In her new book, LIGHTLY: How to Live a Simple, Serene & Stress-Free Life, decluttering expert Francine Jay, aka Miss Minimalist, shares her biggest tip on how to finally let go of the items that don’t spark joy anymore.

By Francine Jay
Mom and Young Daughter Doing Laundry Child Holding Basket
Credit: Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

As we declutter, some difficult items might slow you down. They’re not essentials, but for some reason or other, you’re not quite ready to show them the exit.

This is where many of us lose confidence and momentum and decide we’ll never be minimalists after all. But here’s a technique to glide right over this trouble spot and keep on going: Put those items On Hold.

On Hold is one of my best-kept secrets to lightening up.

Why a secret? Because hiding something away, even temporarily, doesn’t seem very minimalist.

I resisted this technique for years for that very reason. Here’s what turned me around: After I had a child, I realized the complexities of decluttering a little one’s things. More specifically, that they’re likely to ask for something immediately after you get rid of it, and no amount of logic or reasoning (“you’re much too big for that push toy”) will help.

To avoid the tantrums, distress, and fear of turning my daughter into a hoarder, I started putting my daughter’s outgrown things On Hold. I’d simply stash them away in a hidden bin for six months. If they weren’t requested during that time period, I was confident they were safe to send elsewhere. Potential discards were out of sight, but easily retrievable if she suddenly became nostalgic for old playthings.

This method worked so well for her that I started (secretly) using it myself. And while I thought I was backsliding, putting my stuff On Hold actually took my decluttering to the next level.

Yes, even a minimalist can have trouble saying farewell to something. When faced with a problematic item, I find putting it On Hold the best option. It’s the first step toward making a psychological break with it. Simply marking it for removal makes it suddenly less special, and the balance of power shifts. In (remarkably little) time, the item loses its grip on me, and I’m ready to let it go. Using this method, I’ve been able to let go of items I’ve wrestled with for years in just a few months.

Is On Hold a bit of a crutch? Maybe, but it works. I think of it more as physical therapy. It helps you develop those minimalist muscles and avoid the paralysis brought on by more challenging items. It’s a gentler way to ease something out of your life.

Putting something On Hold feels comfortable because you know you can retrieve it if you have regrets. But amazingly enough, I’ve never reclaimed anything On Hold, and you probably won’t either.

Once those items are packed away, they somehow lose their magic. Seeing them as potential discards, rather than lifelong possessions, breaks the spell they have over you. On Hold helps you realize you can live without them after all.

So don’t worry if you can’t get rid of something right away. Sometimes a long goodbye is necessary. Instead of letting it hold you back, put it On Hold and move on. You’ll feel lighter right away, and every day your attachment will wane until you can let it go.

Excerpted from LIGHTLY: How to Live a Simple, Serene & Stress-Free Life © 2019 by Francine Jay. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.