life gets in the way, and the items accumulate quietly in the dark corners of our home.


The cure for guilt is forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves and learn to move on. Draw a line in the sand and step forward. It’s time to let go of the evidence of our good intentions and make room for the future.

Yes, we need to learn from our mistakes. We can use the memories of our regret to curb our future spending. That’s important. And the first step in learning this lesson is acknowledging the mistakes of the past, getting them out in the light, and dealing with them.

When we confront the guilt of past regrettable purchases and forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, we can deal with it and move forward. Forgive yourself for buying the jeans, donate them to a good cause, or sell them for the going rate, and move forward.

2.    Fear

Fear is a powerful motivator, and fear can make the decluttering process difficult. It's hard to let go of our unused and unwanted possessions when we are motivated by fear. Fear keeps us trapped, stuck in the past. Fear holds us back from our best future.

What if I need this one day? What if I lose my job and I can’t afford to buy more? What if I put the weight back on? What if this becomes a valuable antique? What if the kids need to move back home? What if…? 

Burn the ships

Legend tells the story of Hernan Cortes who set sail to Mexico in 1519. When they arrived, the men tired and afraid, Cortes ordered the ships to be burned. Going home was no longer an option. The men had to move forward, fight for victory, and complete their mission. You can read more about the story here.

When there is no going back, victory becomes the only tenable choice, so you fight to win.

While this is an overly dramatic illustration, decluttering can be a bit like burning the ships of our past life. Moving forward becomes the best choice. If you long for a simple life, a capsule wardrobe, a guest room free of clutter, let go of the things that are standing in your way. Donate the clothes that no longer fit, the toys that don’t get played with, the dishes that never get used. Burn the ships that give you the option to retreat.

3.    Identity

We bought a new car seven years ago. It was a beautiful car (still is). I’ll never forget the comment a family friend made when they saw our car for the first time. “People like you should drive cars like this.” I was mortified. I wanted to take the car back to the dealer. The idea that people thought I would be somehow more important because of a luxury car made me sick in the stomach. But this is the culture we live in.

We tie our self-worth to our possessions. The things we own are the trophies of our productivity and achievements. Our things tell us who we are. They are the status symbols of our culture.

I am not defined by the things I own. I am who I am, not what I have. The people who think I’m a more important person because of the car that I drive, the size of my TV or the brand of my clothes don't know me. But it’s hard to break out of this mindset.

I read a Facebook post of a friend who’s mother gave her a gift card to a clothing store because she wore the same clothes all the time. Her mother assumed she was financially stretched. She wasn’t, but it’s interesting what people assume when we begin to live differently to the norm.


I remember having to learn to ask the question, “What do you want?” in this post, My monumental minimalism failure. Instead of looking at what everyone else was doing, instead of thinking about expectations and appearances, I am learning to listen to my authentic voice.

What do you want?

When it comes to decluttering, this is a really important question. When we begin to let go of the extra bits and pieces in our lives our true identity has room to shine through, and this is a delight to see. I have several friends who have embraced their true identity wholeheartedly, and I love spending time with them. They have forged their own path, embraced their passions and calling, and live generous and meaningful lives. They inspire me! They look a little different to everyone else, and that’s what I love about them.

When we forgive ourselves for our past, burn the ships that give us the option of going back and embrace our true authentic selves, the decluttering process becomes easier. The biggest challenge of decluttering is our mindset; the way we think about the things we own and no longer use or love. Changing the way we think, and embracing healthier attitudes to our lives and our possessions frees us to make wise choices and change our lives for the better.

Happy decluttering,

P.S. Looking for some practical tips to get started? You can make a big difference in just 10 minutes a day with High Impact Decluttering, or have a go at the Ultimate Digital Declutter.