Susie is fed up with her messy, disorganized house. She knows she’s trying to fit 10 gallons of crap into a five gallon bucket, and has decided she’s had enough and is now going to take a Saturday to declutter her entire house.
First, she buys a sparkly new organizing system from The Container Store, along with some trendy storage baskets and a handful of plastic bins. She’s also picked up some file folders and a new paper planner because organized people always use really pretty planners.
Saturday comes, and she begins in the living room because it’s the most visible space in the house. She pulls books and photo albums off of shelves, and puts all of the home decor accents on top of the coffee table. She piles all of the mail, magazines and loose paperwork together and moves it to the kitchen counter next to the piles of dirty dishes.
Then, she begins looking through the stack of photo albums, reminiscing about when her children were small and couldn’t stand to be away from her for one waking minute and she didn’t have to have conversations about their “attitude” and “not eating laundry supplies”. Before she knows it, she’s starving, and ventures into the kitchen for lunch. Then, she realizes she needs to get junior to baseball practice. She’s also got to stop at the grocery store, and there’s that thing at 4:00 with the neighbors.
Now the pile of crap in the living room has been abandoned, and Susie is really ticked about how much worse her clutter is. She’s also doing a fair amount of self-flagellation because OMG she sucks at life and “this happens every damn time I try to get my act together.”
Maybe you know Susie, or you’ve been Susie, or you are Susie. If you are in fact Susie, I’m here to tell you that you don’t suck, and you likely have the best of intentions, some of which have been sold to you under the guise of helpfulness.
Success with decluttering has to do with doing the right things at the right times and in the right order. Instead of beating ourselves up about why things never seem to work out despite our best efforts, let’s take a look at 12 decluttering mistakes you don’t know you’re making.
- Trying to declutter an entire house in a weekend. It’s probably taken you years to accumulate the clutter you’ve got, and I don’t care what kind of weekend warrior you may fancy yourself, you’re not getting this done in two days. It’s best to break down decluttering into set time frames that you commit to. As little as 15 to 30 minutes at a time is okay if need be. Be realistic about the time you have to devote to it, and then hold yourself accountable for working on only decluttering during that time.
- Not doing any prep ahead of time. Set yourself up for success by having the items you need before you get started. Gather large plastic bags, boxes and bins. You’re going to need a place for what you keep, what you donate, and what you trash. This needs to be clear and ready to go before you jump in.
- Trying to organize before decluttering. Sometimes I see people try to “declutter” when what they’re really doing is shuffling crap around to new places in their home. It’s like trying to lose weight by changing into a different pair of pants. You have to lose the things you don’t want, need, or like before you can get organized.
- Buying storage containers or systems first. This is where clever marketing can really do a number on us. Especially when the organizing systems and storage bins or baskets are super trendy and adorable. Or, if you’ve seen them in someone else’s really clean, well-organized home and you’re sure that’s what you need in order to have the same kind of home. Get all of your decluttering done before you determine what storage bins you still need, and what your process for staying organized needs to look like. Most of the time, you’ll be surprised to learn that you need little, if any, new containers.
- Holding on to paperwork for too long. I don’t care how organized the paperwork is, if you’re holding on to it for too long, it’s still clutter. Get out from underneath it. If you’re not sure of how long to hold on to certain things, have a look at this.
- Getting sidetracked by emotions. This can be one of the most difficult parts of decluttering, especially when you’re going through memorabilia and photographs. The key is to be really clear about the fact that this could happen, and getting into a mental space wherein you’ll handle the photo albums, but you’re not looking through them all afternoon. Make decisions about things quickly and move on. Don’t sit down with grandma’s old afghan and play her favorite songs and reminisce about her meatloaf (I mean, totally do that if you need to, but choose a time outside of decluttering for it).
- Too much touching. I find this interesting. Did you know that the longer we physically touch something, the harder it is to part with? We’ll make an emotional connection to it and it’ll be more difficult to let it go. This is why Apple designs their stores the way they do. When decluttering, try to handle things as little as possible so that you’re not tempted to convince yourself that you will in fact at some point in your life be having a dinner party for 375 people at one time and therefore will absolutely need to keep 50 cases of wine glasses still in their original packaging.
- Trying to eat the elephant. When it comes to decluttering, tackling one area at a time is always the way to go. We get overwhelmed looking at an entire home, or even an entire basement or attic. Just choose zones or sections, closets, or drawers to get started. Start small so that you can help build momentum.
- Lack of follow through. This is a gigantic pet peeve of mine. I wish I could help it, but it makes me crazy when I see someone get thiiiis close and they can’t finish. Why would you do that to yourself? When you get to the end of decluttering a space and you have bins of things to be donated or put in the trash, donate them and put them in the trash. Immediately. Add time in at the end of your decluttering session that you’ll use to drive to the donation center or the dump or wherever you need to go to actually get rid of the things you’re getting rid of. There’s nothing worse than doing all that work to declutter, only to just relocate the clutter to another area of your house.
- Pinterest or Bust. Decluttering is not an act of perfectionism. We’re aiming for better, not perfect. So many people are frustrated because they feel like they need their home to look like a Pinterest board or Pottery Barn. Let’s stay away from these expectations and just start by getting our homes to a place where we feel like they’re inviting and we can breathe and move and utilize our spaces optimally.
- Trying to do decluttering work when you’re not emotionally or physically available for it. Let’s face it, there are times when our lives feel like a giant dumpster fire. While decluttering can certainly help elevate emotions and make us feel lighter, if you’re going through a season when things are really tough, you may not be in the best place to tackle a huge amount of decluttering. Same goes for physical health – if you’re not doing well, take the time you need to heal, or stick to small decluttering projects only.
- Asking the wrong questions. When we’re decluttering, we’re sometimes putting a lot of pressure on ourselves about what to keep and what to get rid of. When you find yourself in this position, ask yourself a few things: Would you buy that item at full price today? Will my daily life be affected (negatively) if I let go of this? Is this item worth the space it’s taking up? Does this (thing) add value to my life (or the lives of whomever lives in your home)? These questions will usually help you push through to a decision.
When you’re tackling decluttering projects, try to keep these common mistakes in mind so that you’re set up for success before you get started. The best advice is to remember to keep things simple. Move through your home one step at a time, and if that means really small steps so that you don’t get overwhelmed, then that’s the pace you take. Remember, we’re aiming for better, not perfect.