What to do when decluttering makes you feel miserable

This post originally appeared on becoming minimalist.

Here is the original version.

Decluttering seems to be all the rage. On the news, on social media and in casual conversations with your neighbors, you hear about people downsizing, KonMari-ing and simplifying their lives.

It sounds like a good idea, so you decide to get on the bandwagon.

You borrow a couple of how-to-declutter books from the local library and scan through them, then buy a package of heavy-duty garbage bags and start attacking your clutter on Saturday at 9:00 am.

By 2:00 pm, you have nine garbage bags, seven donation bags and several pieces of furniture lined up by your front entrance.

You're exhausted, but in a good way. You feel lighter and uplifted.

It's been a couple of months since that Saturday. The afterglow of decluttering has faded. You still maintain that getting rid of the clutter was an excellent idea, but can't cite a reason other than, "My right pinky toe is injury-free since I got rid of that ugly coffee table I used to keep in the basement."

The truth is that you've been feeling uneasy living in a home with empty spaces. You feel a bit empty inside as well. Why do you feel this way? Was getting rid of your clutter a bad idea?

Change is unsettling

We like the familiar, and changes often produce stress. You have not moved, but your clutter-free home is a new environment. You will feel uneasy until you adjust to it.

Don't give in to the urge to buy new things to make your place cozy. Any non-essential items you buy right now are likely to end up as tomorrow's clutter. If you want to stop the vicious circle of decluttering, fight the urge to shop.

The guilt

As you decluttered, did you feel a bit of guilt letting some of the stuff go? I sure felt it when I hauled a bag full of clothes that my mother sent me, which I didn't feel like wearing, to the closest consignment store.

High-quality accessories, expensive tools, gifts from your loved ones—it's sad to let go of things that you have some attachment to. It's also not pleasant to think about how much they all cost.

Dusty textbooks and study material you never used—did you hear a voice inside your head say, "I'm so disappointed in you," as you tossed them on the donations pile? Was that your voice, or your parent's?

It's inevitable to feel some degree of guilt when you declutter. You can't do much about it and will have to just wait until it fades.

It will fade, though.

Feeling exposed

You felt great when you slipped into the pair of five-inch stilettos, but they wrecked your back and knees, so you got rid of them.

And now you don't know how to feel confident and sexy without them. You feel so incomplete. You don't feel good about yourself.

Fight the urge to go out and buy things that you're substituting for your self-esteem.

Things can't heal you. Soothing yourself by acquiring things is only a temporary solution. Get to the root of the issue and start paying down your credit card debt.

Decluttering didn't solve your problems

Some people are reporting incredibly positive outcomes from decluttering, such as losing weight and finding their true calling (actually, that was me), so you had hoped that it would change your life.

But that epiphany never came, and you feel duped.

Hang in there. I can't tell you how or how fast, but the change will come as long as you skip the yo-yo diet of decluttering—i.e., endlessly alternating between purging and shopping.

I’ll tell you why you will change. It's because your clutter acted as your security blanket. Without it, you will feel uncomfortable, and when you are uncomfortable, you will start questioning.

Questioning takes a lot of thinking, which leads to new ideas, self-discoveries, and changes in attitudes and perspectives.

That most likely won't happen overnight. Just be hopeful and stay positive.

In closing

Decluttering physical clutter is the first step towards a simpler life, and it's often a gateway to a further personal transformation. Ultimately, decluttering is about knowing yourself better so you can make the most out of your life.

The changes will take time and effort.

Please remember that you started decluttering to improve your life, and remember to enjoy the results of your hard labor, such as easier cleaning and organizing, reduced maintenance, more space to do whatever your heart desires, and more time for fun.

Eventually, you’ll learn to love your clutter-free space and all the rewards that come with it.