How to Get Rid of Things: 5 Ways to Overcome Your Sentimental Mind

If you want to start getting rid of your things, it's important to start by understanding the mental struggles making it hard for you to get going. This is what I did when I figured out what the deal was with my sentimental mind.

Once you've got a handle on that, though, the next step is to design some techniques that destruct those root mental barriers.

In my case, what has generally kept me from getting rid of things I don't use is a strong emotional attachment I grew for them. The techniques that ended up working for me were mostly focused around shifting my state of mind to a more analytic one where decisions could be made before my emotions got involved.

I'm going to share what I came up with for anyone else in my shoes, but also want to stress that if these don't fit for you, you should still work to understand what's keeping you from getting rid of things and to design techniques fit to those (we'll help in the comments if you want!).

Without further adieu: How I get rid of things.


Classify and Reclassify Relentlessly


This has been the bread and butter technique for me that seems to work in every scenario, on every genre of object I own.

The trick is to keep coming up with new ways to classify objects and to first deal with them in groups instead of individually.

For example, you could separate all your books into:

  • Books you've read
  • Books you want to read
  • Books you know you'll never read
  • And how about books you want to read, but doubt you ever will (this was a big group for me)

Instead of asking "Should I keep this or get rid of this?", which just shuts your brain down, you're now asking more meaningful questions like, "Will I ever actually read this?". These questions are easier to answer objectively and as you do it becomes clear, and mentally acceptable, what the verdict should be. No more struggle.

Now, you can separate out the books you've read and divide those into the ones you remember deeply and ones you can hardly remember at all. Which of the ones you remember are worth keeping around as inspiration or a reread? Which are so good that you just have to give them away to friends they could help?

When you get stuck, try reclassifying in new ways. How about:

  • Books you bought for school or your job
  • Books you bought out of genuine interest
  • Books that were given to you

Every time you reclassify, you find new ways to understand your relationship with the objects in question and whether they're really worth hanging onto.

Instead of haphazardly chucking random things and clinging to others, you're comfortably analyzing what you own and where it fits into your life. Anytime when you get stuck and would ordinarily just give up, shake things up again, create motion and see what falls out.


Define Standards Ahead of Time


Now that you're classifying, you can go one step further. Instead of going through your stuff and deciding whether to keep items as you go, decide ahead of time which types of things you're going to get rid of.

I would write out a list of potential classifications and decide, before separating things, which groups were ripe for removal. As a result, there wasn't much room for my emotions to interfere when it came time to get rid of something I kind of cared about.

When it did, there were grounds for a real mental discussion, "Listen, we already decided about things like this - what's so different in this case?"


Start with Easy Things


Like with reclassifying, you just want to get and keep the motion going so you feel positive as you go. As you get into clean-up mode, you build up momentum and it gets easier and easier to keep going.

With this in mind, start with the straightforward things:  the clothes you've never worn much,  the notes you haven't even seen in years, and so on. By the time you get to the more sentimental items you'll be cruising and operating from a more objective perspective.

I got rid of a ton of stuff I wouldn't have otherwise just going through the motions I'd gotten used to - and I'm glad I did.


Take Pictures of Everything You Care About


At some point I realized, like a few commenters in my last post did, that if what I was really worried about was losing a memory, a picture would probably do fine.

Anytime I came across something I didn't want to get rid of, I'd whip out my phone and take a picture of it. Usually, just having the picture made me feel comfortable enough to could chuck it away.

Someday, putting a nice gallery or physical picture book of my favorite things together might be fun, but just knowing I have the pictures is relief enough.


Start Over Again


Randomly in the process I'd go back to an old group and re-evaluate what was left. Sure enough, I'd find more I was willing to cut ties with.

My perspective between when I started had now shifted so much, my standards for what I kept raised and much of what I'd thought was worth hanging onto didn't feel that way anymore.


It's worth noting that much of this advice is somewhat counter-intuitive.

If you've classified your stuff already, why do it again? How can you decide to get rid of something before you really think about what it is? Shouldn't you start with the big, sentimental things that have been looming over you for awhile? Can a picture really replace a real item? Why start over again randomly?

My suggestions don't make sense, but I can't deny that they've worked for me when nothing else did.

So, my ultimate advice is to explore. Try my tips but also come up with your own off-ball approaches to getting rid of your things. Keep shaking things up until you find the ones that really get at the root of what's keeping you from a pared-down, flexible lifestyle.

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