Piles of things, a colourful chaos of fabrics and textiles. Old papers, squashed, crumpled, poorly handwritten notes. Toppling stacks of DVDs, a suitcase, a stack of books you were meant to read. Then, among it all, a gift you were given, now in a donation pile. You look at it twice, three times. You move it to another pile. The guilt sets in.

Decluttering is never a simple task. Even when it’s going well, it can feel overwhelming. Suddenly the saying, ‘you have to make a mess to fix a mess’ is tangible. Sometimes it leaves us, arm deep in trash, trying to retrieve something we realised we actually need. Sometimes it just leaves us with a pit of guilt, resonating in us, like a horrible, old memory which we hoped we’d forgotten.

No amount of internalising Marie Kondo’s thankful approach to decluttering can fix the inevitable guilt which arises once we try to get rid of that item. We’ve all got something, lying in a drawer, or in a storage space, which brings up all kinds of feelings which we’d rather not have.

If minimalism can teach us anything, it’s that things aren’t just things. They’re meanings, memories, thoughts, symbols, signifiers. That’s why, too many things and we become crushed by the intense weight of all that stuff. What too many of us do is try to shove the guilt down, feel something else. Or, we internalise it, keep that unwanted gift, that item which belonged to an old friend, and then we feel it all over again, every time wee see the guilty item.

So, what do we do? Among the piles of things, meanings, thoughts, guilt. We feel it. We allow ourselves to experience those things, even if they’re difficult. We recognise it and sit with it for a while. Not always having to be thankful, necessarily, but perhaps just thoughtful. Then we let it go. The item, and everything that came with it. We declutter it all.

Have you felt guilt when trying to declutter? What are your techniques for effective decluttering?

Featured image: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels.

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