11 Common Traps to Avoid When Decluttering

Do you want to create a more spacious, peaceful, inspiring home?  Do you want to declutter but find it hard to get started or keep going?

There's no "one right way" to declutter, and that's a good thing.  We're all different, and will approach this task differently.  But there are some things to avoid if we want to succeed.

There are several choices and behaviors that could make decluttering more difficult or more time-consuming – or that could cause you to give up altogether.  Knowing about these pitfalls ahead of time should help you on your way.

comfy and clutter-free

11 decluttering don'ts

1.  Not knowing why

Decluttering can be a huge job.  It probably took years for you to accumulate everything that crowds your home, and you aren't going to free yourself from that in one long weekend.  So having a goal in mind is very important for maintaining motivation.

Take some time to consider this question.  There's a reason you decided you want to live with less.  Are you hoping for more space?  Easier cleaning routines?  Less frustration?  More contentment?  If you're not sure of your purpose, this and this might help.

2.  Trying to do it all at once

Some people can do the cold turkey thing.  They can quit smoking, or cut out sugar, or purge all the extras and never look back.  But more of us find more success with small, regular steps toward our goal.  We're less likely to give up or burn out when we take an incremental approach.

So instead of tackling an entire room, choose smaller projects.  You can always go on and do more if you have the time, energy, and inspiration.

All of that said, if you're short on time or ready to go all in today, then do it!  Your best option is a Packing Party, which will give you the chance to get simple immediately and discover what you truly need and love.

3.  Confusing organizing with decluttering

Organized clutter is still clutter.  It's important to declutter first, and then you can organize what remains.  Beware pretty new closet systems, bins, baskets, and cute labels.  These just provide more ways to hide clutter and keep things you don't need.  

Instead of filling each space in your home with as much as you possibly can, even if it looks organized, choose the best, the most useful, your favorites.  Put those in first, and when the space is comfortably full (rather than packed and stacked), know that whatever doesn't fit is less valuable to you than what's already in there.

4.  Focusing on what you're getting rid of

Sometimes when you look at the piles and boxes of things you're removing, you can start feeling deprived instead of free.  Instead, remind yourself of everything you're keeping, and how well you'll be able to use, enjoy, and appreciate these valuable items when they aren't buried in clutter.

If you start to feel guilty about the money you spent, remind yourself that the money is still wasted if the items are just sitting in the back of a closet.  In fact, if you give the items to someone else who can use them, the cost isn't such a waste after all.  Let your feelings of regret motivate you to be more intentional about how you shop in the future.

You might also feel guilty about getting rid of items that were gifts.  Remember that the purpose of a gift is to show love, and once it has been given that purpose is served.  Now you get to decide if the item is something you need or want.

5.  Keeping things "just in case"

If you try hard enough, you can probably convince yourself to keep just about anything, especially if you believe you will use it "someday" or you should keep it "just in case."

Instead of thinking about all the ways you might possibly use an item, focus on whether you are in fact using it.  Maybe the reason you don't need it is because you have another item that does the same job, only better.  Your go-to item is the one to keep, rather than the back-up(s).  

The item may indeed be useful – it just isn't useful to you.

comfy couch
6.  Traveling down memory lane

When you're decluttering, remind yourself that you have a goal – to declutter.  You don't want to get sidetracked looking through things and reminiscing.

This is one reason to save decluttering sentimental items for last.  By the time you get to them, most of your house is pared down and in order.  Now you can take time to sort through memorabilia and choose the most special items to keep and display.

Meanwhile, if you come across these types of items while clearing out the coat closet or storage shed, set them aside to look at later.

7.  Decluttering other people's stuff

Yes, it can be tempting to get rid of your spouse's pile that has cluttered the end table for months.  But it isn't a good idea!  Concentrate on your own stuff and the spaces under your charge.  (Maybe the garage, kitchen, or craft room?)  Have conversations about shared spaces and see if you can reach some compromises.  You can be an example of the benefits of decluttering without touching other people's clutter.

8.  Trying to sell everything you declutter

Selling items takes a lot of time and effort.  If you're selling online, you have to take photos, list items for sale, negotiate with buyers, plan meeting times, etc.  Yard sales take a lot of time to prepare and run as well.

Sometimes it's just not worth it.  Selling items also keeps clutter in your home longer, postponing the day when you can experience the benefits of your work.  Consider using your energy to declutter rather than to sell.

9.  Not finishing the job

You haven't finished decluttering until the stuff you want to remove has actually left your home!  If you let your donate, toss, and sell piles sit around for too long, there's a chance that you or someone else will second-guess your decisions (especially if they think that something is "too good" to get rid of – see #4 and #5 above).

Throw out garbage right away.  If you won't be going to a donation center after each decluttering session, create a holding zone that you'll trip over and hate looking at (maybe in your entry hall).  That way you'll be motivated to deal with it ASAP.  Also set a deadline for items you plan to sell (and for donation if they don't sell).

10.  Thinking that decluttering is once-and-done

Most of us need to do more than one round of decluttering before we reach the level of belongings that feels just right.  Re-decluttering helps us refine the decision-making process.

But we don't live in museums.  We use our things, make messes, gain new interests and lose old ones, need to replace things, etc.  Life is dynamic, so we learn maintenance skills to keep our homes tidy and clutter-free.  It's an ongoing process that gets easier and easier as we practice it.

11.  Trying to be perfect

Remember that all of those minimalist photos on Instagram or Pinterest have been staged, just like magazine pictures.  If your newly decluttered room looks "perfect," go ahead and snap a picture.  But remember that's not everyday reality.

Aim to have a home that is functional for you and easy to maintain.  Decluttering (and minimalism) isn't about perfection, it's about a simpler space that inspires and supports your best life.

For more help, consider my book Uncluttered: How Minimalism Can Help You Thrive, available on Amazon.*

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

Updated June 2023


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