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Decluttering is an emotionally and physically demanding process. Here’s how to be gentle with yourself and take care of your heart on the journey, avoiding burnout and regret!
In my work as a professional organizer, I’ve sat beside many people who felt overwhelmed by the decluttering process. There have been times when I, myself have also felt the burden of clutter and not knowing how to move forward. Those feelings are normal, but they can also lead to being stuck.
Your heart is probably pretty connected to your stuff. Whether it’s memories, childhood memorabilia, gifts, things you’re saving for future generations or boxes of things you once enjoyed… Your stuff tells your story. And if you don’t acknowledge that, your heart is going to tell your head to stop!
You’ll end up feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated and emotional. Yes, it’s part of the process, but it’s also the place where most people simply give up and say “forget it, the stuff stays”.
There is a better way to approach decluttering!
Here’s how to listen to your heart and take care of your soul while you declutter your house in order to reduce those feelings of anxiety and burnout.
Set Clear Boundaries Before You Start Decluttering
First up, before you even touch the pile of stuff, set your boundaries. Write it down in a notebook or on a sheet of paper.
- I am decluttering (define the area) _______
- One thing that’s working in this area now is _______
- One thing that’s NOT working in this area now is _______
- I desire for this space to be ________
- I commit to decluttering this space (specify time frame) _________
Let’s look at an example:
- I’m decluttering my office desk.
- One thing that’s working in this area now is that I always have pens in my drawer when I need them.
- One thing that’s not working in this area is that my desktop is always cluttered with stuff and I can’t focus.
- I desire for this space to be clear and organized so I can focus and find my office supplies when needed.
- I commit to decluttering this space for 30 minutes a day for three days.
Be as specific as you can when you identify the problems, things you want and when you’re going to work on it! This is the outline for your boundary. Now you know exactly what bothers you about the space, what you like about it, and what you want it to be. Your heart has spoken up and your head has helped prepare a structure.
You’re ready to begin!
Eliminate Distractions and Conserve Energy
The best kind of decluttering is typically focused decluttering. That means as few distractions as possible while you work. I know it’s not always possible, but if you have kids pulling at your feet and swimming in your piles, your stress levels will rise and your ability to think rationally will diminish.
If at all possible, work when children are asleep (nights and early mornings), napping mid-day, out of the house or entertained by a spouse, sibling, family member, friend or babysitter, or otherwise engaged in an activity. Putting all your focus into your decluttering task will help you make the most of your energy.
Depending on what your decluttering task is, you may want to work in short bursts of time (15-30 minutes), or longer chunks of time (1-3 hours). Typically, when working on your own, shorter is better to reduce burnout, but you may be able to handle longer stretches as you build up your decluttering muscles.
Stick to your current space and don’t get sidetracked with other spaces nearby (or not so nearby…). It may be helpful to use a decluttering challenge to help you stay on task.
Check in with Your Heart During the Process
When you find yourself struggling with analysis paralysis, take a deep breath and sit back for a minute. Stay in tune with your heart and your reasons for living with less. Maybe you want to be a minimalist, or maybe you don’t. Perhaps you just want a cleaner, more organized home. Fantastic!
- Ask yourself why you are decluttering — why you want less stuff in your house
- Why are the items in your home, in your home? Where did they come from?
- Why should you keep, or get rid of these items?
Think about your answers and consider journaling and reflecting on them. As you declutter, you develop awareness about the stuff around you and taking the time to reflect will keep you from getting rid of the wrong things and help you stay focused on your goals.
Simply put, most decluttering projects (especially larger scale ones) have a “messy middle”. This is where the clutter looks worse than when you started and you’re tired, frustrated and want it all to just go away.
This is often the place when people quit because they are physically and emotionally drained.
Do. Not. Quit!!
Instead, take a break. If you can, close the door behind you on the project. Shove it back in a box if you need to. Set it aside.
But tell yourself that you WILL come back and finish it–just not right now.
Take a break and get outside. Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the dirt or grass. I know it sounds funny, but getting your feet (and hands) into the earth is very grounding and centering for the physical and emotional body!
Go do some fun things with your family and let your mind drift from your project. Think of it sort of like a detox–you’ve absorbed all these thoughts and emotions, and now you have to let them exit your system before you can take in any more!
The break can be for a few minutes, hours, days or perhaps even weeks, depending on how much breathing room you need to create. Sentimental items often take a good deal of time to process and make decisions. That’s totally okay. Allow yourself room to think, grieve, pray, meditate, and then make a decision to keep or let go.
There are some circumstances when it’s easier to just push through a demanding decluttering session, but when you’re getting started on your own, you may end up feeling rushed and desperate. You’ll enjoy the journey more if you can appreciate each step of progress you make and the benefits you find!
Create a Self-Care Haven
Design a small space in your home that is serene, simple and dedicated to self-care. Whether it’s a basket, your nightstand or a bookshelf corner, carefully place a book or two that you would like to read, a notebook or journal, pen, and a soothing scent, like Lavender or Orange essential oil.
Let this space be your haven where you can relax your mind and focus on what’s most important. After each decluttering session, let yourself unwind by getting some fresh air or engaging with your self-care kit.
Get the Stuff Out
You might be wondering what this has to do with soul care, but trust me, getting the decluttered stuff OUT of the house is HUGE.
Why? Because seeing piles of stuff in various places in your home will always stress you out, even if you know they are leaving eventually.
If you are able to put boxes into a garage or other area out of the way, this may work okay for you, but beware of keeping bins boxes or piles of things around your home.
I recently experienced this when I began collecting piles of books to sell to a local used book store. Unfortunately, the bookstore was going out of business, so these piles sat under my dining room table for 5 months. Yikes! I was finally so stressed out by them that I decided to donate them to the local library.
The stress relief from simply getting them out of the house is huge! Don’t make my mistakes–get rid of the boxes as soon as possible!
Final Thoughts on Taking Care of Your Soul While Decluttering
Your heart and soul are the center of your home and decluttering goals. Ignoring them doesn’t lead to anything good! Lean into self-care and reflection while you sort through your stuff and you’ll feel more connected to the process, inspired by the journey and motivated to make it through!
Related Articles on Decluttering
- The Complete Guide to Decluttering Your House When You Don’t Know Where to Start
- A Year of Organizational Maintenance || Decluttering Through the Seasons
- Why Keeping Stuff for Someday is a Trap
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