Decluttering Emotionally Heavy Things

On our decluttering journey, we will come to things that are difficult to let go of, and most of them are items with many emotions tied to them.
On one of my YouTube videos, Lisa asked:

“Rachel, I’m having such a hard time going through my storage room. I want to clear through it but I know I’ll have to face some extremely pain-filled times, opening boxes of textbooks for a career that sadly will not be. I really am lost.”

What are we supposed to do with such emotionally heavy items?

It helps us to take time and process the emotions when we let them go, and letting go is very important!
But how??
What I told Lisa:
Set aside time to do it, a manageable amount of time: a couple of hours a week or a couple of hours a month is a good start. These types of projects shouldn’t be rushed through.
And then pull out one box at a time.
Pick the items up, make a decision about them: Trash, donate, etc. Allowing yourself to grieve as the items pass through your hands to their final destination.
For some people, it can be helpful to have a ceremony to give yourself a sense of closure.

  • Burning the papers in an outdoor fire pit,
  • Neatly wrapping the item(s) with paper and twine for someone to carry out to the dumpster, or
  • Writing a letter saying goodbye to the hopes, dreams, plans, or past.

What if it’s a person that was lost?
We can still benefit from the ceremony of letting items go.
Writing a letter to that person.
This might be a letter of lamenting lost time together, the loss of not being able to experience certain things together, and if the person wasn’t emotionally healthy and available to you, it might express what you wish could have been. These letters can contain any number of emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, resentment, gratitude, love, etc.
(This can help even if the person is alive. You don’t have to send the letter to the person, but expressing all these emotions can be very helpful.)

We don’t have to get rid of everything.

Many people enjoy small reminders of their loved ones sprinkled throughout their homes. It can bring a small to your face as you remember the person.
The burden comes when we try to keep everything we can from that person.
Picking the few items to cherish and letting go of the excess is a healthy process.
Will we ever “get over” the things we lose in life?
We can acknowledge the loss and grieve the loss, and we can continue to live and enjoy life. If we don’t, then other’s who have lost that person have lost us as well.

But why can’t we keep all the things? What’s the harm in it?

We all have a trail to follow. Our path of life.
It will have ups and downs, some smooth valleys, and some challenging mountains. Dark stormy days and bright clear, beautiful days.
And we have a pack on our back.
The lighter the pack, the easier it is to move freely.
We start with nothing, and as we grow older, we stick more and more things into our pack.
At some point in our life, we realize:
“This is heavy! I don’t move as fast as I used to, I’m not able to be as spontaneous in my exploring as I once was. But if I reduce the number of items I carry with me, I know it will be easier.”

Minimalism provides that freedom and flexibility.

The less we have in our possessions, the more freedom and flexibility we have in our life.
We have fewer emotional items holding us down and fewer physical items that require work.
Every item we have requires some sort of management.

Freedom in Cleaning:

Before minimalism, I couldn’t clean the house easily. Even wiping down the kitchen counters took quite a bit of effort:

  • Move the appliances.
  • Move the piles of papers.
  • Move physical scrubbing because the grime built up since I scrubbed it last year.
  • Put everything back on the counters.

After embracing minimalism, I don’t store things on the counter. So wiping them clean happens daily, and it takes only a minute or two.

Freedom in the use of our home:

It used to take me three days to prepare for visitors.
And by prepare, I mean shove all the clutter in the basement and the master bedroom, then give the house a good cleaning.
But now, even when it’s “messy,” I still feel good about opening the door and inviting someone in. I’m not embarrassed of my home. It’s useful to me.

Finding closure.

Holding onto emotional items means we don’t have to acknowledge closure.
If we keep all the baby supplies, we don’t have to acknowledge that we are out of that season of life. But, whether we acknowledge it or not doesn’t change the fact that we ARE out of that season of life.
Sometimes we keep things as proof.
Like if we get rid of all the homework from college, we will lose the proof that we did that work.
But just because we let something go doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Fear and do it anyway.

We may not WANT to get rid of these items.
But we can also look around our home and know that we are sick and tired of dealing with piles and piles of clutter everywhere we look.
The only way to get relief is to make decisions and let some of it go.
If we want an empty storage room like Lisa does? Well, we have to go through the process of getting rid of items.
There is always a gain and a loss.
You can gain freedom from stuff. But that also means you don’t have “security” of stuff.
And you have to choose:

What’s more important?

Having all the things just in case you need them?
Having all the things so you can touch, smell, and experience it IF you want to?
Or having freedom and a home that’s easy to maintain?

On our decluttering journey we will come to things that are really difficult to let go of, and most of them are items that have a lot of emotions tied to them.

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Melinda J Mitchell on 11/05/2021 at 6:36 pm

    Oh wow, yes!! I’m carrying a whole household of stuff on my back!! And I’m exhausted, and constantly falling down. Actually physically, not just metaphorically. I wish.

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