Jammed Up: How to Declutter When You're Stuck

Many of us live in homes that hold far too much.


We find it hard to declutter unless something forces us into it. As long as we have the room to stockpile extra belongings, we do, until our drawers, counters, closets, basements, garages, spare rooms, and rented storage spaces are full.


And then, one day, something makes us realize that we feel crowded out of our own home.

  • Maybe we get tired of moving piles so we can sit, use a table, or prepare a meal.
  • Maybe we get tired of looking for stuff we need among things that we don't.
  • Maybe we just feel stressed, anxious, and frustrated for reasons we can't explain.

So we decide to declutter.


jammed up



Now I know I've written this or something like it in the past:  Keep what you use and love, and let the rest go.


But if decluttering was that simple, why would there be whole books and websites dedicated to it? And why would we keep reading and hoping for inspiration and the determination to finally get clutter-free?





What is clutter?


Clutter is the stuff we don't need, use, or love that takes our time, energy, money, and space. More than that, clutter is lifeless


Unneeded items – things in storage and things that sit on a shelf – are inert.  Think about it.  Items that are used move from one place to another.  Dishes or cookware are used, become dirty, get washed, and are returned to the cupboard.  Clothing and linens are used, dirtied, laundered, folded or hung, and returned to the closet. These items flow through our homes; they possess energy which enables us to do the things we need for everyday life.


But maybe your home contains shelves, drawers, closets, or even entire rooms where nothing comes or goes.  This is clutter – something that simply takes up space and lies dormant.  When clutter fills your home, there's no room to spare for new plans and ideas, new experiences or pastimes that might contribute to your best life.  You're jammed with staleness and stagnation that need to be cleared away.





Why do we want to declutter?


Who doesn't love the idea of a fresh start?  Decluttering lets us leave behind mistakes, guilt, and parts of our past that don't belong in our future.  It leaves us light, fresh, free, and ready to move on.


But as much as we want this, and as often as we tell ourselves that our belongings are "just stuff,"  that's not entirely true.

  • Stuff is our past, our family, our successes, and even our failures and what we learned from them.
  • Stuff can represent what we hoped for and the lives we thought we'd lead.
  • Stuff is often our security.

And even though many of us are trending toward "experiences over stuff," we still seem to acquire a lot of stuff to remind us of our experiences!


We want to get rid of stuff. We know we should let it go. And we should stop buying so much that's just going to become clutter in our lives. But we stay jammed up.





A healthy life isn't stagnant.


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Experts in feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy, say that clutter brings confusion and drains your energy, whether or not it's in plain view. You don't have to believe in feng shui to agree that crowded items leave no room for growth. It's a bit like a beautiful house plant that becomes sickly and stunted because it's root bound. In this case, if the roots aren't untangled, or even cut, and the plant isn't given room to grow, it will eventually choke itself to death.


We are meant to think, explore, learn, and become the mature, wise, valuable people we were created to be. We're not meant to confine ourselves to the pursuit of useless stuff.


Worse than the crowded, inefficient, depressing ugliness of clutter is the way it robs us and our homes of vital, creative, happy energy.


But we don't have to stay jammed up.





12 tips for decluttering when your home and life are jammed up


Even if you've tried decluttering before and then gave it up, you can try again. These tips will help you make progress, I promise.


1. Begin with the end in mind.

Before you even start the process, think about the result you want. What will your space look like when you're finished, and how will it make you feel? This vision will not only help you make decisions about what to keep and what to remove. It's a complete mindset adjustment – instead of focusing on what you're giving up, you're thinking about the home and life you're creating.


2. Decide ahead of time to donate.

You're going to be making a lot of decisions as you declutter, so don't add to your decision fatigue. Decide what you're going to do with your things before you begin.


Now, I know you spent money for the things you're decluttering. But that money is gone, and you're not going to get it back by keeping the stuff in your basement. And selling? That takes time and energy. If you really want to sell, set a deadline. If you haven't listed the item in one week, let it go. If it hasn't sold after another week, let it go. I realize big-ticket items might take longer, but you still need to set a deadline. Otherwise you'll wind up with a pile of stuff you plan to sell "someday."




3.  Be clear about your fears.

When people get stuck decluttering, it's often because they have fears like:

  • What if I need this someday?
  • What if it's worth something someday?
  • What if my kids want it someday?

Take some time to think about your fears. What is the worst-case scenario? What will you do if you get rid of something and then need it someday? Don't forget to give yourself some credit for being resourceful and adaptable. Be specific about how you could respond, because this will ease your fears and increase your confidence in your decisions.


Professional organizer Jen Maclean makes a really good point:


If you're accepting, saving, and storing things you might need someday, where's the line? There are limitless potential futures and a limitless number of things you may need. There is a huge possibility here of getting crowded out by your potential futures and not having the room you need to live your present.


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4. Ease your expectations.

I know all about those whole-new-you plans that start strong and peter out after a week – or even a day or two. I don't want that to happen to you. Chances are it took you years to accumulate your clutter, and you aren't going to clear everything in a weekend. (Probably.)


So be realistic about how much time you have for decluttering, and set small goals. As you achieve them you'll feel proud of your progress and energized to continue, instead of feeling like you're falling behind.




5. Pay attention to what you bring home.

Be sure to watch your consumption so old habits don't take you right back to square one. Think before you make a purchase or take a freebie. Be a vigilant doorkeeper, because staying clutter-free depends as much upon what comes in as on what goes out.


6. Use decluttering rules.

Decision fatigue is a real thing, and when we're faced with many decisions, one after another, it's easy to get stuck. So make some simple rules for yourself. What broad generalizations can you make about what to keep or let go?


For example, you may be really forgetful about taking care of dry cleaning. Why not clear out all of the "dry clean only" items from your wardrobe? Or maybe you realize that your favorite work pants are all either gray or black. Why not donate everything that goes with navy and brown? When you create structure and boundaries for yourself, you can feel confident about decluttering what doesn't meet them.


See if rules can help you declutter your kitchen, makeup, office supplies, linen closet, and more.


7. Use an "on hold" box.

First of all, don't let yourself spend more than five minutes trying to decide whether you should keep or remove an item. Set a timer if you have to, but don't let yourself go down a rabbit hole of nostalgia, guilt, or some other form of distraction. That just gets you stuck.


If you're truly on the fence about an item, add it to a box that can be "on hold." Label the box with a date one month away, when you can open it and reconsider the items stored there. You'll either feel joy that the item is still in your possession, or you'll realize you have enough and don't need its presence in your life after all.


8. Make it fun.

Decluttering can be hard work, but it doesn't have to be drudgery. Put on some music, light a scented candle, bend and stretch and maybe even dance around a bit as you work! Try a decluttering challenge or two to jumpstart the process.


9. Consider your trade-offs.

This idea comes from Jennifer who blogs at SimplyFiercely.com. We don't usually notice that everything we own costs not just money, but time and energy. So we think "What's one more tee shirt?" "What's one more item for my collection?" But bit by bit those things add up, weigh us down, steal our attention, and keep us from being our most effective selves.


Jennifer suggests that we name our trade-offs:


For example, if you're thinking about what to do with a sewing machine that you rarely use, tell yourself, "If I keep this, I'm giving up space that I could use for a reading nook. I'll need to spend time cleaning when I could be taking a long bath. I'll need to spend $50 on supplies, which is equivalent to three hours of work."


You can decide if it's worth it, or not. But by listing the trade-offs, you're making an intentional decision, not one based on "What if I need it someday?" or "But it cost a lot of money."


free and clear
10. Don't overfill your storage spaces.

Let your drawers, closets, bins, etc. set limits on what you keep, but don't cram them full. That just keeps you jammed up. Not only are jam-packed spaces visually unappealing, but you can't find what you need without taking everything out. You won't enjoy doing that, so eventually you'll buy more storage bins, and then more stuff – and lo and behold clutter is back! So set limits and leave space. Then your storage solutions will work the way they should.


11. Figure out what makes you feel safe.

If decluttering makes you anxious, realize that keeping things may be giving you a sense of security. One way to overcome this is to figure out what else gives you those feelings of comfort and confidence. Maybe it's:

  • an emergency savings account
  • a week's supply of food or water in the pantry
  • knowing you can call and talk to your sister or best friend at any time

Maybe this will help you find decluttering success.


12. Remember that small steps get you where you want to go.

If your clutter feels overwhelming, you might feel defeated and incapable before you even begin. Here's the good news: Decluttering is a skill. Like learning to drive or play the guitar, it can feel utterly unnatural at first. But with time and consistent practice, you can learn and get good at it.


So even if you start by decluttering just one thing per day (even if it's an old receipt from your junk drawer), that's okay. It might feel pointless, but you're teaching yourself to declutter. Sooner or later, you're going to be a pro.





Decluttering isn't always simple, but you don't have to stay jammed up. With these 12 tips, you can create a more comfortable, easy-care home that holds only what you use and love.

 

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