Marie Kondo has taken over our TV screens—and our living rooms—and has inspired thousands of people to declutter their spaces and figure out what really sparks joy in their lives. While some people find it easy to KonMari their homes and get rid of old belongings to start fresh, some just can’t seem to do it for the life of them—but there’s a reason why. Or, actually, there’s seven.
In her new book Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need, Tracy McCubbin explores the seven emotional roadblocks people come across when they attempt to declutter. From stuff keeping you in the past to being trapped with other people’s belongings, there are ways to figure out exactly why you can’t seem to throw away that shirt that no longer fits or that half-built popsicle house—and the steps to take so you can (finally!) move forward.
Roadblock No. 1: My Stuff Keeps Me in The Past
Those old awards, birthday cards, prom dresses, and unnecessarily fancy dishes you have even though you don't host any special events? They're currently wasting away in your home, and they're there for a reason. Tracy explains in her book that looking at these items may reinforce that your best days are behind you, which affects your mental health and stability.
Some memories are great to keep—but in cases like these, many of the items kept are eliciting a different, less-positive feeling, like a longing for what once was to be (when deep down, you know it won't be). Letting go of your past relics will make space for the life you want now.
Roadblock No. 2: My Stuff Tells Me Who I Am
When you online shop constantly, have shopping bags that have never been unpacked, and clothes with tags—you have a problem with excessive shopping and the power you feel from buying something new. It's a post-purchase high that keeps you buying and buying and buying and buying, until your home is overrun with designer clothes and random knickknacks you don't need and things you'll never use.
To overcome this emotional roadblock, McCubbin wants you to ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I need these things?
- What am I looking to them to tell me about myself? That I'm loved?
The next steps are to make more meaningful daily interactions that don't cost money, like volunteering.
Roadblock No. 3: I'm Avoiding Certain Stuff
This is a very poisonous emotional block in McCubbin's book. Lettings things pile up, like unopened mail, unfixed paperwork, unfinished projects, and unreturned items, can cause an insurmountable amount of anxiety. "I say this to you now: It will not take care of itself. And you are undermining your self-confidence with every day that goes by and you don't act," the author writes.
While there's no one solution to this problem, your best bet is to invite someone over to support you...and start opening. Whatever it is, McCubbin ensures you that it can be handled—and that "done" is better than perfect.
Roadblock No. 4: I Have Fantasy Stuff For My Fantasy Life
To identify this emotional block, McCubbin looks for never-been-used items, clothes with tags, appliances in boxes, exercise equipment that’s never been used, and a disconnect between the things you buy and the life you live, day in and day out. Working as an organizer, McCubbin has seen things like dieters buying clothes in a size that's too small for their current bodies—with the hopes they'll fit into it someday—a single woman buying an 80-inch TV to attract a man, and even a women trying to get pregnant buying maternity and baby clothes.
In her book, she states, "If you are holding onto an overabundance of items for 'someday,' they are telling you that you have stopped investing in the now." You must think about actions that can change your behavior for the life you want, not acquisition.
Roadblock No. 5: I'm Not Worth My Good Stuff
Fancy linens, closets full of designer clothes that you don’t wear, unlit candles, unused bath salts, packed-away silver and china, and using the phrase, “I’m saving that for…” are all signs of this emotional road block. McCubbin wants you to challenge yourself to use the things you've been supposedly saving: have people 0ver, use the good stuff, and stop saving it, because today is worth celebrating.
Overall, not using your "good" stuff isn't helping anyone—it's actually wasting your precious items and adding more clutter to your home.
Roadblock No. 6: Trapped With Other Peoples' Stuff
If you've inherited tons of family relics like sets of china, mismatched Victorian furniture, excessive antiques, memorabilia, unlabeled photographs, and have unused rooms filled with inherited furniture that you can't get rid of, you could be suffering from this block. McCubbin calls this the Antique Roadshow mentality—when someone is convinced that the old cookie jar in the attic is worth tons of money.
You also need to remember that just because something that was passed down to you was important to the person who originally owned it, doesn't mean that it's important to you. Often, this block happens when a loved one passes away—you may want to keep every single one of their possessions as a memory, but McCubbin insists that you only really need a few things to keep their legacy alive. Being respectful to a memory does not mean you need to guard possessions for the rest of your life.
Roadblock No. 7: I Keep Paying For This Stuff
“But I paid a lot for that,” “I don’t want it to go to waste,” and “I might use it” are the phrases used to identify this emotional block. McCubbin shares a personal anecdote about an impulse post-breakup purchase of a $400 pair of too-small jeans. They were in her closet for three years because she couldn't justify throwing away an expensive pair of jeans she wasn't wearing, but one day she overcame the mental block and donated them.
McCubbin wants you to know that your home is not an orphanage for unused objects, and that you can let this item go to someone who will actually use it.
Once you identify which of the seven emotional blocks are keeping you from KonMari'ing your home, you can truly declutter—and make those changes last. Tracy McCubbin's book, Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need, can be pre-ordered now, before it hits bookstores in June.
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