I’ve made more than my share of decluttering mistakes.
I have been selfish, a little too aggressive in my methods and created more bad habits than good habits as times. I had my share of failures too, and I don’t want you to have to experience these hiccups when all you really want is a tidier, clutter-free home.
Here are my biggest decluttering mistakes:
1 – Quitting in the messy middle
It’s so super easy to quit in the messy middle. You start off excited and motivated, make a giant mess to clear things out and then you quit right when things are starting to look worse than before you even started.
This is the messy middle!
Stuff is everywhere. You get frustrated, and the project goes unfinished. Don’t quit here! If you quit here, in the messy middle, you will regret it.
It will take some self-motivation to get moving, but if you finish, you will be so happy you took on such a massive project.
Give yourself time. Be realistic with the time you set. Don’t start at 9 PM and expect to finish if it is a giant project. Write down on the calendar when you want to work on the project and stick to it.
Decluttering is like going to the gym. You don’t always want to do it, but once you finish, you feel so much better about yourself.
2 – Trying to declutter your kids’ stuff first
I get it. Your kid’s toys are everywhere. They are spilling out of every space in the playroom and they have even overflowed into your room, the living room, and everywhere else in the house.
Until you start decluttering your own stuff, you should not start on other people’s things. I’m a firm believer in this concept.
You have to teach your family that you know how to work through the emotions of clutter, and you need to lead by example if you want them to follow you.
Besides, if you learn how to work through the emotions of your stuff, you are going to be better equipped to help your family work through their emotions. You will be able to share with them what works and what doesn’t work.
Something you can do right now to control kid clutter is to make a rule, no toys outside of a designated space.
For example, all toys must stay in the playroom or the kids’ rooms.
Absolutely no toys are allowed in your room. You deserve a place to relax that doesn’t look like a toy store. That’s an easy enough rule. Mama gets her space.
Related post: A Step-by-Step Guide to Declutter Your Bedroom
3 – Trying to declutter your spouse’s stuff first
Just like with your kids, don’t start decluttering your spouse’s stuff until all of your stuff is decluttered first. After you declutter all your own belongings, then move on to shared spaces, like decluttering your living room or decluttering your kitchen.
Take it from me. I made this decluttering mistake on more than a few occasions, and it always created more heartache than was worth it for everyone involved.
Take for example the time I decided I was over the garage being a disastrous mess all the time. One day, while my husband was out of town, I took ALL of the tools on his workbench and put them in a giant cardboard box.
There was no organization. There was not careful planning about what tools would go where. I didn’t even help make a plan for how things would be organized after I cleared the workbench.
I was proud too. I finally could walk into the garage and not feel overwhelmed by the chaos that existed on that workbench.
My husband was furious, and rightly so. This was 100% his stuff. He had a system, even though I didn’t understand it.
Years later, I learned my husband kept an untidy garage because he didn’t understand how to organize. This is where he needed help. He needed me to help him create systems. He didn’t prefer chaos. In fact, it was just as frustrating to him to not be able to find a screwdriver as it was for me.
It was when I helped him put systems in place to give everything a designated place that he was able to get a tidier garage. (Let’s be honest, it still isn’t to my standards, but we both are happier.)
4 – Buying lots of organizing bins before actually getting rid of things
The key to organizing isn’t buying more storage containers, it’s owning less stuff and then putting systems in place to organize what is left.
If you go out now and drop hundreds of dollars on storage bins and cute organizing containers, you will be disappointed, and you will likely waste some money.
Instead of organizing everything right now, choose to get rid of stuff first. Then, once you are comfortable with the number of items left, find an organizational system that works for you.
5 – Not having any sort of system
You need a system for decluttering or a plan. You can go all willy-nilly, but until you have a plan, you will feel as scattered as your home looks.
Take the time to sit down and write out your plan. Where do you want to start?
Sometimes the best place to start (after decluttering your own stuff) is the area where you will see the biggest impact. The entry-way or your master bedroom may be a good place.
Decide how much time you will devote to the decluttering project over the course of a week, and set yourself reminders.
6 – Not storing things by category
This was one of the decluttering mistakes I made early on, not sorting through and storing things by category.
If you are decluttering your coats or jackets from your closet, go ahead and grab all the coats and jacks from all other closets too. Handle them all while you are in that mindset.
The same goes if you are decluttering your junk drawer and you come across batteries. At this point, go find all the other batteries in the house and come up with a solution on how to store them all in a single location, so you always know where they are.
7 – Decluttering when you are tired
I liked to declutter at night after my kids went to bed. However, if I started my decluttering when I was exhausted, it was almost guaranteed I was going to be cranky and not much fun to deal with, especially if my husband was awake with me.
If you are going to declutter, do it with a clear mind and with fresh energy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had more than my fair share of successful rage cleaning or rage decluttering, but I always feel better when I go about it with an open mind and plenty of rest.
8 – Not forming a habit of decluttering
Another decluttering mistake people often make is not making it a regular habit.
You can declutter your house until it looks like one from a minimalist documentary, but if you don’t get into the habit of reducing the inflow of clutter and making regular mini-purges, clutter creep will happen.
If you are in a room or open a drawer and see clutter is overflowing, take that as an opportunity to do a quick 30-minute mini-decluttering session.
I recommend doing a yearly mini-purge. This will keep the clutter away if you form this decluttering habit.
9 – Not starting at all
Not starting at all is by far the most common of the decluttering mistakes.
I get it. You look into a room or cabinet or drawer overflowing with stuff, and you are absolutely overwhelmed. The thought of starting makes you start to feel anxious, and you decide it’s easier to not even begin.
I’ve been there.
If you never start though, you will never see a difference in your home. It’s the hard truth.
Here’s my little decluttering hack when I don’t know what to do:
Pick one corner, one shelf or drawer in that corner, and start there. That’s all.
Set a timer while you are at it so you know exactly how long it takes you to do a certain area. If you know it only takes 15 minutes to clear a shelf and go through everything on that single shelf, you may be more inclined to do another shelf tomorrow.
Then, once that area is cleared, work your way through the room clockwise, doing one small area at a time. In no time, you will have worked an entire room.
It’s easier to eat an elephant one bite at a time rather than to stand back, look at the room, and think you have to tackle it all at once!
10 – Using decluttering as an excuse for shopping
This is by far the worst decluttering mistake you can make, using the act of decluttering as an excuse for shopping.
The same goes if you are tackling the kids’ room and you immediately go out and buy all new shelves without first getting rid of the excess and truely assessing what the organizing needs are before buying more stuff.
Don’t make the mistake of shopping to fill the gaps in what you are decluttering. You will always have a clutter problem if you do this.
Learn from my decluttering mistakes
I’ve made all of these decluttering mistakes. Learn from my mistakes, make positive decluttering habits, and give yourself time and grace when working through a home.
You didn’t gain all this stuff overnight, so it will take you some time to declutter it. You’ve got this!