What’s Coming Between You and a Clutter-Free Home?

EscapeHave you ever considered the possibility that your clutter has nothing to do with the ‘stuff’ and everything to do with your mind? Could it be that, without consciously realizing it, you’ve built a wall around yourself with the clutter, to protect you?

“You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.” – Andrew Murphy

I’ve worked with hundreds of people, both as a professional organizer and a life coach, who really want to get rid of clutter but ‘keep hitting a wall’. The metaphor is not lost on me.

When we start sorting through items together, fears float to the surface:

“What if I need it someday?” (Fear of scarcity?)

“I’ll keep it just in case” (Fear of uncertainty and doubt?)

“I can’t give that away, it was a gift” (Fear of rejection?)

“I can’t decide so I’ll just keep it” and “What if it’s worth something someday?” (Fear of making mistakes?)

I’ve heard these statements countless times and I can’t help but wonder about thoughts behind them. It’s not the clutter that’s the problem; it’s these fearful, paralyzing thoughts. They create resistance to letting things go.

Fear is not real, it just appears that way. And, as you may have noticed, the worst case scenario imaginings we have rarely come to pass.

Chances are these fears are causing chaos in other areas too – not just in the home. They may be creating a wall of protection, but sadly, that wall can keep all the really good stuff out, like joy, healthy relationships, peace, fulfillment, success and true abundance.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to relax and enjoy your home? To feel great about having friends over? To have more peaceful and harmonious relationships with your family members?

So if you’ve been trying to declutter and repeatedly come up against resistance, I invite you to try a different approach, one that involves a change of thought.

4 Steps to Eliminate Your Fears – And Conquering the Clutter

  1. As you sort through your items in an attempt to declutter, notice the thoughts that come up. If they’re based on fear, like the earlier examples, begin by acknowledging them. Say ‘okay, now you’ve got my attention’.
  2. Notice where you feel the fear in your body. Is your stomach or chest tight? Is your head pounding?
  3. Analyze the fear and try to understand where it’s coming from. Then thank it for sharing and move on.
  4. Replace fear with trust:
  • Replace: “What if I need it someday?” with “All my needs are abundantly supplied”.
  • Replace: “I’ll keep it just in case” with “I can replace it if I need it”.
  • Replace: “I can’t give that away, it was a gift” with “My real friends will always love and support me”
  • Replace: “I can’t decide so I’ll just keep it” with “I’ll make a decision and trust that everything will be okay”
  • Replace: “What if it’s worth something someday?” with “It will never be more valuable than joy (or whatever you hope an organized home will provide).”

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield

Once you start trusting the universe, or God, or whatever higher power you believe in, you’ll immediately begin to feel lighter…in more ways than one.

Which statements have you used as excuses to keep clutter? Please share in the comment sections below.


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This post has 28 comments

  • Sally from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn says:

    Great wisdom, Hellen! You have a knack for nailing it. Thanks for the knowledge, techniques, and motivation!

  • Maureen says:

    While I have a tough time with
    “I’ll keep it just in case” with “I can replace it if I need it”. – as replacing is inefficient from environmental, financial and time perspectives, I can see value in
    “What if it’s worth something someday?” with “It will never be more valuable than joy (or whatever you hope an organized home will provide).”

    • lisa says:


      I agree, throwing out stuff just to replace it later is a complete waste of resources from an environmental, monetary and time perspective. Hellen can you help with this thought. I would rather pay to have something repaired, then to just replace it simply because I know how much resources went into making the object, no mater what it is. This is a battle in our house, because the other side says, “just toss it”, and I say…”no, i will get it fixed”…the hitch is, it make take 6 months to fix it, simply because i forget about it. I know, that means it must not be that important or necessary to everyday life if you can wait 6 months to fix it. Truth is, not much in our life is that crucial it needs to be fixed or replaced immediately…so that just reinforces my thought…why toss it, then expend more resources to replace it? Sometimes, waiting (for the fixing)…makes us realize it’s expendable altogether. Whereas if we just immediately tossed it and replaced it…we would still have the clutter, just newer, and perhaps working. Help. These circles are making me dizzy.

      • Karen says:

        I think replacing “I’ll keep it just in case” with “I can replace it if I need it” is more about an item that is sitting unused in your home rather than something that can be repaired. If it has not been used in quite a while and you do not know when you might ever use it again it might make sense to donate it so it can go to someone who will use it. If at some point you really need it then you would replace it but until that time it would not be taking up space in your home that could be used for something else. I have been there but I am trying to get past it, learning to let go of “stuff” because many times that is all it is if it isn’t being used and making my life better.

  • Arlene says:

    Wow Hellen, you have got my number!! All of those 4 statements have kept me in clutter. And you are right, it is just fear, fear, fear. I think having parents who grew up during the Great Depression was where this started with me. They really hammered those statements into me. (along with “If it’s free, take it.”) But I also realize that even though that is the root of my problem, I can’t use it as an excuse. I need to move forward and walk out my “healing” from these fears.

    • Twila says:

      Arlene — you have my number! Not only do I have a Great Depression legacy, my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were pioneers and homesteaders. Plus, my mother lived her entire adult life away from the rest of her family (just a circumstance of marriage), so she treasured the little tangible bits of people she loved, particularly things that they had owned. I also have lived most of my life away from family, so I know, and feel, exactly how she felt.
      So — it’s practicality (or the perception of) plus emotions. A double whammy!
      Any decision or feeling based on fear — along with any sentence containing words like “should” and “ought” — needs examining. Good luck to all of us!

  • Renee says:

    I have a hard time with the guilt, fear, etc. of letting things go. Especially family heirlooms given to me because someone doesn’t want to keep at their house but think I should keep at mine. I have a new game I play. “Let’s pretend we’re moving across the county.” If I wouldn’t be willing to pay someone to move it then I can let it go. This helps me make let go of the “gifts” that come wrapped in guilt. It’s still hard but the free feeling that comes with less clutter is worth it.

  • Laura says:

    I had an instant gut response to this post. Fear is such a draining, damaging emotion but how to counter-act it each time it rears its ugly head is the difficult part – thank you for identifying the fears and how to replace them with trust. As I was agonizing about whether or not to marry my wonderful husband, my very wise best friend told me to ask myself: “Which will I regret more in ten years – that I married him, or that I let him go?” That was exactly the right way to fight through those fears and lead to 26 happy happy years of marriage (so far). Now I actually use a variation of that when I fear change in smaller things (i.e. letting go of clutter)…in ten years, which would I regret more: keeping the item, or letting it go? Put in that perspective, not much clutter is worth ten years of emotional peace!

  • Twila says:

    Hellen — another right-on post! Thank you so much for your positive messages.

  • MaureenP says:

    Talk about timing!!! I recently retired and decided to let go of “stuff” (especially clothes) and get back into the hobbies I didn’t have time for when I was gainfully employed. I have a craft (crap?) room full of “just-in-case-I-need-it”. Thanks for the insight, it is helpful as I plow through the years of accumulation.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Great post Helen!

    My method for taking out the clutter from my home?

    Stop looking into the past only and holding on to all those tangible memories – gifts, souvenirs or knick knacks.
    You keep the memories and give away the stuff.
    Donate or recycle. T
    The memories don’t take up too much space. The stuff does!

    As Helen points out – be firm with yourself and mentally break free of tangible attachments, based on emotions or values only. It is liberating and consequently you will be making more space for the future. Full of new experiences and new memories!

    Yes, I too moved away from family and my home country when I came to Canada almost 20 years ago. I also have traveled extensively. One tends to pick up things along the way. But I have learned to discipline myself with what I buy, receive and keep in my life.

    If it does not add to my life, it has no place in it! Learning to be tough on myself has given me great results with organizing not just my home but my life and family. Loving it!

    Good luck to all of you!

  • Evelyn says:

    This message is to Maureen (of Feb.7, 11:43 a.m.) –

    You are (1) practical – so to throw something out b.c. “I can replace it if I need it” is
    not easy to do b.c. this means spending time and money unnecessarily

    and (2) responsible – so to throw something out b.c. “I can replace it if I need it” is
    not being environmentally responsible.

    This is not to criticize this approach to resistence, but to adknowledge trying to be responsible is never the easy route esp. w.r.t. being environmentally responsible, but it’s nice to know there are conscientious people like you.

    • Sharon says:

      you could always further evaluate it by “exactly how likely am I to need to replace it if I let it go?”

  • Kathryn says:

    Great tips! Another good one is to ask yourself, “If I didn’t own this item and saw it in a store today, would I buy it?” If the answer is negative, then you should get rid of it.

    Another tip: I sometimes take pictures of sentimental items that I want to remember but don’t want to store anymore.

  • Melinda says:

    My two main reasons for hanging on to things, are:
    no.1 emotional e.g. made by my kids for me
    no.2 hating waste
    Still struggle to overcome these.

  • Christy says:

    My biggest problem is that I think I’ll need it someday. In the past I’ve gotten rid of things and found later that I could’ve used them. With money being scarce it really bothered me to have to replace the item. I’m not sure what to tell myself to feel better about getting rid of stuff that I feel I may need one day. If we didn’t have money issues I don’t think I’d care so much.

    • I understand that it’s hard to let go of items if money is an issue. But keeping everything will end up costing you more. You may need to move into a bigger home to store everything, or pay for a storage unit for years, or hire a junk removal company when it gets overwhelming. Also, keeping things out of fear can actually create a wall that keeps out new opportunities for success and prosperity. Trust me, I’ve seen this with so many clients. When the clutter is released, the floodgates open and all the good stuff flows in.

  • Victoria says:

    I find that when I Open Pandora’s Box to let ‘stuff’ out..I become very emotional. Its mainly a heart felt yearning or loneliness of the past. Just looking back at the innocence in the little drawings/pics & crafts my children have created! I want to seize the moment! I’m getting much better now that they are having their own families now!:)

  • Shelley says:

    Helen you have hit this one head on for me and I’ll add one more – fear of filling our landfills with things that still have useful life. If i could find a legitimate orga ization in Toronto that would repurpose the things i no longer need i would get past that fear (or perhaps it’s guilt). And by the way, goodwill etc does throw away some of the donations so other than clothes and small household items they are not the answer to this one. If anyone can help with this one my excess stuff would finally find a new home.

    • Craighen says:

      I love Freecycle! https://www.freecycle.org/. I’ve ended up giving away a sofa to a woman and her family who were starting over after leaving an abusive situation. other groups like St. Vincent de Paul, Canadian Diabetes are other possibilites depending on where you live.

  • Nora says:

    My fear of letting go in thinking that what if I need to use it one day. I luv this post and I just watched Neat’s prisoner of clutter. I have moved into this home with my family over 4 years ago. But I still have boxes that I don’t have an idea what are in them. I’ll start purging my “stuff” through out the year. Thanks, Helen, for the inspiration to do something about my clutter.

  • Deb says:

    I am an artist and I have issues with all of these things. The hardest thing for me is to get rid of something that I could use to create art from. My studio proves that. But I am working on it. I have been told about something called- freecycle.com. Not sure what areas have it but if it is not in your area, you could start one maybe on face book. It gives your old stuff a new home with other people who might actually use it without any guilt of tossing it in the dump. For instance- missions to Tahiti are making fabric dolls from old scrap fabric donated by people. Freecycle is a way to locate what they need to make them. (Thank you Helen for your no nonsense way of explaining causes and solutions to organizational problems. Bless you!! )

    • Deb, thank you for pointing this out. We’re all concerned about the environment and there are a lot of different options to prevent our cast-offs from ending up in landfills. I also want to take this opportunity to point out that keeping clutter in our homes directly affects our environment also…our immediate environment. It makes it harder to breathe, in more ways than one.

  • kg says:

    I know I have a major fear of scarcity but I think it’s justified. I grew up without a lot of money. A lot of times when we bought something it was a lesser version of what we really wanted. If we broke something or it wore out it was a long time before we could replace it. Actually right now we can’t just run out and buy things so before I get rid of anything I make sure that I can not use it at all. We are on a limited budget and can’t always buy things we need. I really don’t see this getting better. I do have a cleaning technique that works. I focus on decluttering one room a week. We live in a small 1 bedroom house with only 1 small bedroom closet and one small hanger deep coat closet so I go through things in the room of the week to keep us organized. I also only keep 1 seasons worth of clothes in the closet and store the off season clothes in a box.

  • Lucy says:

    This is in reply to Shelley: There’s St. Vincent’s and The Salvation Army. I tend to take my excess things there. Apparently, Value Village is owned by one person and very little of the proceeds from there are actually given to The Diabetes Assoc’n. Hellen, I happen to be looking for my passport these days amongst boxes of stuff with no luck so far. Your timing on the subject of clutter and de-cluttering is perfect. We’ve always kept our passports in a safety deposit box at the bank but only 1 of ours is in there, so when I ret’d from a trip to Italy a couple of years ago, I obviously didn’t take it back to the bank. So now, the endless search is on. Not fun! I’m trying to get rid of various papers, magazines, etc., as I’m searching but it feels like it’s going to take forever. Help!!

    • Hi Lucy, thanks for helping Shelley out. Oh dear, I hope you find your passport. They are such a hassle – and an expense – to replace. You are not the first though – it’s an item that commonly goes missing in homes. It’s hard to find things when we are stressed, so my suggestion is to put your mind on something else for awhile – preferably something creative. When you are relaxed, you may remember where you put it…it may just randomly pop into your head. Just a suggestion. Good luck!

  • Janice says:

    A wonderful post Hellen!! So full of wisdom and great positive self reassuring messages. This is a keeper for me. ♥