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Why (and How) I Don’t Use Emotions to Declutter

I’ll start by explaining why I don’t use emotions as part of my decluttering process. I can’t use emotions to declutter because I’m emotional.

I’d keep everything.

Every baby sock, every book, every bottle of expired pain reliever.

No matter if the baby sock was already too small when my bigfoot kid came out of the womb. That’s exactly what makes it a memory. Remember how we laughed when it didn’t fit? That was a lovely moment.

The sock makes me feel nostalgic.

No matter if I didn’t finish the book because I didn’t even like it. The person who wrote it, whomever he/she is and wherever he/she lives, is a real person. With a mama. A mama who was ridiculously proud of him/her for writing a book. I was excited at the thought of reading that book before I actually read it and I’m not excited about the one-in-a-million risk that the author’s mama would find it in the bargain bin at her local thrift store.

The book (or the thought of purging it) makes me feel guilty.

No matter if the pain reliever sat unused until it expired because it didn’t actually work on my headaches. If I was ever out of the stuff that does work (which could happen since we use it), I’d be thrilled to have something to try in the middle of the night if I needed it. Just in case it might work this time.

The pain reliever makes me feel safe.

I’m being ridiculous, but I’m not.

When I base my decluttering decisions on wanting something or something’s usefulness or its inherent worthiness of being in my home, or even whether it makes me feel a certain way, I open the door to analysis.

I love to analyze.

Pro/con lists and predictions of future scenarios is right up my creative-brain’s alley.

I love dealing in the hypothetical world.

But while there’s a time and place for hypothesizing and feeling, I personally can’t use those tools while decluttering.

I have to get things done. When I started my deslobification process, I couldn’t take the time to feel and think deeply because there was simply too much stuff to feel and think deeply about and feeling and thinking deeply meant I made little progress.

And honestly, feeling and thinking deeply was what got me into the mess.

So how do I declutter without emotions?

I ask fact-based questions. They don’t let me start any answers with a deep breath and a “Wellllll . . . “

They’re questions that have an answer. One answer. No multiple choice possibilities.

They don’t even allow for any follow up “What if?” questions.

My first question is: If I needed this item, where would I look for it first?

There’s only one answer to that question. Even if I have to rack my brain to think of where I’d look first, the first place I come up with is the answer to the question.

This depends heavily on instinct, but not on emotion.

If I can’t answer that first question, I ask my second question: If I needed this item, would it ever occur to me that I already had one? 

While there can be some angst caused by my desire to answer this question with a lie, the actual answer is either yes or no.

No “no, but”s or “what ifs” needed, the answer is yes or no.

Yes. Or no.

Nothing to analyze.

But what about when I just can’t let go? Or what if I had a first place I’d look for more things than can fit in my house?

I have a non-emotional strategy for that, too.

I can keep anything I want to keep. I just can’t keep everything.

Does it fit? 

Again, this is a question that doesn’t allow for analysis. It either fits or it doesn’t.

But it does allow for choice. As long as I have space for something (real space, not shoved in where I can’t actually see or get to it easily), I can keep it.

Somehow, this yes or no way of deciding if something gets to stay in my home frees me from using my emotions to decide if it can stay. I’m not evaluating the item. I’m not assessing its value.

I’m letting the amount of space I have available make the decision for me.

So if I have three dishtowels, but only drawer space for two, I don’t ask which ones I like better. I don’t worry about which make me happy. I just pick the two that deserve drawer space.

The two that deserve drawer space are generally the ones I like better and that make me happy. But happiness and preferences can put me down the path of pro-con lists, self-analysis and self-doubt.

Letting the size of the drawer determine how many I can keep and simply choosing my favorites lets me act on instinct instead of analysis.

Which do I like? ALL of them!!!

Which do I like best? Well, that one.

It’s not that I don’t feel emotions when I declutter. I totally feel them. I just can’t use them to make my decisions. I need non-emotional strategies for that.


Do you have my book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life? There are tons of posts and podcasts about decluttering here on the site, but in the book I lay out my process and apply it to the rooms in your home and the relationships in your life.

Why and How I Don't Use Emotions to Declutter at



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