by Susan Caplan McCarthy
If you’ve ever dieted, you know that at some point what you’ve been doing stops working. The number of the scale stays the same and your frustration with yourself mounts. The same thing can happen when you’re decluttering. You look around the house, see more work that needs to be done and feel discouraged that you aren’t yet “done.”
If you’re stuck on a decluttering plateau, you can look at this as an opportunity to step back, reevaluate your goals, and, then, maybe, decide that you need to push through and just get going.
Take Photos. Chance are that you’ll forget how things looked, even a month ago. You get used to seeing clear spaces and focus on what you’ve yet to do. Even if these won’t be true “before” pictures, take some pictures so that if you feel that nothing is getting done, you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished.
Tackle a Difficult Space. Is there a small area that you’ve been dreading working on? A stack of papers to sort, the area under the sink, the junk drawer – someplace that an hour of focused work would allow you to check this space off your to-do list? Set a timer for 60 minutes, put on some high-energy music and go at it. Sometimes pushing through a dreaded task can boost your motivation for other tasks.
Define ‘Done.’ How will you know that you’ve finished decluttering? Be specific – one plant on the bedroom dresser, only placemats on the kitchen table, 10 short sleeved tops, nothing on the desk but the laptop and a pencil cup, and so on. If you’re feeling frustrated with how things look now, identifying what you want the space to look like will clear away that vague sense of dissatisfaction and not having enough done.
Give Yourself a Break. For one, don’t be so hard on yourself. I know, you find articles online with headlines like, “I Decluttered My Home in a Weekend – Here’s What I Learned” and you wonder what your problem is. Let’s face it, either this person didn’t have a lot to declutter, they weren’t attached to any of their possessions, or they bribed everyone they knew with pizza and beer if they’d help them empty the garage. A lot of people work at decluttering their home over two or three years. Years. Not days. Not months.
And, two, do something fun for yourself. Go to a museum for an hour or two. Sit in a coffee shop with a book (and not your phone). Take a walk along a nature trail. Allow yourself a couple of hours of binge-watching a favorite television show.
Do something that doesn’t involve shopping (or browsing through stores). We tend to hold off treating ourselves or giving ourselves a reward until we’re finished with a project. However, a treat can be a much-needed acknowledgement of the progress we’ve made.
When a Plateau is Something Else
You are not on a plateau if you are contending with a chronic illness that saps your energy. If a project at work is going to gobble up your free time over the next few weeks, you are not on a decluttering plateau. Dealing with sick kids or ailing parents doesn’t put you on a plateau.
Life happens. You’re not stuck, you have other priorities. Acknowledge that your attention has shifted. In a month or three, reevaluate if some of your time and attention can go back to decluttering.
If you’re stuck because you can’t decide whether you need to keep some items, work through your decluttering indecision. And, even if you are on a plateau, continue to do a 10-minute tidy-up each day so you don’t lose the progress you’ve already made.
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.