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10 common decluttering mistakes & how to overcome them - Totally the Mom

close up of feminine arms holding a pile of blankets with text overlay: 10 common decluttering mistakes & how to overcome them

Decluttering can be a beautiful thing. Life changing, in fact. And I’m guessing if you’re here, you’ve probably already seen or even felt some of the many benefits in your own life (less stress from your stuff, freedom to breath, shorter clean up…etc).

But, full disclosure, decluttering can also be a source of overwhelm and frustration that could totally derail you from experiencing all of the benefits — or worse, cause you to give up all together. Especially if you unknowingly make these 10 common decluttering mistakes.

Here are 10 common decluttering mistakes that can throw you off track (and how to overcome them):

blond woman holding large box and smiling in front of a bright yellow background

Mistake Number One: Buying into the idea that this can be done overnight

I get it. In theory, this sounds great! But here’s why it’s a mistake.

 

First of all, the pure logistics of pulling off an entire house purge in a single weekend, aren’t exactly a reality for busy moms like you and me with things to do and a family to run.

 

But more importantly, this clutter in your life didn’t just get dumped on you in one weekend. It’s not like you opened the door to your home one day and it all just buried you like a cartoon closet.

 

via GIPHY

 

This build up took place over time — likely years. It’s the result of habits and systems that either aren’t working for you or are clutter-friendly.

 

It takes a little (not years, but longer than a weekend) time to establish the new mindset, habits and routines that will make this a lasting change in your life and not just a weekend project you’ll be forced to repeat time after time.

 

This is as much about your mindset as it is the actual stuff, and if you don’t deal with that — if you don’t tackle the reasons for the clutter in the first place, you’re only putting a bandaid on the issue by removing the clutter. You’re not curing the cause.

 

Instead

  • Prepare for a marathon and remember this is a journey. All of this didn’t enter your life in a weekend, and it’s going to take longer than a weekend to filter out the unimportant stuff.
  • Have realistic expectations and don’t overlook your small wins. Set small milestones along the path of your larger journey, and celebrate each victory along the way.
  • Yes, the long-term project will take you more than one weekend to complete, but the good news is that you don’t need a whole weekend to get started. Every little bit counts. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 90 minutes — it all adds up to big changes for you (check out this post for 25 quick decluttering projects you can do right now). You may not be able to easily find an entire weekend to dedicate to just decluttering, but I’m positive you can find 15 minutes a day. You can totally do this!

 

Decluttering Mistake Number Two: Biting off more than you can chew

There is a reason you haven’t tackled this yet. These big, daunting spaces that get you daydreaming about striking a match and running are scary. They are overwhelming. And many times, so big or full that you don’t even know where to start — so, you don’t.  

 

And when you finally reach that tipping point and are ready to dive head first into decluttering, it’s sooo tempting to start by taking on this beast of a space.

 

Don’t.

 

Remember those benefits of decluttering I mentioned earlier?

 

You’re not going to feel the big impact of those changes immediately if you start with a big space like this. And that can be pretty demotivating.

 

After a few sessions, you may find yourself wondering if all the effort is worth it when you’re not experiencing the immediate results.

 

Instead

  • Start with a high impact space that will give you some easy wins (think your bathroom or kitchen counters). Strengthen that decluttering muscle first before you do the heavy lifting.
  • Break these big spaces down into smaller zones and declutter one small zone at a time. Think in terms of a drawer, a shelf, a bin or one small quadrant or section of a room.

 

This is a strategy I included in my free decluttering starter guide for busy moms, Disaster Zone to Peaceful Home — download yours for more great tips:

brown bags filled with assorted black boxes sitting outside on grey deck

Three: Focusing on the wrong thing

You’ve probably seen hundreds of pins and blog posts advertising free trackers to count the number, percentage or pound of items you’ve decluttered.

 

Does this sound familiar?

 

“I decluttered 1.5 million things from my home in the past 10 days – download this free tracker and start counting every particle you part with today!”

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think anything that encourages people to start decluttering and embracing the freedom of less, is truly awesome! But that being said…

 

Putting the focus on what you get rid of is entirely the opposite of what this is about.

 

This isn’t about what you remove from your life. It’s about what you choose to keep in it.

 

And that is something that is going to look different for everyone in every home.

 

You shouldn’t ever feel forced to part ways with something in the name of minimalism if it serves you.

 

It’s not getting rid of 98% of your belongings, going down to bare walls and questioning whether or not you need a lamp in your living room when you’ve got sun.

 

It’s about purpose and value.

 

There is no ideal number of boxes or items, no percentage or pound. Because it’s not about what is going out.

 

Are they worth celebrating? Absolutely! Do your happy dance every time you say “Sayonara” to all that unnecessary stuff — but that’s just the start of your celebration.

 

The entire goal is to keep your life full of the things that have a purpose and bring you value, and unburden yourself from the rest.

Instead

  • Worry less about numbers and focus on the value the things you keep bring to your life. Don’t make it about what you’re giving up. Make it about what you’re gaining.

 

Decluttering Mistake Number Four: Not Having a Defined Purpose for Your Space

One reader reached out to me recently asking me about tips for junk drawers. She had quite a few and was struggling to deal with them. She would try to declutter them, but would find herself giving up when she got tired to trying to decide what should stay and what should go.

 

This is such a common struggle! I can’t even you how many times I hear similar stories.

 

But take heart, there is a common underlying cause and when you recognize it, decluttering decisions get a lot easier to make.

 

It’s all about purpose.

 

These junk drawers in this particular example didn’t have a clearly defined purpose. When that happens, it makes sorting and decisions difficult because you don’t have a clear idea of how you will utilize the space. It becomes a catch-all for those items you think you might need, but also don’t have a specific purpose.

 

Instead

  • Be very intentional about how you will use each space.
  • Give a room or space a singular purpose whenever possible.
  • This helps set boundaries to keep collections from taking over and makes it easier to decide what belongs and what doesn’t.

 

Five: not aligning your zone with your time

If you only have 15 minutes, you probably are not going to be able to tackle your entire closet in one sitting.

 

But if you can find an hour or two, you probably could complete a closet or larger zone.

 

It is key to make sure the size of the zone you are decluttering aligns with the amount of time you have available to work. Otherwise you will wind up with a bigger mess than when you started.

 

Instead

  • Break big spaces into zones and make sure those zones align with the amount of time you have available to work
  • Got 15 minutes, do just one drawer. An hour, choose a row or two of shelves on your closet, or a shelf in your play room.

Decluttering Mistake Number Six: Organizing

Say what? Isn’t that the point? Sort of, but not quite.

 

Stuffing all of your things into pretty bins doesn’t solve the problem. Especially if you have no method to manage what is inside.

 

It just becomes dressed up clutter. Or worse, gets dumped, mixed because it’s not working for you, and then even more clutter to deal with.

 

Keep in mind, bins and baskets themselves can easily become clutter if they don’t serve a specific purpose on your life.

 

Instead

  • Declutter first, then organize based on what you have decided to keep and what the space allows.

 

Seven: Not having a clear purpose or goal (not knowing your why)

You know you need to deal with clutter. You may feel like you’re drowning in stuff. But aside from straightening things up and organizing, do you know why you are going to put in all this work?

 

If you take the time to dig deep and really define your purpose, your big motivation for why you want to declutter and embrace the freedom of less, it can be a huge carrot to help you power through moments when you are tempted to give up.

Instead

Think of decluttering like a big health kick. When you start changing your diet and incorporating healthy foods, working out regularly and making changes that support good health, you feel good. You make your resolution and you stick to it…for a while…

 

But eventually, it gets hard. You will face challenges and you will be tempted to give up.

 

The one thing that can be the difference between those who give up and those who hang in it for the long haul, smash their goals and transform their lives, is knowing the driving purpose behind why this hard work is worth it.

 

The same is true for decluttering and minimizing on every level.

 

Dig deep and know your big why before you start. Then you can rely on that to pull you through those times when giving up seems like the easiest choice.

 

Eight: not having an exit plan

Don’t start decluttering without a specific plan for what you’re going to do with your clutter when you’re done.

 

If you start your project with the idea that eventually, at some point, you’ll you’ll donate your stuff somewhere (when you find the time to get around to it), that time might not come soon enough.

 

Your kids might start pulling things back out of the boxes. You may find yourself tripping over it, moving the stash from place to place within your home where it is out of the way for a moment until you find the time to figure out where to take it.

 

When this happens, you have only moved clutter. Not DEcluttered.

 

Instead

  • Have a pick up or drop off scheduled and ready.
  • Do your research to identify what they will take, what they won’t, hours and any restrictions or special policies.

 

Nine: thinking you can’t do it alone

Let me be clear, in no way am I advocating that you should take this entire job on your shoulders without accepting any help.

 

What I am saying is that even if your spouse or family are not on board with your decluttering mission, you can still accomplish some pretty big changes, even if you only focus on  your own areas for now.

 

You don’t need to wait for everyone to be on the bandwagon before you get started.

 

Instead:

  • Continue to have frequent, open conversations with your family about why this is so important to you.
  • Don’t let their misunderstanding deter you from your goals.
  • Set the example for your family. Once they start to see and feel the effects of all of your hard work, they may just change their tune.
  • Set some boundaries and make compromises.  For example, one reader wanted to declutter her family’s home office, but her husband wasn’t convinced it was worth the time to sort through all the papers and files in the space, and wasn’t interested in trying any new strategies to deal with his habits that contributed to the buildup. They agreed that she could declutter her stuff in the office and make it look nice and functional. Any papers of his left lying around were to be placed on his desk for him to deal with whenever he felt ready.

 

Decluttering Mistake Number Ten: Not Working In New Habits & Routines

This is a lifestyle change. In order to make it a permanent change, you need to recognize and change some of your old habits that are contributing to the clutter in the first place. And be willing to work at them for a while until you find the balance that works for you.

Instead

  • Have a nightly pick up routine.
  • Establish some clutter busting ground rules, like “one in, one out,” or not allowing a specific area like your countertops to have anything left on them that doesn’t belong. 
  • Plan for routine maintenance decluttering each season.

 

These decluttering mistakes are common, but also easy to fix. By being aware of them, you’re already a step ahead in the game.

 

I go over all of this and more in my complete decluttering guide for busy moms, coming soon! Join the VIP list for your opportunity to snag a sweet discount, before it’s launched to anyone else. And check out a chapter for FREE!

 

 

Have you made any of these common decluttering mistakes? What others do you see standing between you and clutter-free?

10 common decluttering mistakes that can totally derail you