British Columbia

Grief, guilt, embarrassment — clutter can stir many emotions. Here are some tips to kickstart the clearout

Self-isolation is a great opportunity to purge unwanted and unused belongings — yet the thought of going through rooms and boxes of things you've collected over the years may make you feel uneasy. You're not alone, a decluttering expert says.

Self-isolation offers an opportunity to begin decluttering your home

People often use a spare room for storing clutter. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

Staying home as much as possible has become the norm for many Canadians, which means any clutter that's built up over the years is now constantly in view.

That makes it the perfect time to purge unwanted and unused belongings, according to a decluttering expert.

But if the thought of going through rooms and boxes of things you've collected over the years makes you feel uneasy, you're not alone. Marilyn Carlaw, owner and operator of Declutter Bug & Co. in Prince George, B.C., said the experience is overwhelming for many. 

She says people have collected a lot of "things" over the years, partly because of increased advertising and because there is an inherent emotional attachment to gifts, even if they never get used or enjoyed.

We all have a junk drawer — and decluttering expert Marilyn Carlaw says that's a great place to start the clearout. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

"We feel guilty often when we're looking at something that great-aunt Susie gave us and we don't want to give it away. We think she would be upset if she knew we purged it, so we hang onto it," Carlaw told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

She notes while most people don't deal with extreme situations like those seen on reality TV shows such as Hoarders, the average person can still have significant emotional attachments to things. 

"The first words I hear from clients when I talk to them is that they feel embarrassed," Carlaw said. 

Grief, fatigue and guilt are other words she uses to describe how people feel about clutter.

Uncertain times like the COVID-19 pandemic bring out a sense of fear in people, Carlaw said, which means they're even more likely to hold on to things and over purchase on others, such as toilet paper. 

"Sometimes there's a lack of being willing to share," she said. 

Where to start

The best place to start, Carlaw said, is with the household junk drawer. 

"That's a given," she said. It's small, the job can be done quickly, and at the end there is a sense of accomplishment.

Before taking unwanted items to the dump or a local thrift store, check online to make sure they're accepting items. (Submitted by Judy Mitchell)

For those looking to tackle a bigger project, spare rooms are often used as a place to dump things like Christmas decorations, old home decor or seasonal furniture. 

"It piles up and it gets to a point where it becomes so overwhelming and we don't know where to start to either get rid of the stuff," Carlaw said.

If the job feels too challenging to tackle alone, she said not to feel embarrassed about asking for help. 

"I believe that we were created to live in community," Carlaw said. "If I have a toothache I go to a dentist, and when my neck is sore I ask my chiropractor to fix me up."

"Some of us have [skill] sets and abilities that are different from everybody else; some can see how to get out of the clutter and others need a helping hand."

When her clients walk into a room they've decluttered for the first time, she said she notices a physical change in the individual.

"It's like a release of pent-up frustration and there's real freedom in it," she said. 

"It's truly a breath of fresh air."

Before taking unwanted items to the dump or a local thrift store, check online to make sure they're accepting items.

Marilyn Carlaw of Prince George's Declutter Bug and Company offers some advice on purging in a pandemic. 8:09

With files from Daybreak North

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