How do you declutter when you have trouble letting go of things?

“How do you declutter when you have trouble letting go of things?” It can be a hard question, but these simple strategies will help you let go of clutter so you can enjoy your home again!

Woman sorting through paperwork

Decluttering can be tough, y’all. Living in a house that’s free of excess and clutter sounds so freeing, but the actual act of getting rid of stuff can be hard, particularly if you’re a person that has trouble letting go of things. I know I often struggle, thinking, “But what if I need that someday…?”

Sentimental items can also be particularly difficult to part with. How do we know what to save and what to let go? And how do we convince ourselves to let go of clutter when it feels so hard?

Being able to let go of clutter starts with tweaking our mindset. When we make a few small changes, we can give ourselves the freedom to let go and create that decluttered home we’ve been hoping for.

In the rest of this posts, I’ll lay out some simple mindset shifts that can help us get rid of those items that we no longer love or use often in our homes.

How to Get Rid of Clutter When You Have Trouble Letting Go of Things

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

Organized pantry with decanted baking items, pasta, and spices

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1- Practice helps let go of clutter.

Getting started might be tough, but I’ve found that the longer that I’ve worked to declutter my home and create organized spaces, the easier it has become to let go. I’ve proven to myself over and over that the items I get rid of aren’t missed at all, so knowing that, it’s not as hard to say goodbye to things.

If you’re at that difficult place at the beginning of the process where you’re overwhelmed with the clutter and are worried that you’ll never be able to get rid of it, take heart. It will get easier!

woman sitting on the floor, looking through a folder of paperwork

2- Ask, “What do I want to keep?” rather than “What do I want to get rid of?”

I first came across this concept in Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and while it is a small mindset shift, I think it’s incredibly important.

If we go into the decluttering process with the mindset that we’re getting rid of everything, and we’re only choosing to keep the items that we truly use and love, it’s a lot easier to say goodbye to those items you feel “meh” about because they already have one foot out the door!

Marie Kondo's book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up"

When I went through the process of decluttering my books, for example, I stacked up all of them in our living room, assuming that I was sending them all off to be donated.

I then went through and only pulled out the titles I knew I referenced frequently (or, let’s be honest, used to decorate my home frequently 😉 ) and suddenly, I had a small-but-mighty collection of books that I absolutely loved to keep and could freely give away the rest.

3- Think of the people who could benefit from the items you’re no longer using.

I am a very practical person, so sometimes it’s hard for me to justify getting rid of something that still works perfectly and is in great shape. If it’s something I’m not using, though, it’s still clutter for me… but it could be very beneficial to someone else!

Check with shelters or food pantries in your area to see if they are in need of any of the items you have that are still in good shape. Local churches or schools may know of specific families that are in need that could greatly benefit from the items you have to give. Knowing that the things you’re getting rid of will be a blessing to someone else makes parting with them so much easier!

White Bedroom with a Gray Comforter

4- Picture your “after.”

Think about the reasons why you want to declutter. Picture your house feeling serene, welcoming, and clutter free, and imagine what it would be like to come home to a place like that.

You could even create an inspiration board or Pinterest board filled with images that remind you of the type of space you’re trying to create. Many times when I take the time to think about what my goal is, that gives me the motivation to get rid of my stuff because I want to live in that calm, cozy, decluttered space more than I want to hang on to all of those items that I’m not even using!

I use idea with my boys every time we do a round of decluttering in their playroom. One time a few years ago we did a really thorough purge of their toys, and afterward they used their playroom so much more and kept it clean so much more easily, simply because everything had a designated spot and it was easy to put things back.

That has resonated with them so much, that now when we go to do our twice-yearly declutter, I remind them of how great it felt to have only the toys they loved taking up room in their playroom, and they are much more motivated to let go of the items they are no longer using.

Organized kids' playroom with an art area and toy storage

5- Do a test run.

If you’re feeling nervous about letting go of some particular items, don’t be afraid to do a test run. Put the items in a box or bag and stick them in the basement or other spot that’s out of the way. Set a reminder on your phone for a month from now, and if you haven’t missed them at all, send them on their way!

I did this inadvertently when we moved! There were a few boxes that ended up in the basement that should have gone to our main living spaces instead. It wasn’t until about 6 months after we moved in that I discovered the mistake, and I hadn’t even missed the items at all! It was definitely an indication to me that those items could be easily donated!

6- Remind yourself that the item served its purpose for a time, and it’s okay to be thankful for that and then move on.

This is another idea from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it was such an “aha” moment for me!

There are some items that I own that were perfect purchases for me at one point. I used them all the time. They were really helpful for me… and then they weren’t anymore.

The nostalgic part of me may be tempted to hang on to these items because I am really grateful that I had them for a while, but it’s also okay to recognize that they’ve done their “job” and now it’s time to let go of them.

Woman Organizing Clothes with IKEA SKUBB Boxes

For some reason, this concept was particularly helpful for me with clothes. I was always trying to hang on to clothes that were in great shape, even if I never wore them, because I felt so guilty getting rid of them.

But the truth was that nice items like the suits and dress clothes that I wore in my teaching days just weren’t practical in my everyday life anymore as a work-at-home mom.

I was thankful that I had those things when I needed them, but they had done their job, and so it was okay to part with them. (AND they could be a blessing for someone else who needed professional clothing for their job– see #3!)

organized closet with light blue bins, items hanging on white hangers, and organized shoes lined up in a row

7- Have a designated area for mementos and sentimental items, and don’t allow yourself to outgrow it.

Mementos or sentimental items are definitely one of the toughest categories to declutter! Some “decluttering purists” may say that these items don’t serve a practical purpose and should go, but I tend not to take such a hard line.

If the items are very meaningful or important in some way, I think it’s okay to keep them– I have a bin of mementos in our basement that I’m not planning to part with!

Baby Books and Scrabble Board Gift in a Bin of Sentimental Items

What I like to do with these types of items, though, is give myself a specific area to store them but not go beyond that area. So, for example, if I have designated a bin for mementos and that bin is full, that is a signal to me that it’s time to go through them and see if there’s anything that I would be okay with getting rid of.

8- Give yourself grace. Your “clutter threshold” may be different than someone else’s, and that’s okay!

People have different levels of comfort when it comes to the amount of “stuff” they have in their homes. There’s definitely not a “one size fits all” amount that is perfect for everyone to have.

Some people might love to have a house that is fairly sparse with minimal decor and furniture. Others may like a “fuller” feeling space. And still others may fall somewhere in the middle.

But while everybody’s end result may look a bit different, the goal with decluttering is the same: We want to create a home that feels cozy and welcoming to you, where we can easily find and use all of our items and aren’t feeling bogged down or stressed by the amount of “stuff” around us. And that can be a really freeing feeling!

"How do you declutter when you have trouble letting go of things?" It can be a hard question, but these simple strategies will help you get rid of items you don't need and love so you can enjoy your clutter-free home! | #decluttering #declutter #purging #tidyingup #mariekondo #konmarimethod #simplify #minimalist #minimalism #tidy #sparkjoy #organization #organized #getorganized #organize #homeoffice #officeorganization #declutteringtips #etagere

What are some things you do to help you let go of your stuff and declutter your home? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Decluttering!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

43 Comments

  1. Ellen from Ask Away Blog says:

    KONMARI!! changed my life. But yes I always tell people to just focus on KEEPING and not on discarding bc it’s easier to choose what to keep than what to get rid of.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      YES! So much easier!

      ~Abby =)

  2. Audrey Johnson says:

    As usual you have the best advice. Thanks you for not only providing what to do, but also how to do it.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Aw! Thank you, Audrey! So glad it was helpful for you! <3

      ~Abby =)

  3. Rachel @ The Improved Me Project says:

    Number 5 is definitely what I use over and over! I currently have two bins of clothes under the bed and one box of office supplies under my desk that I vaguely remember what I put inside. My deadline is the end of summer and if I have not opened any of them, I know there is nothing there I will really miss.
    I am also finding that realizing that the item has served its purpose (#6) makes things easier. It is all about staying present in the moment and acknowledging that some things were very helpful to me at one point but may not be anymore. Easier said than done, but the more I do this, the easier it becomes.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Sounds like you have some great systems in place, Rachel! You go girl! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  4. Micah | Home Faith Family says:

    I have the hardest time going through my children’s things because of the Memory attachment to them. Our three-year-old went on a “drawing spree” and would make us pictures. Eventually his pile of artwork overtook a bookshelf in our home. My husband and I decided to go through the pile and kept a few drawings while we took pictures of his other artwork for a file on our computer. This has helped us cut down on a ton of paper in our home.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      They really are hard to get rid of, aren’t they? So glad you’ve found a great system that works for you! Have a great evening, Micah! <3

      ~Abby =)

    2. KATHARINE HOLMES says:

      Thank you for this great idea!

  5. One trick I use regularly is picking the best of a category e.g if I have 5 knives in my kitchen but only use 3 regularly then the two I don’t use e.g dull blade or uncomfortable handle can be donated. This works for a lot of things such as clothes, tools, clothes etc. Happy spring cleaning everyone !

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Love that strategy! Thanks so much for sharing, Carolyn! <3

      ~Abby =)

  6. Good post, Abby. The most helpful for me was #6. I do get sentimental about things, making it hard to let them go. This mindset may be just what I’ve needed. 😉

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Leslie! Have a great week! <3

      ~Abby =)

  7. O agree with you. It is difficult to start but once you do it it is freeing!
    I like the idea of boxes for “second” chance ( most of the times there is no second chance). I also choose different rooms and parts of rooms at a time. Actually less is (really) more. Makes us appreciate what we have so much more and use it all.
    Every season I get a box of trash, donate and keep (for next season) and usually that helps me to make a list of what do I need to buy for next season.
    Lately I also try to save more then I expend and that helps me to be very criterial.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Sounds like you have some great systems set up, Ana! You go girl! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  8. Kerri Hansen says:

    I find the hardest things to part with are my children’s toys. And not the plastic Dora the Explorer/Paw Patrol stuff, but the more expensive kid furniture pieces. For example, in our basement we have the most adorable wooden market from Land of Nod and an adorable mini shopping cart from Pottery Barn kids. My kids are too old for this stuff now and don’t use it, but I can’t seem to part with it! I have done a good job purging some other items, for example the Pottery Barn Kids table and chair set and the adorable play kitchen we had. I think I will end up tucking this in our crawl space and keeping it for future Grandchildren. My mom saved a few items for me and they still bring me great joy to have, so I feel like Marie Kondo would understand!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      I think that’s a great idea, Kerri! My mom did the same for us and I LOVE having things from my childhood to share with my kiddos. Marie would definitely understand! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  9. Kristine Hart says:

    Parting with momentos from a departed loved one was a big one for me. Then I read somewhere you’re not getting rid of that person or the memories. Plus would your loved one want you to feel all bogged down by items you no longer use?

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So true, Kristine! That’s a great perspective!

      ~Abby =)

  10. Dena Upshaw says:

    The best way I found to help me to declutter is to ask myself “do I want to keep dusting around it (mementos and things of sentimental value)?” and “do I want to move it again (stuff that gets packed in a box and shoved in the closet)?” When I thnk about our previous move, and the next one coming up, these thoughts become very powerful motivators for getting rid of unnecessary baggage. And as you pointed out, giving things away that you know will bless others is very releasing.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Oh yes. Moving will certainly make you think hard about what you keep! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  11. Merry Sherry says:

    I always enjoy your posts. I personally am NOT a person who feels serene or happy in clutter free spaces. I am sure many reading your blog would be aghast and possibly uncomfortable in my decidedly cluttered home. But that said, I truly appreciate that everyone needs to stop and take a look at their entire home and way of living from time to time to be sure their values are still being expressed in their surroundings. Many of your posts and publications have helped me go through my environment with a more observant eye. I have found many opportunities to pass along items to others, or sell or repurpose. I have also happily “rediscovered” items I had forgotten. Sometimes those items are discussed and memories enjoyed and the item moved along. Others have gone on display. And others have gone back into “hiding” while I decide what to do with them. Thank you very much for sharing your good advice and for your positive and nonjudgmental approach.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      I LOVE this perspective, Merry! Not everyone is the same or “declutters” in the same way. Many different ways to approach the same thing. Thanks so much for sharing yours. Have a wonderful week! <3

      ~Abby =)

  12. This was a straight forward and sensitive message that really struck a chord with me. Thank you Abby. Making choices about my “stuff” has always been really hard for me. I like your suggestion of trying it out in the stored away bins and also allowing myself to keep some of the memorabilia but putting a limit to it.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Lauree! Happy decluttering! <3

      ~Abby =)

  13. Isabel Freitas says:

    This post is very helpful! I also have a hard time donating sentimental objects or things that were gifted to us. Even if we don’t use/like them at all. I feel like I’m betraying that person or hurting their feelings.

    One thing that helps me a lot is NOT asking my husband if we should keep the item or not. He has such a hard time letting go of things. Every time I ask him if we should keep something or not, he says we should. But if I just give it away, he won’t even notice it. Please, don’t judge me for doing that. Haha. I’ve also asked him if he’s ok with me donating things without asking him first, and he said he’s ok with that. So it’s definitely my best alternative here :).

    1. justagirlabby says:

      No judgements here! 🙂 I totally get that! It’s good to realize things that are hindering the process… even if it’s your hubby! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

      1. My husband and I are coming up on our 23rd anniversary. That means for 23 years we’ve been lugging across four states a bulky pair of stereo speakers that no longer have a stereo to speak for. At least he let me pare down his tee shirt collection by donating 15 of them to our neighbor who owns a pet adoption center. I have to pick my battles, I guess..

        1. justagirlabby says:

          Oh, yes! Always compromises to be made! 🙂

          ~Abby =)

  14. I am with you on #6. That is usually my biggest problem with decluttering! I always feel the need to hold on to those types of items cause they held such meaning to me and I really loved them (even though I don’t wear the clothes or decorate with that style anymore). I just feel the need to keep it cause it reminds me of that special time in my life. But I know that I need to part with them, they aren’t being used and just taking up valuable closet space. So, the one thing that has really helped me in this is to take a picture of the item. And when I do that, I find that I only want to take a picture of certain items, not all of them. I can always have the photo to look back on and remember the special time in my life when I wore the clothes or decorated with that style. Much easier to keep and knowing my items are possibly going to bless others helps too.

    Thanks so much for all your tips and ideas. It helps so much! And it gets me in the decluttering mood too….a bonus!!! 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Ooo, love the picture idea! Thanks so much for sharing, Kim! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

    2. Judy Baker says:

      I love the picture idea! I have a really hard time getting rid of sentimental items as well – but not useful items that could be donated, but things that show a record of my life, i.e. old planners, calendars with important events/my notes in them, invitations to weddings, baby showers, etc that I want to put in a scrapbook someday, or that I can look back and remember a certain part of my life. But my boxes and piles of stuff that will be scrapbooked “someday” seems to be growing faster than my ability to take the time to actually scrapbook. Any thoughts or advice? Perhaps I should just have an e-scrapbook of some kind? Take pictures of stuff and have it all in a google doc or something? Does anyone have a good way of filing or organizing the pictures of mementos?

      1. justagirlabby says:

        Chatbooks (https://chatbooks.com/) could be a great way for you to store them digitally! You would just take a photo of each item and then you can upload them to Chatbooks, and they send you a little book with all of your images in them. You can even add captions, etc. I do this for photos of my boys instead of traditional scrapbooking, and it is so quick and easy!

        ~Abby =)

  15. Sarah | The Teacher's Wife says:

    These are great tips! I’m still working through the categories from the book, but I definitely agree that practice helps. I haven’t missed anything that I’ve parted with so far!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Feels so good to let it all go, doesn’t it? 🙂 Have a great week, Sarah!!

      ~Abby =)

  16. Marie Kondo changed the way I look at my things and my life in general. It’s been a year since I did my massive decluttering and my place is still (almost) effortlessly tidy. And my shopaholic tendencies suddenly went away like magic. It’s because whenever I feel the urge to buy something, I imagine where I’d place it in my small condo unit… and then I lose the interest to buy. I only buy clothes that can be mixed-and-matched so I won’t need too much stuff in my closet. Imagine how much cash I was able to free up!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      It really is life changing, isn’t it? Thanks so much for sharing, Eden. So glad it’s been so helpful for you, too!

      ~Abby =)

  17. Sarah | A Simple and Contented Life says:

    I’m forever having clear outs but never seem to get on top of all the clutter! I really like the idea of asking what to keep rather than what to throw, that’s a great way to look at it. I loved reading Marie Kondo and have adopted some of her tips…I gave up folding my socks though, I tried but it didn’t last very long – I still ball them up, lol! 😉

    1. justagirlabby says:

      I don’t blame you. I’ve made some modifications, too! 🙂 Hope you’re having a great week, Sarah!

      ~Abby =)

  18. I’m loving your blog!! I have always had a really hard time decluttering. I am super sentimental!! I too have started taking pictures of anything that I know I don’t need but I’m having trouble parting with. It’s crazy but it works! I honestly never look at the pictures but for some reason just knowing I have them helps me let go of things…who knew?? Thanks so much for the post! Oh and…where did you get that bookcase in your office?! Soooo cute!!

  19. What do you do with clothes that don’t fit, but you “think” you’ll lose/gain enough weight to fit them again…AND you LOVE them?

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Hi, JJ! I would maybe put them in a bin in storage. Then, set a deadline you’re comfortable with and get rid of clothes that still don’t fit after that date! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

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