by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: If you can't muster the energy to declutter, eliminating a single item a day still moves you toward your goal.
Whether you resolved to get organized two weeks ago or two years ago, at some point you’ll start to feel frustrated. You’ll wonder why the process is taking so long, why so much thought goes into making some of your decisions, and why you end up decluttering several spaces a second time. Then, one day, you’re done even though you aren’t done. You’re in a slump.
A decluttering slump can happen days, weeks, or months into your efforts. I’d consider it a slump when you’ve been decluttering or minimizing your belongings with some consistent effort and then, suddenly, you feel that your efforts to date haven’t made the difference you thought they would. This demoralizing thought has you questioning what you are doing and why you are bothering.
Understanding why you are doing what you’re doing is important to staying motivated. Unless your motivation is coming from a move or some other event, the only thing that will keep you motivated is the decisions and reasons you’ve set. But, also, a reality check is useful to know that your feelings aren’t unusual.
Problem: Clutter Challenge Burn-Out
You know that you won’t be able to declutter your entire house in 30-days, but you’re convinced that a 30-day decluttering challenge will get you motivated in a big way – like going on a crash diet only for your stuff.
On day 3, you couldn’t finish the task, but you figured you’d catch-up on the weekend. But then life happened and now you aren’t certain what today’s task even is. You try to unwind and flip through Facebook, but you see one picture after the other of people showing off the bags of stuff that they’re taking to the donation center.
Reality Check: Although a ‘challenge’ can be a great incentive to get started, it’s important to avoid treating it as The One Way to Organization and Clear Spaces. Allow the information and techniques to work for you – you aren’t working for them. If the day’s task to sort through your files takes you five weeks to complete, then so be it. Remember, your goal is to control your clutter; there’s no reason you have to do it in a month.
Problem: Multiple Rounds of Decluttering
Chances are that you were a bit nervous when you started to declutter. You were afraid that you were going to get rid of something useful or that your great-aunt would be hurt if she found out that you got rid of the mug that she bought you.
Reality Check: When nothing horrible happened after you dropped off that first carload of stuff at the local donation center, you started to feel more confident in making decisions. A few months into the process, you were probably clearing out items that you would have once held onto.
That second or third round of decluttering is simply the result of you becoming clearer on your reason for why you wanted to declutter in the first place.
Problem: Sentimental Feelings
A lot of people will say that they are ready to declutter, but they immediately jump to defending their sentimental items, memorabilia, or things with an emotional attachment.
Imagine two people who both used to ski and still have a lot of equipment. The person who realizes that skiing is no longer important to them will have an easier time donating or selling those items than the person who still identifies themselves as someone who could spend the weekend skiing, even though they haven’t done so for three years.
Reality Check: Sort through your cleaning supplies, medicine cabinet, sock drawer, or some other space where the stuff stored there is just stuff. If you are resistant to decluttering a group of items, like books, hold off trying to sort those items or you’ll end up frustrated, disheartened, or even angry that you feel you’re being asked to get rid of stuff that’s important to you.
Problem: Return of the Mess
The January sales on organizing bins, shelves, and closet systems got your blood pumping. You knew that you’d feel better once you weren’t looking at piles of stuff and the bins and plastic drawers and cubbies did seem to make your home look neater. Only, new piles are forming.
Reality Check: Organizing stuff is really about giving items a home so that you can find them when you need to use them. Storing items that you don’t use or like only helps the companies that manufacture and sell the organizing tools that you bought.
Part of the decluttering process is learning what is important to you now and noticing how past purchases didn’t necessarily resolve a desire or situation. If you organize items without questioning why you have them, you don’t learn to question future purchases and you’ll end up with more stuff.
Problem: A Disinterested Family
You’ve pointed out to your partner or kids how their stuff is cluttering the house. They don’t see a problem because this is how things “have always been.”
Reality Check: You’ve probably heard it before, focus on your stuff first. After you’ve decluttered your stuff, work on areas that you’re in charge of, like the kitchen or gardening shed. Clarify why you want to declutter your home and discuss this with your family. Also, is your immediate concern the family room? Then, don’t bring your kids’ bedrooms and your spouse’s home office into the conversation, at least right now.
Try to focus on small common areas – the stretch of kitchen counter that has become the dumping ground for paper or the dining table that’s being used as crafting central. Remember, if you are establishing a new rule, you need to replace the old behavior with a new habit. Don’t want mail, receipts, and other paper to end up on the kitchen counter? Would it help to have a central bin that gets sorted weekly? Or, in-boxes for each member of the family and a central calendar?
Be Easy on Yourself during a Decluttering Slump
No matter what else you feel you need to do, give yourself the opportunity to appreciate your efforts to date. Do you need to devote some time to tidying spaces you’ve already decluttered? Putting things away will quickly show off the hard work you’ve done.
If you’re faced with a difficult group of items, set out some of them so you can see them throughout the week. After looking at the items on multiple occasions, mull over your connection to the items and what you really want from them.
And, as always, consider why you wanted to declutter your home. Reminding yourself of your personal goals can return you to the mental attitude that will break you through your decluttering slump.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.