Have you ever felt paralysed by the idea of decluttering? Does it take you hours to mentally prepare (and then by the time you begin, you’re too exhausted to get anything done)? Do you feel fear and anxiety about the thought of letting go—to the point that you can’t get started? If so, this episode of the Simply + Fiercely show is for you!
In this Episode:
- Why you can’t get started with decluttering
- The importance of rebuilding your relationship with decluttering
- Why too much exposure to blogs or social media can hold you back
- Two thoughts that will change how you feel about decluttering
Featured In this Episode:
- Get your free Mindful Decluttering guide: simplyfiercely.com/freeguide
- Read the blog: simplyfiercely.com/blog
- Connect on Instagram: @simplyfiercely
- Join Clear Your Clutter: simplyfiercely.com/clearyourclutter
Subscribe to The Simply + Fiercely Show
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
00:01 Podcast Intro
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.
00:30 Introduction of the podcast topic and why Jennifer thought of doing this topic for Episode 9?
Hello, everyone, it’s Jen here, and welcome to Episode Nine of the Simply and Fiercely Show. Now as some of you may have noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus lately. And to be completely honest with you, the reason for that was simply life. And I’m probably going to be chatting about that some more in a future episode. But for today, I just want to ease back into things by talking about my favorite topic to talk about and that’s decluttering. Specifically, today, what I want to talk about is how to start decluttering when you’re feeling really anxious, or afraid. And the reason that I chose this topic is that in the work that I do, where I do my group programs, I chat with people one on one about the struggles that they’re having with decluttering, I have come across a few people who really find it hard just to take that first step of getting started. For example, I remember I’ve worked with one person who told me that sometimes it takes them hours and hours, just to mentally gear themselves up for decluttering, right? And then by the time that they actually start, they’ve either run out of time, and so they can’t actually do any decluttering. Or they feel so mentally exhausted, that they can’t actually get anything done. And so I thought this would be a really good topic for a podcast, because I think everyone, to some extent, feels this kind of fear and anxiety from time to time. And you know, what holds us back from doing the things that we want to do, whether decluttering or just even other things in life. And if you think about it, when we’re talking about decluttering, I can give you all the advice in the world, right? I can give you a whole book full of decluttering tips. But if you find that you can’t even bring yourself to begin, if you can’t get your foot in the door, then it’s not going to do any good. It’s kind of like, let’s say that you have the best personal trainer in the world, but you are too afraid to even go in the front door of the gym, and you can’t get started, then it doesn’t matter, does it? You’re still stuck on that step one. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. How do you begin? How do you get over that fear and anxiety so that you can start putting all the decluttering advice that you already know, you know, maybe from my blog or from others? How do you get to the point where you can start to put that into action? Okay, so one last thing, before I dive into that, I just want to point out, sort of like as a disclaimer, I suppose as someone who has personally struggled with anxiety at various stages of my life, I just want to remind you that sometimes you need professional help. If you think that your struggles are about more than decluttering, then please don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or you know, someone just more qualified than me to advise you on mental health. So with that out of the way, let’s dive in. Let’s talk specifically about decluttering and why it can be so hard to get started in the first place.
03:21 Where is the resistance coming from? Why do some people have resistance to get started in decluttering?
Okay, so what you identify as having, like really strong fears and anxiety, or what are you, just find that there’s a bit of resistance to getting started? Where’s that coming from? And why is it so difficult to begin? Will? My guess is that for most people, the struggle is a result of a past negative experience, whether this is conscious or not. For example, you know, you’ve tried to declutter in the past. And if you’re anything like me, you probably started out feeling really hopeful and optimistic, right? But then things didn’t go quite as planned. It was harder than you expected. And over time, these fears and these anxieties have started to build up. And now when you go to declutter, you feel this increased resistance to the point where it feels almost possible to begin. Alternatively, if you’re saying that’s not me, I don’t actually have a lot of experience with decluttering, what you might find is that you haven’t really good imagination. And so you’ve thought a lot about decluttering, to the point that it’s become this big, scary monster in your head.
04:23 What are some examples of the negative experiences, physical and emotional manifestations that build up your fear of decluttering?
Either way, I believe that the key to overcoming these feelings of fear and anxiety is to rebuild your relationship with decluttering. Let’s talk a bit about what that means. And the example that I like to use, which hopefully isn’t triggering for anyone, is to picture someone who has previously been bitten by a dog. I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine that if you’ve been bitten by a dog, you’re going to have this really deadly fear about going near dogs, which of course is understandable, right? You have these memories, this negative experience that is weighing really heavily on your mind. You know, when you see a dog coming, that’s what you’re thinking of it. You might have this physical reaction, like you have butterflies in your stomach, or you might feel frozen. Or you might even feel like running away, right? You’re gonna have a reaction, if you see this dog, and you may not even like, sort of consciously be thinking of the memory. It’s almost like muscle memory, you just instinctively feel afraid and you know that you don’t want to go anywhere near the dog. And so I think for some people, this is what it’s like, with decluttering, you’ve been quote, unquote, bitten by a plastic’s experience. Or you have such a, again, a vivid imagination that you can imagine what that bite would be like. And now you’re afraid to get started. And it just makes sense, because, again, whether conscious or not, you’re imagining all the ways that it might go wrong. Now, I just want to point out that this isn’t always obvious. For example, I know with my own experience, you know, as it started to get harder, I wasn’t necessarily going to declutter and thinking, oh, yeah, I remember the last time I did this, I remember how hard it is and now I feel afraid. My brain wasn’t making all those connections consciously. But what I did feel was frozen and not knowing why. So for me, like when I’m anxious, I have really strong physical symptoms, it can be a little bit hard to explain, but it’s almost like a dead weight on my chest. And I just can’t move almost like I, I have things that I really want to do, but I can’t make myself do them. I just felt really stuck. And I think that’s often the case with people who struggle with decluttering. So for example, I’ve had people tell me things like, I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to begin, you know, I know what I’m supposed to do, but I just can’t follow through, something’s holding you back. Or sometimes even worse. It’s like, Oh, I’m so lazy. I keep procrastinating. I don’t know why I can’t start. And like I said, if you feel that way, I absolutely understand. There’s just this fear and anxiety. And I would argue that whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably also got some type of negative association with decluttering, that is holding you back. Now obviously, I just want to point out that with decluttering, your negative experience is likely to be as traumatic as getting bitten by a dog. Instead, I think that usually it’s not like one very traumatic event. But it’s the accumulation, the buildup, all these multiple negative experiences that are sort of gradually adding up and building on you.
07:19 Jen’s personal experience with decluttering.
I think, for example, what I’m going to do is I’m going to share some of my own experiences with decluttering just to show you how I gotten to that point where, you know, I was at that stage in my life, where I found it almost impossible to begin, where I felt anxious and afraid. Let me just say that right off the bat, when I first started decluttering, I knew very little about it, except what I had read online. I have to say that I was very optimistic, yeah. I loved the idea of living with less, I wanted to have less stress. And really, my expectation was that it was going to be this one off project that I would get done and then I just move with my life, a bit kind of like how you might think about spring cleaning, you know? I expected that it would be a lot of physical work, but I felt completely confident that I’d be able to manage it. But of course, you know, if you’ve heard my story at all, what I didn’t anticipate was the emotional side of decluttering and all of the struggles that I was going to face. Because of that, again, I went into decluttering, thinking it was going to be really easy, like just physical labor, but not mentally hard. And then when that wasn’t the case, it was a really big surprise. I guess the best way to describe it was probably humbling. I had set up all these goals for myself thinking I’d be able to get everything done in a certain timeframe. And then when it became evident that there was no way that that was going to happen. And that honestly, probably, you know, maybe achieved like five or 10% of what I’d set out to do. It was a bit of a shock to the system. I think in the very beginning, I wouldn’t say that I felt demoralized. But I definitely felt a bit low, let down because nobody feels good about failing to complete the goals that they set up for themselves. But anyway, you know, I kept going and the same thing kept happening. And so with each successive round, I would set these big goals for myself, I would fail. And it felt horrible. Right, so I went gradually the more and more attempts I had, which equated to more and more failures. I went from feeling just humbled to full on dejected. And so now in my brain, I’m starting to have really negative thoughts. For me, it was things like what’s wrong with me?
14:35 Why is rebuilding your relationship with decluttering, the key to overcoming fear and anxiety?
The key, as I mentioned before, is rebuilding your relationship with decluttering. And to explain this, just go back to that example with the dog. If you were bitten by a dog, and now you’re scared of dogs and you want to overcome that fear, there’ll be some things that you have to do, right? You’d sort of it’s like you’d have to rebuild trust. You have to ease your way into being around dogs. Now, to do this, you wouldn’t just walk into a room full of dogs, right, you wouldn’t just sit down next to a dog and start petting it. Now, you’d have to be in an environment where you feel safe. And then you would probably ease your way in. Maybe for some people, the first step might even be just looking at people, looking at photos of dogs, getting comfortable with seeing them. And then once you feel a bit more comfortable and safe looking at their photos, you’d probably go into the room and you’d start, you know, 10 feet away, 10 meters away. I mean, I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about overcoming fears with dogs. But I think you can see where I’m going through this. It’s almost like you’d have to retrain your nervous system to feel safe and okay, around dogs. And to some extent, that is what I’m recommending that you do with decluttering. Okay. Now, I know for some of you, you might be like, ‘Well, this sounds silly’. And if you’ve never really felt a strong level of fear and anxiety that I get it. Take what you can from this episode, but obviously, everything might not resonate. But for those of you that have really felt almost physically stuck with getting started, for those of you who have felt frozen, to the point where you can’t implement any other decluttering advice, because you can’t even get your foot in the door to begin, then this is for you.
16:15 Some tips to move forward from fear and anxiety when decluttering.
So here are some tips for moving forward. First, let me say that everything I’ve talked about so far, the way that these bad experiences are sort of adding up and weighing in our mind isn’t always a conscious thing. And I’ve sort of said that before, but I just really want to point it out, because I think that there’s a narrative if we’re not stepping back and sort of looking objectively, we keep thinking like, I thought something was wrong with me. You know what I mean? We’ve sort of talked about it already. We sort of say like, ‘Why do you keep procrastinating? You’re so lazy, why can’t you make yourself do this?’
16:47 First tip is to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong with you.
The very first step is sometimes just acknowledging that it’s not you. That it’s not something that’s fundamentally wrong with you, that you’re not a failure, you’re not broken, there’s nothing about you as a person that’s making it hard to declutter. Instead, we need to practice some self kindness and compassion and say, hey, look, I’ve had these negative experiences, I recognize that they were difficult. And now I’m going to have to take another approach. I’m going to have to start slow, okay, and you sort of give yourself the grace and sort of say, It’s okay to start over. And I need to do this by rebuilding my relationship with decluttering. You know, it’s really important to do this without judging yourself. Kind of this kind of culturally, I think, for most people who probably listening to this, it almost feel sometimes like doing things slowly, is a failure. It’s like, we put so much emphasis on being quick and efficient. And just getting things done, that sometimes taking our time, almost feels like a moral failure, like there’s something, you’re a bad person. But I just want to let you know, I guess, if you’ve ever had those kinds of thoughts that you’re not. And in the end, if you take the time now to start over to rebuild your relationship with clutter, so that you have a strong foundation this time. Will, it will then save you a lot of time in the future. It’s like, have you ever heard the expression that sometimes you need to slow down to speed up? Well, if so, that is definitely the case here. The more compassion that you show yourself, the kinder you are about decluttering, the better you’re going to feel, and that positive experience will just compound with time. Okay, so we’ve talked so much about how the negative experiences compound into this giant fear and anxiety, the opposite is also true. So if you take your time and you’re gentle with yourself, and you take more of a holistic approach to decluttering, it’s going to feel better, you’re going to feel accomplished, you’re going to have good positive feelings about decluttering, which will build up and make it easier to do again. And so that’s going to make it so that you can finish decluttering and quicker. And that kind of roundabout way, that’s really my tip number one. It might sound obvious, but sometimes the first step is just acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong with you. And you just need to step back and try again, you just need to start small.
19:09 Second tip is, you need to start small to get started.
And actually, the starting small is kind of the second tip, you know, not just with decluttering, but with almost everything in life. There’s this tendency to overestimate how much you can get done in a period of time. I don’t know if you’ve experienced it, sort of like, that biting off more than you can chew, thing. It’s definitely as I said, what happened when I first started decluttering, I do it all the time with all sorts of things. And really, when it happens, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Because if you think about it, if you’re trying to do more than physically possible, or just to be clear on something than what’s physically possible, but it’s what’s reasonable for you, based on your past experience. So for example, if you have spent years struggling with decluttering, and you create a plan that you’re going to declutter your whole basement in one afternoon, you’re obviously setting yourself up for failure. I don’t mean that in a mean way, I don’t mean to be negative when you can’t do it. But just being realistic. And we don’t want to fail, you know, quote, unquote, because that reinforces the cycle, makes it even harder for you to start again. What you need to do instead is to start small. And let me just say, for some people who I feel like, really have this deep anxiety about decluttering. And for them, what you might find, if you can relate to that, is that you need to start with just facing your clutter. So for example, I’ve worked with someone who are, quite a few people actually who are dealing with a lot of stuff that belongs to a loved one who’s passed on. There’s obviously going to be a lot of emotion attached to these items. And maybe you’ve got a lot of it that’s hiding in a closet, maybe your whole basement is full of boxes. And a common thing I hear is that they’ve been down there for years. I don’t even want to look at them, because I feel so overwhelmed. If that’s the case, if that’s what sort of you’re experiencing something like that, your first step might not even be decluttering, you might just have to go down in your basement, and sit with your stuff, and just let those emotions wash over you. Again, I know that might sound a bit silly, but you know, maybe what you need is just have a big cry before you begin. So if you think that’s you, plan for it instead of saying, I’m going to go down today and declutter and then cry. Instead, say that, I’m going to go down today, and I’m just going to spend some time with my stuff, and sort of deal with those emotions, let myself have a cry, get that out of my system. And then the next time, I’m going to come down here, I’m going to start small, and then we’ll start working through a few things. That is gonna be a much kinder approach to decluttering. And you’re acknowledging that you need time to grieve. And I just want to point out that when I talk about grieving, that’s not always in the traditional sense, you’re not always grieving the death of a loved one. Sometimes when you’re struggling to declutter, you’re actually in a way grieving yourself, you’re grieving dreams that were never fulfilled, you’re grieving the person that you used to be. There’s all these different aspects of ourselves, of our identity that sometimes we have to let go of, and that can be hard. And it’s actually like grieving. So I believe that everyone has grief that’s associated with decluttering. And unless you acknowledge it, you can’t work through it.
22:11 What are the two simple thoughts that you can embrace as new ways of thinking to replace the old ones?
Another thing that I recommend that’s going to help you rebuild your relationship with decluttering, is to try out some affirmations. Or maybe affirmations aren’t the right word. And I’ll be honest, like, I generally, I don’t know, I don’t really resonate with the idea of affirmations. But if you feel the same way, you could sort of thinking them as just trying some new thoughts on precise, just trying some new ways to think about your decluttering. And here’s some that I highly recommend. Now, I’ll tell you where I learned about these, as some of you may know, I teach a group decluttering program, it’s called Clear Clutter. And what we have is we have eight live zoom calls. And each round. What’s really great about these calls is that it enables me to talk to my students, I can get feedback in real time. And what I’ve learned is that there are two simple thoughts a lot of people struggle with, but when they accept them, when they really embrace these new ways of thinking, it is like a breath of fresh air, and decluttering becomes so much easier. So here they are, I’ll tell you what they are, and then I’ll break them down. One, it’s okay, if decluttering takes a long time. And two, it’s okay, if the latter decluttering is hard. Now, I know these might seem really obvious, right? At least they sort of felt that way to me. But at the same time, what I found really surprising was just the impact that these truth had on some of my students. But the more I thought about it, the more that it made sense. A lot of people are learning about decluttering from the internet, and someone who’s a blogger myself. The truth is, no matter how transparent you try to be, when you’re reading a blog, or following someone on Instagram, you’re only seeing a little glimpse of their journey. You’re not there, when there’s tears, you’re not there, right? Tearing the hair out and digging through boxes. It looks really simple. And I’ve seen it and since I do it myself, you see this blog post, it’s like how to declutter your home in a weekend, for example. When it takes you longer, or when it’s harder work than what you see online, again, it feels really demoralizing, right? And you get that again, that sense of what’s wrong with me. And that’s not going to help you get started at it. No one wants to think of things that you’re going to feel before you can begin. In case you need to hear this. It’s okay for decluttering to take a while and it’s okay for it to be hard. Just setting that expectation for yourself, instead of comparing yourself to people online is really a step forward to creating a kind and compassionate relationship with clutter. Another one here is another way that you can be kind to yourself is in the way that you set goals, because most people do is, they’re like, Hey, I’ve got this afternoon free. I’m going to declutter my closet, which sounds normal and good in theory. But what happens when you don’t finish? What happens when you know it’s harder than you expected? And you realize that there’s no way that you’re going to accomplish your goal, as we’ve talked about so much already, when you feel like a failure, when you don’t do what you set out to do, it feels like crap, to be blunt. And then you’re just contributing to the cycle of negativity, fear and anxiety. So what you can do instead is set time based goals. For example, you don’t say, Hey, I’m going to declutter my whole closet this afternoon, you say, I’m going to spend an hour declutter my closet today. And it doesn’t matter how much I get done. If I just show up for an hour, and I do what I promised myself I was going to do, then I’m going to be proud of myself. And that’s powerful, because that’s something that you can, for the most part control, right? There’s a lot less pressure, you just have to show up and do your best. So if you get to that hour mark, and not everything’s done, fine. You can still say, Hey, I showed up, I did what I said, I’m going to do. And now I’m proud of myself. Let’s contrast that, you know, before you’re a failure, now you’re feeling proud. And that pride is going to carry you forward. Because what happens when you start meeting your goals, you regain confidence. And the more confidence you have, the more that you start to believe in yourself. The fear and anxiety starts to go away.
26:14 Reframing your pattern of thoughts is another way to move forward, to have more space and freedom.
A few more things. Another thing that you can do, it’s a little bit like affirmations. But it’s just a reframe, okay, so these are more thoughts that you can try to emphasize and see if they change the way that you feel about clutter. So for example, if you’re going through your stuff, let’s say that you are clearing out your closet, and the thoughts running through your mind are things like, oh, you know, there’s so much waste here. Why did I buy this? What was I thinking, etc, that pattern of thoughts is going to create anxiety. But there is something we can do, which again, we are intentionally choosing new thoughts to replace the old ones. Admittedly, it’s not always easy but with practice, it really does help. So here’s an example. Let’s say that you’re decluttering, an old shirt, or whatever. And your first thought is how bad you feel about getting rid of it. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that. But I do. And in a way, it’s kind of funny. It’s almost like your shirt has feelings. Kind of like, you know, have you seen Toy Story, the toys talk and they feel bad, they don’t want to be thrown away. Sometimes I swear that I feel that way about my stuff, I feel guilty about getting rid of a shirt almost like I’m doing something wrong to the shirt, you know, but what if instead, you tried reminding yourself, or actually saying these words, I’m decluttering the shirt because I deserve to have more space and freedom in my life. And look, I know that this might sound silly at first. But honestly, I think that sometimes people, women in particular, we are so used to putting everyone’s feelings above ours, that on some level, subconsciously, we’re more worried about offending an old t-shirt than doing what’s best for our lives. Okay, and so sometimes, we just might need a reminder that our feelings and our desires, that they matter, as obvious as that might seem. Another thought that you might want to try on again, isn’t an exact quote, something that I’ve heard somewhere. And it’s kind of stuck with me over the years. But the idea is that something doesn’t have to last forever to be meaningful or worthwhile. On a deeply personal level. This is something that helped me a lot when I got divorced. I’m not saying that getting divorced is the same as decluttering, obviously. But you know, I had that feeling that Oh, no, I’ve wasted years of my life. And it was really hard to deal with. But instead, a reframe that I tried on wasn’t that I wasted those years. It’s just those years were good, they weren’t bad. But now that chapter of my life has ended. And that doesn’t reflect negatively on the past. I’m just moving forward now into this new stage of my life. And it gets to some extent, I think that can be really helpful to think about with our stuff. Some things I service for a while, right? You think about like, I’ve got young kids, and there’s some things I need when they’re babies. And now they’re, you know, my oldest is five, I don’t need some of those things anymore. Doesn’t mean it was a mistake. It was just time they serve their purpose. That chapter of my life has ended and now moving on. You could even think your things for what they’ve done for you, which I’m pretty sure something that Marie Kondo teaches, and I really liked that idea. It’s just saying goodbye and moving on, in a really gentle way, almost like you would with an old friend. When you leave the end here, but there’s just one more thing that I want to recommend if you need to rebuild your relationship with decluttering, which is again, you know, it’s often that first step to overcoming the fear and anxiety.
29:38 Why is it important to do the mental work first before you do the physical work of decluttering?
And so this final tip is probably one of the biggest and it is making time to do the mental work for decluttering before you do the physical work. Now, this is so important, and it’s what I teach in my program, but honestly, I just think that in general, it’s not talked about nearly enough. And here’s why. Imagine again that you’re sitting in your basement, and you are surrounded by 40 boxes of things that remind you of someone from your past, from your mother or your grandmother or something? How are you going to feel? Obviously, it’s different for everyone. But for a lot of us, it’s like an emotional minefield, right? You’re not necessarily in a place where you’re thinking super clearly, when you’re surrounded by all of these items, which represent thoughts and feelings and memories. But what if you did something different? What if before you went down to your basement, you got out your journal, and you know, you just spent some time anticipating your emotions, exploring your fears. And perhaps just being with the memories you’re expecting before you even go into the room. What happens is that gives you some space to work through the difficult stuff, whatever that might be for you. There’s tons of reasons why we feel attached to a clutter. And I teach that in my program, but you just work through whatever feels difficult for you. You write it down, and then you bring down your journal when you are decluttering as a reminder, because I can almost guarantee that when you are surrounded by stuff, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. But if you have something to ground you, a reminder of who you are, what you care about, just something that helps you step back and see the bigger picture. That clarity is going to help you overcome the fear and anxiety. You’re not going to feel as lost and overwhelmed, instead, you’re someone with a purpose. And you feel like you can do this, even if it’s going to take a while.
Those are my thoughts on rebuilding a relationship with decluttering and hopefully minimizing your fear and anxiety. To be clear, this isn’t a magic solution. You’re not going to feel completely different overnight, at least not likely. But it is a starting point. I really believe that if you start to break down some of those initial walls and follow it up with a more compassionate approach to decluttering you’re going to start making real progress.
31:54 Podcast Outro
Okay, so that’s all for today. Have a wonderful day. 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/free guide, that’s all one word to get instant access. Until next time, thanks again.