7 Decluttering Tips: How to Release Your Attachment to Your Stuff

Man with stuff

“To change skins, evolve into new cycles, I feel one has to learn to discard. If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects. They reflect one's mind and the psyche of yesterday. I throw away what has no dynamic, living use.” ~Anais Nin

I’m attempting to fit my life into ten large boxes (and one red suitcase).

As I enter a new phase in my life I’ve decided that now is the time to reduce the stuff that has been sitting in my storage unit while I’ve been house sitting and declutter my world as much as I can. The process has been both satisfying and exhausting.

Satisfying because I’m finally able to get rid of things that I no longer need, from an ironing board to a box of fifty-plus rubber bands. (I’ve no idea when my rubber band hoarding began!)

Exhausting because every item of my belongings requires a decision. Keep or release? Sell or gift? Friends or family?

I found that while some things were easy to be rid of, there were others that I moved from pile to pile, unsure where they should rest.

I knew that I didn’t need them but felt unwilling to let go. This feeling came up the most with clothes, as it turns out I’d attached a lot of meaning to fabric and thread.

Like my pink suit. It’s that rare shade that suited me perfectly. The shape was flattering—a random woman once came up to me in the street to say how great my legs looked. I wore it in a corporate law office where black, accessorised with grey, was the norm. (I never did like to conform!)

That suit reminded me of a time in my life where I lived in an exciting city and felt successful. That beautiful suit also has a stain down the front that dry cleaning won’t remove. It now looks dated, not to mention that I don’t wear suits anymore. Yet I cling onto it.

Part of my reluctance was due to my scarcity mind set. “What if I never find another suit in that colour that makes me feel as good?”

Do you do that when you are trying to let go of your things?

We ask ourselves, “What if I give it away and then need it in a month?”

Even though we haven’t needed it in the past year and, in most cases, we could borrow or buy a new one if we really needed to.

As I decluttered I found that following steps helped me. I think they’ll help you too, whether your aim is to empty your junk drawer, your garage, or your wardrobe.

1. Start with an easy area or the area that annoys or distracts you the most.

Starting with an easy area is great for instant satisfaction and giving you the motivation to continue. Those old shoes that are so scuffed you can’t see the original color? Out. Those shoes that are lovely but don’t fit you? Out. Give them to a friend and make their day.

Tackling an area that annoys or distracts you is a fantastic way to free up energy. The garage that you can longer fit the car in. Start there. The sock drawer that you have to push and shove to close because it’s so full of mismatched socks. Start there.

2. Give yourself a time limit.

Having a time limit will stop you from being sucked into the time vortex that is your closet. Or garage. Or pantry.

Focusing on the time limit that I’d set myself to go through a box meant I was less distracted. If I found myself looking through a photo album when I was meant to be sorting through a box full of things for the kitchen, a quick look at the clock got me back on track.

3. Give yourself a challenge.

This step may only work if you’re a competitive soul like me. I decided to reduce my boxes from sixteen to ten. Why ten? I thought it was achievable and a stretch. Having that set number really helped me with my decision-making, as I knew I had a set amount of space to work with.

4. Only keep what is essential or beautiful.

Imagine having a home that only contained things that were essential or beautiful, or both. That idea fills me with a sense of calm and pleasure.

This step was the best way for me to make a decision on whether to keep something, as having that guiding idea took away the constant questioning. “Should I keep it? It could be handy in the future.” “You can never have too many pairs of black trousers, black socks…”

A friend gave me another helpful tip when decluttering clothes and accessories. Does it make you look or feel like a million dollars?

I love that the bar is set so high. Most of us have far more clothes than we actually need. Having a wardrobe full of things that make you feel like a million dollars is simplistic luxury.

This doesn’t mean that you keep the most expensive things either. I own necklaces that I bought for a few dollars while on holiday that I feel like a million dollars in.

5. Get some help.

Who says that decluttering your world has to be a chore or boring? Invite some good friends over, put some music on, and combine laughter with letting go of what no longer serves you.

6. Give your things a second life.

Have you thought about giving some of your stuff a second life? I had a pile of t-shirts that I no longer wear, some sixteen years old. I’d bought them while on traveling adventures, and they reminded me of those trips.

I decided to get inventive. I sent them to my young nieces and included a set of stories telling them where in the world the T-shirts were from and what I’d been doing there. When my nieces called me, I was thrilled because the youngest said, “Thank you for the T-shirts. I especially loved the stories you told us.”

Is there another life that your possessions can live?

7. Connect with your emotions.

Letting go of possessions can be like letting go of a part of ourselves. When I came across things I knew I wasn’t going to use or wear, but was struggling to release, I deliberately sat down with them and dove into the emotions/memories they raised.

Dig into why you’re hanging onto that item. What does the item represent to you? What memories have you attached to that item?

Connecting to those emotions helped me to know that those memories are always with me and don’t need to be triggered by a thing.

I began to thank those items for helping me to create those memories. That might sound a bit odd, but it really worked. I could then release those things with a smile and a thankful heart.

I love the way I feel when my possessions have been reduced. There are less distractions and I feel so much lighter and more in control of my stuff rather than having it control me. The same can happen for you.

About Andrea Jordan

Andrea wants to live in a world where everyone looks forward to Mondays. Her mission is to help entrepreneurs create a life that truly works for them. With a rare combination of expertise in corporate law and business coaching, together with a degree in accounting, this woman knows her stuff!  A keen photographer and salsa dancer, you can follow her adventures here.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • Learning to let go off possessions and things was how I better learn to surrender to life, Andrea. Once you start letting go of possessions, you start letting go of emotions (as you say). We also learn to let go of memories, of the past, of unhealthy habits, friends who don’t serve us and more, careers that don’t suit us, etc. Getting rid of stuff is the first step to getting closer to our truth. Great insights and post.

  • I am currently working to rid myself of extra possessions, and was surprised at how hard it can be! There are a lot of emotions attached to somethings, like clothes (like you mentioned) and books for me – I am working to part ways with some of these and hope to be living a simpler life very soon!
    You know, another way to give something a new life is by donating it – this is what I hope to do with most of my stuff. I hope that my stuff finds a good new home as I move forward with my life.

  • Pearl

    Marie Kondo says it best “does it give you joy”

  • Cynthia_M_V

    Marie Kondo also suggests that when parting with items that have emotional attachments, thank the item for its service. It makes it easier to let it go after acknowledging the purpose it has fulfilled in your life. I haver personally found this useful in dealing with the items that fall into category #7 in this post.

  • I used to have problems with throwing away even old movie receipts because of the emotional attachment to them. “Wow, it was so many years ago when I saw that movie with so and so. Those were good times.” I realized over time that I was too busy living in the past and that I was failing to live in the present and in the moment. These days, I have a lot easier time throwing away old stuff. One of the criteria I use is whether I have used the item in the past year. If the answer is “no”, then it gets donated.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is the negative energy tends to go with the item and I somehow feel “refreshed.” It’s almost like symbolic gesture of the surrender of resistance, of letting go completely.

  • Hi Vishnu. Thanks for your great reply. I love hearing that letting go of possessions was the first stage for you letting go of so many other things that weren’t serving you 🙂

  • Hi Carrie. I had that same surprise too! It was only on my second decluttering that I was able to really let go of my books. It’s great that you mention donating items – I completely agree. I had two favourite charities that received a lot of gifts from me during my tidy up. I also gave away a lot of items to friends which was lovely to be able to do.

  • Hi Marie. Stuff can creep back into your life so easily – those questions really are the ones that stop you from getting rid of what you don’t need. I found myself asking them a lot while decluttering! I think had to remind myself that I hadn’t need them for the last few years and I could ask buy or borrow things if I needed to.

    It is so freeing isn’t it?! I love only having what I truly need.

  • Yes! It’s absolutely freeing 🙂

  • Hi Pearl. I think that it a great question to ask yourself about your possession and also “is it useful?”.

  • Hi Cynthia. Thanks so much for sharing that advice 🙂

  • Hi ManSpirational. I love that you feel refreshed when you let go of items that are no longer serving you. I know I always feel lighter when I’ve released something I no longer need.

  • Hi Lotus Happiness. That is a great point that you raise about cleaning up our email accounts and other digital clutter. I think that clearing away anything that drains our energy (e.g. I’ve got 3428 emails to read – when am I ever going to get the time!) is a good use of our time.

  • WendycEscobar12

    I currently make about 6.000-8.000 bucks monthly for freelancing at home. For anyone willing to complete basic online work for 2h-5h a day from your house and get good payment while doing it… This is a gig for you… SELF90.COM

  • lauren456454645

    I basically profit around $6,000-$8,000 a month online. So if you are ready to do easy at home jobs for several h /day from your house and get valuable profit while doing it… Then this job is for you… ULINKS.NET/45fc0


  • Sabina1016

    I am most definitely stuck. I simply cannot part with anything that belonged to my mother. She passed 19 years ago and I just cannot let go of her things. It is just too hard so I hang onto to them year after year. But I think hanging on is just as hard also.

  • Hi Sabina. I can understand what it is like to lose a parent – my father died 30 years ago.

    Are her things items that you love? In which case, why try to get rid of them? If they are simply “things”, then are you holding onto them as a way of keeping her in your life? She’ll always be there you know, you only need to think of her.

    Could you start with giving away a small item to see how you feel?

  • Sabina1016

    Thank you for your thoughtful response Andrea; I did recently give a few things of my mothers to my 3 nieces who were very grateful. This made all of us feel good so it was a win-win all the way around!

  • My pleasure Sabina. It sounds like you have made some big progress in letting go of your mother’s belongings. Good on you 🙂 What is next?