Paralysis in the decluttering process can set in when we start overthinking future scenarios. As we are taught in yoga and meditation classes, the present moment is all we have. So when we dwell on the past and future, we are robbing ourselves of the now. The clutter which distracts and frustrates us is often a symptom of holding on to the past or worrying about the future. And to be clear, it is not always a so-called negative emotion such as regret, sadness or fear that grips; sometimes, memories of great times or anticipation of joy can thwart our clutter clearing endeavors.

There are many ways to break out of clutter-clearing paralysis. I have found that starting small, with a drawer or category of items that has little emotional oomph can get people on track to tackling larger spaces or more emotionally challenging categories.

Another way to circumvent being stuck is to make a list of pros and cons of decluttering. It is helpful, always, to do some free-writing about the task at hand before you start. Try for three long-hand pages of stream of consciousness writing about your decluttering project. Name your fears, your hopes, what you expect to find, supplies you might need, people who should be involved, etc.

Some people are more past-focused in their decluttering paralysis. Baby clothes, books and toys for a parent whose child is growing up or has left for college can be challenging. I have heard many times that these items hold the memories for the parent of that precious time in their child’s life. Often the person will keep many more of these items than are really needed to serve as memorabilia. As we reduce the volume to just a few things, the client starts to realize that the memories are not really in the stuff, and sometimes lets everything go.

The worst case/best case scenario building around baby clothes goes like this: “What if Kimmy (who is 18) gets married and has kids and wants all of her old baby clothes and books and toys for her own kids?” Again, do some deep thinking about this. Chances are very good that your children will want to purchase new items for their children in the distant future when and if they have them. A wooden duck on a string doesn’t really translate to the iPads in the hands of today’s babies.

I have heard clients ask their children if they want their baby clothes and toys for their own children and the child will flat out tell them, “No, Mom, I don’t want any of that stuff.” It becomes very clear who it is being saved for when the parent then tells me, “Well, Kimmy doesn’t realize that she will want it later.”

Adult clothing is another good example of a category of clutter that can cause worst case/best case paralysis. For example, fat clothes and skinny clothes. For fat clothes, the fear is that weight might be gained (worst case). For skinny clothes, the hope is that weight might be lost (best case). The truth is that by giving space to clothes that do not currently fit you are short-changing your present moment wardrobe, especially if you are keeping these clothes in your closet where they take up hanging space in the NOW.

If you are keeping fat or skinny clothes in containers somewhere, it is still a negative. Assuming your desire is to maintain or lose weight, if you gain weight, don’t punish yourself further by wearing old, out of date clothing. If you lose weight, wouldn’t you want to reward yourself with something new?

Another big source of decluttering paralysis is “I might need it someday.” This is almost always worst-case scenario thinking, such as needing buckets to catch water in case the roof leaks or an extra three brooms in case the current broom breaks. But sometimes it is hopeful, best-case thinking, such as, “I might need it if I get back into (insert craft or hobby here).” Do some writing or meditation about any of those scenarios that come up until you feel comfortable with your decision to keep things or let them go in any category. Don’t let the “what if’s” prevent you from enjoying your now.