16 Mistakes Sabotaging Your Decluttering Efforts (and How to Fix Them)

emotional strain of decluttering

Ever embark on a decluttering mission with grand ambitions, only to see it fizzle out? You’re not alone. Many of us fall victim to hidden pitfalls that sabotage our best organizational efforts.

But fear not. This list will identify those sneaky saboteurs and equip you with the tools to banish them forever.

1. Unrealistic Goals: Aiming to Declutter Your Entire House in a Day

man decluttering and organizing
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The Fix: Start small. Tackle one room or even one drawer at a time. Celebrate each accomplishment and build momentum with achievable goals. Focus on completing one space before moving on – this creates a sense of accomplishment and prevents your efforts from feeling scattered.

2. Buying Storage Solutions Before Decluttering

storage containers
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The Fix: Declutter first. You might be surprised at how much less storage you actually need. Only buy organizers for the items you intend to keep, ensuring they fit your needs. Measure your storage cabinets and shelves before buying to ensure you get containers that fit well.

3. Not Categorizing

woman organizing pantry
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The Fix: Everything needs a designated spot. Group similar items together by type or function. For example, all spices are in one rack, cleaning tools like mops and brooms and supplies like detergent are in the cleaning cabinet. This makes finding things a breeze.

4. Not Utilizing Vertical Space

floating shelf in kitchen
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The Fix: Think shelves. Utilize walls for storage with hanging organizers, floating shelves, or over-the-door hooks. This maximizes space without sacrificing floor area. Have a step-stool nearby to easily access these items on the upper shelves.

5. Holding Onto “Sentimental Landfill”

donation box
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The Fix: Be honest. Does that dusty Beanie Baby from 1996 truly spark joy? If not, consider donating it or taking a picture for a memory box.

6. Not Having a Discard Pile

discard pile
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The Fix: Create a designated “discard” zone during decluttering. When faced with mountains of stuff, analyzing every item can lead to being overwhelmed and stalling your decluttering progress. Don’t debate every item – toss it in the pile and deal with it later. By separating the decluttering process from the discarding decision, you free up mental space to move through your belongings more efficiently. Once you’ve finished decluttering a space, revisit your discard pile. Now, you can calmly sort through the items and decide whether to donate, sell, recycle, or toss them.

7. Lack of Consistency

woman checking list
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The Fix: Schedule regular decluttering sessions. Treat these sessions like any other important appointment. Block off 15-30 minutes in your calendar, a few times a week, dedicated specifically to tackling clutter. Even 15 minutes a day can make a significant difference. Consistency is key to maintaining an organized space. Pick a theme for your decluttering session to help you stay within the time frame. Focus on a specific category like paperwork, old clothes, or expired beauty products.

8. All or Nothing Mentality

garage wall storage
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The Fix: Progress, not perfection. Even a small decluttering session is better than none. Celebrate the steps you take, however big or small. Take a picture of a cluttered space before you begin decluttering. Once you’ve made some progress, snap another picture. This visual reminder of your accomplishment will be a powerful motivator to keep going. And the photos can be a wonderful story to share on social media.

9. Not Labeling Storage Containers

storage box with label
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The Fix: Mystery boxes lead to clutter resurgence. Label everything. This saves time searching and ensures items get put back in their designated spot. Vague labels like “Christmas Stuff” or “Kitchen Gadgets” are a recipe for disaster. Instead, be specific. Label a container “Holiday Decorations – Ornaments” or “KitchenAid Attachments.” The more detailed your label, the easier it is to find what you need.

10. Ignoring the Emotional Side of Decluttering

emotional strain of decluttering
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The Fix: Acknowledge the emotional attachment to belongings. Feeling sad, sentimental, or even hesitant about letting go is okay. Don’t judge yourself for these feelings. Take pictures for memories or donate items to causes you care about. Focus on the positive outcome: a calmer, more organized space. Reframe your perspective on letting go of an item and losing a memory. Create new rituals to celebrate cherished experiences. Write down a memory associated with an item you’re donating, or plan a special outing to commemorate a milestone you no longer need a physical object to remember.

11. Overlooking Multitasking Opportunities

multitask and declutter
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The Fix: Declutter while you multitask. Fold laundry while watching TV or listen to audiobooks while sorting through paperwork. Take a look at your daily routine and identify activities that can be paired with light decluttering. Folding laundry while watching TV, listening to audiobooks while sorting through paperwork, or putting dishes away while waiting for the kettle to boil are all prime opportunities to tackle small decluttering tasks.

12. Not Utilizing “The One-Touch Rule”

one touch rule
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The Fix: When picking something up, deal with it immediately. We all have that spot where things get “temporarily” placed, often morphing into a permanent clutter zone. Resist the urge to create a put-down pile. Instead, address the item immediately. Put it away, throw it out, or take action. This prevents clutter from accumulating.

13. Neglecting “The Power of No”

 free gift
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The Fix: Don’t feel obligated to take in free items you don’t need. Politely decline if something won’t add value to your life. Reframe how you view “free stuff.” Instead of seeing it as an opportunity to gain something, view it as a potential burden on your space and resources. Ask yourself: “Will this item truly enhance my life, or will it just create clutter?”

14. Forgetting About Digital Clutter

digital clutter
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The Fix: Declutter your digital space. Delete unused apps, organize files into folders, and unsubscribe from unwanted emails. Take a critical look at all the apps on your phone or computer. Ask yourself: “Have I used this app in the past month? Does it add value to my life?” Ruthlessly delete any apps you no longer use or that don’t serve a purpose.

15. Ignoring the “Just One More Thing” Trap

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The Fix: Set a timer for decluttering sessions. The timer helps you avoid the temptation to keep adding things to the pile. Once the timer goes off, stop adding items and focus on sorting through what you’ve already accumulated to move the process along and get the clutter out of your house.

16. Not Acknowledging Small Wins

celebrate after decluttering with coffee
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The Fix: Reward yourself after completing a decluttering session. Treat yourself to a coffee or a relaxing bath. This reinforces positive decluttering habits and acknowledges your progress. Take a moment to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a clutter-free space and strengthen your resolve for an organized and efficient life.