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Building Better Habits & Routines

Letting Go Is An Act Of Bravery

By September 17, 2023February 20th, 202412 Comments

As a professional organizer I often talk about letting go. When a client reaches out to me it is often because they are feeling overwhelmed by clutter. Sometimes it’s just in one area of their home. Other times it is pervasive throughout the house. No matter how much clutter or stuff there is, it is causing a problem for the client. Releasing things they’ve held onto for a long time is difficult and can make a person fearful. My goal is to provide my clients with strategies to help them be as comfortable as possible while they make decisions about what stays and what goes.   This often requires my clients to be brave while they are letting go of some of their stuff.

Why is letting go an act of bravery?

It takes courage to say to yourself I no longer need this thing that I’ve held onto for years or, in many cases, decades. In fact, I heard a client say softly to himself the other day “It’s ok. I am going to be ok letting go of this flyer.” He was talking about a flyer he’d held onto for many years because it was the last event he’d attended with his mother.

We often think that the object holds the memory for us. Intellectually we know that it is merely a visual reminder of a memory our brain has stored. The object is the thing that triggers the memory, makes us think of that special event. In this example, my client had other things related to this event that were of greater significance to him than the flyer he let go.

Another client was going through piles and piles of papers in her office. Many were paid household bills that were more than a few years old. We sorted the piles into papers to file, recycle, and shred. She ended up filing a handful of documents and shredding the remainder because she realized there was no reason to keep them. They served no purpose and were taking up valuable real estate on the floor of her office.  

Facing the what if questions

Things that bring up memories are charged with all sorts of emotions. Some of these are happy feelings, some are sad, and some are filled with anger or regret. Facing these emotions is tough and requires bravery. While I am not a therapist, I can suggest the client talk through the what if questions.

What is the worst that will happen if they let this thing go?

What is the best thing that will happen?

Why are they keeping it?

Do they need, use, or love it?

Does it fit their vision for the way they want to live their life?

There are times when the client says they are not ready to let this item go. That’s ok. They have thought it through and decided that, for now, they are keeping this thing. The next step is to decide where to keep it and when to revisit this question.

Strategies to make letting go easier.

Keep one

There are times when a momentous occasion is captured in the news, and we keep multiple copies of the magazine or article. These copies take up valuable real estate in drawers or on shelves.

Keep one copy and either give the rest away to family and friends or recycle the remainder yourself. There’s no need to keep more than one copy.

You can also apply this advice to printed photographs. Keep one copy. Label the back with the name of the person, the date as specifically as you can, and the event. I have a cute picture of my granddaughter receiving an award at the end of summer camp. I would label it: Susana Quintana, age 5, summer camp 2023. This is to give anyone looking at the photo information.

I know letting go of photographs is difficult. Believe me when I say it’s ok to let go of multiple copies of the same picture.

Take a picture and write the story

When a client is considering letting go of large items like a piece of furniture or a collection of China, I suggest they take a picture and tell the story of the items they are releasing.

Often, they have been thinking about donating the things for some time but feeling like they were doing their family member a disservice if they followed through. Taking a picture and telling the story lets them remember who gave them the things and the history. It’s even better if they can donate the item to a charity their family member believed in or supported.

Sometimes clients have things related to a hobby they don’t have room for but hesitate to let go of because they don’t want to forget that they used to be good at it. Taking a picture and telling the story helps.  They can put a book together using one of the many online tools like this one and have fun sharing the pictures and stories with friends and family.

Create a memory box

Put extra special mementos in a memory box and plan to revisit them once a year. My friend and colleague, Jonda Beattie, does this. Once a year she takes her memory box off the shelf and spends an afternoon looking through it. Jonda told me that as she’s looking through the box and revisiting the memories, she will sometimes remove something from the box. This is because she’s ready to let that item go to make room for something else to go into the box.

You can do this, too. Find a box, one you can hold on your lap and start putting things into the box that trigger certain memories.

The idea is to have one memory box that holds very special things. When the box is full it’s time to let go of one or more of the items to make room for the thing you want to put into the box.

In conclusion

Letting go of things that have hung around your home for a significant amount of time is hard work. There’s no denying it will tug at your heartstrings from time to time and make you question if you’re doing the right thing. When you’re questioning yourself revisit the vision you have for the way you want your home to function and the way you want to live your life. If the answer is that you want to clear out the excess to make room for the things you need, use, and love then go ahead, be brave, and get started.

If you’d like the help of a professional organizer like me, feel free to contact me or you can search for an organizer in your area through the Institute for Challenging Disorganization or NAPO.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane specializes in residential and home-office organizing and working with people affected by ADHD, hoarding challenges, and chronic disorganization.


  • Letting go is bravery. Living in a time and age that’s easier to take pictures and remember our items constantly is huge. I like the idea of, when the box is full, it’s time to let go of one item to replace it with a new one. Thanks for this blog.

  • Julie+Bestry says:

    It’s amazing how the childhood taunt of “Take a picture, it’ll last longer!” actually has such a positive influence in the organizing practice. Keep the photo of you rocking baby (who now has a baby of his own) and let go of the rickety rattan rocker. You’re so right about the bravery involved; it reminds me of what my friend Morgana Rae, an intuitive financial coach says: “Change occurs at the speed of safety.” To create the bravery you’re talking about, a person has to feel safe, and that safety comes from thinking through the very questions you have laid out! Not letting go is always the client’s choice, and of course we all have things we’re not ready to let go. However, you’ve set out a clear and nurturing path to help people understand what’s going on and move forward with dignity.

  • Seana+Turner says:

    What a thoughtful post. It can be hard to let go, and I have found that it is rougher for some people more than for others. Sensitivity, patience, and love go a long way. No one wants to feel “bullied” or pressured to just get on with it. It sort of reminds me of the grieving process, right? Some people take longer, and that is okay. In fact, it is probably a sign of sensitive, connected, loving person.

    I love the idea of taking photos. I also find focusing on the “upside” … the “goal”… is helpful. We need to feel there is a payoff for the brave work, right?

  • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with “There are times when the client says they are not ready to let this item go. That’s ok. They have thought it through and decided that, for now, they are keeping this thing.” Deciding to keep something, even for a while, isn’t the same as not deciding to get rid of it!

  • Letting go is challenging, especially when we have emotional attachments to our things. You provided beautiful examples of how to approach this. I love how sensitively you did it, too.

    One of my most memorable experiences was with a client struggling with her competing desires. She wanted to clear out her apartment, which she no longer lived in, so she could sell it. However, she felt completely overwhelmed and stuck with letting go. Everything in her place triggered emotions- some positive and many negative.

    We worked on making the editing environment as positive as possible by adding light and playing music she liked. Every object she touched was a challenge. Then, I suggested taking photos of the things she was willing to part with. This was the turning point for her. I took some stills and short videos of her holding and talking about each one as she told the object’s story. After completing the project, I gave her the photos and videos on a thumb drive.

  • Great tips on letting go! I recently took a picture of all my photos in my elementary school album, which was falling apart. In the description area, I added my memories of what the picture was from and the year in this area. It works pretty well. I also shared it with my kids, so their account is now linked to mine, and they can view them whenever they want.

  • Jana Arevalo says:

    What a beautiful sentiment for your clients. It does take bravery and confidence in your decisions to let go of things. It’s easier in the moment to store them away and make the decision later (or, in many instances, leave it for someone else to have to decide). I will use this intention with my own clients, and I hope that it helps them to believe that letting go takes strength and is never a sign of giving up or weakness. Thank you.

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