It’s OK to Feel Sad When You Clean Out Clutter

When Purging Your Stuff Makes You Feel Sad

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At some point recently you’ve probably been encouraged to get rid of stuff, clean out clutter, downsize your life, whatever. And now you’re surprised by how you feel.

Sometimes – like in my case – it’s out of necessity. If we’re going to have a big new life adventure forward, we’re going to have to sell pretty much everything.

Or maybe you’re taking part in one of these 40 bags in 40 days challenges. Clean out your life! Get rid of excess junk! Halt your hoarding ways!

Maybe you really want to be into this. But the truth is that getting rid of your stuff makes you feel sad. You like your stuff. You know you don’t use it, but you still don’t want to get rid of it. Purging is not bringing you joy. You do not feel lighter knowing that blanket you never, ever used is no longer in the closet that you rarely opened. Mostly, you’re just sad that you don’t have the blanket anymore. What if you did decide to use it? Now it’s not even there.

Or maybe you’re like me. You really DO like purging. Behold, the freedom of knowing that stacks of no longer needed tax documents have been shredded! But then you sell things that you logically know serve zero purpose in your life and you are surprised when you feel very, very sad.

Sometimes getting rid of stuff makes you sad. That's OK.

Sad? But you didn’t even USE the thing. Get your life together. Let logic prevail! You sold the equipment you rarely used, and now you’re $300 richer.

And yet there it is, that feeling of loss.

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That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling this week — sad. And it surprised me. A lot. I’ve always considered myself the Queen of the Purge. Move out of the way, 40 bags in 40 days. I love purging so much that I don’t have 40 bags worth of stuff to get rid of. Sentimentality is for suckers. Don’t use the bottles of shampoo? Toss ’em. Don’t wear the dress? Sell it. Don’t spin salad? Put that salad spinner in the yard sale pile, fool.

And yet here I am. Sad. Over the last few weeks I’ve sold two major items — my older DSLR camera and my piano. I haven’t touched either of them for months and months and months. Why wouldn’t I sell them?

But I did go through seasons where I used both regularly. I used the camera when Huck was born — Luke was not around and so I played photographer for myself for two days in the hospital with that sweet little nugget of a baby.

Sometimes getting rid of stuff makes you sad. That's OK.
A photo of Huck in the hospital. He was so yummy!

My piano was purchased during a road trip and was the first thing moved into this house four years ago. For as long as we have lived here it occupied that space on the wall. I didn’t play it very often, but when I did it was during some very emotionally charged seasons of my life. The logic and order behind Bach Inventions, and scale work, and Clementi Sonatinas helped me feel centered when nothing else in the world was. The piano sat there like an old friend, inviting me to rely on it when everything else failed. But hauling it to wherever we are going is impractical, and selling it only seemed logical.

Sometimes getting rid of stuff makes you sad. That's OK.

Now both of those things are gone, being enjoyed (hopefully) by other people.

And I did not expect to feel so, so sad.

I have cried – not a little. I have looked at photos taken by my camera or pictures of my piano. I have thought about the good times we had together.

I’m in mourning for my stuff.

At first I felt guilty about this. It’s just stuff, Amy, get a grip. You didn’t even use that stuff.

But then I remembered that, really, if I am going to let my life be about loving, growing, learning and moving forward, I need to learn to listen to myself and hear myself first — and that means listening to my emotions and learning to accept them.

So here’s the pep talk I’ve given myself. Maybe it will help you, too.

Dear Amy –

It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to have emotional attachments to objects, even if that attachment seems illogical or silly to others or to yourself. It’s OK to mourn things like you would mourn people. It’s OK to acknowledge how you feel, so that you can keep moving forward. It’s OK to keep things that make your really, truly happy. It’s OK to get rid of things because you must, even if doing so makes you sad. It’s OK to be self aware. It’s OK to admit you are sad. It’s OK to sit with yourself in the moment, contemplate what it means, and learn from it.

It’s not OK to feel guilty about it. Its not OK to hold onto every single thing because you don’t want to deal with your emotions. It’s not OK to keep yourself back because moving forward is too hard, too sad. It’s not OK to say “no” and to choose to stay in sadness by denying it, instead of saying “yes” to acknowledging it so you can move forward.

Feelings are just feelings — they are neither right nor wrong.

Be you – whatever that means today. Even if today it means that you are sad about getting rid of stuff.

Be awesome.



6 Responses

  1. I am also about to embark on a life-changing adventure and am struggling with selling my childhood piano. Thank you for writing this post and sharing your feelings. It helps me to know I am not alone in feeling so, so sad about losing this piece of my life, even though I haven’t really played it in 7 years.

  2. I just sold a keyboard and googled “Why do I feel sad after selling a keyboard?” since I did shed a few very unexpected tears once it was gone. I have an upgraded version so it’s not like I’m pianoless…I also just did a big purge and didn’t feel sad about anything else. I think it may be that I poured my heart into that piano post divorce and there were times I just played and played and it helped me heal. I am very grateful that piano was there and now it is gone (to a good home). Funny how we project onto objects subconsciously.

  3. Im telling myself to pull it together, just crying and crying , thats me just sorting into for sale piles. Not sold anything yet. Oh my goodness. Already a mess, lol. OK… Must pull myself together. Just decluttering for a simpler life. Thank you for ‘listening’ Have a blessed day

  4. Thank you for this. Maybe I’m a little less of a mess for having this new way to think about irrational attachments.

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