Some people think that if they are living in a filled-up and cluttered home creating a well-organized home will automatically make them happier. In many cases, this is true. People are usually relieved that the over-abundance of things is gone. There is open space and things are put away. There’s very little clutter, so why are other people feeling sad after decluttering? Since I am a professional organizer and not a therapist, I can only tell you what I have learned from my clients.
4 Reasons for feeling sad after decluttering
Change comes with mixed emotions
Anticipating change can be like riding a roller coaster. One minute you’re excited and happy thinking about the changes organizing your home will bring. Your things will have places in your home that make sense to you, and you will know exactly where to find them.
You’ll have more time available because you won’t be continually hunting through the clutter to find a missing belonging. You also won’t get stressed out because you’re having a hard time finding something important.
You know you’ll save money because you won’t be running to the store to replace something you know you have but can’t find.
Life is good, right?
Well, then you get to the top of the roller coaster, the changes have been implemented, and the negative feelings start rushing in as the roller coaster plummets to the bottom of the ride.
There’s a whole range of negative emotions
Clients tell me that there’s a wide range of emotions they feel. They can be giddy one minute and then a little anxious or sad. We know that organizing can be an emotional process. We want organizing to be a strictly logical thing that happens, but we are not machines. People have emotions. Each person is different. Here are some of the negative feelings clients tell me they experience:
Guilt (for letting go of Great-Aunt Suzie’s collection of porcelain dogs or anything else someone has given you)
anger (at themselves for spending so much money on expensive things they didn’t use and are just donating to get rid of them)
anxiety (what are they going to do with all that open space)
fear (what if they can’t keep it this way)
Then there is sadness.
They wonder why they are feeling sad after decluttering. The clutter is gone. They tell themselves to feel happy, but they are not. In addition to feeling sad, sometimes a little depression mixes in.
So, if this is you. You are not alone.
Decluttering and decision making is tiring
Once the decluttering is done, you can take a big sigh of relief and admit to yourself that decision making takes time and energy. Consciously making decisions is exhausting. You weigh the pros and cons and sometimes force yourself to make tough decisions based on logic rather than emotions.
Some of the sadness comes as a natural let down from the high of anticipating all that change. People come to the realization that to keep the home looking the way it does once the decluttering is done requires ongoing maintenance.
Being organized is work
This is regular work. Mindfully paying attention to horizontal surfaces so that piles do not accumulate. Taking the blinders off and noticing when there is a collection of shoes by the door, magazines on a table, or receipts on the desk.
As a professional organizer, I wish I could say that the organizing work always automatically sticks. But the truth is that to make it stick you must work at maintaining and/or modifying the organizing solutions you have in place. That thought can be a little depressing. It would be so nice if we could organize once and be done but we can’t.
Why? You ask. Because living your best life means that there will be a mess here and there to clean up and put away. An organizing solution that once worked well may need to change again because something in your life has changed.
Here’s my advice if you’re feeling sad after decluttering. Name the feeling and think through the reasons why you may be feeling this way.
Usually this is a temporary feeling because once a person experiences the joy of being able to find their wallet, keys, glasses when they need them the discomfort and sadness evaporates. And then there is the satisfaction in knowing exactly where to return other items so they are easy to find.
Even though people sometimes feel sad after decluttering for a little while most clients report that having an organized home brings them peace. That’s the goal. To create a peaceful atmosphere in your home so that you have a place to rest, relax, and recharge.
If a peaceful home is something you are looking to create, contact Diane to schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation.
Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® ,a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia
This is a great post. People don’t realize that they may feel these emotions after they organize. But, hopefully, they will be so satisfied with the decluttered space and how it functions that it will not affect them too much.
Thank you, Sabrina – that is the goal!
I’m so glad you brought up the idea how there are an array of emotions that happen before, during, and AFTER the organizing process. For someone that is accustomed to living with a lot of physical stuff surrounding them, the empty space can be anxiety producing. That’s one reason why taking the process in small pieces is beneficial. It enables the person to adjust more slowly to change. And they can test the level of clutter they are most comfortable with.
It’s important to recognize the varying degrees of tolerance each of us have with clutter. And if the tolerance is high, it’s more probable that a completely clutter-free space might feel uncomfortable. But there are no hard and fast rules. Each person is different. It’s a process, and one, as you said, requires maintenance to keep the established systems and surfaces as desired.
Linda, I so appreciate you bringing up the level of tolerance each of us has to clutter. It is very important to recognize.
I definitely think there can be feelings of sadness and remorse after shedding items. Especially for those who are downsizing, and feel like they are losing a piece of their life. It’s a great idea to name it and talk about it, and hopefully be able to move through the moment and onto the benefits of the work that has been done!
Thank you, Seana. Everyone moves at their own pace and some have sad feelings.
These are so many important points. When I finish a session with a residential client, I can often see the mix of emotions: relief at the completion of the job but, you pegged it, guilt for letting it get that way in the first place. And oh, yes, anxiety over unfilled spaces. We humans sure are a complex lot.
Great job working this all out!
Thank you, Julie. I’m so thankful we are humans and have these emotions. Wouldn’t it be boring to simply be machine-like?
Just loved this blog Diane, as we tend for get the “feelings” during and after organizing that people will experience, you tapped into an area we tend to neglect to nurture as we help folks get organized!
Thanks so much, Lisa!
Wow, what a great post! Acknowledging ALL the feelings that come with organizing is super important. Decluttering can be a surprisingly emotionally-charged activity, and taking a moment to feel those feelings properly makes the experience that much more rewarding.
Thank you, Katherine!