Decluttering Paralysis and Why It Happens [Episode 2]

Have you ever felt completely stuck with your decluttering? You know what you should do, but for whatever reason, you just can’t follow through? Welcome to decluttering paralysis. Tune in to learn more about why this happens and how to finally break free.

In This Episode:

  • What is decluttering paralysis?
  • Why I nearly gave up on decluttering
  • How to unstuck and follow through with your decluttering

Featured In This Episode:

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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTS

Hello, and welcome to The Simply and Fiercely Show a podcast for women who want to clear their clutter and create space for freedom and joy. If your life keeps getting bigger but not better, keep listening to learn about decluttering from the inside out. It’s about creating a life that’s aligned with your values and priorities. So, you can have more of what matters, and less of what doesn’t. I’m your host, Jennifer and I’m so glad you’re here. Let’s get started. 

Hello, everyone, Jen here and welcome to episode two of The Simply and Fiercely Show. Today, we’re gonna be talking about something that I call “decluttering paralysis”, which is just a term that I made up. But I made it up to describe what happens when you’re decluttering and things are going pretty well, you’re making some progress, you’re starting to feel pretty good about yourself and then suddenly, you come across something that completely derails you. So, I mean, it could be anything, just some random item in your home or your closet, just something that really trips you up. It’s something that you don’t know what to do with or I guess perhaps more accurately, you know what you should do with it but there’s something some kind of feeling that overwhelms you and you just feel really stuck, right? Or even paralyzed, right? So, hence the term decluttering paralysis. You just don’t know how to move forward and usually from my experience this tends to completely destroy your decluttering plans, you lose your momentum. It all, it all just feels too hard and you end up giving up. 

So, let me start by telling you an example of when I experienced decluttering paralysis. So, I can remember a time when I was decluttering my closet, I guess probably about 10 years ago or so and I can remember it really, really vividly it’s in a house where I used to live in Tasmania. I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom in my tiny townhouse and I was just completely surrounded by mountains of clothes. Yeah! So as many of you have heard me say before I used to be a shopaholic, so when I say I had a lot of clothes, I had a lot of clothes. Right back in this time, I was probably shopping at least five days a week and my closet was a reflection of this. So, I had piles of clothes everywhere, I don’t know if you’ve heard sort of a really I guess common decluttering advice, when you’re decluttering your closet is to take everything out so you can see everything. 

So, I’d emptied out my closet and emptied out my drawers, I dug out all my storage tubs because you know that I hadn’t storage up, sorry, a lot of clothes, a lot, a lot of stuff. So, here I am sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of clothes and I can remember I’m going through everything and I’m sort of you know one at a time picking everything up. You know deciding, is it something to keep? Is it something to donate? Is it something to sell, etc.? And then I remember coming across this blouse, right? It was I loved this blouse, this is blush pink color 100% silk with these sorts of short but like loose flowy sleeves and it was very beautiful and very, very expensive.I think, I think if I think back, I probably paid around I think $120 for it which obviously, you know expensive. It’s relative but for me that was a lot of money, a lot more than I would normally spend for a top and I’m pretty sure that $120 was actually the clearance price. I remember buying it from this very trendy sort of boutique shop where I normally never even went in the door because I knew that everything was out of my price range. 

But for whatever reason, I must have been in a bit of a spending mood or something that day and so I’ve went into the shop and I remember being really really excited because I found this blouse and it was something that I liked and it was on sale. So even though it was a bit of a stretch, I could actually afford it right. So, I made this really impulsive purchase. Now, I had this so I have this silk top I’ve got it at home, at this stage I’ve only had it for a few years and like I adored it, it was so beautiful and every time I looked into my closet and I see it like it just made me happy to look at it which is so pretty. But as is often the case and maybe some of you can relate the problem is I never worked. Okay. So, I mean, if I’m honest and I’m you know being realistic it was probably a bit too fancy for my day-to-day life. First of all, I think I was scared to wear it because it was this like delicate silk and I’m a very not delicate person. So, I think I was terrified that I was going to ruin it, especially because it was so expensive, you know and then even beyond that it wasn’t really my style. 

You know in my everyday life, I’m not actually a very feminine dresser, I like casual basics. I wear lots of like jeans and tank tops. Or if I am feeling a bit more like getting dressed up, I tend to have sort of like a more bohemian style than a girly style, that makes sense. So, I’ve got this blouse, it’s very, very beautiful, it’s not my style and I’ve had it for several years and I have never worn it. Okay, or maybe I’ve worn at once and probably wore it once. So, as I’m decluttering and I’m going through everything one at a time, I’ve got this blouse in my hands, I’m looking at it and the logical part of my brain knows that I shouldn’t keep it. Okay. Even even at the time even feeling so conflicted about this blouse, I think that I can confidently say that I was 100% sure that I was never going to wear it. Okay, if I had chances to wear it, I just never pulled it out of my closet and I knew I wasn’t going to. I guess that that part of things wasn’t even up for debate, really. 

But you know, yet the even though the logical, intelligent side of my brain was saying, you’re never going to wear this. I remember feeling this completely overwhelming sense of attachment. Okay, like in closing, as I’m recording this and closing my eyes and I can even imagine it like I’m holding this blouse in my hands and the idea of getting rid of it just felt impossible. That was like, oh, like something just, you can’t obviously see me I’m like clutching my finger. Just the idea of letting go was horrible, right. And so, I’m sitting there and, and I guess this is where I’m saying I’m paralyzed this is where the decluttering paralysis kicked in and you know it’s embarrassing.

Really, like, at the time I almost wanted to cry and I feel kind of silly admitting it because obviously it’s just a blouse. But you know back then I just felt so torn and stupid, really because on one hand, you know, it’s like I was like being torn in two directions. Like on one hand, my logical brain saying, just get rid of it, right? You’re not gonna wear it, like don’t hang on to things that you don’t wear but at the same time, I just, I just could not imagine letting go. And these kinds of thoughts, they really sent me kind of spiraling out of control, I guess a little bit in the sense that I was so angry with myself, all right, because because I’m a grown woman here. 

You know, I’m independent, I know I’m independent and I’m smart and I know that I’m a capable person, you know, who goes through my life doing all the things that adults need to do. For whatever reason, I just could not declutter this silly blouse. So, I’m beating myself up and you know by that stage of decluttering, I’ve probably sat there looking, just staring at this blouse and having this internal debate in my mind I don’t know maybe 20 minutes or so. And I guess at that point, any hopes I had of actually finishing my decluttering project you know was just gone out the window. And more than that, I really started to have these thoughts like just about decluttering in general, like what’s the point of this? Like, why am I putting myself through all this? It’s obviously, you know, I thought it was going to be easy, but it’s not and I just started feel a bit ridiculous. 

Yeah, it just reminds me of like, when I was younger, I used to be a runner. And so now I haven’t put on running shoes in over 10 years and I tell my husband, all the time that like I’ll you know, one day I’d love to run a marathon. And I’m not saying it’s impossible and I still hope that I do. But it’s pretty clear right now that that’s not a priority. That’s just like this Sunday fantasy, right?

Like one day, it’d be nice to do. But if I’m honest with myself, right now, I’m not prepared to commit, it’s not something I’m really going to do. And so, I kind of remember feeling that way about my decluttering. You know, I had was so excited to give it a shot and I’d worked myself up into you know tackling my closet which was this huge project. But then I experienced this decluttering paralysis and I just wanted to give up, you know, it was felt so hard and the whole idea of downsizing and simplifying and decluttering it just didn’t seem to be worth the hassle, you know. 

So, there was this feeling of dejection, this feeling of being really incompetent and looking back if I think about like, why did I feel that way? I can see that a part of it is because I thought the decluttering was going to be a lot easier. Okay, so at the time, I had read a lot online about decluttering, if you listen to episode one, you’ll know that I was first introduced to decluttering through blogs, right? And perhaps that’s how you found me because I obviously have a blog as well.

But these blogs are full of lots of decluttering tips and advice and I kept seeing these like sound bites going around where they were things like, you know, like, don’t treat your home like a storage space, right? You’ve probably heard that before or or another one is you know, if you’re not going to use it, get rid of it. Yeah. Or I think probably one that I heard all the time, it’s just like, it’s just stuff. Yeah. You know, it’s you know, why be attached to your emotions don’t live in your stuff is just stuff, let it go. And, logically, that makes sense, of course. Right? 

So, I’m not going to argue with any of those statements, you know, you shouldn’t keep things that you don’t use. All right. And obviously, it is just stuff. My logical brain knew this and I think that’s why it was so frustrating for me why I felt so paralyzed. My brain knew something, my brain knew that it was logical to let go but I couldn’t. I knew it was supposed to be easy, but it wasn’t. And it just, it just made me want to tear my hair out, you know. I just wanted to give up on this whole stupid idea of decluttering and then never think about it again. 

Okay, so this, this was my experience with decluttering paralysis. And I don’t know if you can relate to the story at all, maybe, you know, maybe it wasn’t a blouse that got you feeling stuck. But I think, you know, we’ve all kind of gone down this path of just really getting stuck somewhere with our decluttering. And so, if you can relate here is what I want you to know. First and foremost, stuff is not just stuff. Yeah. And yeah, yes, I you know, I’m obviously contradicting myself, because I said a few minutes ago that yeah, it’s logical, it makes sense. And obviously, like, if you’re being really literal, it is just stuff. But I think that when you’re decluttering, it’s more helpful to think of your stuff, whatever it is, be it an old sweater, or an old textbook, or even it has something silly like a coffee mug, or whatever it is that you are struggling to declutter. I like to think of it as a placeholder for something, it’s representative of something. Alright? The things you own. 

Everything you own, can represent, fears, thoughts, anxieties, beliefs, there are a million things that it can be, and it’s different for everyone. But in general, if you are struggling to declutter, if you’re, if you’re feeling stuck with something, or you’re experiencing this decluttering paralysis then there is some type of emotional work that needs to be done. Okay. And I think we’ll go back to the example of my blouse, I think that’s the best way to explain it. So, thinking back now to my, my very lovely pink silk blouse and knowing, you know, with the wisdom of life 10 years later looking in the rearview mirror, I can see several reasons why I was so attached to this top, it’s complicated. 

But one that really stands out to me is that I know that that blouse was so important because on some level it made me feel like I fit in. Like I noticed, like I fit it in, like I could go somewhere where I didn’t think I belonged. Right.

So, I guess if you go back to the story that I was telling earlier, right about buying that blouse, you remember that I bought it from this fancy shop and you know, even now I can remember here so clearly how I felt walking in the door and just feeling like I didn’t belong there. Like it wasn’t and again this is all embarrassing, I know it is and it’s kind of you know, it’s one of the things we don’t like to say out loud, even though I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

But I remember walking into this shop and just thinking, you know, I’m not good enough. I’m not pretty enough or stylish enough for it’s silly as this even, you know, to say the word like I’m not cool enough to be shopping there. Right?  And so, you know, yeah, it’s embarrassing, but it’s true and I didn’t feel like I belonged there or at least I didn’t feel like I belonged there until I bought the silly blouse. Right?

Again, you know, it’s it’s ridiculous, but on some level, not necessarily conscious like in my subconscious mind it was like having that blouse was like a ticket into some sort of exclusive club. It was like proof that, yeah, I can walk into that shop and I can shop there and I deserve nice things and I’m just as good as all the other people who buy things from the shop. Right? And again, of course I’m I want to acknowledge obviously I know that makes no sense, like people don’t deserve things, people aren’t good or they aren’t, you know better than others because of where they shop. But on some subconscious level I obviously had some beliefs about that, so if we go back to the idea of decluttering paralysis and we kind of bring this conversation full circle, I think that when we’re decluttering and we get stuck, when we experience this decluttering paralysis. 

It’s because we don’t know what problem we’re trying to solve. Okay, so for most of us, I know, I felt this way. For years, we think that decluttering is this really practical challenge and that we just need to like roll up our sleeves and get on with it and just sort of like have some self-discipline. And I guess like almost force ourselves into just making decisions about what to keep. It’s like, like, like, when you want to like spring clean your house, right? Like it’s annoying, it’s attached, you don’t want to do but you just gotta roll up your sleeves and just get in there and dive in and just do the work, right? So that’s kind of how I thought about decluttering, it was just like this practical job and I just needed to like not be lazy and just get on with it, do the decluttering. 

But you know then obviously, as I said I experienced this decluttering paralysis, you know, they just getting on with things and just they’re just doing the work wasn’t working. Yeah. So, like, you know, when we get to that point where all the decluttering hacks and all the tips that we’ve read about on blogs and books, and you know, when it doesn’t get us anywhere that we’re kind of less left thinking like, well now what do I do now? For me, the kind of thoughts that I was having it’s like, am I just broken. Is something wrong with me? Just kind of like beating my head against the wall, just trying to push through with my decluttering. And the reason that I’m sort of in that place, so that we’re all sort of in that place if you’re experiencing it is because we’re not looking for the real problem. Yeah. 

So, it’s like the equivalent of having a really bad, horrible cough and you just keep taking cough medicine trying to fix it. But you know, it’s not working, because let’s say you have an infection of, I’m not a doctor, so you have a chest infection or something and you need antibiotics. Yeah. Again, I’m not a doctor but the point is, if you don’t, if you’re not getting to the root cause of the problem, if you’re just treating the symptoms then you’re never really going to get better. Right? So, if we think about with your clutter, if you don’t put the effort into understanding your relationship with clutter whatever that looks like for you whatever that attachment that keeps you sort of paralyzed. Yeah, like I was saying, like, I was just holding this blouse, looking at it and knowing what I’m supposed to do, but like, like a, like a statue, I’m just staring at it. And I just can’t move, I just don’t know what to do with it. 

If you don’t get down to sort of understanding why that is, then it is like it is like fighting a battle without knowing who your enemy is. Okay. So, I guess the real takeaway here is that I want you to know that there are two parts to decluttering. Okay. 

The first part is this practical side of things and I feel like that is what gets the majority of the attention. Especially in like, you know, mainstream media. I was looking the other day; I was actually just doing a quick Google search for like, decluttering tips, I just popped that in there just out of curiosity to see what was there. You know and its all just things that are just so superficial. Like, I mean, to be completely honest, I think that half the tips I found on the first page of Google were just about how to store your clutter. But even then, when you get past that it’s like these kinds of hack type tips, like, you know, like sorting your things into piles or you know, even even better tips like, like, let’s say you’re decluttering your closet, you’ve probably heard about this hanger trick.

If not, it’s what you do is you hang up all your clothes and you put everything in the closet with the hangers sort of the wrong way, then what you do is when you wear something and then after you wash it and you put it back in the closet you turn, you put it in with the hanger the right way and this this exercise is really helpful because after a set period of time, let’s say you know three months or whatever works for you, you can easily see what you’re not wearing because the hanger will still be backwards. And then in theory, you just get rid of anything you’re not wearing, right. So, if we just take this as it is if we just take it as like a practical tip. You know, you don’t keep things that you’re not wearing, right. 

So, these kind of tips and hacks are useful. I don’t want to say that it’s not, you know, the hanger trick is a useful one that but lots of people swear by. But if you are decluttering and you were trying all these things, you’re doing the hanger trick you’re doing, you know, you’re following all the hacks and tips that you’ve read online and you just keep getting stuck, or, you know, paralyzed, we should say, then instead of getting giving up, it is helpful to recognize that there is this whole other side to the decluttering process. The side of things that people, I think, just don’t talk about enough. When I say people, I guess I’m speaking really broadly, you know about like, maybe perhaps what I’ve seen mainstream decluttering blogs and things talk about. 

So, this other side of decluttering is, the more emotional side, we really have to dig around and perhaps go that step further to unravel your relationship with clutter. Yeah. Which isn’t always easy or actually, in fact I’ll just say that it’s never easy. At least, it’s not easy, it’s not easy to understand, you know why we feel so attached to our clutter but at least it gives you a direction. It gives you something to work towards or something to work on, it gives you a problem to solve. So instead of just throwing your hands up in the air, and just saying this isn’t working, it’s it’s impossible and then just giving up.

Or, or if I think about me, to be honest, I didn’t necessarily give up, what I ended up doing is spending several years trying the same things over and over and over again and then just getting really frustrated when I wasn’t making any progress. Yeah, I was just trying to force myself to declutter but it wasn’t working. So, if you’re experiencing this, I invite you to break free from your decluttering paralysis, by instead of just kind of kind of taking it or treating it like this practical exercise, instead of treating it like you know, cleaning project. Instead, take a deeper look at your relationship with clutter, okay, you just sort of, you know, spend time journaling and really just trying to understand why you feel so attached. Okay. And once you do that, you’re going to be given the keys to letting go, okay, these are clues, these are like signposts of you tell you what kind of work you need to do to let go of your clutter. Okay. 

And if this is something that you want support with, I will mention that that’s the kind of work we do in my signature decluttering program, which is called Clear Your Clutter, we open the doors twice a year, the next enrollment period will be in July. But if you’re interested, just learn more, you can visit https://simply-fiercely.teachable.com/p/clear-your-clutter, okay, so then you go to this page where you’ll hear a bit more about the program and then you can also get on the waitlist. 

But you know if that if that’s not for you, you know, regardless of you know, whether you’re looking for support or not at this time, I do recommend that if you are getting stuck, if you feel paralyzed with your clutter, instead of kind of like doing the same thing over and over again and kind of like banging your head against the wall or beating yourself up, that’s really common. I’m so many the people I work with, spend a lot of time beating themselves up about their clutter and instead, just being a bit more like, I like to use the phrase compassionate curiosity and just see if you can, you know, just ask some questions and just sort of see if you can figure out why is it that you feel so attached? What does my stuff represent? And when you start to uncover those beliefs, you know, sort of the work you need to do of letting go and then letting go of your stuff just happens naturally, as a byproduct of working on your fears and anxieties and whatever it is that is keeping you stuck. Okay, so, that’s all for now. Thank you for listening and enjoy the rest of your day. Bye!

Thank you for listening to The Simply and Fiercely Show. If you want to learn more, you can download my free mindful decluttering guide and learn all the secrets that helped me go from shopaholic to minimalist all you need to do is visit simplyfiercely.com/freeguide that’s all one word to get instant access. Until next time, thanks again.

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1 thought on “Decluttering Paralysis and Why It Happens [Episode 2]”

  1. Yes, indeed, it is the emotional side of de-cluttering that can keep us stuck. It is because our stuff holds different emotions, memories, etc, that we need to approach it from a different stance, e.g. by journaling and asking the right questions, in order to get things moving again. Starting a conversation with your stuff! Thank you for sharing.

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