Anxiety in Decluttering


A reader asked, “What would you suggest to cope with anxiety when clearing out?”

Fear of anxiety is actually a big reason why people procrastinate on decluttering. Vague anxiety often stems from not actually feeling what you are feeling. You might have to uncover those feelings. Clearing out brings up emotional stuff and that’s why so many people quit when it gets hard.

Say you run across a box of projects you have never finished, but felt you “should” finish. You probably feel guilty that you haven’t completed the project. Maybe a little shame. You might start berating yourself for “never finishing what you start.” Allow yourself to feel the guilt and then start questioning whether it’s true you never finish anything. Or that you should have done it.  Ask if you really want to finish it now. If not, you can give it away. Most of the projects at home, YOU get to choose whether you want to do them or not.

Or you may run across something of a relative who has died. Allow yourself to feel the sadness. Then remember the good things about that person. Ask if you need to keep the object in your current life or if you can remember this person another way.

A stack of never read books or never worn clothing may inspire buyer’s remorse. Feel what that feels like and perhaps you will remember that next time you want to buy more than you need. Then look at the cost of keeping it – space wise, energy wise, relationship wise. Do you still want to keep it out of guilt?

Going through papers might feel like adding to an already long to do list from action items you discover. So you decide you are too anxious to work on the papers. But, the to dos don’t go away. They become more urgent. Start by picturing yourself handling these papers with ease and the weight of paper procrastination lifted. Then you can attack the papers with more power. Paper is also a great place to start small – 5 papers at a time.

You might come across things you used to do or things that remind you of who you used to be. You may feel sadness for having moved on. Or guilt you no longer do an activity. Or nostalgia. Let those feelings be. Then decide whether these belong in your current life.

Feelings don’t stay. They are moving all the time. Usually they don’t stay long if you allow them to talk.

If the feelings are too much for you alone, invite a non-judgmental friend to be there as you declutter.  Or talk with a professional. Or Join the Declutter Group.

Great books on dealing with emotions:
Loving What Is by Byron Katie
Wired for Joy by Laurel Mellin
The Language of Emotions: what your feelings are trying to tell you by Karla McLaren


Want support to help you deal with the anxiety and get accountability? Check out the Declutter Group.

Photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm


  • Stacey says:

    excellent post – tackling (procrastinating) a big project this week & this is just what I needed to hear. So, thank!

  • JayNine says:

    I truly enjoyed this post. I’ve seen a lot of articles about this subject and find them more overwhelming than the chore of deck uttering itself!!! You kept it short simple and to the point! Thank you and ill definitely be sharing tis with my followers as well! over on WordPress as well!

  • Su says:

    The anxiety post was perfectly timed. I am separated from my husband of 30 years and am living a new and independent life. I am learning to accept the life I have instead of what I wish I had. I am seeing ways that the past still tries to hobble me. Thanks for in effect give me permission to move on. I’m getting the trash bags as soon as I log off.

  • Sandy Picchi says:

    You have totally described it! I am still working on the anxiety piece, and the memories attached to objects…

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