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Avoid Being Held Emotionally Hostage by Your Clutter

Feb 25, 2024

Read time: 5 minutes

The psychology behind clutter is complex, and there are many reasons why we might hold onto possessions that we don’t need. Whether it’s a fear of letting go, a desire for control, or an attachment to the past, our emotional connection to our belongings can make decluttering and simplifying our lives challenging.

But if we don’t take the proper steps to declutter, we’ll find ourselves held emotionally hostage by our clutter, even though we may not directly recognize it.

Today, I want to talk about how we can tell when that’s happening, how to prevent it, and how to let go effectively.

Let’s dive in.

Why do we hold on to things?

There are various reasons and rationale for why people hold on to things.

But regardless of how personal and unique you believe your reason is, the reality is that there is a ton of overlap between how you feel and how many other people feel.

This is what you want to see because it shows that you’re not alone in how you feel and why it’s so hard to get rid of things.

However, if your reason is truly unique, that’s great because that presents an opportunity for someone else to learn from you.

I’ve proven this in the comment section of a video I created a few years ago (847+ comments).

Click here to check it out.

Now, I’d like to probe a bit deeper and speak to the source because clutter that holds us emotionally hostage plays on four emotions:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Attachment (this is a condition fueled by feelings)

Let’s break these down.

The four emotions clutter feeds on:

Fear — One of the most common reasons we hold onto things is out of fear. But fear of what exactly. Consider one of the following:

  • Abandonment
  • Needing to be in control
  • Losing something valuable or sentimental
  • Worrying about how others will act or react if we do (or don’t) get rid of something

Anxiety — We may worry that we are taking a risk by getting rid of something we may need in the future. We may also be concerned about not being able to afford to replace it if necessary. Beyond this, the fear of making the wrong decision can be paralyzing and prevent us from letting go of possessions that no longer serve us.

Guilt — One of the most challenging hurdles to overcome when decluttering is guilt. When we consider the items we’ve purchased with the hope of changing ourselves or becoming a better person, if we don’t use them as intended, the idea of getting rid of them can bring a great deal of guilt. Similarly, we may feel guilt about gifts we’ve received that we haven’t used.

Attachment — Unlike the three emotions listed above, attachment is not an emotion but a condition that often hinders us from decluttering. What fuels attachment are the feelings we have toward or about particular possessions. For instance, possessions from a previous chapter of our lives can be hard to let go of because we may believe that they are an integral part of who we are, and letting them go would mean losing a piece of ourselves (or the pleasant memories those items resurface).

How do we know when this is happening?

It can be challenging to recognize when our clutter is holding us emotionally hostage. So, to help us build awareness, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Feeling the urge to retreat and ignore your clutter, but you are unable to due to its impacts on your daily life.
  • Feeling frustrated and stuck in the frozen zone.
  • Blaming yourself for any tension or strain in your relationships.
  • Worrying about how others will act or react to your cluttered environment.
  • Experiencing a constant sense of scarcity and anxiety about possible needs for the future.
  • Feeling like letting go of clutter would mean losing a piece of who you are.

In all cases, there’s a power shift without consent — and our clutter is the one steering the ship.

But it doesn’t have to remain this way.

You can regain control of your life by:

  1. Quickly recognizing and stopping emotional hostage situations
  2. Learning to let go effectively

Let’s take these one at a time.

Recognize quickly when it’s happening

Take a step back from decluttering and observe your behavior and routine. If you feel emotionally held hostage by your clutter, it’s essential to recognize it as soon as possible. Reflect on the statements that resonate with you from those I highlighted above, and consider journaling or keeping a written log of moments like these.

This exercise will help you identify and acknowledge these situations more frequently, giving you the confidence to take control of them.

Learn to let go effectively

The remaining half is learning to let go effectively. Here’s how you may consider approaching this.

Step 1 - Set boundaries: Draw a hard line in the sand and declare that you will not allow your clutter to hold you emotionally hostage any longer. Decide that today is day one of a new chapter — titled less clutter, more clarity.

Step 2 - Develop a “letting go” mindset: This involves shifting your perspective from one of scarcity to one of abundance and recognizing that you don’t need to hold onto possessions to feel secure or fulfilled.

Step 3 - Identifying what you value: Do you know with all certainty who you are and what’s important to you? This is the level of clarity you need to succeed in life and foster a successful decluttering experience. If you don’t know the answer to this question, download my core values worksheet, which will guide you through the necessary steps.

Step 4 - Set clear criteria: What standard are you upholding for yourself? How are you consistently judging and deciding what to keep and what to let go of? (Consider decluttering like you’re packing for vacation)

Step 5 - Follow a process that doesn’t overwhelm you: I suggest building a project bank and fleshing out a personalized action plan for yourself versus following a predetermined decluttering checklist. Why? Here are two noteworthy reasons for doing this:

  • Your action plan should reflect what matters most to you. What you need to “let go” of will differ from others depending on your values and priorities.
  • Writing an action plan is an essential part of the decluttering process. If you want to achieve less clutter and more clarity (for good), then you have to tackle the thoughts and beliefs that led to your clutter in the first place. This can only happen when you take a hands-on approach to creating your “decluttering checklist.”

Will any of this be easy? No.

Worth it? More than you know.

I hope this helps you see that you can break free from being held emotionally hostage by your clutter.

What are you waiting for?

Get started today.

I’ll see you next week.


Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

 The Decluttering Starter Kit: Skip the overwhelm and jumpstart your decluttering journey. This comprehensive course will teach and guide you through my multi-step action plan for decluttering with less overwhelm and more progress each week. Get access here.


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