An organized pile of clutter in a basement.

12 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How to Solve Them)

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12 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How to Solve Them)

Despite our best efforts, clutter tends to pile up. Before we know it, we are spending hours a day looking for things that should be easily accessible, we have no counter space, and things are falling out of the cupboards when we open them. This is usually the point that we decide something needs to change.

Decluttering your home is a process that can leave you feeling more at peace and relaxed in your space. However, this process is also wrought with stress and frustration that can leave you feeling totally overwhelmed and ready to give up. Going into the process with a good idea of the common mistakes people make when they begin the decluttering process can help set you up to succeed and prevent you from giving up when you run into a struggle.

We going to look at 12 very common mistakes, some of which you might be making. We’ll make a note of why these mistakes tend to happen, and also propose a solution.

Before getting started we strongly encourage you to read through our article on How to Define Declutter. We think that if you really want to tackle the problem of decluttering clutter, it’s really important to be clear about what, exactly, you’re trying to do.

MISTAKE 1: Taking on Too Much

You have decided that you want to declutter the house—this weekend. So, you start in the kitchen and start pulling things out of all the cupboards so you can see what you have and get rid of excess. Before you know it, it is time to start making dinner for your family, and your kitchen looks like a tornado ran through it. You don’t feel more organized. If anything, you feel like you have made your clutter problems even worse.

Why This Happens

It is natural to want to see results as fast as possible, especially if you work Monday to Friday and only have the weekend to really devote to decluttering your space. It is also easier to get rid of things when you can see that you have multiple of the same item in your home. But, pulling everything out isn’t going to help you declutter the house. Instead, you are going to get overwhelmed and frustrated and find yourself ready to give up.

How to Prevent It

Don’t tackle a whole room, or the entire house, at one time. Instead, separate your home into zones. A zone can be a closet, shelf, room, or countertop. Then, set aside twenty minutes a day to declutter and stick to it. Choose one space: a drawer, a cupboard, a shelf, or a closet and declutter just that one area. As you move through your house systematically, you will find that you are slowly living with less clutter and more space. Focus is key!

We’ve created a 30 Day Declutter Challenge that can help you to spread out your time in a way that will help you to make continual progress. (There’s a free printable schedule, too!)

The dictionary definition of focus, in French.

MISTAKE 2: Leaving the Room Where You are Decluttering

You are going through a drawer in the kitchen and come across something that belongs in the bathroom. Do you take it to the bathroom or set it into a pile to put away later? If you stop what you are doing to bring the item to the bathroom right now, you will never finish decluttering the drawer in the kitchen.

Why This Happens

When you take the item in the bathroom where it belongs, you will likely notice that the shelf in the bathroom needs tidying, the garbage needs to be emptied, and so on. So, you aren’t going to deliver the item and then go back to the kitchen. Instead, you will likely find yourself distracted and off-task, and that drawer in the kitchen is still going to be cluttered.

How to Prevent It

Set yourself up with a couple of containers that you can use to sort the things you are pulling out of the area that you are tidying. The ideal number of containers for decluttering is four. Use one container for the things you are going to keep but don’t belong in that area. A second container is for the items that will be donated or sold, the third container for the things going into storage, and a fourth container for the things you will throw in the garbage.

MISTAKE 3: Trying to Get Organized Before You Declutter

You are getting ready to declutter. So, you go out and get some fancy baskets or a new shelf for your things. If this is you, you aren’t about to declutter your space. You are about to organize your clutter.

Why This Happens

Maybe you were on Pinterest and seen these beautiful spaces of uncluttered organization. This is what you want in your home. So, you set out to recreate it. You go out and get the containers, the baskets, the shelves. All the things you are going to need to make your space beautiful. But you aren’t focused on getting rid of the things you don’t need in your home; you are focused on making the things in your home look pretty. This means that you are still going to feel overwhelmed by the things taking up space at the end of the day.

How to Prevent It

Use the pretty organization system as a reward for going through your space. This will help ensure that you aren’t spending money on baskets you don’t need since you will know exactly how much stuff you have. It will also prevent you from being distracted from the task of getting rid of the clutter to make the space look pretty.

MISTAKE 4: Getting Stuck in the Sentimental Stuff

One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to decluttering your home is the sentimental items. Sentimental items have the power to completely distract you from your task. Before you know it, you have spent hours looking through old things, lost in memories, and your home is still cluttered chaos.

Why This Happens

When you come across an old photo album, or something similar, it is natural to want to pause and look through it. This can bring back memories that are both good and bad. The good memories will make you want to continue your walk down memory lane. While not as good memories can leave you feeling exhausted and without the energy to continue the task at hand.

How to Prevent It

As you are going through your items, set aside the sentimental items to go through at the end. This will allow you to keep up the momentum you have built and continue making progress decluttering your space. Then, when you get to the sentimental items, you will have the time and space to work through what you will keep and what you are going to get rid of.

If/when you find items that you need to get rid of, especially clothing, check out our article on How to Get Rid of Clothing (For Money).

A box of old photographs and other memories.

MISTAKE 5: Neglecting the Defined Purpose of Your Space

If you are one of the people who has a junk drawer in their kitchen, you probably find it next to impossible to declutter that space and make it functional. This is because the drawer doesn’t have a defined purpose other than to collect junk. This is okay if you want this to be the drawer’s purpose, but it isn’t any good if you want the drawer to function.

Why This Happens

Without an exact function for your space, you don’t know what to put into the area. This means that your bookshelf might collect knick-knacks and books and random papers, or your junk drawer might collect pens, pencils, keys, papers, and other random things that you just don’t have a home for.

How to Prevent It

If you want to prevent things from piling up, create a specific concept for what you want in a particular space. If your junk drawer will be used to collect a lot of random little things, consider putting small containers in the drawer that you can use to sort the things that are going into it. If your bookshelf is to be used for books and only books, do not allow anything else to end up on the bookshelf. If your garage will be only for your car, never place anything else in the garage.

MISTAKE 6: Not Starting in the Place that Bugs You the Most

The spot in your house that is the most cluttered and is bothering you the most might not seem like the most comfortable place to start. Because the location that is bothering you the most might seem overwhelming, it can be appealing to start in another room in a less cluttered area.

Why This Happens

On the surface, it might seem like a good idea to start in a place that will give you more immediate gratification. The problem with this theory is that when you walk into the room that is bothering you the most, you aren’t feel accomplished. Instead, you will feel like you have been putting work into decluttering, just to not see the results, which is actually discouraging.

How to Prevent It

To prevent yourself from falling into this trap, start in the place that is bothering you the most. Even if this spot seems the most overwhelming, once you have gotten through the clutter in this space, you will feel motivated to get through more of your house.

If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to start in that place, for whatever reason, then you should check out our article on the Best 12 Places to Start Decluttering Your Home. It won’t help with the problem of avoiding the worst areas, but it will give you some methodology to stick to.

MISTAKE 7: Decluttering for Someone Else

You are working through your home and decluttering area by area. Now all that is left is your husband’s side of the closet. It would be easy to go through his things and get rid of the stuff that he never uses. He won’t even notice, right? Wrong. Before you know it, his space is going to be cluttered again, and you are going to find yourself frustrated.

Why This Happens

Decluttering is a process. It’s not about just going through the space and getting rid of the things that you don’t use. It’s about changing your habits. Changing how you shop and bring things into your house and how you put those things away in your home. Since your husband hasn’t gone through the process with you, he will not change his habits.

How to Prevent It

Have your husband go through the process of decluttering his own space. Offer to help him with it, but don’t do it for him. Once he sees the rest of the house decluttered and organized, he is likely to be willing to go through his things. This same concept holds true for children who are old enough to make these decisions, roommates, and anyone else you might live with.

Cluttered shelves with a variety of junk.

MISTAKE 8: The "Just in Case" Mindset

You are going through your belongings, and you notice that your container for the things to get rid of is empty. You find yourself putting just as many things back in the drawer or onto the shelf as you took out or off of it. Then, you find yourself just as flustered in the future because you have just as much clutter in your home.

Why This Happens

Sometimes being ruthless and letting things go is hard. You start thinking that you brought it into the house for a purpose, and you might need it again. Or someone else might need it, and you won’t have it available for them. It is easy to fall into the cycle of holding onto things just in case you need them again.

How to Prevent It

While you are going through the things in your home, be ruthless. Set a clear goal and stick to it. If your goal is to keep only what fits into that area’s purpose, stick with that. Ask yourself if the item is worth the space that it is taking up in your home. Think about if the item is something you genuinely need or want in your space. Finally, consider how easy it would be to borrow or replace the item from someone if you did need the item in the future.

MISTAKE 9: Being Unrealistic About Your Need for Help

It is easy to convince yourself that you either cannot do it on your own or that you must do it on your own. However, getting trapped into either mindset is detrimental. Either you feel like you need to have help, and you aren’t getting it, or you think you need to do it on your own and are overwhelmed.

Why This Happens

Depending on where you look on the internet, you will either get the messaging that decluttering is something that you need to do entirely on your own or that it needs to be tackled as a group. Neither of these ideas is right, and neither of these ideas is wrong. However, buying into only one of them will lead to you being overwhelmed and frustrated if it isn’t working for you.

How to Prevent It

Instead of telling yourself that you must have help to declutter or that you must do it alone, be open-minded. If you live alone, it might be helpful to start on your own, and if you run into a place in your home that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, reach out for help.

If you live in a home with your spouse and children, have conversations about your desire to declutter the house. If they aren’t on board, get started anyway. Once they see how much better the house feels from your efforts, they are more likely to get on board and be willing to help. But if they aren’t, you can still declutter most of the house on your own.

MISTAKE 10: Trying to Recoup Your Money Spent

When you are decluttering and getting rid of things, it is natural to want to sell the things that you no longer want in your home to get some of your money back. After all, you spent your hard-earned money on the things that you are now calling clutter. So, you end up with a pile of stuff you intend to sell and make some money off. Or maybe you plan to hold a yard sale in the future. But, it is still clutter at the end of the day, and it is still in your house.

Why This Happens

It makes sense to try to sell as many things as possible to get some of your money back into your pocket. Who wants to just throw their money away? The problem is that while you see these items as valuable, they aren’t worth what you spent on them. And taking the time to sell a giant pile of things takes up a lot of time and means that the items stay in your home and take up space.

How to Prevent It

Set a minimum dollar value for things that you are going to take the time to sell. If an item falls beneath that dollar amount, accept that the money you spent is already gone, and you aren’t wasting money by throwing the item away. This will also help you be more intentional with how you are spending your money in the future.

Possibly even better: consider simply donating the things! We cover both donating and selling in our How to Get Rid of Clothing (For Money). While that article is clothes-specific, many of the donation options are available to other sorts of items too. For a look at why you might want to donate, check out How Donating and Selling Your Old Clothes Benefits Everyone.

MISTAKE 11: Not Removing Items from Your Home Immediately

You’ve gone through the whole house and set aside the things that are ready to be sold, donated, thrown out, and given away. But they are still sitting in the house. Maybe you have stuck them in the garage, the basement, or a closet, which means getting to them on your next day off. Then, as the days go by, you start to notice that items you set aside to get out of the house are slowing making their way back into the house.

Why This Happens

This happens because you start to second guess yourself, or your family members begin to second guess you. You see something that you have used once before and decide that maybe you should hold on to it just in case you need it again. Or your kids start to pick through this “new” pile of treasures and bring things all over the place. Regardless of how it happens, that pile of stuff destined to leave your house gets smaller, and the clutter in your home increases.

How to Prevent It

When you are going through the process of decluttering your home, set aside time every couple of days to run things to the donation center, get garbage out to the curb immediately. If items do need to sit in the house for a day or two, ensure that they are in bags and boxes that aren’t see-through and cannot be easily opened and inspected. This removes the temptation to second guess yourself and stops all that unwanted stuff from coming back into your home.

A woman decluttering by packing and moving boxes of clutter.

MISTAKE 12: Not Maintaining the Clutter-Free Life

You spent hours and hours decluttering your home. It felt great. You loved the newfound space you had in your home, and you could find the things you were looking for without struggle. Then one day, you look around and realize your home looks the same way it did six months ago. All of the clutter has accumulated back into your home.

Why This Happens

Decluttering is a process. It isn’t a one time and done type of project. The clutter that accumulated in your home originally got there because of the choices that you made. If you don’t change the choices that you are making, the clutter will continue to accumulate in your home, and you will find yourself in an endless cycle.

How to Prevent It

To stop this from happening, come up with a plan to help you keep the clutter at bay. This can mean being more mindful of what you are buying. If it doesn’t have a place or a purpose in your home, keep it out of your home. Some things come into your home organically. These are things like gifts and mail. Come up with a system to find these things a place in your home so they don’t end up in a closet or drawer.

A to do list and calendar with a pen.

Conclusion

These twelve decluttering mistakes are the ones that are most commonly made. And, for the most part, they aren’t habits that you can change overnight. Remember that keeping clutter out of your home is a process that takes time, and you will probably find yourself decluttering the same areas over and over again until you get into the habit of keeping it decluttered. Keep the above twelve decluttering mistakes in mind while you tackle removing clutter from your home to help you ensure that you are set up for success.

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