Mindset

Decluttering Mistakes to Avoid

These five tips will help you get rid of unwanted items—and unnecessary stress
BY Mollie Donghia TIMEJuly 1, 2022 PRINT

As I stood in my kitchen, my view spanned across the countertops, into the living room, and through the adjacent playroom. I saw piles of unopened mail, dozens of small toys scattered by my toddler, last night’s clean dishes left to dry next to the sink, and a large stack of clothes that beckoned to be ironed.

Back then, this wasn’t an uncommon sight. I can remember feeling the stress that had built up from living with constant clutter in these spaces. I also remember asking myself if I needed a better system of organization. Maybe more storage bins or space to put all of my stuff?

The answer—I’ve learned since—is not about being more organized or having space to store my belongings. Through our journey of simplifying, my husband and I have found that clutter can only be eliminated when you reduce your possessions and declutter what you no longer need.

Many people declutter their homes with the goal of reducing stress, but they often fail due to common mistakes. The end result is that decluttering adds to the stress in their life, instead of subtracting.

Why Our Bodies Perceive Clutter As Stress

Clutter affects each of us differently, and how we feel about our homes can shape our mood and stress levels. When we walk inside the door and notice piles of clutter and unfinished projects, it’s no surprise that our cortisol level rises.

Stress creeps in each time we neglect to put everything back in its home, or we begin to accumulate too much stuff. Oftentimes, we don’t even realize our stress is coming from the cluttered state of our space.

Many also feel guilty over the clutter in their home when others enter, and that also leads to stress. Have you ever found yourself apologizing due to the untidiness of your space?

Personally, the state of my home feels like a direct reflection of my ability to provide a welcoming space. Whether or not this perception is valid, my mood can swing depending on the amount of clutter in my home.

Decluttering Isn’t Always the Magic Solution

Since my husband and I began our journey toward minimalism, we’ve realized the immense freedom that comes from owning less, and we’ve learned to be mindful about what we bring into our home.

But what happens when the initial excitement of decluttering wears off and you’re faced with decision fatigue or feelings of regret over spending money on something that’s just taking up space and not being used?

I’ve been in many of these situations and recognize that sometimes decluttering causes more stress than the clutter itself. Having experienced several failed attempts and eventually success in maintaining a mostly clutter-free home, I’ve identified five common decluttering mistakes.

Mistake 1: Believing that decluttering once will eliminate clutter from recurring 

After eliminating the excess from our homes, a common misconception is that we’ve solved the problem and will remain clutter-free going forward. It takes willpower and intentionality to stop clutter from building up again. Consider everything that enters your home and ask, “Do I need this?”

Mistake 2: Organizing your possessions instead of reducing them

When a space feels cluttered, moving items around to a new spot won’t solve your clutter issue or alleviate stress long term. It’s a waste of time, money, and space to think that having a better system of organization will be the fix for getting rid of the stuff you don’t regularly use or love. Declutter first and then organize what you have left.

Mistake 3: Thinking that decluttering can be done quickly

I remember the first time we decluttered our kitchen. “This won’t be too bad,” I figured. Several hours in and knee deep into the process, I felt overwhelmed with decision fatigue and exhausted from the amount of items on my kitchen table. Decluttering takes time if you do it thoroughly. Consider setting a time limit or breaking the task into manageable chunks before it becomes a stressful experience.

Mistake 4: Not being ruthless enough in your decision-making

When we began decluttering our home, my husband reminded me to be ruthless with what I kept. If you’re wishy-washy about getting rid of items, you’re not likely to make a dent in decluttering. Indecisiveness will leave you with decision fatigue and a house full of items you may not even use—ultimately leading to more clutter and greater stress.

If you’re unsure, let it go. Get rid of broken items. Don’t be sentimental about everything. If you need to, consider having a “just in case bin” where you place items you’re unsure about and tuck it away for several months to see if the item is actually missed.

Mistake 5: Failing to get decluttered items out of your home

After you’ve done the hard work of decluttering a space, make sure to put those items out of sight so they don’t creep back into your home. Donate them right away, or, if you’re planning to sell them, put them in a spot out of the way of your living space.

Stop the Clutter and Add More Peace

Your home is meant to be a place where you can unwind and feel less burdened by the demands of life, but visual clutter can be a major source of stress. Before diving into decluttering to alleviate this stress, think about these common mistakes that many of us make.

Decluttering should be a process that results in more time to do what you enjoy and less stuff to manage on a regular basis. Consider what Joshua Becker of the blog “Becoming Minimalist” says: “The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.”

Get rid of what you no longer need. Evaluate what comes into your home. And experience the freedom that comes from fewer possessions and less clutter.

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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