Even if you don’t want to be a minimalist, you probably want less to manage. So why is decluttering so difficult?
There are three reasons why it’s hard time parting with things, and you can flip the script so you can actually get your house simplified once and for all!!
(Get the FREE printable here to remind yourself of these questions as you’re decluttering your house.)
1. The Endowment Effect
When we are endowed with, or gain possession of something, we tend to place a higher value on it.
A study was done at Cornell University in the 1980s about the Endowment Effect.
Half of the participants received a $6 mug from the gift shop as a gift, and the other half did not receive a mug.
They asked those who had received a mug how much they would sell it for. Their responses averaged $5.25. That’s how much value they placed on it.
Then they asked the group who had NOT received a mug how much would they would be willing to pay for it. Their response: $2.25.
So for the exact same mug, the group that already owned it valued it twice as much as the people who did not!
When we own something, we put more value on it. So when you go to declutter your house, it’s hard to get rid of something because you’re thinking that it’s very valuable.
Even if something has been shoved in the back of a closet for 10 years, it’s human nature to inflate the value of your possessions.
2. Sunk-Cost Bias
Another reason decluttering is difficult is sunk-cost biased. Once we’ve spent money on something, it’s very difficult for us to acknowledge that it was a bad decision.
This is especially common with clothing. So we end up with these things in our closet that we spent money on, and the only way we can justify it is to keep it and hope that someday we’ll actually wear it.
The problem is someday never comes. We’re creatures of habit. We just wear the same outfits that we like best and that fit well. But we still keep the clothes we don’t wear because we spent money on them.
It happens to all of us. You’re not alone!
3. How we were raised
The last reason that it is hard to part with things is that we’ve been taught not to be wasteful and to value things that belonged to other people.
This is especially true with sentimental items. We feel a responsibility to take care of things that have been passed down to us, and to use them to remember that person.
It feels very wasteful or irreverent to get rid of something that was passed down to us, or that we see as some kind of heirloom or artifact or something that has value.
It comes in many different forms, but at the root of it is this feeling of responsibility to either not be wasteful or to remember and honor the person whose it was before us.
How to make it easier to part with things
We’ve talked about why it’s so hard to get rid of things. So how we can switch the questions that we’re asking to make it much easier?
The Endowment Effect
Say you have some coffee mugs. You think they’re worth $5, but in reality, they’re only worth $2.
So instead of asking, What are these worth? change the question and ask, What would I pay to acquire them?
If you already have a cabinet full of coffee mugs the answer is probably, I wouldn’t pay anything for them because I don’t need any more coffee mugs.
And so the value can vary from $0 or you might be like the other students and be like, well, I would pay $2 for that.
It’s easier to donate a $2 mug than a $5 mug.
Does it make every decision so much easier? No, it still takes practice, but you’ll find that it does get easier if you’re asking the right question.
The sunk-cost bias is about wasted money. It is painful to think about getting rid of something that you spent money on — it literally lights up the pain center in your brain.
So if it feels hard to donate clothes that you paid money for and have never worn, it’s literally painful.
So ask yourself, What am I wasting? It might be money, but it might also be time and energy.
Right now, the commodity that I’m worried about wasting is time and energy with my kids.
I don’t want to be crabby with them because my house stresses me out. I want to be present with them. I want to have conversations with them. I want to spend time with them. I want to learn things with them.
So right now, the commodity that I’m worried about wasting is time.
Then when I see the clothes that I spent money that I’m not wearing, it’s easier to cut my losses because I don’t want to manage those things anymore.
Another commodity is peace of mind.
For many of us, clutter for many of us causes us to feel anxious and a bit on edge in our own homes.
So even if you wasted money, it’s also costing you your peace of mind to keep that stuff. So which is worth more right now?
For this season of life, I’m voting for time, energy and peace of mind over money.
With sentimental items, especially things that were passed down to you, don’t hold up each item and ask, Should I keep it? Should I get rid of it?
Step back from all of the stuff that was passed down to you from your grandma or your mom or your sibling or your late spouse, and ask, How do I want to honor this person? What was important to them? What do I remember about them?
Then of all of their things ask, What reminds me of them? What is really special? What was their most favorite? Pick that out and donate or sell the rest.
I love my grandma’s red tablecloth, because that specific item reminds me of my her. It reminds me of holidays at her house, and it makes me happy. That’s the perfect way for me to remember my grandma.
I also have a framed picture of her that I really love, but beyond that, I don’t need other stuff and physical items that were hers.
Pick out the very special items and find a place of honor for those in your home. Then you’ll find that it’s a bit easier to let the rest go.
Get the FREE printable here to remind yourself of these questions as you’re decluttering your house.
If decluttering is difficult, I hope that by asking different questions, you might find yourself being a lot more successful!
Of course, there will always be challenges when decluttering, and I would love to walk through these things together. Remember that you’re not alone!