The Relationship Between Clutter and Confidence

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Betsy Talbot of Married with Luggage

Do you know the feeling you get when you’ve finished a big decluttering project? There is a sense of accomplishment and peace, the knowledge you will have less stress each day, and the satisfaction of moving one step closer to the ideal life you want to live. In short, you have more confidence.

You no longer have to close the door, hide from company, or ignore a room anymore, and you can have the full use of your space for living.

  • Without the clutter in the garage, you can envision a usable workspace or the luxury of getting into a warm, dry car on cold winter mornings.
  • When you clean out your closet getting dressed every morning is faster and easier, and you feel zero guilt about buying nicer quality clothes because you know you’ll wear them.
  • As you donate your old books to streamline your shelves, you see possibilities for new thoughts, ideas, and stories to come into your life.

Emotional Clutter
If physical simplicity can give you this much pleasure and confidence in your life, imagine what a decluttering of your soul can do. We’re all walking around with interior rooms overflowing with stories from our past, expectations from society, and dreams for our future, and not all of it fits the “useful or beautiful” mantra of simplistic living.

When we hold on to stories from our past, especially when they are not entirely true, we stop living in the present. (And let’s face it, these stories get heavily clouded in opinion and emotion over time.) A bad breakup is still affecting your current relationship, or something your mother or a friend said years ago impacts the decisions you make today.

Trying to live up (or down) to the ideals society has for you can suffocate your talents and magnify your weaknesses. When you live your life for someone else, you have to stock your mind and soul with all kinds of extras you wouldn’t normally need. The clear path you could walk when living the life you want turns into a cloverleaf highway with off-ramps and detours with all the “shoulds” you have to remember as you make your way through a life you don’t particularly want.

Our dreams also clutter up our space – but only if we fail to pair them with action. When you don’t regularly achieve your dreams – big and small – you leave no room for new dreams to come into your life. The sad truth is that dreams typically have an expiration date, and keeping one too long without actually doing anything about it is like opening a container of yogurt past the due date. The safety seal won’t keep it from going bad if you don’t eat it in time. Keeping your dreams on the shelf is a sure way to kill them and keep new ones from emerging.

How to Declutter your Soul

The Project 333 is the perfect time to do a little soulful decluttering. As you stand in front of your closet and evaluate your clothes, think about why you are getting rid of them.

Stories from your past
The clothes from your past that no longer fit you, your life, or your environment need to go. As you ready these clothes for the donation bin, be sure to toss the stories that go along with them. You are not your past, and even though those events contributed to who you are today, they do not define you. Un-tether yourself from the past and live for the you of today. It is a look that always fits perfectly.

Societal expectation
Is your closet cluttered with different identities? We all need clothes for various parts of our lives, but if you are regularly choosing between carefree hippie artist and buttoned-down corporate bigwig, your soul is too cluttered. Pick the one that fits and discard the expectation that you’ll be anything else. You have no control over anyone else’s opinion of you, but you have 100% control of your own opinion of yourself.

Unfulfilled dreams
Do you have a little black dress you are saving for the day you lose 20 pounds? Make a specific plan to lose the weight by a certain date or donate it and buy a medium or large black dress to fit the you of now. When you do nothing with this dream you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to wear a black dress of any size anywhere – also known as living – and you’ll stay in a constant state of limbo. Pursue the dreams you want, and let go of the ones you don’t want enough.

As you head into April’s Project 333, consider a little soulful decluttering to uncover the confident you hiding beneath all that extra stuff. Enjoy the clear path to living the life of your dreams and drawing the right people into your perfectly designed emotional space.

Betsy Talbot is the author Strip Off Your Fear and Slip Into Something More Confident, available on Amazon. She and her husband Warren no longer have closets, preferring to live out of backpacks as they travel the world. Find out more at Married with Luggage.



  1. says

    What an awesome post Betsy!

    Love your metaphor of of cleaning out the “closets” to make space for more in your life! We can totally relate based on firsthand experience. Excellent post and congratulations on the book launch!

    • says

      Hi, Frank. A lot of the mental clarity comes naturally with decluttering, or at least it did for me, but some of that old junked is lodged in good and needs extra attention! I’m a big fan of pairing action with emotional learning, and this trip down memory lane in the closet is the perfect time to take a trip down memory lane in your mind and rid yourself of the emotional baggage holding you down.

  2. Elspeth says

    WOW – with this statement “if you are regularly choosing between carefree hippie artist and buttoned-down corporate bigwig, your soul is too cluttered. Pick the one that fits and discard the expectation that you’ll be anything else.” you have literally described the exact dilemma I have been puzzling over for the last 2 years after I left my office job. Thanks for the inspiration, I’m going over to my closet right now to take an inventory revision :-)

    • says

      Elspeth, I did the exact same thing, holding on to my suits for years after I stopped wearing them (and fitting into them). Once I let them go it gave me a profound mental shift as I looked at my closet in the morning. I think part of it was because I no longer had the subconscious reminder that I wasn’t as financially successful as I was in my corporate days yet.

      You can’t imagine how distracting it is to look at clothes that no longer fit you (physically or mentally) until you take them away and rejoice in the NOW. Good luck!

  3. says

    “Pick the one that fits and discard the expectation that you’ll be anything else.”

    This line troubles me. While I’m all for efficiency, I don’t like this notion of only having one role in life to play. Am I a bit of a hippie sometimes? Yes. Would I wear my favorite patchwork skirt to my sister’s law school graduation, or to apply for a loan? No, I have a smart suit for such occasions.

    No one is one dimensional. And even corporate big-wigs take days off, and they might need a patchy old pair of jeans to wear around the house or while fishing.

    • says

      I understand what you’re saying, Sarah. The difference is that I’m not advocating one outfit/role – I’m advocating one personality with the appropriate outfits to live that life fully, but not an extreme of every kind of outfit under the sun to fit any possible scenario. It is exhausting to do that, not to mention expensive.

      That’s where the soulful clutter comes in – trying to fit into every possible life situation. Sometimes you won’t, and that’s okay.

      A funny side story: my husband last worked in a very big international company and had a pretty responsible role in it – and he wore jeans or shorts to work every day, true to his casual, what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality. Corporations are changing as they realize employee contribution is more important than adherence to a dress code.

  4. Jane says

    Wow. I’ve read & reread this post a few times & each time I absorb something new. Lots to take in & none can be done in one pass.

    I’ve tried to be a bit of everthing from trying to perfectly match an outfit in the J.Crew catalog to that of a classic prepster to that of a chic boho type. The latter of which I spent a ton of money on “buying the look” only to have finally caught a glimpse of myself & my ginormous hippie-chic maxi skirt in the store window as I was walking up to my local Petsmart & I looked a fool. If I can’t fool myself, how and why should I try to fool everyone else? So I sold all that Nicole Ritchey-esque clothing on eBay in a matter of days. And I felt better. Immensily better.

    After a few more fashion sputs & sputters have I finally come to realize that I’m a-ok with being just me. Me that loves a great simple t-shirt, jeans, flip flops, plain sundresses & simple skirts, little to no jewelry, few patterns, mostly solids. It’s what I don’t mind catching a glimpse of myself in a store window as I know it’s just me I see & not the aspirational or theatrical me.
    Coming to that conclusion has not restricted me or made me 1 dimensional as another commentor said…..if anything, it’s been quite comforting. Now I can move about the cabin freely so I can pursue other concerns, ideas and dreams.

    • says

      Jane, it is a powerful topic, isn’t it? (So much so I wrote a book on it!) It wasn’t until I got closer to 40 that I realized how much of myself had been siphoned off to please society, conform to outdated and wrong stories I believed from my past, and to dreams I had no real intention of pursuing. It is so freeing to let all that go so you can pursue the life that is true to you (and coincidentally, I’ve achieved more of my big dreams in the past 5 years than I did in my first 35 – it’s amazing what a little focus will do).

      And I love your phrase “move about the cabin freely” – perfect!

  5. says

    Yay! Two of my favorite women bloggers working together :) Thanks for the spot Courtney and thanks for the post Betsy.

    I just did project 333 a few days ago. I started mid 50’s and it was a bit harder than I thought to get below 40. However, the stuff that I got rid of in the end was the stuff I thought I should wear more but don’t. Really… I probably still could apply the 80/20 rule to 33 items I have left 😉

    Okay, I am heading off to buy the book now. I have meant to for the last week but keep forgetting.

    • says

      Hi, Lorilee. I’m getting ready to pack for the next leg of our journey and will be counting my possessions as I go. I think I’m already under 33, but we’ll see. It’s a great way to stay in check on personal belongings.

      Enjoy the book – it may encourage you to get rid of even more!

  6. says

    Thank you for your inspirational post, Betsy. Your writing is clear and original – a pleasure to read. I especially liked your comments about decluttering dreams both to make room for new ones, and so that we can live our life now by releasing stale ideas. And I liked your exhortation to wear a black dress that fits now, rather than holding on to one that doesn’t fit with the idea that it will be worn one day. I’ve just applied that to a fringed suede jacket. I bought one years ago, having always wanted to own one. But I knew when I bought it that it wasn’t quite right (there weren’t many options at the time so I got it anyway). Now I have released it, and will wait to find the right one and this time I will WEAR it!

    • says

      Kim, I’m so glad you connected with the little black dress comment. So often I hear women say they will do this or that whenever they lose weight/fit into that dress/get a better job. Life is for living NOW. I love goals just as much as the next person, but you can’t reach them standing still. It is much easier when you already have momentum from living, no matter what size your ass or your bank account! Good luck with finding your perfect jacket that you will wear until the fringe falls off!

  7. says

    I recently cleared out my closet (for the longest time its been so packed I had to physically take an article of clothing OUT of the closet to get a look at it) and ended up getting rid of a couple medium weight shirts from j-crew that are favorites but were getting worn, cuffs pulled out of shape, etc. Only AFTER getting rid of them did I discover J-Crew no longer made them. Had I known I would have definitely kept them. Moral of the story: If you’ve got an article(s) of clothing you love but could do with replacing, check to see if the company still makes it BEFORE getting rid of it.

    • says

      But Frank, if the cuffs were pulled out of shape and the shirts were getting worn, why would you want to keep them? Maybe it’s time to venture out and find something new to love instead of hanging on to what’s past its usefulness in your life.

  8. says

    Betsy, this was an awesome post! I love the parallels you draw between physical and emotional clutter, and the bang-on way you describe the relationship between the two.

    I know the feeling of lightness after a wardrobe or clutter purge, but had never visualised letting go of the stories that come with each item.

    I’ve worked very hard on uncluttering my physical surroundings, and actively deciding that emotions are not present in the stuff I kept, but I’ll be sure to try letting go of that emotional weight next time I let go of a bunch of crap.

    Thanks for the inspiration and motivation to keep going.

    • says

      Hi, Brooke. As a recovering packrat and emotion hoarder, I have lived this lesson inside and out. Without a doubt, decluttering has been the single most powerful emotional healer in my life – over and above therapy, reading self-help books, and even those deep discussions with wise friends.

      Good luck with your next round of letting go – you’re going to feel at least 10 pounds lighter and 10% smarter, I just know it!