Inside: Learn the most common decluttering mistakes that you need to stop making to make more progress in clearing the clutter.

Do you have a great process for decluttering?

People often get stalled in the process at different points and for a variety of reasons.

These are the most decluttering mistakes and they can keep you from reaching your goals.

Once you identify them, you’ll be able to course correct so that you can start making more progress with decluttering your home.

Decluttering Mistakes

There are great processes and methods for decluttering. But what happens when you start out with a great plan and find yourself sidetracked during the process?

These are the decluttering mistakes you need to stop making.

1. Stop over scoping your projects

When you’re decluttering, be realistic with the size of the project that you have time for. This is where you want to be a time realist, not an optimist.

The first time I decluttered my closet, I made the mistake of taking every item out at once as I was convinced that in the 90 minutes I had that I could go through it all. That was incorrect and it left me frustrated and with a bigger mess to deal with.

Scope your projects small. Take it one drawer or cabinet or item type at a time. If you finish and have more time, pick another small area. The goal is to keep it manageable and not create additional headaches for yourself through the process.

2. Stop buying storage containers

I know I know. People LOVE their storage containers, which is how we have a whole store dedicated to them.

Before you buy any containers, declutter first. You may find you didn’t need a new container after all or that you already had something on hand that would work.

Sometimes storage containers add to the clutter problem rather than solving it. When you declutter first you get a better sense of what you really need.

Check out more thoughts from other organizing professionals on mistakes you’re making here. It’s clear I’m not the only one who has seen how storage containers can become part of the problem.

decluttering mistakes

3. Stop decluttering other people’s stuff

This can be a tough one if you want a decluttered home, but you live with someone who loves their stuff. The challenge here is that what’s clutter to one is not clutter to another. Everyone’s definitions are different.

If you want to keep peace in the home, do not declutter other people’s things without their permission. I’m guessing you wouldn’t want them to get rid of things you want to keep so don’t do it to them either.

When it’s kids things you want to declutter, work with them on the process. Give them guidelines but let them make the decisions. This will help them learn responsibility for their things

4. Stop getting distracted

Have you ever tried to do a task you weren’t too thrilled about where anything and everything became a distraction? That can happen with decluttering.

Phones can be a distraction during the process too so be wise in what you bring with you in the area you’re working in. As you find items that belong in other rooms, set them aside until you are done decluttering that space.

Often when you go to put something away you find another area that needs to be worked on and suddenly forget what you were doing in the first place. When you focus on the task at hand, you’ll get much more accomplished.

5. Stop keeping decluttered items in your garage or trunk

Once you’ve put in all the time and effort to declutter, please don’t keep the unwanted items hanging out around your house, garage, or the trunk of your car. You can’t feel the full results of decluttering when those items are still taking up space in your life.

Complete the decluttering process by going ahead and dropping off those donations. Get them out of your car and home and enjoy your newly reclaimed space.

decluttering mistakes

6. Stop worrying about what if’s

As you’re asking yourself questions as you try to determine what stays and what goes don’t let yourself get caught up on what if thinking. Creating hypothetical (and often unlikely) scenarios is one of the reasons people hang onto clutter.

Don’t worry about imagined situations where you may want that item. Be realistic with yourself as you declutter and decide what needs to go.

7. Stop beating yourself up

Decluttering can bring up a variety of emotions. Sadness, guilt, buyer’s remorse and a variety of other feelings can show up.

As you process through your thoughts and feelings, don’t beat yourself up from past decisions. Beating yourself up is one of the decluttering mistakes because to continue to make progress you need to keep a positive state of mind.

Keep your focus on what you are working toward, not what you did in the past.

decluttering mistakes

8. Stop associating people with things

Do you have items in your home that you don’t like and don’t use but you can’t seem to let it go because of who you got it from? Whether the item was a gift that you didn’t want or if it was from a relative or friend who has passed, it’s time to stop associating people with things.

As you work through sentimental items, remind yourself that people are not their things. Also, your memories with them are not erased because you decide to let some things go.

You should not hold onto items out of guilt or duty. Your house should be a place you enjoy with things that are meaningful to you rather than a history museum of other people’s belongings.

9. Stop letting negative people ruin your progress

As you work through decluttering your home you may encounter some naysayers along the way. Some of them may even live in your house.

Work on controlling what you can. You and your stuff. Don’t get caught up in other people’s drama or unhealthy behaviors.

This is one of the decluttering mistakes because negative people can take you down and halt your progress if you let them. Don’t let them. You’re better than that.

10. Stop getting distracted from the end goal

Decluttering can be a long process particularly if the clutter has been adding up for many years. As you work on one project at a time it can feel a bit daunting.

To continue making good progress, remind yourself of the end goal you’ve set. That goal will help motivate you to continue with the process.

Distractions are all around us with different things constantly vying for our attention. Prioritize decluttering in your schedule and keep your mind set on your end goal.

decluttering mistakes

11. Stop thinking you can hire someone to do it for you

I’m a professional declutterer. I work with clients to help them declutter their homes. The keyword there is ‘help’. You should not hire someone to declutter your home and expect them to do it without you.

There are various reasons for this. One is that an outside person won’t intrinsically know what is important to you. Also, the process of decluttering brings about many realizations and changes that can’t occur if you have someone do it for you.

While you may want to consider hiring someone to help you with the process, do not expect that someone else will take care of it for you.

12. Stop having unrealistic expectations

While it’s great to have clear end goals on how your house will look and function, keep in mind that you live with other people and no house is perfect.

Decluttering does have many great benefits, but it won’t solve every challenge in your home. Your home will still have its quirks and so will the people you live with.

13. Stop holding onto things waiting to make a decision

Decluttering requires making a lot of decisions. If you are someone who has difficulty making decisions, it can be tempting to postpone the decluttering process as you wait to make decisions.

Do not keep boxes of ‘maybe’ items. Decide to decide and move forward.

The good news is that decision making does get easier as you go, but the more you work at being definitive more quickly the greater progress you will make.

14. Stop keeping things to sell for extended periods of time

Have you ever been ready to let something go, but convinced yourself that it would or should be worth a certain amount? While it is ok to try and sell items you no longer want, make sure to put a deadline on it.

Otherwise, your unwanted items can sit in garage purgatory indefinitely as you aren’t using them but are waiting for them to sell.

15. Stop nagging others in the house

I sometimes wish everyone in my house perceived things the way that I do. I wish that the clutter annoyed them as much as it does me and that everyone would be proactive in getting rid of it.

That’s just not realistic though. In the decluttering process, it’s important to not nag everyone else in the house to try to get them on board with your plan. That will only serve to annoy and alienate rather than motivate.

You can, however, come up with compromises and for kids create boundaries and structure for decluttering.

While I don’t tell my kids what they need to get rid of, I do provide them with what I feel is appropriate sized storage containers. They get to decide what they want to put in them and what doesn’t fit has to go.

16. Stop trying to do it all at once

On tv, you can watch home shows where in 22 short minutes a house is completely redone. Some shows let you see remodeling or decor changes and others, like Tidying Up highlight decluttering the home.

It’s easy to have unrealistic ideas of how you’ll be able to get the whole house decluttered and looking great quickly. Initially, you may feel like you’re ready to tackle it all at once.

Most people aren’t able to get all their decluttering done in a weekend or week. It’s generally a slower process and that’s ok. Don’t overdo it and stop focusing on the mountain ahead or you may get overwhelmed which can stop your progress.

17. Stop focusing on how much you paid for it

As you go through your items don’t make one of the biggest decluttering mistakes by focusing on how much you spend on the item. What’s done is done and keeping expensive items that you don’t love or use doesn’t benefit you. It simply reminds you of past purchasing mistakes.

Don’t count on recouping much of your cost. It’s easy to think that because you spent a lot on something that it should still be worth something, but in most cases, the value decreases rapidly after you buy it.

Do not let the expense of an item be a reason that you keep it.

18. Stop going down memory lane

As you look through items, refrain from going down memory lane with how, where, and when you acquired each item. I have a good friend who has memories attached to every receipt he has.

When you focus on the memories, it makes it harder to let things go. It also significantly slows down the decluttering process as you spend a lot of time reflecting.

There is a time to look back and reminisce, but the whole decluttering process shouldn’t be that way. Refer back to the decluttering questions as you make decisions and keep focused on what you’re keeping and what it’s time to let go of.

19. Stop jumping in with the tough stuff

Don’t start with sentimental items. The decluttering process should start with the easier rooms and items and work your way up to the more emotionally charged ones.

Jumping straight in with the tough stuff doesn’t set you up for success. Ease into the items that are harder to make decisions on. That may not make it easy, but it will be less difficult as you’ve gotten practice.

20. Stop saying you can’t

Let’s all agree to stop making decluttering excuses. Saying I don’t have time, it’s too hard, or I can’t because of who I live with. That may feel true, but if it’s important to you, you’ll make it a priority and figure it out.

When we tell ourselves that we can’t do something, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you have limited time or energy, you can start with ten-minute decluttering tasks. You may be amazed at what you can get done in short focused periods of time.

Post decluttering mistakes

You’ve completed the decluttering process! That’s great. Now here are the post decluttering mistakes to avoid so that you don’t end up back where you started.

21. Stop shopping the same way

After you’ve decluttered your home, you want to avoid habits and behaviors that landed you with a cluttered house in the first place. Work on shopping more intentionally and purposefully.

Choosing to live more simply in a consumer culture doesn’t come easy. It takes planning and thought. Going against the grain isn’t always fun but the benefits are worth it.

22. Stop ignoring other habits that need changing

How you shop isn’t the only habit you need to look at. You may need to reconsider how you celebrate birthdays or holidays. It may mean having discussions with family members and talking about your goals.

Experience gifts are a great choice. Choosing to enjoy less extravagant birthdays and a simpler holiday season will help keep your home decluttered.

Daily habits are also something to consider because even when you own fewer things everyone in the home needs to be in the practice of putting items away so they don’t become clutter.

Have you been making these decluttering mistakes?

If you’ve been making any of these decluttering mistakes, I hope this has helped you identify them so you can stop making them and have greater progress with decluttering.

Need some help getting started decluttering? Fill out the form below and get the Your Home Decluttered Jumpstart with worksheets including 100 easy items to declutter and 12 high impact areas to declutter quickly. You’ll also get weekly emails with simplifying & decluttering tips!

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  1. I sure resonate with just about ALL the common decluttering mistakes. Noe I have firm guidance to make my decluttering more productive. Thank you, Debbie


  2. Great decluttering recommendations for working homes. Every home needs a plan that works for them. You ultimately make space for the things that are important to you in life.

  3. One of the best decluttering articles I have ever read. Thank you for putting in the time and effort to put this together. This is much appreciated.

  4. Thank you for this ! One of the best articles I’ve read on the subject. After several years of illness we were swamped – we hired a professional group who worked alongside us & from whom we learned much. And there is still much to do, but it is far less daunting.

    The only one of your points that doesn’t resonate with me is the stop associating people with things. We have moved several times, the last being a separation from our small family in England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 to Canada 🇨🇦. Sometimes I feel something I’m sorting out puts them in front of me, with the place, people, events etc. memories, & that gives me mild difficulties emotionally. My answer to myself has been to place those things – usually small in size, isn’t that often the case! – in a clear sided box, secure from damp etc. into the basement. I then immediately put a prompt on my physical calendar by which I have to deal with them, all at once, [this is when a good friend always says ‘ugh, I couldn’t do that’ or ‘you’ll be sorry’. I gently tell her, in whatever way seems ok at that moment, that it’s my way of dealing with it…. I never relate it back to her, & her way of doing things. Not going down that hole.] BUT I do have to go through this process, just for a way more restricted, controlled & shorter time!

    I have found this way I clear the majority of items out of the house in some way, quickly: a junk company, the bin if it’s broken, a charity etc. OR photograph them, with a note, then get them out OR yes, I have occasionally made money on something to put in a wish jar to help a charity ORhave it framed/shadow boxed as appropriate for display, OR take a photo, & ask our son or daughter if they want it back as it’s their’s. Or want it, period, “otherwise the goes”…

    I find I’m spending far less time sitting on the carpet reading “it”, or daydreaming, & more sitting with memories or recalling them as I go out for a walk.

    Thanks again, and for the quotations on you site; I look forward to visiting it more often!


  5. I always enjoy your weekly emails. I’m sure we can all relate to your comment about ‘don’t mistake reading about decluttering for actually doing it’!

      1. An older lady in our Bible group once said “you can’t take a U-Haul with you when you head for heaven!” That has stuck with me!! I’ve been a Thrift store fanatic for years, and now I’m working on my house! Baby steps, baby steps!!

        1. You take nothing with you. I realise now that things that have sentimental value to me will not mean anything to my children, they are not their memories. I’m getting rid of stuff now so they don’t have to clear up once I am gone.

  6. All excellent advice and thank you for sharing it. Any ideas on how to stop people from buying you gifts that you don’t want?? It seems like they are being very selfish by fulfilling their own wants and ignoring the other person’s wants. A TH gift card works just fine for me…

  7. Great advice but after moving all my life for almost 30th times know I have to clear my parents house to sale and it’s so hard to get rid of things they keep for all my life, almost 50th years…

  8. I just wanted to say how much I love Simplicity Habit!! Such great articles and ideas!! Have been reading them for some time and they have helped me make some amazing changes as well as soothe my mind with simple content, unlike a lot of the other nonsense on social media (and mainstream media!).

  9. Hi Julianna. I really need your advice cause I find it really hard to part with things that belonged to my husband, and there are loads of things he treasured. As from tomorrow I will try to take your advice. Thank you!

    1. this is my problem! I have a problem getting rid of things from my past and end up moving them from room to room and making it look like so much more. I do end up with a small carrier bag each time but it’s so draining I then just close the doors instead

  10. But what’s the point in decluttering when my lovely husband is a collector of ‘stuff’? Any stuff, all stuff. He has about 30 baseball hats. Any space I create by decluttering my things just gets filled up with more of his collections………..

  11. Very inspired by your page. Hit the nail on the head for me! Look forward to follow you for inspiration.

  12. Absolutely don’t buy bins straightaway. If the size of bins you have is awkward or needs to be decorative for use in a high profile area, by all means with intention and a solid plan, but more than likely as bins are emptied of clutter they are sufficient to repurpose. This is indeed a process, and the approach changes as progress is made over time. Once the obvious items [ill fitting/never-seldom worn/garments and shoes; duplicate/outdated/unused/broken kitchen, household and office supplies, etc] are gone, what remains is more observable and declutter can happen hand-in-hand with simplify. Question motives for wanting to hold on to not just tsotchkes & Aunt Hazels turkey platter – no matter how noble, how many ‘miracle time saving’ cleaning devices do we all need? [has a can of ‘clean-it-better’ been under the sink so long the bottom is rusted?] At the end of the PBS series 1900 House, ‘mom’ Joyce Bowler, who had lived for 3 months cleaning house with ONLY what few products were available at the dawn of the 20th century, moved back into her late 20th century home and i was struck with her musing aloud if she needed 3-4 [or more]- ‘modern’ products on hand that all really did the same thing. I have off-loaded so much this way and miss nothing. I can set aside a day now and then and challenge myself to get rid of “5 things in every room” [it’s not THAT tricky; don’t we all have a drawer with dried out ink pens/markers and pencils with ossified erasers on the end? they count!] . New things are still exciting and fun, BUT: 1 thing in = 2 things out so acquiring a new item and decluttering can happen simultaneously. [intentional]

  13. Thank you, Julianna! I love your suggestions for moving forward after decluttering. Why oh why do I continue to be a professional shopper for myself? I am determined to shop more thoughtfully and less often!! Maybe I will take a photo of my overstuffed closet before decluttering (AGAIN!) and glance at it before any future purchase!! Thank you!

  14. Thank you for this wonderful post. Everyone of the reasons pertain to me. Slow & easy will get the job done. I do a little bit & know when it’s time to quit. At 72 I don’t have the energy I use to have. When I declutter, I put it in my car & it goes the next day. Thanks again for all your help.

  15. When I worked on my closet I took 1 item out at a time. Made a decision to donate or keep. If I was keeping I hung it, top bar long sleeve, bottom bar short sleeve, etc. As I rehung I organized as I went, color coordinated. It is so easy to see what I have now. I did the same with dresses, pants etc. I don’t miss anything I donated.
    Occasionally as I get dressed I see something I just haven’t worn, into my car it goes. 👍
    It’s freeing the more stuff I get rid of. 😁

  16. Since I’ve drastically cut back on my shopping at thrift stores, I have less clutter to deal with. It was so easy, in the past, to pick up more items than I needed or was looking for mainly because “the price is right” (very economical). I could visualize how items could be transformed with paint, glue, washing, sewing etc. and I would take them home but not always get around to fixing them up.
    So, it’s not as much fun, perhaps, but I’ve greatly reduced my shopping for second hand items and have forced myself to buy only what I really love and/or have time and high motivation to repair for myself and others. With not as much “stuff” coming into the house I’m finally seeing a reduction in my workload and in my clutter.

  17. You read minds! I have so many things given to me by my grandparents that passed over 9-20+ years ago. I can never donate anything given to me from anyone, too much guilt. Gonna ‘try’ and heed your advice.
    Thank you for the list above.

  18. All great tips!

    When I did my whole-home declutter, I struggled with #1, (Over scoping projects,) and #18, (Going down memory lane,) and two things really helped me with that:

    For #1, I used the “follow the wall” technique, which is exactly what it sounds like! I started at the wall immediately next to the doorway and followed it around the room, focusing on one section of the wall and what’s immediately in front of it at a time. Where applicable, I went from top to bottom (in shelving units, cabinets, etc.) and once the perimeter was done, I moved inwards a little until and followed the perimeter again until the entire area was complete. Being able to see a section look completely clear, even if it was just a narrow sliver to start, definitely gave me satisfaction and motivation to keep going!

    For #18- We each put together 2 standard size banker’s boxes for items that we wanted to spend time going down memory lane with and labeled them. They were very affordable, sturdy, stackable boxes and we knew we could stack them together and hide them with a simple skirted shelf over it. We dedicated time to spend with their contents at the end of the whole process, and now we have our boxes easy to access in the future in a no-fuss storage solution! Since we do not have a garage, attic, basement, spare bedroom, storage room, mudroom, or other storage space besides a single coat closet that houses all of our seasonal decor and luggage, putting them in an empty corner of the dining room and putting up a shelf and skirt to hide them made the most sense.

  19. Awesome article! I’ve started, but have gotten hung up in some of the listed areas. I’ll take a deep breath and start again the right way! THANK YOU!!

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