As someone who has helped thousands of people declutter, I can tell you that the number one decluttering mistake everyone is afraid to make is #16 on my list. That is, decluttering something you may actually need or may regret getting rid of. While this is a valid concern, this is actually the least likely mistake you'll make! Most people are at far greater risk of making some of the first 15 mistakes on my list. So let's dive into the mistakes (and I will tell you about the time I made that mistake when we get there.) Keep reading or watch the video here to see if you're making any of these mistakes!
1. Riding around for weeks or months with donation boxes.
I too, have done this. You declutter, take the boxes to your car, and then they sit there indefinitely. The best way to fight this is to literally schedule a dropoff time in your calendar. Or, you can go a step further and schedule a pickup! This gives you a deadline if you're doing a lot of decluttering.
2. Shifting or hiding clutter.
Sometimes you just need to get rid of the visual clutter quickly, so you shove everything in a drawer or move it to another room or even to the basement where it languishes. This can make your space look better, but don't mistake it for actual decluttering. You're only hiding the problem this way, not fixing it.
3. Following someone else's decluttering advice.
So, obviously, you're reading a post about decluttering advice, LOL! It's great to watch videos and see what works for other people, but you should always take into account what will work best for YOU and your personality. How do you operate best?
Do you want to dive in and do it all at once or make slow gradual progress? Both methods work, but one way will work better for you than another. Put some thought into how to best attack the clutter, and you'll be much more successful. I even have a video here on decluttering slowly versus all at once. Check it out here.
4. Touching each item a bunch of times.
This will slow you WAY down. You won't make much progress if you move items over and over again. Touch it once, decide what to do with it and where it goes, and then put it there.
5. Putting off decisions.
I am definitely NOT a decisive person in general. I like to do research and really think about things before I make a decision. But with decluttering, that just isn't efficient. When you touch something, decide immediately what to do with it. If you have a “maybe” pile, make sure it doesn't get too big. Not everything can be a maybe!
6. Decluttering before you're ready.
This really can't be forced. You should wait until you're mentally ready to get rid of the clutter. Decluttering can be especially painful if it's after the death of a loved one or if it's after a child has left for college– basically any emotionally charged situation. It's okay to wait until you're in the mental space to handle it. You'll be more successful this way!
7. Thinking it's a one and done situation.
Decluttering is an ongoing process. Once you get rid of the clutter, you have to maintain it. You'll have to keep decluttering. You may not have to do it to the same extent, but it's an ongoing process, and you'll need to keep donating or getting rid of stuff regularly, or you'll end up right back where you were.
8. Not watching what comes back into your home.
If you want to stay clutter free, you have to keep a sharp eye on what comes back into your home. If you like to shop, this will be especially important. Watch your purchases, and realize that if you buy something new, you should get rid of something you already have so your items don't build back up again.
Paper clutter is another thing to watch out for. Check out this video if you need extra help taming your paper clutter!
9. Keeping things “just in case.”
You can always come up with a scenario in which you will need or use any given item. You usually know the cost to replace something, but what is the cost of keeping it? When things pile up, it causes mental stress, saps energy from managing the items, and can just in general make your house a not so fun place to be. Is it worth keeping it? Will you even be able to find it if you need it?
10. Asking your kids' opinions.
I am NOT saying you should declutter people's possessions without asking them. But with kids it's more of a gray area. Young children don't really understand, and if you ask them, literally EVERYTHING is their most favorite toy ever.
Rephrase the question. Ask them which three stuffed animals are their favorites. Ask them to put their favorite toys in a bin. It keeps it more positive, and you are less likely to declutter something important. They can give input without keeping every single item until their room is so full they can't find the toys they love.
11. Dreading or complaining about decluttering.
If you want your family to join you in decluttering, then think and act positively about it. They're more likely to want to do it themselves if you have a positive attitude! You're also more likely to enjoy it or at least dislike it less. Attitude is key!
12. Hold onto things for a yard sale.
Are you ever actually going to have a yard sale? They are TONS of work! You have to organize, price, store, set things out, actually have the yard sale and sit out working the sale. Is it worth it? Most of our items are worth next to nothing. Will it pay you enough to make it worth it?
If you have a few more expensive items, would it be better to put them online to sell?
If you have a yard sale every year like clockwork or have a firm date set, then by all means, save your stuff (preferably pre-priced!) for that yard sale, but for most of us, it just isn't going to happen.
13. Selling too many items online.
Online selling is work, too! You have to take pictures, list the item, answer questions, and then meet up with the person (and lots of times they are no-shows!!). I don't usually list an item if it's worth less than $100. If you want to list more, then accept that it will take time, and treat it like it's your job because it is definitely work!
14. Getting distracted by your clutter.
This mostly applies to sentimental items. It happens to me with baby clothes. I know I'm done having children, so it's easy to sit and remember my kids in a favorite outfit or look at pictures… and then an hour has gone by!
Reminiscing is good, but set aside a time to do that later or make a note, but don't get distracted from your goal of decluttering and lose momentum.
15. Decluttering someone else's stuff.
It is NEVER okay to declutter someone else's stuff without asking them first. This causes trust issues and makes them feel defeated and as if they have no control. It's also not a good way to help them want to declutter themselves.
Decluttering is contagious. If I'm cleaning up my side of the closet, my husband inevitably tidies up and gets rid of a few things as well. The best way is to lead by example!
16. Decluttering something you actually need.
This is the mistake people fear the most, but it's also the most rare. In ALL my years of ruthless decluttering, I've regretted something maybe 3-4 times. And I can really remember only one incident clearly.
When we were first married, we were gifted some beautiful stemware. But we were in apartments or small houses, so it was stored away from the kitchen, and it was a huge hassle to get it out, wash it for company, put it away, etc. I decluttered it when we moved 3 houses ago.
Now I have a much bigger kitchen with plenty of storage, and I want them back! They're on my Amazon list right now, and I'm planning to re-purchase the exact same ones! Am I mad that I got rid of them? No. I would have moved them 3 times by now. They wouldn't have been used in all that time, and they may have gotten broken in the moves. I can also easily replace them. So it was okay.
I'd rather make this mistake once or twice than keep a bunch of stuff I really don't need. I also follow the $20/20 rule. Could I replace it for $20 or less or in 20 minutes or less? If so, then I don't stress about getting rid of it. If I keep too much, I probably wouldn't even be able to find it if I did need it again!
Hopefully this helps you avoid some of the most common pitfalls in decluttering! I have an entire decluttering playlist on YouTube if you want more tips or if you want to figure out which decluttering style suits you best!
Organization that sticks for busy, happy lives.