Are you drowning in clutter? In today’s podcast, decluttering expert Tracy McCubbin identifies the 7 emotional clutter blocks that may be lurking in your psyche and offers tips to overcome each one. For example, do you have a basket full of unopened mail? Do you have an absurd number of name-brand shoes collecting dust in your closet? And what about that expensive candle you’ll light “one” day? Each of these clutter types is rooted in a different emotional clutter block.

Is there an area in your home you’d really like to declutter? Tune in to hear all 7 emotional blocks and get some good advice on how you can begin your decluttering journey.


Guest information for ‘Tracy McCubbin – Clutter’ Podcast Episode

Tracy McCubbin has always referred to herself as “obsessive compulsive delightful,” but who knew she could turn that trait into a booming business? Nearly ten years ago, while working for a major television director in Los Angeles, Tracy discovered she had the ability to see through any mess and clearly envision a clutter-free space. Coupled with keen time-management and organizational skills, Tracy soon found more and more people were asking her for help. Before she knew it, dClutterfly was born.

Ten years and over 1,200 jobs later, dClutterfly has been named “Best in Nest” by DailyCandy and has received the Super Service Award from Angie’s List for five years. Tracy is a regularly featured expert on KTLA Morning Show, KCAL9, and Good Day Sacramento. She and her company have also been featured in Real Simple, Women’s Day and ShopSmart. Along with her team of expert dClutterers, Tracy is ready to tackle any project, big or small.

About The Psych Central Podcast Host

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website,

Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Tracy McCubbin- ClutterEpisode

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today we have Tracy McCubbin, who has always referred to herself as obsessive compulsive delightful. She is the author of the newly published book Making Space Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need. And she is regularly featured as an expert in the media, and now she’s here on our show. Tracy, welcome.

Tracy McCubbin: Thanks, Gabe. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited.

Gabe Howard: Well, it is my pleasure to have you. So it seems like decluttering, organization, hoarding, it’s everywhere these days. About a decade ago, the television show Hoarders, I think was probably like the big flagship. But home organization just seems like it’s really hit fever pitch. Why do you think that is?

Tracy McCubbin: You know, I think it’s a combination of our easy access to shopping so cheap consumer goods. Amazon delivers in a day. You can get your groceries, I like to joke, without even having to put your pants on. Instacart will deliver right away. And then also, we live in such a world of visual bombardment, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook that we’re just being sent these messages of how people think our homes are supposed to look. You know, before it used to be a magazine, a newspaper or television. But now it’s like you see the perfect home on Instagram. You see it on Pinterest. You see it on Facebook. You see it on the magazines. You see it online. You know, there’s ten different channels coming at you. And I think people are really starting to take stock of how much stuff they actually have and how it’s not really working for them.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that I noticed in preparing for this show is that you really talk about clutter. You don’t talk about hoarding. Now, is there a difference between hoarding and clutter or de-hoarding and de-cluttering? How do you separate those two concepts?

Tracy McCubbin: Hoarding is an actual disorder. I am not a therapist. I cannot diagnose it. There are a couple of great resources online if you’re worried that you have hoarding disorder. For a long time, they thought that hoarding was a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. But in the last couple of years, they have separated out as its own disorder. So it is an actual mental disorder. Clutter is just having too much stuff. So, and that’s not to say that there is one way that everybody should live. You know, I’m a single person. I live mostly by myself. I have a certain amount of stuff. A family of five is absolutely going to have more stuff than I do. But the way that I describe clutter, Gabe, is that clutter is the stuff that gets in the way of what you want to do. So, for instance, you want to have dinner at your dining room table, but you can’t because it’s covered with three, four or five days worth of mail, the kid’s sports equipment, a sweater you need to return to your mom or you want to get dressed in the morning without having to pull everything out of your closet. A lot of people just get dressed out of their laundry basket because their closet is so full of clothes that they can’t access it and use it as a tool. So it’s really the difference between too much stuff and then that stuff that you have — the clutter — you’ve written an emotional story about. So you, we have created some story about why we can’t let go of it. These are what I call the seven emotional clutter blocks. And we all really have at least one. Some of us have a couple more, but everybody’s got at least one.

Gabe Howard: And what are the 7 emotional clutter blocks?

Tracy McCubbin: So clutter block number 1 is what I call my stuff keeps me stuck in the past. You know, these are my parents whose kids have gone away to college, yet they still have their bedrooms saved exactly as a museum. This is us keeping clothes that we can’t fit into anymore. This is our stuff telling us that our best days are behind us.

Gabe Howard: And to a certain extent, isn’t that also where our memories come from, though, like how do you separate the stuff that keeps me in the past? Because they’re clothes that haven’t fit since high school and the stuff that keeps me in the past as in family heirlooms.

Tracy McCubbin: It’s when we attach to that. Right? When we think, oh, I’m going to get back in those clothes, you know, of course the family heirlooms are the things that you look at. You know, they make you happy and they remind you of your grandmother. I’m not saying that stuff. I’m saying if you have a closet… I was with the client the other day and her linen closet, three of the shelves, the five shelves were full of artwork that her kids had made in pre-school and elementary school. Her kids are grown ups now. They’re doctors. So this stuff that her kids had created, which well, one or two of the turkey hands were fantastic. I don’t know that she needed all eight of them. Right?

Gabe Howard: It makes sense.

Tracy McCubbin: These were sweet, sweet memories. And that reminded her of it. But she had three shelves in her linen closet that she couldn’t use because she was stuck in the past. She didn’t want to let go of when her kids were little.

Gabe Howard: Makes perfect sense and then clutter block number 2?

Tracy McCubbin: Clutter block number 2 is my stuff tells me who I am. The best way to describe this clutter block is a client said to me with her hand on her hip. How can I possibly be lonely? I have two hundred pairs of shoes. This is our identity. This is the designer labels. This is I’m not lonely because I’m out at the sale at Nordstrom’s. This is really using our stuff as our identity. I do a lot of senior downsizing, so I help seniors move from lifelong homes into smaller spaces. And I see this a lot with my older gentleman who used to fix the car, used to do the handy work around the house, really identified as being a helper in the family. And now that they’re older and maybe can’t get up on the ladder, it’s really hard for them to let go of who they used to be.

Gabe Howard: Emotional clutter block number 3. If I am correct, it’s the stuff that you’re avoiding?

Tracy McCubbin: Absolutely, and full confession. I am a clutter block number 3, I have it. I go a week without opening my mail. So this is not opening our mail. This is not paying our taxes. This is not doing the business of being a grown up. And the interesting thing, Gabe, about this, when the people who tend to be very, very successful at their job almost always seem to have clutter block number three, that they’re really, really successful at work. But then when they come home, they avoid doing their grown-up stuff.

Gabe Howard: I completely agree with that. I feel that my day while I’m at work is when I am an adult and my time at home is when I can enjoy life. And a lot of the stuff that I’m avoiding is stuff that I know is just going to make me unhappy. We’ll just go with I’m not even going to say angry,

Tracy McCubbin: [Laughter]

Gabe Howard: Just unhappy, annoyed. So it can wait till tomorrow, right?

Tracy McCubbin: Absolutely, and also this is an absolute block because you think I’m so together at work, of course, I’ve got it together at home. I’ll get to that stuff eventually. So it’s this story that we’ve told ourselves. But what happens with this clutter block especially, you know, this is the one that can end up costing you a lot of money. Right? You don’t pay your taxes so you get behind in fees and interest. Like this is the one that can really do some damage. Also, when that’s just put your big girl pants on and open your mail. Just do it. You got to do it.

Gabe Howard: Now, this next one really spoke to me personally because I think that I’m definitely guilty of it. So emotional clutter block number 4 is?

Tracy McCubbin: My fantasy stuff for my fantasy life.

Gabe Howard: I am so guilty of this.

Tracy McCubbin: Oh, tell me, what do you what do you fantasize you’re gonna be or should be?

Gabe Howard: So for me, I just keep thinking that I need to hang on to certain things because I’m gonna need it in the future. You

Tracy McCubbin: Yep.

Gabe Howard: Know, for example, as soon as my podcast gets on Sirius Satellite Radio, I’m going to need all of this equipment. Listen, this equipment is not doing me any good. And when I’m even going to say when serious satellite radio comes a calling, they’re not gonna want my crappy equipment. But I just believe that if I get rid of it, I have limited my choices. And that’s really the emotional part, right?

Tracy McCubbin: Absolutely.

Gabe Howard: Like, I believe that this stuff is connected to my success, even though you’re going to tell me that it’s not. And you’re right, by the way, you’re you’re so right.

Tracy McCubbin: And the great thing about that example, and thank you for sharing, is that, you know what, Sirius XM Radio has beautiful studios, beautiful equipment. They have the best of the best. So while I love that, that’s a goal for you, like get the fantasy part out of it. Get to the reality of it. Again, this goes back to you’re not living the life that you’re living right now. You’re not happy with what you have. You’re not focusing on, “This is the equipment that I use to do my podcast. And it works. And it’s fantastic.” All this other stuff I don’t use. But when I look at it, I remind myself that I’m not where I want to be. Not necessarily in a good way.

Gabe Howard: It becomes a stumbling block.

Tracy McCubbin: Absolutely. This one I see a lot around fitness equipment. These are the people who go, you know what I need to be I need to be a rock climber. My life would be perfect if I’m a rock climber. So they go out and they buy all the equipment. They don’t rent it. They don’t borrow it. They buy all the equipment, the shoes and little bags with the chalk. And then they get up to the rock and they’re like, I’m scared of heights or I don’t like this at all. And then they’ve gotten all this stuff with this thing that they think they should be and they’re not. And then they get angry at themselves. Well, I should be. That’s. No. If you’re not a rock climber, you’re still a really good person. You’re still a lovely human. You don’t ever have to climb a rock. We can really all fall deep down into this clutter block.

Gabe Howard: We’ll be back with the rest of the emotional clutter blocks after these messages.

Sponsor Message: Hey folks, Gabe here. I host another podcast for Psych Central. It’s called Not Crazy. He hosts Not Crazy with me, Jackie Zimmerman, and it is all about navigating our lives with mental illness and mental health concerns. Listen now at Psych or on your favorite podcast player.

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Gabe Howard: We’re back discussing clutter and de-cluttering with author Tracy McCubbin. And the next emotional clutter block is?

Tracy McCubbin: I love this one because people break through this, I really see them start to shine. Clutter block number 5, I’m not worth my good stuff. So this is people with clothes, with tags on them in their closet. Oh, that’s too nice. I’m saving that for a special occasion. You know, don’t use grandma’s beautiful china. Don’t burn the smelly, expensive candle. There’s this someday far away time when all this stuff is going to be relevant or it is the perfect day to use it. And you know, I live in California and we have just gone through another devastating round of wildfires and so many people have lost their homes. And one thing that I always think about is like what stuff burned in those homes that they never got to enjoy? You know, if not today, when? Because we’re really not guaranteed tomorrow. Are we?

Gabe Howard: This one really spoke to me a lot. Our production assistant for this podcast. We’ve known each other for a long, long time. And she said that all growing up, her grandmother would tell her over and over and over again. This is for a special occasion. This is for a special occasion. We’re saving it for good, was exactly what she said. And my friend cleaned out her grandmother’s house after she passed away. And it found all of this stuff still wrapped in all of its packages, still waiting for good. And her grandmother’s life was over. So good literally never came. And it just made her think, wow. In my grandmother’s entire life, she never thought that it was good enough to use, you know, this china, this tablecloth and these were small things, the things that she was saving for good were things that her grandmother, who had limited means and grew up in rural Ohio, could afford. And still, she never thought that it arrived.

Tracy McCubbin: I know, it just breaks my heart. Right? You just think here’s this woman that I’m sure probably worked very hard and raised a family and you know of anybody, she deserved to eat off of that nice tablecloth.

Gabe Howard: Right.

Tracy McCubbin: Just enjoy the feeling, like even if it’s takeout, Chinese or Thai takeout like burn the nice candles. So this one, when people really let this settle and they go, you know what? I’m worth it. I just see them start to soar. I love it. I got a text from somebody the other day who read the book, she said. I’m just finishing up the book. And I lit the very expensive, smelly candle that I had never wanted to burn. And it just made me so happy. So this one. Great. And you know, the interesting thing about this one too, this clutter block is really passed down generationally. Like you were saying about your friend, especially if you have parents or grandparents who lived through the depression or the World Wars. You know, there’s a real idea of frugality as a virtue and

Gabe Howard: Right.

Tracy McCubbin: That there will be better times. So we’re gonna save it for that. So I think that sometimes this is a real sort of family constellation story, if that makes sense.

Gabe Howard: It does, it does. Your family’s values are your values. So if your grandmother thought that nothing in her life was good enough for the good china and the good tablecloth she passes that onto, you where now you’re waiting for something to be good enough for the good China and the good tablecloth. And then you’re going to pass that on to your children. And we just need to break the cycle. You know, Big Macs are delicious. Put it on the good China, put it on the good tablecloth and and and raise a glass to your loved ones. Right? That’s why we work to buy these beautiful things to share with those that we love. And that’s good enough,

Tracy McCubbin: And that we’re worth it. Right?

Gabe Howard: Right.

Tracy McCubbin: We’re worth the nice stuff, like wear this sweater that you love. Well, what if I get a stain on it? Well, then don’t buy it in the first place. But I think that’s so interesting because that all steps right into clutter block number 6, which is trapped with other people’s stuff. And this is really about this stuff we literally inherit from people who have passed on. And talk about inheriting a story. I have more conversations/ heated debates about the value of something that someone’s great grandmother left them and she swore that it was going to make them a million dollars. And, you know, I can’t get rid of this. You know, the secretary, even though I never use it because it was my great grandmother’s and she said it was a Louis XIV and I’m in to get a million dollars for it. And it lives in the garage and is being eaten by termites.

Gabe Howard: Right.

Tracy McCubbin: You know that we’ve told ourselves this story. And here’s what I will let the people know. Furniture is a diminishing asset. It is a tool that you buy to use. It is very, very, very rare. Very rare. No matter what Antiques Roadshow tells you, it’s very rare that you’re going to sell furniture at a profit or even at cost. So people get stuck in this idea that this was worth something and I can’t let go of it. But this also, Gabe, this is also where the memories come in, right? That we look

Gabe Howard: Right.

Tracy McCubbin: At this thing and we think about that person that we lost. And I just did a speaking event and this woman was talking about how she has a bag like a plastic shopping bag on her dresser that she looks at every morning that is full of the pens that were on her mother’s nightstand when her mother passed. And she started to cry when she said it. And I said, well, does it make you happy to look at it? And she said, no, it just breaks my heart and reminds me of that night, but I can’t let go of them because I feel, And what I filled in for her, do you feel like you’re losing her all over again if you were to get rid of them? And she said, right. And I said, well, why don’t you make a swap out when you get rid of the pens and why don’t you find a photo of one of your favorite days with her or a figurine or a knick knack that she loved, so that when you look at it in that same place, you think of her. But you remember your best days.

Gabe Howard: I like that a lot. A lot.

Tracy McCubbin: Yeah, and I think, you know, the loss is so hard that we don’t want to forget the person. And I fully stole this from Dr. Phil, so I have to give him credit. He always says, you know, the amount of time you spend grieving someone in no way reflects how much you loved them. And I always like to say the amount of stuff that you keep from someone who’s passed away in no way reflects how much you love them. You don’t need to have a house full of furniture that you hate because it reminds you of your grandmother. You can have one thing that you love. And I think that memory is actually stronger and more cherished.

Gabe Howard: Now, the last emotional clutter block, if I understand it correctly, I think in some ways is maybe the most relatable. It’s the stuff I keep paying for. Can you explain that to us?

Tracy McCubbin: This is the stuff that we spent money on. We know we’re really never going to use, but we can’t let go of it because we paid good money for it. So this is really confronting our spending habits. And sometimes you just have to admit you made a mistake. Right? Sometimes you just bought the wrong bag. This is the stuff that you keep paying for. This is where you just have to admit, you know what? I made a mistake. I made a bad decision. I don’t need to keep flogging myself over and over again that it was bad. Like let it go. Maybe donate it to somebody who can use it, but just don’t hang on to it just because you paid a lot of money for it.

Gabe Howard: It’s almost like you’re paying twice, right? You’re paying for the initial purchase and then by letting it hold you back or remind you of negatives or in some cases it actually has expenses that move forward.

Tracy McCubbin: The great example is off-site storage,

Gabe Howard: Oh, yes.

Tracy McCubbin: Those people whose garage is so full and house is so full that they are renting offsite storage for the stuff that they think they need. I personally have been in, I don’t know, a thousand storage units. I have never once seen anything more valuable in that storage than they paid to store it. So it’s really, like you said, ongoing cost.

Gabe Howard: I cannot tell you how much I agree with that statement. And that leads me to my next question. So I imagine that everybody is going to find an emotional clutter block that they belong in and they’re going to think to themselves, I’ve got to let go of some of this stuff. But now we’re stuck again, because as much as I would love to say, hey, just chuck it on the curb. People don’t like that idea. Do you have any recommendations of what to do with this stuff? Now that we’re finally willing to let go of it?

Tracy McCubbin: I do. That’s a great question. You know, I’m part Scottish, so I’m very thrifty and I believe in recycling and reducing and all that stuff. And here’s the thing about letting go of it. There are amazing organizations. There are the big ones, the Goodwill and the Salvation Army. But if you do a teeny bit of due diligence, there are fantastic organizations locally that will take almost everything. Some of it is just trash and there’s no way around that. And as much as I hate to fill the landfill. But for example, animal rescue organizations, they will take your old sheets. They will take your stained towels. They go through that stuff and it gets put to great use. So it doesn’t just fill in the landfill, right? Just drop a bag off to them. Old suitcases that are in good, clean, working condition. Organizations that work with foster care, kids, you know, there are so many great places to donate. That with just a little bit of research. On my Web site,, I actually have a resource guide to what I called conscious donating. So thinking a little bit outside the box and places that you can look in your own area.

Tracy McCubbin: So that’s a great resource for people. And also sometimes, just ask your friend, you know, your partner or your housekeeper. A great story about this is a client of mine out here. Her mom very suddenly took a turn for the worse, had to put her in assisted living and was stuck with a houseful of furniture in St. Louis. She lived out here. Mom was in St. Louis. You know, I don’t time to do an estate sale. There’s a lot to donate. I got to do this really fast. And my suggestion to her is like, why don’t you just put a bunch of pictures on your Facebook page? Can I call out to people in the neighborhood? Her family was from there and her first cousin’s kid was moving into his first apartment with his roommates after college and first jobs and didn’t have a lot of money. They were like, we’ll take it all. Came over with U-Haul and a whole bunch of young guys loaded up and set up their first apartment. So with a little bit of effort, you can find homes for a lot of staff.

Gabe Howard: I like what you said there about donating it to people’s first apartments, because I remember my first apartment was completely, completely furnished by hand-me-downs and I have such incredibly positive memories of that apartment, even though my house now has much nicer stuff because my financial situation has changed and now I get to give the hand-me-downs so the younger people in my life are now utilizing my stuff. It’s fun to walk into somebody’s house and see the kitchen table that I bought 25 years ago now living in their home, it’s nice. Now when you donate to a charity, you don’t always get to see that. But just know that it’s out there, right? Just know that your stuff is now in the wild, bringing happiness and utility to other people who can’t afford it because they’re still young. So you’re giving them the hand up that we all got when we were younger. I think it’s a great way to pay it literally backwards.

Tracy McCubbin: Yeah. So I was working with a client this weekend. She has twins and they were aging out of a whole bunch of baby equipment, right? They get all that stuff. They age out and her housekeeper goes once a month to work with a church in Tijuana. And she took everything. And, you know, everything was gonna find a home. All that stuff was gonna be put to use. And it just made my client so happy. You know, it made us so happy. It was like such a full circle moment, especially for those of us who letting go is a little bit harder. You know, some of us, we can let go. And clutter is not a problem. But for those of us who are a little more attached, I always say, like, find the thing that speaks to you. Where do you want to give of yourself? Is it the rescue animals or is it foster kids? Is it the vets? Whatever it is, if you give to that organization, it’s your neighbor. You know, whatever it is, it’s gonna be so much easier to let go because, you know, it’s being put to good use.

Gabe Howard: So we’re almost at the end of the show, and I have my final question, and I think it’s one that people are really thinking about a lot. So you’ve done it, you’ve declared your house is now clutter free. You’re celebrating, you’re organized, everything is wonderful. But then something happens called clutter creep. How do we prevent it?

Tracy McCubbin: The clutter creep is really about a couple of things. It’s about awareness of what you’re buying and what you’re bringing into your house. What I tell clients is instead of saying, oh, I need this. I need this, start saying I want this. I want this thing. So then you realize that you don’t really need it. And then it’s also about looking at your space. Right? Can you clean up the room in 20 minutes or less? Can you put everything back? Let’s go and get it ready for the next day or company to come over. If it takes you more than 20 minutes to do that, then that clutter is really starting to creep back in. But it’s a real level of consciousness and awareness and a lot like dieting. You know, you could do the big fast and you can lose 10 pounds really quickly, but then you have to change your relationship to food to stay there. And it’s the same thing. We’ve got to change our relationship to our stuff. We have to understand that we need to own our stuff and our stuff shouldn’t own us.

Gabe Howard: I love that, Tracy. Thank you so much. Now the name of your book is Making Space Clutter Free: The Last Book On Decluttering You’ll Ever Need. Where can folks find you and where can folks get your book?

Tracy McCubbin: M C C U B B I N dot com is where they can come and visit me. Book is at Amazon. Book is at Barnes & Noble. It’s on audio, if you don’t want any more book clutter. And then I’m really pretty active on Instagram. Tracy_McCubbin and Facebook, @ThisIsTracyMcCubbin. So I’m kind of all over the place and pretty easy to find.

Gabe Howard: Well, thank you so much and I’m glad we found you.

Tracy McCubbin: Thank you for having me, Gabe, and have a really lovely day.

Gabe Howard: You’re very, very welcome. And listen up, everybody, we need you to do a couple of things for us to support the podcast. Please rank us. Review us. Use your words and tell people why you like us. And don’t forget to share us on social media. We appreciate all the shout outs. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting you. We will see everyone next week.

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