How to let go of the sentimental clutter weighing you down

Stop letting false attachments to things you don't even like keep holding you back. You've got so much potential in you, lady! Clear out the clutter so you can see your path! Click to read more!

For a lot of people in my generation, our grandparents grew up during the Great Depression.

Folks in those years learned to get by on very little by saving and reusing pretty much everything. That's a beautiful way of thinking, but sometimes we, in our society of abundance, take it a little too far.

We end up keeping things "just in case" even though they're readily available everywhere, and even if they weren't, we aren't likely to ever need them.

A huge contributor to clutter in our lives of surplus today? Keeping things we don't need, just in case we might need them later. It isn't easy to break this habit. Read on and I'll show you some of the best ways to free yourself from hoarding "just in case."

Lipsticks are my thing. I'll just go ahead and admit that: I love lipstick. But I'm a minimalist at heart, and I hate having stuff around that I don't actually need.

Yet for some reason, I have consistently maintained an overabundance of lipsticks, lip glosses, and lip stains that I don't need, don't wear, and don't even like. What gives?

That damnable "just in case" mentality.

It's a struggle for almost everyone, even those of us who actively choose to live with only what we need and love. For me, my Granny, who was born in 1935, was a "just in case" hoarder and her house was crammed full of things she saved just in case. I don't think it was a conscious choice for her, but she'd grown up in absolute poverty, and it was hard for her to let go of things. She never knew if she'd need those things again.

But we don't live in Great Depression. It's a beautiful thing to reduce, reuse, and recycle like folks then did, but it's not a beautiful thing to keep crap just in case.

Some examples of crap Granny saved:

  • Boxes and cans of food she didn't like/eat
  • Clothes, clothes, clothes
  • Art supplies (though she was not into DIY or crafts)
  • Plates, glasses, kitchen utensils in doubles and triplicate
  • Art that she never intended to hang

The examples for me, and maybe even for you, are beauty related. Let's go back to those lipsticks: I absolutely hate wearing lipgloss. I hate the feeling, the stickiness, the way it makes the skin on my lips peel. I hate the shininess. I hate, basically, everything about lipgloss.

And yet for some reason, not too far back, I had dozens of them. Why? That bedeviled Just in Case Mentality, of course.

So the question is, how do we beat it? How do we overcome this part of our human nature to hoard everything?

How to Escape Just in Case Mentality

Be honest about whether you really have a place for it.

If you're holding onto something that you just can't find a place for in your home, then that should be a sign for you: If there's no natural place for it in your home, then there's probably no natural place for it in your life.

All the things that get pushed from kitchen counter to bedroom dresser to office desk are getting shuffled for a reason: you don't know what to do with them.

Ask yourself: are you really using these items, or are you just moving them around?

If you're not using them, acknowledge that. Once you've acknowledged it, it's a lot easier to stop the endless shuffling and finally let them go. Especially when those things don't have a home in your home.

Make one last physical connection.

Sometimes, what keeps us from letting go of something is that we can't make a decision on it. We aren't sure if we want it, but we aren't ready to let it go. Here's something that has helped me finally let go of everything from those devilish lip glosses to jewelry my grandmother owned (but didn't particular even like herself).

Hold it. Try it on. Smell it. Do whatever you need to do to try to establish an emotional or rational connection to that object through giving it a physical connection with your body. Often, you'll find that when you're really focusing on this item, you aren't able to actually feel anything for it sentimentally, or what you feel isn't what you expected to feel when you were just looking at it.

I kept some makeup just in case for a long time because I thought I might need those colors one day. When I actually took an afternoon to try it on, I found that I hated how the colors looked on my skin, and I knew then that I would never wear that makeup. It was much easier to let go of after that.

I used to think I should keep the extras just in case, you know, for parties or fancy events. But the thing is, I don't wear the lipsticks I tossed regularly because I don't like wearing them. Why would I wear them on an extra special day? Why wouldn't I wear the lipsticks I look the best in and feel the best in?

Hide it from yourself for 30 days.

When we think about items we own but aren't sure if we really want, our immediate thought is "Of course I need to keep this (just in case)." But when we forget those items exist, we very rarely ever miss them or want them back.

The surest fire way for me to get all sentimental about my baby dolls or My Little Pony collection (yes, unfortunately, I still haven't let go of the latter) is to open a box and find them there. Suddenly, I'm all about those Ponies. But when I pack them away for a year, I don't think about them even once. And do you think I'm ever going to get a wild hair, pull out those Ponies, and play "Pony Town" like I did when I was 10? Not a chance.

You aren't going to get a wild hair to play Pony Town, either. Nor are you going to not be able to sleep without your ratty childhood blanky, nor are you going to break down without your plastic graduation gown and that cheap-ass mortar board. Just let go!

And if you need a little time to convince yourself of this fact, then pack it all away for a month and hide it in a closet. If you haven't wanted or needed anything in that box for the whole month, or if you can't even remember what was in there, then send it straight to Goodwill (assuming everything in the box is Goodwill-able). Don't look back.

Imagine your life without it.

Are you miserable? No? Great! Let it go!

Let someone else enjoy it so you don't feel like it's going unwanted.

Part of my struggle was not wanting to throw away a lipstick because I didn't want to needlessly add to landfill waste. I thought, I've already got it, and I can't take it back, so I might as well keep it so I don't hurt the earth.

There's a good chance you can sell it! You might be surprised by what will sell on Ebay. I've sold everything from J Crew shirts to my old sorority pin to half-used perfume. Other places you can try to sell your gently used things are Etsy (vintage items), Craigslist (furniture, clothes, beauty products, just about anything), local Facebook trade/swap groups, yard sales, consignment shops, and online thrift stores — my favorite being ThredUp (affiliate link).

Maybe you can't sell it, or it would be too much trouble for you to bother trying. In that case, you can overcome your need to keep something just in case by donating it to someone who really needs it. Often, just knowing that your things are going to a good home is enough to let go of the need to keep that thing.

Now, Goodwill is not your trashcan, so don't just put all your crap in a bag for them and expect them to take care of it. But if you do have some things that other people might want, consider donating it. It might help you overcome the need to keep it "just in case."

Got something whacky, like makeup, art supplies, or clothes so damaged they aren't appropriate for a thrift store? There are often donation programs even for them.

  • The Council for Textile Recycling can help you with offloading textiles that aren't fit to use anymore. Not to get too deep here, but there's no need to trash your period panties.  The fibers can be sterilized and reused!
  • As for makeup, your local women's shelter would probably love to get your beauty samples and gently used/unwanted makeup. Here are some guidelines on what you can donate and how to do it.
  • Electronics recycling is usually available in most cities, so definitely drop off your unwanted electronics there instead of trashing them. Don't put electronics in landfills! They often have dangerous chemicals inside that do terrible shit to the soil!
  • Freecycle groups are available in most cities and allow you to post things to the group that you are offering for free. I've given away everything from space heaters to extra tomato sproutings on Freecycle.

If you aren't sure what to do with your unwanted item, try a quick Google search to see if anyone is taking those things for recycling or charity.

Take a picture of it first.

If you're anything like me, you're a total badass 95% of the time  until you come across some plastic cauliflower thing that your mom saved change for you in when you were 5 and you go all gooey inside. And then when you're 29, you accidentally break that stupid cauliflower, and you send your mom a text with the picture and she laughs it off saying "Had a good run!" like it's not even important.

Ugh, moms. They just don't get sentimental value sometimes.

Sentimental things are lovely, but be careful that you aren't just saving every little thing from your childhood or that your grandparents owned or that your favorite musician wore in that one music video. A lot of times, we don't care about having the actual thing we're attached to, we just care about the memories associated with it.

Pictures can fill that void just as well as the object itself most of the time, and they take up far less space. When you're feeling particularly sentimental about something you don't need and love for itself (not for what it represents), then take a picture of it, acknowledge how it makes you feel, and say goodbye.

Let that thing become part of someone else's good memories. You've had it long enough.

Determine if you can borrow it or re-buy it for less than $20.

Here's my once-and-for-all determinant when I'm struggling with letting go of something I neither need nor love.

If I haven't used something in a while but hesitate to let it go, I ask myself these two questions:

If I needed this again,

  1. Could I borrow it from someone or rent it from somewhere?
  2. Could I replace it for $20 or less?

If I can answer yes to either one of those questions, the item goes. Not because I like spending money all the time (I'm annoyingly frugal), but because the likelihood of me ever having to actually rent something or buy something is so super low.

Most of the time, I never think about that item again. I've only had to re-buy something once, and I got a better-working version the second time anyway.

And if for nothing else, remember that you have a passion that you want to create.

And all this Just In Case thinking holds you back from working on that passion project. Life is short, and you've only got so long to focus on what REALLY matters.

Is it the ugly vase your aunt gave you at your wedding?

Or is it the freedom to travel the world... publishing that book... having your own business... starring in a movie...?

Whatever your passion, don't let sentimental clutter hold you back.

And if you feel like you need a little help getting started...

Check out my free email course, the 7 Day Refresh. It'll help you get started making serious changes in just one week!

What really matters to you? What do you need to let go of to have it?