Post-Declutter Stress Disorder

Okay, I made that title up. But it isn’t too far from reality!

Most people get a sense of euphoria after decluttering. Some, however, do not. In fact, they feel horrible. They are anxious and miserable, dwelling on decisions made and wondering if they made mistakes. If you’re one of those people, you may be wondering why you don’t get as excited by the results as others do.

Here’s a few reasons why you might feel that way after decluttering:

1) Attachment happens in your mind. Physically removing something does just that; it’s physically gone. If you are still attached in your mind, the fact that it’s gone is not a relief.

2) You haven’t trained your brain to stop panicking yet. Every time our brain gets a reinforcement, it is told to continue that behaviour. So when you try to throw something away, then panic, then keep the item to make the panic go away, you’re telling your brain that panic is the appropriate response when attempting to discard something.

3) The future is more unknown with less stuff. No longer can you safely predict what might happen (ie right now you can predict you will have 2 spare can-openers to grab should you lose your favourite one). Instead, if you only have one can opener, you can’t predict the outcome of losing or breaking it. Unknown stuff can be scary if we allow ourselves to think of the negative consequences.

4) You worry that you’ve made a mistake. Your brain predicts a total catastrophe should it become apparent you’ve thrown out something that later becomes needed. This fear of the catastrophe has you dwelling on what mistakes you may have made when culling.

5) You feel you are losing a part of your identity or your past. Your past and your stuff are related. We store patterns in our neo-cortex of things we see, hear, smell and feel. Our brain cross-references these patterns and therefore creates an association. If you part with one of those “pointers” and it’s outside of your control and exists only in your mind, perhaps you’ll end up with memories in your brain that can’t ever be retrieved again.

6) You’re grieving lost opportunities. There are now things you may never see again, do again, think about again.

7) You did it for someone else. When you declutter to keep someone else happy, you’re less likely to enjoy the results. It’s not unlikely, just a little less likely.

8) You’ve forgotten about your goals. You’re thinking about what you’ve “lost”, not what you’ve gained. You have either not focused on your goals, or you have forgotten about them.

9) You just love your stuff too much. Whether you have hoarding disorder, or another mental health condition that fosters a very strong bond with physical belongings, your brain simply won’t let you let go.

This is why there is so much more to decluttering than just getting rid of stuff. It actually requires changes in mindset that without them, you won’t be able to be completely happy with the result.

Declutter your fears first, then your stuff.

Churning (or: Why You’re Getting Nowhere)

Sometimes you think you’re working really hard at trying to gain control of your clutter, but you find you make no progress.

deck-chairs-on-TitanicYou are constantly sorting and organising, tidying and moving things around in an effort to gain order and be able to find your stuff when you want it, and have clear surfaces, but you don’t get anywhere.

No sooner do you clear a spot than you turn around and it’s full again.

“Whhhyyyyy??!??!!?” I hear you wail….

Here’s why – you’re just churning, or as my best friend puts it, “moving deck chairs on the Titanic”

Churning is the act of sorting, categorising, grouping into piles or sections and then having to do it again when the piles all merge together after a few days or weeks.

You need to stop churning and face the reality that the only way you’re going to gain control is to reduce the volume of your possessions. That means letting go of things you don’t need, use or love – and even some things you do.

Unless things actually leave the house, it’s just churning and you’re going to get nowhere.

Tipping points

I’m going to preface this article by saying I don’t like to tell people how much stuff is the right amount of stuff; I think everyone should be able to have whatever volume of belongings they are happy and healthy with. This article isn’t to specify a “right” or “wrong” but it may perhaps give some people a guide to go by when decluttering or maintaining their home’s ”stuff levels”.

My house isn’t overly minimalist. It’s not overly tidy all the time, either. But it does have one thing going for it – we have only as much stuff as we can comfortably store. That means that when I do want it tidy to my satisfaction, it doesn’t take long because all the stuff that’s laying about annoying me has a home to go to.

What that also means is that I can easily see where things are going awry. I have “trigger points” that show me I need to declutter (not tidy, as I have kids and pets and a life I pretty much need to tidy constantly, as I’m sure you do too!).

Here’s some of my “It’s time to declutter” trigger points:

1) There’s stuff staying an extended time on tables and benches because it won’t fit in the cupboard or doesn’t have a home. That’s a huge alarm bell for me. Right now I have a big pack of Rice Bubbles on the kitchen counter because it won’t fit in the pantry – it’s been there a week. Silly me bought when we already had a full pack in there. I need to do something about that. I think I need to remove a container. Or just eat a LOT of Rice Bubbles very quickly ;). It’s not bothering me too much because I know it will get eaten eventually, but if it’s not a consumable like that I quickly resolve it. If you leave it, the table just attracts more stuff and then it grows to an unmanageable level.

2) I have to rifle through a pile on my desk to find something. When I notice myself doing that, I make sure I put aside 5 minutes as soon as I can to go through it and file stuff. And get some stuff done, too, as lots of it will be important actions to take. Also, when my files are getting fat that’s a warning flag too – time to prune.

3) I have things on the floor. As far as I’m concerned, the floor in my house isn’t storage. It should store furniture and half-finished Lego constructions only. And maybe the odd train track development project ;) . So if I’m seeing stuff persisting on the floor, I need to declutter a cupboard somewhere that that stuff should be going into. Or get rid of said stuff.

4) I can’t find stuff or get to things easily. If I’m having to rummage through a storage container/shelf/cupboard then I add a declutter to my to-do list for that week. I can’t stand not being able to find things!

5) I feel cramped. This one is a slow-burner but it’s responsible for a whole bookcase leaving our house recently. I just wanted more empty wall space so the room felt bigger. It worked well too :)


Here’s some other posts that might help you declutter:

Declutter first, organise second

The “No Brainers” declutter list

Will it stay or will it go? How to make declutter decisions




It’s all about how it makes you feel

It’s not how your space looks that matters, it’s how it makes you feel.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and think “I’ve got this. I can handle this” then you don’t really need to change much.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and your heart rate goes up, you feel stressed, you feel the urge to escape or you don’t know where to start; then change is needed.

It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be under control.

Don’t worry about how it should look, or how you think others think it should look. Don’t worry about what your neighbour’s looks like, or your sister’s, or the other school parents. Don’t compare your home to the ones you see on TV or in magazines.

As long as you feel like you’ve got control of it, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s how you feel in your home that matters.

How (and why) your thoughts sabotage you

one way

When you want to make a change, you need to take action. You know that you need to do something, and you want to do something. There’s a problem though; sometimes our brains are just not on our side. It’s usually our subconscious that’s the culprit.

Our subconscious is there to keep us safe and working – it keeps us breathing, helps us to do up our shoelaces when we’re not looking, tells us the way to drive home when we’re off with the fairies, and enables us to respond quickly to danger.

Any time your subconscious perceives a threat, it propels us into an action of some kind (like the “fight or flight” reflex around danger you may have heard of). When you’re decluttering and find something that you consciously want to part with, and therefore make a change, your subconscious kicks in and immediately tells you to keep it. It perceives the possibility of future stress and sets off the panic alarm. That panic alarm floods your conscious brain with thoughts around that item and all the reasons why you need to keep it.

But they’re not real. Those reasons are invented as an automatic response to an automatic reaction.

Every time you reinforce those thoughts (“Danger! Danger!”) with the behaviour that they’re prompting (you keep the thing even though your logic tells you you shouldn’t), you’re telling your subconscious that it’s on the right track, and that it needs to react in the same way next time. And so it gets stronger and stronger.

To help to short-circuit this wiring, you need to listen to the thoughts, acknowledge them, feel the anxiety, but DO NOT act the way it wants you to. Eventually, you’ll find that little voice screaming “Keep it!” goes away because your subconscious gets evidence that you are safe without that action, and it stops trying to make you do it. Anxiety goes away eventually – your body is not designed to stay at heightened levels for long periods. Your brain will eventually kick in and essentially give up on trying to get you to act because it receives no reinforcements.

Tell your subconscious that you’re okay, that it’s all okay. That you know what you’re doing and in this circumstance, you don’t need it to keep you safe.

What a PO can really give you

If you’ve ever wondered why Professional Organisers charge a lot more than cleaners do, let me tell you why…

1. We coach and teach WITH you, not do it for you

2. We understand that decluttering and organising is an individual thing

3. We know how to design systems that suit you; not us and not anyone else

4. We aim to set you up for future independence

5. We help you understand the relationship you have with your stuff and how to make it a productive and comfortable relationship

6. We understand the psychological issues involved

7. If we are in over our head re #6, we know it and we know when you’re better off with another service provider.

Rebecca and client

We work with you, not for you.

If you get someone who is saying that they can organise or declutter for you at cleaning rates or less, please be aware you get what you pay for. By all means try them if you want, but keep my warning in mind to avoid getting at worst, psychologically damaged and at best, one or two hundred dollars out of pocket for nothing. Or thousands, in the case of one of my clients before she found me.

Also make sure the PO you’re thinking about using is a member of an industry association (, or google your country and “professional organizer”) because that’s proof that they take their job seriously and are invested in making sure you get the best service possible.

We don’t cost more, we give you more.

“No-Brainers” declutter list

When I’m with clients, I’m always on the lookout for what I call “No-Brainers”. The things that should be culled (recycled, donated, sold or trashed) without thinking about it.

Without negotiating with yourself, and without worrying about it, they can go.

Here’s my top 10:

  1. Clothes you wouldn’t wear in public
  2. Things you didn’t know you had and don’t know how you got them
  3. Things you have to google to figure out what it is
  4. Cords and cables from long-gone devices and appliances
  5. Odd (that have been odd for aaages) socks
  6. Broken, damaged, soiled things
  7. Things you’ve kept to “upcycle” or “do up” when you “have time”
  8. Expired food, toiletries, chemical, medicines, sunscreen, vouchers, coupons, tickets etc
  9. Things that belong to other people. You’re not a storage facility!
  10. Old magazines and newspapers. They recycle the stories anyway – you’re not missing anything.

Do you have any No-Brainers you’d like to add to the list?




Letting go of useful stuff a necessity for some

When I’m coaching clients through the process of decluttering and letting go, I use these questions initially:

  • “Do you NEED it?”
  • “Do you USE it?”
  • “Do you LOVE it?”

These questions help people decide if they really are going to keep the item.

Sometimes, though, you can have such a high volume of “stuff” that an item can fit that category but still need to go. It might be used, it might be needed, it might even be loved, but it can still need to go in order for you to achieve your goals.

It’s a very hard concept for people to get their head around, but if you want your house to have less clutter, it’s just going to have to happen.

Can you declutter your complexities?

A common theme amongst my clients is complexity.

They have a lot, they do a lot, they want to do a lot, they help others do a lot, they accumulate a lot in order to do what they want.

They have rules about how they do things (or not do them), which complicates life. They can’t say no to others, which complicates life.

Do you insist that certain conditions be met before you take any action? Why? What do you gain? What do you lose? Are your rules helpful to you or unhelpful?

For example, do you insist on reading all the junk mail before you throw it in the recycling? Do you buy the latest issue of your favourite magazine despite not having read the last two yet? Do you insist on using a new towel each shower? Do you buy a new outfit whenever you have a special occasion to attend? Do you buy designer clothes for your 2yo tomboy? Do you entertain several nights a week? Do you volunteer for several committees? Do you only buy bread from a bakery 30 minutes’ drive away?

These are all examples of complexities that you impose upon yourself. They may or may not be helpful: that’s up to you to decide.

The more simple your life, the happier you’ll be. Trust me.

What complexities can you step away from today?

Will it stay or will it go?

When you’re trying to reduce your belongings, it can be hard making the decision to keep or discard an item.

Here’s what I ask my clients:

1. Do you NEED it? This one is relatively easy to answer once you get the hang of it. If it’s a bike bell and you don’t have a bike, you probably don’t NEED it. Notice I didn’t say “want”. Be careful you don’t confuse the two – western society has a pretty warped sense of need these days.

2. Do you USE it? If you don’t need it you still might use it. I don’t NEED a white coat and a brown one, but I do use both of them regularly throughout winter.

3. Do you LOVE it? Is it neither a necessity nor used? Is it a teacup that belonged to your grandma’s special set? Not needed, not used, but certainly treasured.

If it fails all these tests, then it has no place in your life. Period.


Be careful: it’s at this point that the “other” criteria pop up in your head because fear kicks in….

“I might need it one day”

“I really should finish that project; I’m a failure if I just discard it now”

“What if Cath notices the frame that she gave me isn’t on display anymore”, or

“But I spent good money on it and now I’m wasting that money by giving this item away”.

None of these are good enough reasons to keep something. Don’t let the fear take over.

If you don’t need, use or love it, it’s making life that little bit harder for you. That little bit more cramped, that little bit more complex. Let go of the fear and experience the freedom!


Embrace the idea of less stuff so you can have more of life.


freelancer web developer