10 Common Decluttering Mistakes Keeping You Stuck

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Whether starting the decluttering process for the first time or working on your home for a long time, it’s easy to make these common decluttering mistakes. They are not the worst things that can happen, but they can slow your decluttering progress. 

The good news is that if you learn to identify these roadblocks, decluttering will be a lot easier in every room of your home! The odds are that you aren’t making all these mistakes, but if you are unhappy with how your decluttering is going, you might see yourself in a few of these. 

1. Not understanding your why can be a huge mistake.

If you don’t know why you are decluttering your living space and haven’t identified your end goal, you are likely to start out well and then lose interest quickly as your focus moves on to other things.

Motivation gets you started, but commitment to that end goal will keep you working on it. Dig into it. How will you feel in your home when it’s fully decluttered? What will it look like? You need to know why this is important to you.

Why do you want to declutter? A clearer space?

2. Not having a decluttering plan.

It’s just an idea until you decide on a plan of attack. Take action! The best way to reach that goal is to approach it as a decluttering project you must finish.

Figure out a plan and set yourself a deadline.

How are you going to get to that finish line? If you commit to working on it for 10 minutes a day, that adds up to 70 minutes a week or over five hours in just one month! 

Will you commit to decluttering a set number of items every day? On days when you have less time, finding one or two things to remove is a great way to keep yourself on track. When busy days happen, tackle a small area and take the small win!

For most of us, this is a big project, but making a clear plan and breaking it down into manageable steps and specific goals with measurable outcomes will make it much less daunting. Besides, you can always adjust the plan if you need more time.

Something else to consider in your plan, especially if you expect to have a hard time, is the great benefits of sharing it with friends, family, or even an online group. You can share simple tips, ask questions about the best places to donate, and get/give support to other people working on the same challenges. (Minimalist Home has a great group on Facebook for this!)

utensils in a drawer including knives tongs for kitchen organization and
Declutter before you organize for a less-cluttered feeling honme

3. Organizing before decluttering

You can’t organize clutter.

This is one of the most common pitfalls in decluttering. If I were just more organized, taking care of my entire home would be easyI need organizational systems and labels, and I’ll have my home under control. 

No, the advertising was wrong. Organizing is different from decluttering. You need less stuff. 

Yes, it’s easy to buy a bunch of storage containers, throw everything into the bins and stack them neatly in the garage or basement, but that’s only putting off decisions and prolonging the decluttering process. You’ve spent money on storage bins that might not work or be needed once you let go of some of your stuff.

When your decluttering journey is close to matching the state of your home to that goal in your head, you can set boundaries for how much you have room to keep and look at storage solutions. You may even find now have more containers than you need. (Those totes can be great donation bins if you don’t want to keep them.)

boxes and bags of decluttered things in a hallway
It’s nice to declutter a lot quickly, but pace yourself so you don’t burn out

4. Tackling the whole house/ declutter marathons.

You do not need to declutter your entire house in one day or a weekend.  If you can even find that mythical weekend with no obligations or places you need to be, that’s a lot of decisions in a short period of time and may lead to decision fatigue. 

Decision fatigue happens when the more decisions you make over the course of the day, the more physically, emotionally and mentally depleted you become. This is stressful (hello cortisol!) and affects your executive functioning. This affects your judgement and can lead to poor decision-making, irritability and regrets.

These monster decluttering sessions set unrealistic expectations. At the end of the day or weekend, it’s too easy to focus on what you didn’t get done instead of celebrating your decluttering efforts and the improvements you made in your space. If you feel defeated, you won’t want to continue working on your home. 

Now, you need more time to recover, and whatever area of your home you were working on is probably getting left in its current state. That’s not good for you or your family. 

5. Decluttering other people’s stuff, especially kids.

As tempting as it is to declutter the belongings of family members or roommates, there are good reasons not to do the same for other people’s things.

  • The items are not yours to make decisions about. 
  • You may not define their trash and identify their treasures like they do.
  • Loss of trust and breakdown of relationships.
  • They will not learn this important skill for themselves.
  • You may only be doing it to procrastinate working on your own stuff.

The biggest mistake is letting your kids assume they never have to worry about decluttering because it happens automatically. They never gain the ability to filter their own stuff. School-age kids can learn if you break it down into small steps. Some teenagers will love minimalism, and some will have too much stuff and need help.

It’s a good idea to start with your own possessions and set an example for the rest of your family. They will better understand what you are trying to do as they see you work through clutter and let go of things. Women tend to be more affected by clutter than men.

Your family may not get on board, and you may have to spend time ignoring their stuff (no easy task!), but be patient. Remember, at one time, you didn’t see the easy ways your life would improve with less stuff. They will get there too. 

A pile of clothing on a hamper

6. Bringing too much stuff in.

Have you ever decluttered your bedroom closet or dresser only to find it crowded when you put away laundry a few months later? It’s not because you haven’t been doing the laundry. 

Did you empty the cupboard under the bathroom vanity and toss out all the old hair care products and skin care solutions, only to find a bigger mess later? Are some of those new items the free-with-purchase gifts that you really did want to use but forgot about? 

Are you decluttering the same things over and over again? 

This one might expose some of your bad habits. It could be overstocking on groceries you can’t use up before their expiry dates, picking up a few things at the donation center with the discount coupon they offered when you dropped off your donations or saving decluttered items friends or family were going to toss out. You had the best intentions, but it’s not a good practice for you!

Don’t forget that this applies to digital clutter as well. Unsubscribe from the newsletters that reach your inbox that you never open and the notifications from the social media sites you belong to.

If you have a shed or a self-storage unit offsite, you must stop the traffic to those as well. Off-site storage should be temporary and not a way to delay decisions.

7. Starting with sentimental items

We all have sentimental stuff, but you need strong decluttering muscles to deal with those emotional attachments. 

When you think about supper at your grandmother’s house as you look at the china in your hutch or remember that family reunion as you sort through loose photos that didn’t get into an album, it takes a lot longer and does not build any momentum. Momentum is important. There is a time for walking down memory lane, but it is not the first place to go when decluttering.

Pick a less emotionally charged spot to start. Clear off a kitchen counter or the coffee table in your living room. Smaller tasks are a stepping stone to tackling the entire room and, eventually, your whole home.

If you don’t know where to start, this link has some helpful decluttering tips. 

And when you do get to things that have sentimental value, make sure the ones you keep are valuable to you, not to someone else. Keep the positive things and let go of the ones with negative memories. You don’t need that baggage. 

8. Not getting rid of donations or garbage right away.

You’ve made the decision to get rid of your unwanted items, and you need to follow through on getting them out of your home. If they stay, you may revisit the decision to let go. Moving the bags or boxes to the trunk of your car is a good start, but schedule a time to drop those donations off soon. This week is better than next week!

If you are holding onto donations to hold a garage sale, pick a date and write it on your calendar. Do not leave it as a someday idea! After your sale, if you have unsold leftovers, box them up and haul them to the donation center. You’ve already decided to let go of those unwanted items. 

Use dark-coloured bags for your trash and donations. If you are boxing them, tape the box closed as soon as it is filled and label it if it’s a donation box that can’t go out immediately. This will save you a lot of time (and keep the rest of your family from pulling things out to look). You don’t need to review it and second-guess yourself. Trust your instincts!

penalty cardboard box with hand putting scarf in box
A box usually does the trick to declutter, but totes and bags work well too

9. Perfectionism. 

It’s human nature to want to do the right thing. Many of us grew up with the message that we shouldn’t waste anything, and while that may be true, your home is neither a museum nor a garbage dump. You can keep anything, but you can not keep everything.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of not wanting to send anything to the landfill. It feels better to donate it than to throw it out. You don’t want it, but no one wants to admit they’ve been holding onto garbage. (How long has that broken lamp been sitting in your basement?)

You’d feel better about donating it if it could go to someone who really needs it, like the domestic violence shelter, even though it’s inconvenient to get to, and maybe you can’t get there this week. This one is actually rooted in our biology. Scientists have found that altruistic behaviour releases endorphins, like dopamine, leading to the “helpers high.” 

Or it was expensive, and you can’t afford to let it go for free to the thrift store. Holding onto it doesn’t give you that money back, and even though it was expensive, it’s not worth that much money now. Holding onto it until someone pays you that magical price leaves it sitting in your laundry room or basement, taking up valuable space (and likely continuing to lose value). It’s one more thing to take care of and manage.

Finding the perfect solution for your castoffs is not helping you declutter. It’s procrastination. Finish the job!

You must decide which is more important: your comfortable and uncluttered home or the future of these unwanted items? Make the time to remove these things. Next time, you can be more mindful of what you bring home.

10. Neglecting maintenance after decluttering.

Successful decluttering will reveal the home you really want and leave you free from the overwhelming feeling of taking care of things you don’t care about or need. However, that doesn’t mean you will never need to declutter again. You’ve shown that you can create the clutter-free space you want, and keeping it that way requires maintenance.

Stuff will continue to make its way to you and your family — birthdays, Christmas, everyday life. That doesn’t mean it all gets to stay!

Maintenance is the ongoing process of removing unnecessary clutter and finding permanent homes for the new things you need and want. You’ve built up your decluttering skills. Make it a regular habit to watch for clutter in your everyday life. You got this!

The most common decluttering mistakes are avoidable and, with the exception of what you give away, can easily be changed. You can do this! You can have a clutter-free home without being a professional organizer. You have to start, and the perfect time to start is now!

Looking to get a jump on summer decluttering? Check out this post: 15 Best Things to Declutter Before Summer!

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15 Best Things to Declutter Before Summer!
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