As I mentioned in Part One of this series, when we talk about clutter, we are often talking about very different things. Each type of clutter is fueled by different thoughts, impulses, and habits. Each type affects us somewhat differently when it’s rampant in our home. And each type of clutter requires different processes for letting go of, organizing, or relocating the belongings. These are the primary types of clutter:
In this essay, we will discuss the second type of clutter, The Unloved Ones. These are the belongings that you or someone close to you once loved or used and needed, but now the items take up space—possibly in many areas of your home (or even in storage facilities). These may be sentimental items that you find it challenging to part with, whether they belonged to you, one of your children, or a friend or relative who has passed. Even if these items are stored away in boxes or bins, you may struggle with the thought of letting them go because of the memories connected to them. Your unloved items may also include practical items, which can be easier emotionally to part with but which present their own stumbling blocks.
For some of you, your personal sentimental items feel like part of you. They represent some part of your life experience or something you created, and the thought of parting ways evokes a sensation of losing a piece of yourself. These items represent who you were or how your life seemed to have meaning during a particular time period. You have a story about these belongings; humans have an amazing ability to imbue inanimate objects with meaning, emotions, and energy. Yet you also know that they are taking up space and may be agitating to others in your household. You really don’t need them or use them.
What will make a difference for you in parting with these sentimental items? You could do an adult version of Show and Tell: Sit with a close friend and share about these items and that time period in your life, and then place all or some of them in a box to be donated or given to others. You can talk about what you are proud of, what you wished you had done differently, and how this time or the object shaped who you are today. Maybe you would prefer to write about these items and how they relate to your life story. Remember that the items are not the story. You can hold the story close to your heart, and you can weave it into the narrative of your life. You can let go of the items, or most of them, and hold onto the memories.
You may have similar feelings about sentimental items that belonged to your children when they were younger. With these items, too, you have a story about their love for these items and the life your family lived at the time. You might be saving them for your children or perhaps even your grandchildren, or you may be keeping the items because it’s hard to let go of these pieces of who your children were. Again, you can take photos, tell the stories, and keep the memories, but you can also let many of these belongings go. Remember that you are freeing your space and life for future possibilities and fresh experiences, including with your children.
Additionally, you can check with your adult children about whether they may want any of their childhood items. You may find that they have little attachment to items from their past and might even be surprised you still have them. On the other hand, they may want these belongings; if that is the case, invite them to remove them. You most certainly can hold on to your favorites that your children do not want. Place them in a treasure box, a scrapbook, or another beloved container.
Some of you have inherited items from now-deceased loved ones, which can be a wrenching subset of items that aren’t used or needed. We often hold onto these items as a way to delay the inevitable grieving, because we fear it might drown us like a rushing river. The struggle to relinquish these items often involves thoughts and emotions associated with the stories you have had with your loved ones. In other cases, the items have no personal meaning for us, but it can feel disrespectful or just wrong to part with away something that belonged to a person who has died, especially a beloved person.
Here, too, you may find it helpful to write about your memories of this person and what he or she meant in your life, or talk to another loved one who will appreciate hearing these memories. Grieving the loss of a loved one takes much energy, yet remains very important for your emotional health. Be compassionate with yourself. You can relinquish some of the items when you are ready to do so, even as you honor your grieving process. For some people, the act of compassionately releasing certain inherited items comes with great peace and gratitude, while others find that making room for a few treasured belongings brings joy. Be certain to honor the items you choose to keep by placing them where they will be seen frequently and fully enjoyed.
Some Unloved Ones clutter seems “out of sight, out of mind” because it is off of your property: Storage units (which you’ve been paying rental fees on for months or even years) most likely contain unloved items. You may wonder why you are holding on to items you don’t ever see, as well as whether these monies could be redirected to something that you really desire or need.
With items in long-term storage, too, fears often prevent people from parting with the stored items. You may worry that the items may be needed or wanted someday by you or your children. Maybe life has become so busy that you continue to postpone opening that locker. These items could actually represent a blocked-off, unresolved part of your life, and when you have the courage to deal with them, you may experience some relief, an increased sense of peace, and more closure. What if what might be holding you back from a fulfilling future is inside an actual storage unit? Can you muster the courage to open it up, see what’s actually there, sort through the items, and let go of this storage unit and most of the items within it?
In the realm of practical rather than sentimental items, you may have many things you don’t need or use any longer. They have served their purpose in your life, but that purpose is gone, and the items now could go to someone else who can use them. These items might include kitchen tools, such as the juicer that you used when you had a passion for juicing. Clothes you wore when you worked at a job years ago might linger in your closet even though you don’t wear them (and perhaps wouldn’t wear them even if you got a similar job). Books you read while in school or at a different phase in your life also fall into this category, especially those you haven’t looked at in years.
You may find it fairly straightforward to free your space of these belongings. As such, this is often a great place to start when you’re releasing belongings or something you can work on when you feel temporarily stalled in releasing more sentimental things. You can quickly begin seeing the benefits of letting go of possessions that are easy to part with.
One stumbling block some people encounter when clearing practical items is the thought “But I paid good money for this object.” This is true, yet you no longer need, use, or love it. The real value of a belonging is in our enjoyment and use of that item over time. Some things come into our lives, serve their purpose, and then can be sold, reused by someone else, recycled, repurposed, or thrown away. You have also paid for the space that these items hold, and clearing the items may ultimately prove more valuable.
Another stumbling block in clearing the unloved practical items is the thought that someday you might use them, yet the reality remains that you haven’t in months or years. In the meantime, this type of clutter often creates stagnation and can block the flow of health, creativity, and prosperity. It can also cause feelings of resentment from members of your household who prefer uncluttered spaces or have trouble finding things they need and use. The unloved belongings often evoke a lonely energy of neglect and abandonment, and sometimes they are coated with a layer of dust to underscore this point.
Sometimes having clarity about a new purpose for a cleared-out room or space inspires you into action. A room full of past job materials, for example, can be transformed into a room for creativity, an exercise room, or a restorative sanctuary for reading or other quiet activities.
Letting go of all the unloved, unneeded, and unused items in your space—both sentimental and practical ones—involves inviting trust into your life. You need to trust that if a similar item is needed in your future, you will have the means to obtain it. This process of freeing yourself also proceeds more smoothly if you realize that releasing belongings creates peace of mind, as well as an opening for opportunities and experiences that will uplift your life.
Here are additional ideas for tackling the unneeded, unused, and unloved clutter in your home: