Why Do We Hold Onto Clutter?

Do you know why you are holding onto clutter?

Questions: Do you own items that you don’t love or use? Do you know why you still have those items? There are several reasons why you may be holding onto clutter.

Not realizing it’s clutter:

Oftentimes, the piles of clutter become white noise in the background. You may notice that something feels a little “off” or “heavy” but you can’t quite pinpoint what’s causing the mental weight. It’s common to get so used to the clutter that you become numb to it.

A simple rule of thumb for identifying clutter:

Pick up an item and honestly answer these two questions: 1) “Do I love it?” 2) “Do I use it?” If you answer “no” to both questions, it’s clutter. Time to let it go. I recently got rid of an old trinket box that a former boss gave to me. I held onto it for 22 years simply because it had always been around. I didn’t love it. I didn’t use it. I finally let it go.


Are you holding onto something you don’t use or love because someone gave it to you as a gift? These things were probably given to you with good intentions, but they have now become clutter. Clutter is of no use to anyone, so it’s OK to get rid of it.

Keep in mind that clutter is a burden, so it’s perfectly fine to release that burden no matter how it came into your life: a new store-bought gift, a used hand-me-down or a family heirloom you inherited. 

Here’s how you can handle the guilt:  

First and foremost, know that your genuine relationships will still be intact after you have made the self-loving decision to let go of clutter. When someone has gifted you something it is now yours to keep or get rid of. You get to decide, so make the choice that helps you feel less burdened. That usually means letting it go. 


Emotional attachment can start very early in life. For example, small children get emotionally attached to a favorite stuffed animal or a “lovey.” This kind of emotional attachment can carry over into adulthood. Old items that we’ve held on to for a long time will bring up memories and emotions (good and bad).

You can deal with clutter that has emotional attachment in the same way you deal with any kind of clutter: Ask yourself two questions, “Do I use this?” and “Do I love this?” You may love the person who gave it to you or memory attached, but not the actual object, so be aware of how you are answering.

Also pay attention to how you feel when you look at an item. Are the emotions you feel positive or negative? If negative, get rid of it! Boxing it up and putting it in the attic is not getting rid of it. That’s only avoiding it. 

It’s too overwhelming:

Not recognizing the clutter, having guilt associated with getting rid of the clutter or being emotionally attached to the clutter is all very overwhelming. It’s hard to even know where to start. Take a breath. Tackle a little bit at a time. Sorting and decluttering is very time consuming so you must have patience with yourself and the process.

Everyone has their own reasons for hanging onto clutter, so just give yourself permission to let go of anything that no longer serves you. Letting go of physical clutter oftentimes lifts mental clutter.

If you are struggling with household clutter you may need a better household management system. Here’s a great option.

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Hi! I'm Crystal. I'm an organizing expert and coach who specializes in helping people declutter, de-stress and simplify.

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Crystal Nerpel |Organizing Expert + Coach