You’ve lived in your home for several years and accumulated a lot of lifetime of stuff – some pieces stir deep memories while others don’t but you still can’t get rid of them. Why not? Why is it so difficult to let go of things even if you know you need to.
If you struggle to clear things out you’re not alone, and there’s more behind this than just not being able to let go of your things.
The Psychology of Letting Go
One theory, called the “endowment effect,” suggests that we place more value on items once we claim ownership of them. Simply put- once it becomes “ours” it is much harder to let go of.
These findings are not solely based on behaviors towards ownership of large items like cars and homes- but even mundane ones like pens and coffee mugs. This is a challenging reality when it comes to cleaning out the stuff in your closets or considering downsizing.
Regardless of how often we use something if at all, we will weigh their worth more heavily simply because we possess them.
The Emotions Behind It
Research has also shown that we may place value on things we own because they become an extension of ourselves, or if they were a gift, an extension of the person who gave it to us. This can further complicate the decision to get rid of things.
Letting go of the item can feel like an abandonment of sorts. What may be more appropriate is to consider that the value is in the memory created and not the physical item itself.
One approach grabbing the attention of many is the KonMari Method, introduced by Marie Kondo. It is gaining notoriety as a way to tackle clutter and create your “ideal space.”
The basic concept is that you commit to tidying things up, make a decision about your ideal lifestyle, and address your belongings by category rather than a room.
People who are ‘Kondo-ing’ it adhere to these 6 ‘rules’ of the philosophy:
- Commit yourself to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
- Finish discarding first
- Tidy by category; not by location
- Follow the right order
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
The most notable aspect of this method is when you are sorting through your stuff, you physically hold them and note if they bring the feeling of “joy” to you when deciding what goes and what stays.
Once you’ve made decisions about what items are worth holding onto in the lifestyle you are designing, you will likely need to decide where those items that did not “make the cut” need to go.
What To Do With It All
- Donating or gift the item(s) to someone that will find them useful at the stage of life they are in. From churches to community groups there are likely recipients for most of the items you’ve set aside.
- Plan to sell it if you believe the item is worth a bit of money but beware of the endowment effect here as we often place more value on things once they become our own. Research the resale value of items online or consult with a company that does auction or consignment to see if there is indeed a market for your item.
- Pass it on to a loved one if they want it – and that’s the catch. Your children and grandchildren may not want your stuff. You may find that they have no place for grandpa’s chair in their current lifestyle or don’t like the style of it. So talk to your loved ones about the items you wish to leave behind before the conversation becomes a necessity.
- Find a new home for things you valued but your children don’t. Just because your children don’t want that antique table you collected doesn’t mean another younger person doesn’t want it. Passing that table onto someone who thinks it’s as beautiful as you do is a great feeling, even if the person isn’t in your family. Take a photo of it and know that it is going to be taken care of.
Adapted from the Life Enriching Communities, Inc. blog.