Have you been decluttering...but you aren't seeing the results you expected? You may be overlooking some easy-to-ignore reasons that the clutter is sticking around.
by Susan McCarthy
You’ve been decluttering for a while. Carting out trash and recyclables on a regular basis. Hauling boxes and bags to the local donation center.
However, you don’t see progress. There’s still stuff piled on the bottom of your closet. And even though you’ve cleared off your kitchen table, it seems like you turn around and there’s a new pile of stuff.
Chances are that you're feeling frustrated. Stuff is leaving your home! Are you wasting your time? You’ve begged off getting together with friends so you could declutter. Now you’re hoping that none of them stop by to see your progress…or lack thereof.
So, what’s going on?
Read this guide to learn about often-overlooked reasons for not making decluttering progress before you spiral down into shame and give up on your goal to have an organized home.
Ready to learn all about keeping the clutter away? While the concept is simple, changing your mindset to accept what you need to do to stay organized may be a bit trickier…but so worth it.
No Results? Here's Why...
Throughout my five years of talking and teaching about decluttering, I’ve learned a thing or two about why people don’t end up living the less cluttered life they desire.
Often, it comes down to one of these 5 reasons. Knowing the what and why of clutter is one of the first steps in becoming organized.
And if you want more tips and support while decluttering, join my exclusive Facebook group, First Steps to Organized.
Reason #1. You Aren’t Maintaining a Balance of Stuff.
At some point while you’ve been looking up decluttering tips online you may have encountered the “rule” One In/One Out.
This says that when you bring something new into your home, you look for a similar item to let go of. So, if you buy a new book, you donate one from your shelves. Buy a new pair of sneakers? Toss your hold pair.
When you do this, you maintain a balance of stuff. If you have ten mugs after decluttering and they fit on one shelf, if you acquire an eleventh mug, it won’t fit.
You could choose to put it on another shelf, with other items, say bowls. But now the clear order you had, “this is my mug shelf and that is my bowl shelf” starts to crumble. It might not seem like a big deal at the moment. But down the road, as you acquire more things and squeeze them in where they fit, your hard-won order falls apart.
Reason #2. You Continue to Shop for New Things.
When I suggest to people in my decluttering classes that they take a break from shopping, particularly while decluttering, I get a lot of pushbacks.
One mom insisted that if she saw an item that promised to save her time, she was going to buy it. I tried pointing out that now she would spend extra time deciding where to store the item, potentially cleaning it after each use, and putting it away so she could find it next time. She rolled her eyes.
But she was in a decluttering class, complaining about all her stuff and how she had no room.
Now, by “shopping” I’m not talking about buying things like food and shampoo (if you need them). But, if you’ve just decluttered your closet so it only contains the clothing you like and wear, buying more clothing only adds to what’s in this space.
Hence, the One In/One Out Rule to maintain balance.
However, bringing in new things without letting go of other things in your home, starts to tip the scale toward having too much stuff.
Curious what it takes to avoid nonessential shopping? Check out this blogpost on a six-month No Spend Challenge. It’s from someone who lives in a tiny home…so, no extra space to hide excess items there!
Reason #3. You Need to Let Go of Stuff.
Decluttering is all about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. And it can be pretty nerve-wracking to get rid of a lot of stuff.
You start thinking about the money spent on these things. You decide that you need to use those craft supplies or the materials related to a past (or aspirational) interest as opposed to simply getting rid of them.
It can be difficult to view these items as you are treating them - as burdens and obligations.
Do you really want to do that activity? It can be difficult to face life changes that alter our schedule and where we focus our attention.
When you think about your reasons for decluttering your home, is it because you want more time and space to engage in that activity that’s fallen to the wayside? No?
Let go of the items. Why burden yourself with the expectation that you’ll use your precious time to do something you don’t even enjoy doing?
My Less Clutter More Life Kit is packed with nearly 60 action guides, worksheets, planners, and trackers that are geared to help you with each stage of your decluttering journey - clarifying your reasons for decluttering, committing your time and energy, clearing the clutter, and connecting to the habits that will help you to keep the clutter from returning.
Reason #4: You're Ignoring that the Space to Store Your Stuff Has Constraints.
I grew up hearing my mother insist that if we lived in a bigger house we’d be organized because we’d have space for everything.
I was well into adulthood and struggling with my own excess stuff before I realized that my mother was wrong. When I emptied my parents’ house, I saw all the stuff that they’d held onto for 39 years…things they never used and things that couldn’t get used.
It’s really easy to think that if we had more space that we’d be organized. Home organizing supplies…bins, shelves, drawer dividers, shelf risers, pegboards, plastic drawers, and more…suggest that we can keep everything if we store it properly.
But here’s the truth…a storage space, be it an entire room or a single drawer, can only hold so much. And if you need to shift things and root around to find something, that’s a sign that you’re storing too much, and things are going to end up cluttered.
Are you ignoring the storage limits of a space?
Reason #5. You’re Struggling to Take Action.
Maybe you’ve been decluttering on your own only to realize that too often you get stuck trying to decide what to do with the item in your hand. Or you keep shuffling items into a “maybe” pile.
You’re putting in a lot of effort, but you aren’t seeing results because you’re struggling to make decisions.
Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that you need some help. Working with a professional organizer can be nerve-wracking…a stranger walking through your home, looking at (and touching) your stuff, juggling your schedule, paying to do something you feel you should be able to do on your own.
That’s why I offer a couple of decluttering coaching programs…both done virtually so you stay in control. Drop-in & Declutter is a group program…everyone declutters their own stuff while staying motivated by the support and accountability that comes with the presence of others. I’m there to provide guidance.
In Declutter Buddy, you work one-on-one with me, virtually through Zoom. This offers you more privacy and the opportunity to ask me questions and plan your actions.
You work with me when you need the help…no commitment to a block of daily, weekly, or monthly decluttering classes. You get the support and guidance you want to make decisions and take action.
You may have noticed that all of these reasons for not achieving success with decluttering all come down to changing your mindset about stuff.
At first, it can seem impossible to change the way you think about stuff…to welcome that spaces aren’t filled to capacity.
When I broke away from my mother’s way of thinking that more space was necessary to be organized, I saw that I could give myself more space by decluttering.
Interested in working with me? Schedule a coaching session here.
Not ready? Download my free Less Clutter Roadmap, an action plan to simplify your home.
Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.