How To Tackle The Shame Of Clutter

I grew up in a home where if we discovered we had a guest coming to our house, it was a big deal. What was never really said out loud was that we couldn’t let them in the door until “the house was clean”.  We'd run around madly “cleaning” the house before a visit. 

Living in a cluttered home

Now I realize our house wasn’t actually dirty, it was just cluttered.

Our upstairs attic was filled with all the things that had been basically dumped there because no one seemed to know what to do with the stuff and we couldn't possibly throw any of it away. Because the unspoken rule was “we might need it someday.”

The thing I realize now is that no one talked about “it.” The clutter.  

Growing up with clutter

I grew up thinking everyone’s home was like this and that you just didn’t throw anything away. We had clutter everywhere and didn't think it was a problem. We just moved stuff around and hid it on the attic steps or in the attic. 

Even now, it’s an awkward thing to write about. It’s like I’m telling the family secret. 

No one in our family talked about it… the clutter.  It never seemed to bother anyone until someone came to visit. Then we just shoved things in closets and on the attic steps. 

Feeling ashamed of clutter

There's shame involved with clutter. Lots of it. It's like a secret. 

You don't want people to know how you really live.

So the first thing I’m going to say is let’s just take the shame out of this discussion and let it go. Because shame won’t get rid of your clutter. 

Nope, shame or embarrassment won't help at all. Instead, those things just fuel feelings of inadequacy. 

Please know that you are not the shame and you’re not inadequate.  

Brene Brown, therapist and researcher on shame says: “shame can only survive in secret.”  

Our struggles with clutter

By talking about your clutter problem you take away its power over you. There are many, many people who struggle with shame about their clutter and it has nothing to do with their character. 

It is, though, important to be honest with yourself and get into action about getting rid of your clutter. 

Reasons why we can't declutter

So what is the reason we keep hanging on to stuff we no longer need or want?  Why can’t we just get rid of it? And why is there shame about it? It’s complex. There are many reasons why we can’t let go. 

Here are three of the reasons that I see:

1. Hope

Sometimes we hold onto things based on hope. Hope that we’ll lose weight, catch up on reading, finish that project we started. So that when we don’t let go, it’s hard not to feel inadequate or guilty.  

2. Learned Behavior “I might need it someday”

We use this as a rationalization to keep things. And like me, you may have received these messages in childhood. What actually happens is that it’s a type of scarcity thinking. The belief is that you won’t be able to recreate it or buy it again or have that experience again. It’s really important to check yourself and see if that’s really the truth. If you bought it once, had that opportunity, etc. what makes you think you can’t have that again? 

3. Sentimentality

We use this reasoning of keeping sentimental things based on emotion. Sometimes we’re hanging onto the past from past experiences or from people who are no longer with us. If you’re holding onto a sentimental item out of guilt, then that’s something that you don’t need. It’s time to let it go. 

Take your time and allow yourself to feel the feelings. Of loss, of regret, sadness. And then let go.

Questions to ask yourself about the things you own

Ask yourself these questions with each object you have in your house: 

  1. Do I love it?
  2. Does it serve a purpose in my life now?
  3. Do I honestly need this item? 

You don’t have to get rid of everything all at once. 

You can do it the easy way. Just one thing at a time, one area at the time,

The idea is to do it. 

Over To You: 

What's your story about clutter? 

What did you learn growing up about clutter?

Related Posts: 

Decluttering and Letting Go...Even When You Don’t Want To

How to Handle Decluttering Overwhelm

3 Powerful Reasons To De-Clutter Your Home

16 Ways To Declutter Your Digital Life Now

Lies We Tell Ourselves About Letting Go Of Things

10 Tiny Decluttering Steps You Can Take Today


FREE 5 Day Clutter-Free Challenge

I’ll guide you to declutter in just 10 minutes a day! It's so easy and fun. This challenge will fire you up and help you get rid of all the stuff you don't want anymore AND help you bring in what you do want into your life.  

Join me and let go of the things that hold you back!

Join the waitlist for the FREE 5-day challenge.

1:1 Coaching To Declutter 

Don't want to declutter in a group? Maybe you have something bigger to let go of…mental or emotional clutter. 

I’m offering private coaching sessions to help you declutter whatever you need to in your life. 

Work with me 1:1 to reach your declutter goals.  Go here and make an appointment with me today. Don't wait. 

Stay connected

Get my latest advice and tips, retreat programs, events and offers delivered to your inbox.

Women's Special Fall Online Weekend Retreat

Friday 25 September - Sunday 27 September

Fall is a time for us to slow down, to ground ourselves and to nourish our bodies. This retreat is designed to help you stop and listen to what it is you need right now. It's a fun and restorative weekend with mindfulness exercises, morning yoga, an online cooking class with the fabulous Chef Bai, healthy recipes to try at home, meditations and group calls to connect you with other women.