What NOT to Do When Decluttering

Thanks to Marie Kondo on Netflix, decluttering has become trendy these days. I appreciate how gracious she is with her clients on the show, even when they want to buck her system. (And she has a very specific system.)

But what works for some, may not work for all. And if there’s any certainty about decluttering methods, it is that there are many ways to achieve a less cluttered home. It all depends on you and your personality, ultimately. However, there are a few things I recommend NOT doing, no matter the method you employ while decluttering.

What not to do when decluttering | This Modern Mess

1. Avoiding decision making

Sometimes, it is helpful to delay decision-making, especially if a collection of items is particularly emotional for you to sort through, or if circumstances are unfavorable for a short period of time. But eventually, you’ll need to face the boxes in the attic or the piles of clothes in your closet or dresser that no longer fit. Don’t avoid decluttering because you’re afraid of making hard decisions.

2. Taking on too much at once

You get gung-ho about decluttering your home. You can do this! Let’s start right now! And then you pull everything out onto the floor and dive in (like Marie would suggest) … only to need to stop to pick the kids up from school or put them to bed. Or you try to declutter ALL THE THINGS, including your calendar, your inbox, your shoe collection, etc. etc. etc. All at once.

While it can be helpful to do one giant sort of all your things, so that you can discover and eliminate duplicates or worn out items, it can also be overwhelming. This is especially true if you’re juggling watching the kids and keeping up with the household chores at the same time.

If you need to, try a pile at a time. A drawer or cupboard at a time. Or … maybe a whole room. You can even sort like items (go through your whole house and find all the writing utensils, for instance. Or books. Or clothes.)

But if you overwhelm yourself, it will only slow you down in the long run. Gain confidence and build momentum as you prepare yourself to tackle bigger projects.

3. Getting stuck on the details

If you’re organizing all your blue pens in a pretty cup before you’ve tackled the office or desk as a whole, you’re wasting precious time. Sort big, and work your way down to the small things. By this I mean, get the framework in place to that will enable you to live tidier. If a piece of furniture isn’t helping your organizational strategy, or if the layout of the room is counter to how you really use it … change that first.

I learned this a non-traditional way, through writing fiction. For years, as a beginning writer, I would write a chapter or two and then stop to fine tune every word choice, every sentence structure, every pretty passage of prose.

I spent hours working on details and perfecting pages … only to lose them to big picture edits that ripped those pages and sentences and perfect words away from my story, because, while beautiful, they didn’t add anything to the plot.

Slowly, I learned to make those big edits first. I tackled the stuff that made the most difference. Then I focused on polishing it up.

Decluttering and organizing your home is no different. If you begin by focusing on detail work, you’ll waste precious hours. Start with the big picture by working on the places or things that make the biggest difference in your daily life. This will look different for everyone. And then, once you’ve figured out your natural rhythm and how each space should work for you, you can hone in on the details. Even organize those blue pens in that pretty cup.

4. Letting your emotions control the process

I get it. So many items in our homes hold memories, good and bad. Plus, just the knowledge that our house is a mess and needs help is enough to cause shame and other uncomfortable emotions that are hard to face. So sometimes the hardest part about decluttering is sifting through the emotions that accompany the clutter.

It’s not pretty.

If you start feeling discouraged at the rate you are decluttering your home, or if you are bogged down by anger with yourself or shame that things have gotten this bad … take a deep breath.

Don’t let those emotions rule you. All this stuff? All this clutter? It might be a symptom of a deeper problem, and facing that idea head-on is not an easy thing. Give yourself grace. It did not get like this in a day. And it probably is going to take more than one day to deal with it, too. If you need to, seek out a trusted friend or family member — someone will speak truth to you — to discuss your concerns. Or find a counselor or other professional to help you through the process.

On the other hand, it can be just as easy to rush into a decluttering project fueled by good intentions and sheer determination. You can steamroll your way through the project with little regard for the feelings of other people in your household (throwing out a prize trophy that means nothing to you, for instance). Give others grace, too.

Sometimes, you the problem is just that you’ve burned out too quickly and give up on your project.

Finally, the things themselves might hold strong emotions for you. Perhaps they were gifts from loved ones and you feel guilty about wanting to get rid of them. Or perhaps they remind you of a particularly happy–or sad–time in your life, even if the objects themselves hold little value for you.

If this happens, take a break. Try to get some emotional distance. Remind yourself that things are not people. And that perhaps the sole purpose of that thing that you are clinging to was for you to feel gratitude to the person who gave it to you. Or to use it for a season. And then to let it go.

The Bottom Line on Decluttering

In summary …

  • Don’t avoid decluttering because you want to avoid the decision-making process.
  • Don’t embark on more decluttering at a time than you can realistically handle.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the detail work.
  • Don’t let your emotions drive the bus.

The point of decluttering is not to guilt you into minimalism. The point of decluttering is to free yourself from taking care of so much “stuff”, so you can focus on the people and activities you love.

Finally, decluttering isn’t just purging your house of things. Look at it as making room for how you want to live. Keep items, as Marie Kondo would say, that bring you joy. But also those things that facilitate a better life for you and your family. Don’t feel guilty about hanging onto a vegetable peeler you don’t love, but use regularly. The point of decluttering is not to guilt you into minimalism. The point of decluttering is to free yourself from taking care of so much “stuff”, so you can focus on the people and activities you love.

Hang in there. You’ve got this.

When you have decluttered, continue your progress by starting to organize your home, following The Cheapskate’s Guide to Home Organization on a Budget.

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  1. Love this list! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed when you’re trying to declutter. I’d add “don’t move on until it’s done.” I’m great at getting a room 80% there, but then the next squirrel catches my eye and I’m off to another space, leaving a couple clutter-magnets out, and it all piles up again.