The 8 Biggest Reasons Why People Fail at Decluttering

For many, decluttering is the first step toward a simpler, more intentional life.

But it’s not easy.

That’s why, in today’s post, I’m going to share the top 8 reasons why people fail at decluttering and how you can avoid them.

Let’s dive right in.

Ayla making a face while decluttering
Reason #1

You Start Too Big

You’ve made the decision to declutter and reclaim your space. You feel ambitious, which is great. But this ambition may lead you to try declutter a bigger, more complicated space than you are ready for. This is a common reason why people fail at decluttering.

For example, you may decide to declutter a messy garage or a closet that’s packed to the seams with who-knows-what. It might even be starting with that infamous junk drawer we all have tucked away somewhere in our home.

And, as a result, you take on too much at once, get overwhelmed, and give up decluttering.

Ayla sitting in messy room

How to Avoid Starting Too Big

The most important thing you need to realize is that decluttering is a process that is unique to you. It’s important that you respect that process and don’t compare yourself to others. Decluttering is not a competition or a race.

Take time to reflect on where you are in the decluttering process. Try to see past the ambition and instead assess how you’re actually feeling. Use these reflections as a guide to set realistic goals and expectations.

Remember, your best decluttering project is one you can finish.

Ayla organizing clothes in the top drawer of a dresser

What to Do If You’ve Started Too Big

If you’ve already made the mistake of starting too big, don’t worry. Follow these steps to get yourself back on track:

  1. Pack the clutter back into boxes and bags.
  2. When you find the time and energy, empty one box or bag at a time back onto the floor and declutter through it. Start another when you feel like it.
  3. Reflect on where you went wrong, and try not to make the same mistake again. Best practice is to tackle small areas or to break big areas into chewable chunks. Decluttering often takes much longer than expected.
Reason #2

You Try to Declutter Too Many Spaces at Once

The decluttering process often sends us whirl-winding around our homes. We see clutter in every room and begin to visualize what life would be like without it.

It’s exciting, but it can also become a big distraction. That’s why the second big reason people fail at decluttering is because they lose focus and start decluttering several rooms at the same time.

Messy room full of boxes and things

How to Avoid Decluttering Too Many Spaces at Once

Resist the temptation. Don’t allow yourself to start decluttering a new room when you’re already working on another. Declutter one room at a time. Otherwise, it will look like a tornado swept through your entire house, and you’ll get overwhelmed.

The best way to prevent this is to make sure you’re laser focused on the room you’re decluttering. While decluttering one room, you’ll likely find items that need to go into a different room. Set these items aside in a designated spot in the same room you’re decluttering. Don’t move these items to their new room until you’re done decluttering the room you’re currently working on. This method will prevent you from getting distracted.

Ayla sorting through decluttered clothes ready for donation

What to Do If You’re Decluttering Too Many Spaces at Once

I made the mistake of trying to declutter too many spaces at once. My home looked like a disaster area. There was stuff everywhere, clutter staring back at me, and I got overwhelmed.

But there’s a way out of it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because of this reason, follow these steps to get back on track:

1. Contain the clutter

In other words, put your rooms back to normal. This may feel like backtracking, but it’s worth it. Putting things away will give you the mental and emotional strength you need to continue. Now that the rooms aren’t a mess anymore, you can hone in on a single room and start making progress again.

2. Reflect on where you are in the decluttering process

Remind yourself of why you’re doing it. Assess how you’re feeling about the process, what you’re working towards, and what you hope to gain. Take notes and remind yourself as you continue decluttering.

3. Give yourself more time and space to progress through your decluttering journey

Have patience. Don’t set unrealistic expectations of yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you and don’t push past your own limits.

4. Once you’ve found your balance again, choose a space to start decluttering

Consider how much time you have to spare and how long it will take to declutter the space. If you’re new to decluttering, I recommend dedicating twice as much time as you think it will take. We tend to underestimate how long these projects take when starting out.

5. Continue decluttering one space at a time

Be patient and continue at a pace that is conducive to your schedule and energy levels.

Reason #3

You Declutter Too Much

It is easy to fall down the decluttering rabbit hole. This happens when you become so swept up in the process that you start getting rid of things you actually need. Reading too many articles about decluttering can sometimes have this effect. The thrill of letting go can be addictive, but letting go of too much is another reason why people fail at decluttering.

You cannot create a sustainable life by only following the words of others. Their ideas and ideals may look and sound appealing, but they may not be right for your lifestyle.

Empty closet with colorful hangers

How to Avoid Decluttering Too Much

Once you’ve started it can sometimes be hard to stop. Do it anyway. Hit pause. Take time to center yourself. Pinpoint exactly where you want to be and how you can work toward it without getting rid of too much.

Here are some tips to do so:

  1. Remind yourself of the goal you are working toward.
  2. Take your time. The reason many people get rid of too much is because they rush through the process.
  3. Leave room for the bloopy things. It’s okay to keep some of the things that bring you joy. You don’t have to get rid of everything that doesn’t have an immediate use.

Remember, decluttering is not a competition. The goal is not to get rid of as much as possible or to have less than your neighbor. Focus within to discover the optimal balance for you.

Ayla looking inside a black box

What to Do If You’ve Decluttered Too Much

If you feel you’ve gotten rid of more than you should have, take some time to understand why this happened. Address any feelings of regret and create a plan to avoid decluttering too much in the future.

Furthermore, make peace and let go. If the item is gone, it’s gone. Consider whoever picks it up out of the donation box and hope that they will enjoy it as much as you did, if not more.

If you would like, write about it in your journal. Remember, the feelings and memories you associated with it do not live in the item itself. They live within you.

Reason #4

You Move Stuff Around Without Decluttering

Decluttering is a slow process. But for some people, it’s an eternal process. This brings me to the 4th reason why so many people fail at decluttering: they spend most of their time moving things between rooms rather than actually getting rid of anything.

Clean and tidy room

How to Avoid Moving Stuff Around Without Decluttering

Create a rough decluttering plan for your home and include directions for where each category of things should go. Decluttering plans are important because they help you focus on one area at a time.

Here’s a game plan I made for decluttering my sister’s home:

  • Entryway: Seasonal coats, frequently used shoes, mail filer
  • Kitchen: Cooking supplies, food, downstairs cleaning supplies, disposable dish ware
  • Living room: Knitting, daily-use instruments, cat toys, DVDs, CDs, video games
  • Bedroom: Clothes, small personal items, less frequently used shoes
  • Bathroom: Toiletries, upstairs cleaning supplies, hygiene products
  • Office: Important paperwork, old schoolwork, keepsakes, current work items, storage

Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, assign a spot in the room you’re decluttering for items that do not belong in that room. Do not declutter or organize these items until you’re done decluttering the room.

Ayla decluttering and organizing living room

What to Do If You’re Moving Stuff Around Without Decluttering

If you already feel you’re making this mistake, the solution is the same: make a decluttering plan to decide where each category of things should go. This prevents you from moving things from room to room rather than decluttering.

Reason #5

You Forget Why You Started

Another reason you people fail at decluttering is because they forget why they started in the first place.

But forgetting why they’re decluttering is also one of the main reasons people give up in the middle of it. Our motivation mainly comes from our why, and when we forget that, we have no reason to continue.

Ayla decluttering a room and thinking

How to Avoid Forgetting Why You Started

Dedicate time before you start decluttering to reflect on your why.

Ask yourself:

  • What prompted me to start decluttering?
  • What do I seek to gain from this process?
  • How do I feel about the process right now?
  • How can I keep myself motivated through the hard times?

Write it down so you can remind yourself why you’re decluttering. Allow your vision to drive you across the finish line.

Ayla writing in her journal

What to Do If You Forget Why You Started

You may be in this situation right now. You’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering why you even started decluttering in the first place.

It is never too late for a personal check-in. Ask yourself the same reflective questions listed above to reassess how you are feeling about the process. Try to visualize the end result to find the motivation again.

Reason #6

You Let Others Dictate How You Feel

You’ve been bitten by the decluttering bug. Now, all you want to do is share your experiences and new-found joy with others. After all, it’s one of the distinct stages of decluttering.

Unfortunately, others may not be ready to share your joy and discovery. You might even come off as judgmental of their lifestyle. Your excitement may be met with skepticism and even criticism.

As a result, you lose heart. You fail at the decluttering process because you let others dictate your emotions. You start to question yourself.

Ayla smiling with family

How to Avoid Letting Others Dictate How You Feel

Don’t be the person who always talks about decluttering. If people ask you what you’ve been up to lately, just say you’ve started simplifying your life by decluttering your things.

If they’re interested to learn more, they’ll keep asking questions about it. If not, just leave it at that. The best way to encourage others to try decluttering themselves is to be a resource, not a nuisance.

Ayla and her sister organizing clothes in a drawer on the floor

What to Do If You’ve Let Others Dictate How You Feel

If you’ve been hurt by critical comments from others, take a step back and remember why you are decluttering. Reconnect with your values. The goal is to find the strength within yourself to stand against the criticisms of others.

Additionally, don’t fight fire with fire. Respect others’ opinions as you want them to respect yours. If it ever becomes part of the conversation again, stay calm and communicate in a way that encourages mutual understanding and respect.

Reason #7

You Don't Have a Plan

Decluttering is a big project and every big project needs a plan.

Unfortunately, many people dive straight into the decluttering process without any preparation, goal-setting, or research. As a result, their decluttering fails.

Messy room full of clutter

How to Avoid Not Having a Plan

Take some time to reflect before diving headlong into your closet or cupboards. Consider why you want to declutter and what you wish to gain from the process. You must begin with the end in mind if you ever want to finish.

Consider your goals for the decluttering process and make a realistic decluttering plan.

Ayla writing on a piece of paper

What to Do If You Don’t Have a Plan

If you’ve already started decluttering without a plan, don’t worry. I was one of those people who were so excited by the idea of decluttering that I wanted to dive right in. After a few weeks of decluttering my apartment was an absolute disaster area.

It’s easy to fix. Assess your home and create a plan for what remains. Tackle the easier spaces first to build and maintain your momentum and motivation.

Reason #8

You Don’t Take Enough Breaks and Burn Out

Last but not least, the 8th reason why so many people fail at decluttering is because they don’t take enough breaks. As a result, they burn out, give up, and never finish.

Ayla crouching over and looking exhausted

How to Avoid Burning Out

Decide when you will take breaks. Make it a part of your decluttering plan.

Additionally, take a break when you know you need one, even if you haven’t finished what you wanted to do. Otherwise, you won’t be getting effective work done.

Ayla walking on a path in a green park

What to Do If You’re Burnt Out

First and foremost, take a break. There’s no point pushing through a burn-out only to make things worse.

Second, incorporate some breaks into your decluttering plan. Better late than never.

This is not a negotiation. You need this time to regenerate. Decluttering is a marathon, not a sprint. Trying to get it done faster by cutting break times will only make it take longer. Decluttering while exhausted is worse than not decluttering anything at all.

Ayla

Ayla

Ayla is a co-founder, writer, and designer at Bloopy Things. She helps individuals embrace simple living through practical and actionable guides in all areas of life.

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Ayla & Atle

We're a husband-and-wife team who help you simplify your life so you can focus on the things that truly matter and still have some time left for the bloopy things.

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