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What To Do When You Hit A Decluttering Roadblock

October 16, 2018
What To Do When You Hit A Decluttering Roadblock_ Tiny Ambitions

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Hey everyone! I’m trying something a little different in this week’s episode of Tiny Bites. In addition to the audio (obviously, it is a podcast after all), I’m also going to include the transcript from the episode for those of you who prefer to read rather than listen. If you want me to keep including transcripts for Tiny Bites episodes, let me know and I will!

Press play below to listen to this week’s episode, listen using one of the links above, or keep scrolling for the episode transcript!

As promised in the last episode of Tiny Bites, this week’s episode is another listener request. When I put out my call for topics, fellow blogger and friend Penny from She Picks Up Pennies, asked if I would talk about the next steps in the decluttering process, for people who are deep in the middle of it and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel (my words, not Penny’s).

When Penny suggested this topic, my wheels immediately started turning because I’ve been out of that place for a couple of years now.

So what is the next step after decluttering?

The lovely and talented Penny followed up on her initial topic request with a statement/question/life pondering that I wanted to share here because I think it gives a little more context and I think it is something that a lot of people out there feel when they start on a decluttering or minimalism journey.

Penny said “And but also…I’m not done. I’m at that stage where I’ve done the easy stuff and a lot of the hard stuff. I’m happy. I feel a difference. But I’m not done. Does that make sense?”

The place that Penny (and lots of other declutterers out there are in) is the place I lovingly call:

Decluttering or minimalist limbo

Decluttering limbo is that place you get to when you’ve made pretty good strides in decluttering the things that don’t add value to your life anymore (or you’ve gotten to the place where you realize they never really added any value to your life). For some people, that means you’ve minimized a lot of stuff, for others, you may just be scratching the surface.

Either way, you can feel intuitively that there is more for you to do. And you want to do it. Where the limbo comes in is that you’re not really sure how to go about it anymore. Maybe a lot of it came easily for you. Maybe you started with the things you knew would be the easiest for you to get rid of and now you’re at a roadblock. Or you’ve tackled some of the hard stuff, but you know there is still room to go.

From my experience, I believe this is the place where the decluttering process becomes a little bit less about the actual stuff in your life and becomes more about the intangible things in your life (relationships, commitments, more social things).

Once you start making the physical space in your life, it’s only natural that the other non-physical aspects of your life would come into view and in a lot of cases, under scrutiny through your new ‘everything must go’ decluttering lens.

If you’ve been feeling stuck in your decluttering process, or you’ve tackled a majority of your stuff and you feel like you’re ready for the next step, but you’re not sure what the next step is, here are some things to ask yourself.

What is your decluttering intention?

If you’re finding yourself feeling fidgety – like you’re itching to get rid of something from your life, but you don’t actually know what that thing is, ask yourself “am I trying to get rid of something just for the sake of getting rid of something?” “Or, is there actually more stuff that doesn’t add value to my life that is worth getting rid of?”

Once you start going down the minimalist rabbit hole, it can be easy to fall into the opposite end of the consumption spectrum, which is keeping up with The Minimalists – trying to own as few things as possible. This is obviously not particularly helpful since everyone’s lives are different and we all operate under different stuff needs.

With the minimalist aesthetic having an in vogue moment right now, it can become appealing to want our lives to look like the white, perfectly manicured images that are constantly filling up our Instagram feeds. But, minimalism isn’t a competition. It’s not about being able to say “I only own three pairs of shoes, therefore, I win!”. No one is going to give you a medal for what you do or don’t own. But, the internet certainly makes it seem like there is a minimalist right way to live and a specific number of things to be decluttered when you will finally be happy.

I can promise you this, getting rid of stuff will make space in your life for more of the things you want. But it can’t make you happy if you don’t like what your life looks like right now.

Which brings me to my next point.

Is it time to get non-physical?

You’re deep in it. You’re literally doing the work to declutter and simplify your life. Beyond the physical act of decluttering, you’re working through some emotional and mental stuff right now. Most likely, you didn’t even know you had that emotional and mental stuff until you started working on the physical stuff that was clogging up your life. I know that was the case for me.

And, that can be a scary place to be. That can be a place where you start to reevaluate your relationships (platonic friendships and romantic ones), your commitments and your general idea of how the world works and even who you are as a person. That probably sounds dramatic but it’s honestly true. For example, I didn’t know until I started decluttering that I was using my clothes and other possessions as a mask so people didn’t actually have to get close to me. I could just use my stuff to project whatever I thought I wanted someone to know about me, so I didn’t actually have to connect with them on any real level.

If you feel like you have more to do on your decluttering journey, it might not be the physical stuff you have to keep or start working on. It might be time to ask yourself – “how can I simplify my personal life? Or what can I declutter from my life that isn’t a tangible item?”

When I first started my minimalist journey, I was newly out of a long-term relationship (my decision), and I found that the more stuff I got rid of, the more I noticed what friendships and familial relationships were one-sided or unequal.

I had to say goodbye to some friendships that were more draining than empowering and restructure some family relationships to keep myself in a happy place. That was hard work, in some ways easier and in some ways harder than decluttering my physical stuff. But, it was just as important of a task as the rest of it. In a lot of ways, this kind of simplifying is the entire point of minimalism (in my opinion). You have to get through all the physical stuff first, to help you get to a place where you know who and what you value in your life.

Is it time to just let it go?

If I asked you -“what do you want to declutter from your house that you haven’t yet?” – do you have a clear answer? If you’re sitting on a pile of stuff that you know in your gut you want to get rid of but you haven’t yet made that leap, it’s time to ask yourself ‘why am I holding onto this?”.

Now let me be clear, there are lots of good reasons to hold onto something. I can’t tell you what those reasons are, they are uniquely your own. But, if you don’t have a good reason for holding onto something, even though you know deep down you want to get rid of it, it’s time to take a deep breath and get down to it. I see a lot of people getting tripped up on stuff that was given to them as gifts by people that they love, but that they just don’t use. The guilt becomes the main reason they can’t part with an item. But, I’m going to let you in on a secret – a couple of secrets actually.

  1. Most people can’t remember what they got anyone as gifts (so they probably won’t even notice you don’t own it anymore). 
  2. If you’re not using it, the item isn’t fulfilling the purpose that your loved one hoped that it would in your life.
  3. That item would be better off getting rehomed to someone who will actually use it and enjoy it.

So, if you’re holding onto stuff in your life out of guilt (and you’re genuinely not using it), don’t. Just let it go.

It’s the Start of Something Beautiful

Finally, I don’t want to say that there’s ever an end to the decluttering period. For sure, the big, huge, several large black garbage bag type purges come to a halt, but the process never stops completely. The more you go down the decluttering and simplifying path, you’ll naturally weed even more stuff out of your life that doesn’t need to be there. I’m over five years into this process and just this week I decided I’m going to take another look at the glassware section of my kitchen, to see if I can make my cabinets a little more roomy. So, once the big purges are over, it does become more of maintenance type process.

However, if you’re like me, there is one more day-to-day step that I take to keep myself on track. This won’t apply to everyone, but if you’ve ever struggled with compulsive consumption, constant vigilance becomes a part of your everyday life. I’ve got a post about this on the blog, so I’ll link it in the show notes, but a key part of my minimalist success thus far, has been keeping my compulsive shopping and browsing tendencies in check. If I hadn’t done that, I’d be right back where I was when before I started decluttering, because I just would have replaced everything I got rid of in the first place.

Like any other habit that you want to change, it takes practice and repetition, but eventually it becomes second nature for you to not check your favourite stores for sales, to not subscribe to the e-mail list of a brand you know you just can’t say no to, and to generally find a level of satisfaction with whatever you already own that just wasn’t there before.

Are you just beginning your decluttering process? Are you halfway through? Are you a total minimalist expert? Let me know in the comments.

If you have any questions about decluttering, minimalism or living the simple life, let me know! I love getting your questions.

That’s it for this week’s episode of Tiny Bites. I hope you have an awesome week.

See you next time.



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What To Do When You Hit A Decluttering Roadblock _ Tiny Ambitions

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  • Danielle Ogilve November 6, 2018 at 3:50 am

    This was great! I’ve been slowly trying to declutter as well. It was great reading this.

    • Britt November 6, 2018 at 6:48 am

      Thanks! I’m glad you found it useful.

  • Rochelle October 16, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Thanks for the transcript and the great thoughts.

  • Linda Sand October 16, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you for the transcription. I don’t listen to podcasts–I hit sound overload quickly–so i was missing way too much of what you have to say. Also, as one who learns better by reading than by listening, I am grateful for your transcription.

    • Britt October 16, 2018 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks, Linda! I’m the same way with sound overload so I can appreciate your experience. I’ll keep the transcriptions coming!

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.