The Emotional Impact of Clutter

decluttering

It’s spring time, which means we’re gearing up for another spring cleaning season! In this time of renewal, we all have an opportunity to start fresh and begin anew. Whether that’s clearing off the PVR, doing a little spring cleaning on our friends lists, or finally cleaning out the front closet, everyone is a busy worker bee at this time of year.

When you pull that first item out of the closet or pick up an old photo book for the first time in years, the spring cleaning “to do” list often comes to a halt. Your mind starts flashing back to how you wore that jacket on your first date, or how you won that trophy in your 2004 softball league, or how grandma hand-knit that blanket for you before she passed. Just like that, what starts as a simple decluttering project brings up a whirlwind of emotions.

Fear

Fear is a common reason to hang on to items. What if I need to reference this newspaper column from 1991? What if I want to wear that pair of shoes again? With an aging population in Canada retiring or moving into assisted care facilities, it is not possible to take all this stuff with them. They feel that because they have held onto it for so long, they should keep it handy in case they or someone they know might need it. Often, the fear is not directly related to the items themselves, but to the larger life change taking place. With Capital Junk, our staff will donate or recycle everything they can. All the stuff we pick-up is sorted and processed at our facility so nothing good ends up in our landfills. Knowing that their items still have a life to live with a new family can be a huge relief for some of our customers.

Guilt

Some customers don’t care if their great-grandfather’s coin collection or photo album is hauled away, and then there are customers who are weighed down by their guilt towards getting rid of a particular item. Widows donating their husbands’ clothing feel like they are doing an injustice to their late husbands’ memories by not holding onto it, or they feel guilty because of items that have never been used. Once a customer handed a member of our staff brand new, hand-made boat seat covers for her late husband’s boat. She was in near tears at the realization they never got used. We dropped them off at a local not-for-profit and the hope is that someone is getting great enjoyment out of them.

Sentimentality

This is a big one. Because the items provide a type of comfort or memory, we have a hard time letting them go. The warm fuzzies from the feelings numb the emotional impact of living with all that clutter in the first place, and it’s a challenge to overcome. The item itself may not even be that sentimental, but it is a prompt for a flood of great memories. Those memories will never leave you, even after the item is on to its next life.

At Capital Junk, we’ve seen the full spectrum of emotions that comes with decluttering, from happiness and relief to fear and guilt. Some customers are happy to clear out rooms for a new man cave or craft room; others experience extreme anxiety about the idea of saying goodbye to a stack of magazines. All emotions are valid, and everyone has their own journey to undergo. It can be a sentimental and nostalgic tour, but one that is ultimately rewarding once treasured items are in their right place and the junk is gone.

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