Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Marie Kondo and the Konmari method of decluttering and organizing. There’s a reason this Japanese Organization Expert has risen to near super-star fame with several bestselling books and now a Netflix TV show. It’s the same reason why minimalism and tiny houses have become so popular. What it boils down to is that we are drowning in physical possessions and it’s taking a toll on all areas of our lives.
This is part two of a blog guide that will help you get started and maintain success – click here for part one.
No matter how hard you try to stay motivated and stick to your decluttering plan, you are going to encounter potential pitfalls. Let’s quickly go over the most common ones so you can be on the lookout for them. Of course, recognizing these pitfalls is only half of the battle. I’m also sharing my best tips and strategies for avoiding them here. Let’s dive in.
The first stumbling block you’ll likely encounter is that you will start to second guess yourself. At first things are going smoothly and you’re happily sorting things into appropriate piles for keeping and discarding. The longer you’re at it, the more you’ll find doubt creeping in. Should you really be getting rid of all this stuff? What if you need it or find a good use for it down the road?
Sometimes it’s a simple case of decision fatigue. If you find it’s becoming harder and harder to make those decisions, take a break. Go do something else and come back to finish the job later. At other times, your motivation is starting to wane. Go look at the first chapter of this book, or remind yourself why you want to declutter in the first place. Think about how much better you’ll feel when the job is done and dive back in.
Here’s another common pitfall you come across when you start to declutter. It’s all about guilt. Sometimes a person in your household or a friend or family member will come over while you’re in the process of decluttering and they will say something along the lines of, “You can’t throw that out. Grandpa gave that to you as a wedding gift” or, “Why are you throwing that shirt out? It’s still good and you paid a lot of money for it.”
Don’t let someone else’s guilt trip force you into hanging on to items you no longer want or need. It’s best to do the decluttering when no one is around. If you invite a friend or family member to help you declutter, make sure they are supportive and get rid of them if they cause you to hang on to stuff you were prepared to toss.
If someone does stop by and guilt trips you, or if there’s an item that has a lot of value to the person who gave it to you, consider giving it back to them. Be open about why you are choosing to do so. Let them know that you treasure them and the idea of the gift, but that you have to clear up much needed space. Most people will understand and appreciate the offer to get the item back.
You also want to watch out for internal thoughts of guilt creeping in because you know it may hurt someone’s feelings if they found out that you tossed something they gave you. Again, you can offer to give it back to them, or quietly discard it and not bring the topic up. Do whatever you have to do to feel comfortable, and more importantly, take action and clear out the clutter.
Next let’s tackle a very common pitfall. I’ve seen myself do it and those around me. You do a great job decluttering and stick items in bags or boxes to be thrown out, sold, or donated. You let the discarded items pile up and a few days go by. As you walk by the pile or while you’re sitting on the couch at night, you start to think that you could still use a couple of the items. You go back and take things back out.
It’s tempting, but it’s also counterproductive. Thankfully there’s an easy solution. Take the stuff out as soon as you’re done for the day. It doesn’t matter that you only have a small box of items to donate. It’s worth the trip to cut out the temptation. At the very least, take the items out to your car if you can’t make it to the donation site or the trash today. Remove them as quickly as possible and you cut out the ability to go back and remove things from the discard pile.
Let’s wrap up this section of declutter pitfalls with something that many of us struggle with, particularly if you’re frugal at heart. The pitfall is that you feel bad about the money you spent on something. Alternatively, this could also be the time you’ve invested in something, but for physical possession it’s usually the monetary value that keeps us from throwing something out.
The best way to get over this is practice. Make yourself throw something out, and then do it again, and again. After a few tries, it will become easier and your guilt about the money you originally spent will start to lessen. You will also notice that you’ll think twice before you buy something as you go along in this process. In short, the pitfall is temporary. Stick with it and you will get there.
I hope this chapter helps you recognize,
avoid, and if necessary, get through the pitfalls of decluttering. Pay
attention to what else is tripping you up. Make a note of your own pitfalls and
think about creative ways to overcome them. Most importantly, keep the big
picture in mind. Why did you start to declutter in the first place? Your
original motivation will keep you on track and help you get past the biggest
pitfalls. The key is to keep reminding yourself of your big “why”.
Decluttering is a long process. It takes a while to get rid of all the extra possessions that have accumulated over the years. That’s ok. You’re not supposed to get it all done in a day, a week, or even a month. In addition, you can’t expect to get rid of everything you no longer want or need in one go. Often we declutter and then come back a few months later and find there’s more we don’t really need or use.
Because it is such a long process, it can feel like you’re not really getting anywhere. It’s hard to see the difference you’re making and that can feel discouraging. One of the tips I shared with you in the section about avoiding declutter burnout was to measure progress as you go along. This becomes even more important as you continue to work through decluttering every aspect of your life. Decluttering is a process that takes time. As you start to get rid of stuff and learn to live with less, you’ll find more things that take up unnecessary space in your life.
Let’s look at some quick and easy ways you can start to measure your progress on this journey of owning less. Try the ones that seem easy and fun and see what works best to keep you motivated.
Before you start to declutter, grab your phone and take some pictures. Take pictures of the inside of your closets, your cabinets, your garage, and anywhere else things seem to gather. Take a picture of an area before you start to work on it, no matter where it is.
If you’ve already started your decluttering journey, that’s ok. Take a picture of where you’re at now. While you won’t see your complete progress, you will see that you’re moving in the right direction no matter where you’re at today.
Take progress photos as you go along. For example, let’s say you’re going through the junk drawer in your kitchen today. Take a picture before you start, dump it all out, sort through it and put the drawer back together with the items you are keeping. Take your after photo. Look at the pictures side-by-side. The difference is staggering.
You may also want to take pictures of the piles of stuff you’re getting rid of. Having a few images of bags and boxes of items to be thrashed or donated can be a huge motivator when you feel like you haven’t made a difference. Keep the pictures on your phone. Set your favorite after picture as your screen saver. Print the pictures out and hang them up on the fridge. Do what you can to use them as visual motivation.
Journaling is a powerful tool for any self-improvement project. This doesn’t have to be complicated or involved. Grab an old notebook, pick up a new one when you go to the store, or open up a word document or some sort of notes app on your phone and start recording your thoughts and feelings about this journey of decluttering. There are a few benefits to doing this.
The first is that it shows you progress over time. Even if you just jot down what you’re cleaning and how much stuff you’ve gotten rid of on a daily basis, you have a record that you can come back to a week or a month later to see how much you’ve done in that span of time.
But there’s more to this simple little tool. If you make note of how you feel, what’s working, and what isn’t, you will start to see patterns emerge. This can teach you a lot about what makes decluttering fun and easy, and what pitfalls you keep encountering. For example, you may find that you make more progress in the long run if you declutter just a little each day. Or you may find that you do better with day-long huge projects interspersed with days or weeks of doing nothing. Write the journal, and just as importantly, go back and read through past entries. Look for trends and look for how far you’ve come and you’ll be in a much better position to make continual progress going forward.
There’s nothing like a little praise to keep you motivated and help you realize how far you’ve come. If you’ve ever lost a good bit of weight, you know how valuable it is to have someone else recognize the hard work you’ve done to come this far. Ask a good friend who’s familiar with your home to stop by for coffee.
She will quickly point out how much cleaner and neater your home looks. If you don’t get a comment, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything different about your home. Fishing for a compliment is fine. It will help you stay motivated and they will start to tell you how much of a difference your decluttering is making.
These are just a few ideas to help you measure
progress as you start to declutter. You’ll notice others that speak
specifically to you. Write them in your journal or find another way to keep
them front and center. Use whatever you have to motivate you to keep going.
You’re doing a lot of hard work decluttering and making all those decisions to get rid of stuff. The last thing you want is to look back a few months or a year from now only to notice that a lot of clutter has crept back into your life. If you don’t watch out, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. This section is all about preventing that from happening. I’m sharing my best tips and ideas with you.
I recommend you review this section from time to time for a few months after you’ve finished decluttering. It won’t take long and keeping your possessions at a minimum will become a habit and part of your lifestyle. Until then, use the tips below to keep things under control. As always, this is no exhaustive list. As you start to live a more minimalist lifestyle, you’ll pick up additional tips and ideas from those around you. You’ll also find surprising ways that work for you.
At the end of the day, that’s what it’s really about. Finding a way to live with less that works for you, your personal circumstances, and your family. It takes a little effort, but you’ll make it happen if it’s what you want. Keep going back to your motivation to make sure it does.
Impulse purchases are what cause clutter more than anything else. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to prevent them. Get in the habit of putting all purchases off for a little bit. Sleep on it if you can, and then decide if this is something you really want and need. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. If you’re out of toilet paper, by all means, go buy it right away. For anything else that you don’t need immediately and urgently, wait. No matter how great the deal looks, sleep on it and then decide if you really want and need the item you’re considering buying.
Another great trick is to get in the habit of getting rid of an item for every new item you bring in the house. For example, if you buy a new pair of shoes, make sure you throw out an old pair. If you get a new frying pan, throw out one of your other pots and pans. Doing this religiously will keep you from accumulating a lot of extra stuff. It will also keep you from buying things you don’t really need because you know you have to give something else up.
It’s also important to get yourself in the habit of checking in regularly to make sure you’re still on track. Audit the areas where you tend to accumulate clutter every few months to make sure things aren’t creeping back in. For many of us, this includes things like clothing, craft supplies, books, magazines, and the likes.
It’s also helpful to create a system for figuring out what you use and don’t use so you can purge regularly as needed. Here’s an easy way to do this with the clothes in your closet. Go in there and turn all the hangers around. Then as you use and wear the clothes, put the hangers the way you usually hang them when you wash and return them. Within a few weeks you have a clear picture of what you’re wearing frequently and what you don’t wear much at all. Cull through the “not much” section and only keep the items you really need.
Another good option is to look at your cabinets and look through the things that get shoved to the back. Chances are they are things you don’t really use. Some will be worth keeping for occasional use, others can be donated or tossed.
Come up with your own system for tracking what you’re using and what you aren’t using. Then set aside some time on a regular basis to get rid of what you don’t use or need any longer.
Ask for gift cards or money instead of things
Gifts can cause you to accumulate things you don’t really want or need. Since they often come with guilt attached – as we’ve discussed before – your best bet is to avoid getting them in the first place. There are several ways you can do this.
The first is to implement a no gift policy. For example, if you exchange a lot of gifts for Christmas and birthdays right now, talk to people and see who would be interested in dropping this. Getting gifts for the kids but cutting out adult ones can be a great option.
Another great option is to ask for gifts that don’t consist of material possessions. This could be money or gift cards, or it could be experience gifts. For example, instead of a stack of books, you could ask for a Kindle Unlimited membership. Instead of a new outfit, ask for a spa day to enjoy with the gift giver. Travel and tickets to various events are other good options. Give it a try. It may just catch on for everyone in your family and circle of friends.
Let’s wrap this up with one last tip to help you stay on track and avoid the clutter from creeping back into your life. It’s a simple but powerful one. I hope you don’t discard it, but instead embrace it. The idea is to surround yourself with likeminded people. If you are constantly talking about, reading about, and thinking about decluttering and minimalism, you will not allow things to spiral out of control.
Find a few local friends who embrace the same ideas as you do for living a simple, clutter-free lifestyle. Check in on each other regularly and build a support system. It’s nice to have someone you can meet for coffee, or call for support when you’re struggling.
You can also look for that same support online. It’s even easier since there are plenty of groups, forums, and websites dedicated to all things declutter. Join a few, subscribe to a few, and make sure you stay involved in the declutter community online.
Last but not least, look around for some good books, podcasts, and video channels to consume. Again, the idea is to keep yourself motivated and to keep yourself in the decluttering mindset. Keep an eye out for things you can consume on the topic on a regular basis. Make it fun and interesting so it’s something you’ll actually do.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. The goal is to use various tips, tools, and hacks to keep you decluttering and living with less until it has become a solidly established habit that you can live with for the rest of your life.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in a few short pages – from reasons why you should embrace decluttering to actually doing the hard, initial work and finally keeping clutter from creeping back into your house and your life. I hope you’ve gotten a lot of value out of this along with some hands-on tips to try in the coming weeks and months.
If you’ve started by reading the book from cover to cover before jumping into your own journey of declutter – which is perfectly fine, it’s what I tend to do – go back to the beginning. Find your motivation and then go get rid of a handful of things. It’s a first step and a great start to your own personal journey.
Read through the parts of these two articles as you work away at getting rid of things you no longer need or love. Take notes. Figure out what’s working and what isn’t working for you. Not everything in this guide or anything you read or learn elsewhere will work for you. The key is not giving up and sticking it out until you find the tips and strategies that help you the most.
Whenever you start to feel discouraged, or stuck, or just don’t know where to turn, flip through the book. Something will stand out and help you take that next step, no matter where you are on your own declutter journey.
Above all, I want to encourage you to stick with it. It is such an amazing feeling to look at a home and office filled with useful and beautiful things. It’s great to feel like you can breathe again. It’s amazing to walk into a space and feel completely comfortable and at home. That’s the end goal and it’s one well worth decluttering to find.