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Decluttering Rules: 15 things NOT to do when decluttering

Decluttering Rules: 15 things NOT to do when decluttering

I definitely don’t believe there are any hard and fast decluttering rules that are guaranteed to work for everybody, all the time. But I do believe there are some things you can do, or avoid doing, to make the whole process of decluttering your home easier and less painful.

In today’s post, I’m sharing 15 “decluttering rules” or guidelines I’ve found helpful to follow while decluttering our home. Following these decluttering rules can help you declutter faster, easier and more effectively.

Breaking these decluttering rules often makes decluttering harder, take longer and be more frustrating. Use these decluttering rules to help you avoid some common decluttering mistakes and roadblocks.

But always do what works for you!

But remember, this is your journey! Do what works for you. Pick the decluttering rules that make the most sense for you and ignore the rest. These are simply tips for decluttering that have helped me on my decluttering journey.

But always work with your own preferences, habits and tendencies, rather than against them. As with anything in life, the less you have to force things to work, the easier the process will be!

Without further ado, here are 15 decluttering rules to help make decluttering faster and easier!

15 things NOT to do when decluttering

Decluttering Rule #1: Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Sometimes you start decluttering full of excitement and enthusiasm to clear the clutter. But try to do too much, too fast and end up feeling burnt out, tired, overwhelmed and frustrated.

Instead, try breaking your decluttering jobs down into smaller projects. For example, instead of trying to declutter a whole room at once, tackle one drawer, one shelf or one area at a time.

You can always keep going and do more if you get on a decluttering roll. But by focusing on one small decluttering task at a time, you can avoid trying to declutter the whole room at once, taking everything out, then burning out and leaving yourself with a bigger mess than you started with!

Decluttering Rule #2: Not having a goal

Decluttering isn’t easy. It likely took years to accumulate all the stuff in your house, it’s going to take time and effort to declutter it. Having a goal or a reason why you’re decluttering is such an important way to keep you motivated to declutter.

Spend a few minutes thinking about why you want to declutter. Do you want more time? Do you want to feel more peaceful in your home? Maybe you want to spend less time cleaning?

Whatever it is, get clear with yourself what your “why” is. Whenever you feel frustrated, unmotivated or simply like giving up, come back to your goal and your why. Remind yourself exactly why decluttering will be worth the work.

Decluttering Rule #3: Don’t talk yourself into keeping things

If you try hard enough, you can probably convince yourself to keep just about anything. You might think you could use it someday, or should keep it just in case.

But if you want to be successful decluttering your home, keep your goal in mind. Focus on clearing the clutter, not thinking of all the possible ways you could use an item.

If you’re struggling to let go of items because they are still in good condition or could be useful, remind yourself that you aren’t using them. Even though it is useful, it’s not useful to you.

Decluttering Rule #4: Not finishing the job

Going through the stuff you own and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of is great. But don’t forget to finish the job before you end your decluttering session.

You’re not done decluttering until the stuff you’re getting rid of is out of your house.

If you let your donate, toss and/or sell piles sit around too long, there’s a good chance they’ll get spread back out all over the house, undoing all of your hard work!

Have a decluttering holding zone

Make sure you are dealing with your clutter and getting it out of your house!

If you are decluttering in small chunks of time and won’t be running to the donation center after each decluttering session, set aside a holding zone for the stuff you’re getting rid of. Make sure it’s somewhat out of sight to avoid you or someone else in your house second guessing your decluttering decisions before you can donate it.

Plan how & when clutter will leave

Then plan times to drop off donations and stick to them. Throw out any garbage right away. And give yourself deadlines to get things you’re selling listed and donated if they don’t sell.

Decluttering Rule #5: Don’t declutter someone else’s stuff

When you’re decluttering, it can be tempting to get rid of stuff of that belongs to other people in your family. Maybe you know they don’t use it, but getting rid of someone else’s stuff without their permission is usually not a good idea. Often, it can make them feel resentful or even make them hold on to their stuff tighter.

Instead, focus on decluttering your own stuff first. Lead by example and show your family the benefits of living with less.

It’s fine to gently encourage your family to declutter, or even offer to help, but don’t push too hard or just get rid of their stuff.

Decluttering Rule #6: Don’t declutter when you’re not in the mood

Sometimes you’re in the mood to clear the clutter from your home and your life. And sometimes, you’re just not!

When you try to declutter when you’re not in the mood, it usually ends up with a frustrating, discouraging and unproductive decluttering session.

Find ways to get motivated to declutter

Instead of trying to force it, if you’re really not in the mood to declutter, do something else instead. Of course, if you’re never in the mood to declutter, you may have to find ways to give yourself a push to get in a decluttering mood.

But usually, you’ll just end up wasting your time when you try decluttering when you’re not feeling it. Do something else and come back to decluttering when you feel more motivated to clear the clutter.

Decluttering Rule #7: Don’t focus on what you’re getting rid of, focus on what you’re keeping

Sometimes when all of your focus is on what you’re getting rid of decluttering can feel like deprivation instead of freedom.

Shift your mindset and focus on what you’re choosing to keep instead. Think about how you will be able to use, enjoy and appreciate the things that add value to your life when they aren’t buried in clutter.

Instead of thinking about how much you’re getting rid of, all the money you spent, etc. think about what you’re gaining by decluttering. You’re giving yourself more time, space, energy and freedom every time you remove another piece of clutter from your home.

Decluttering Rule #8: Don’t organize before you declutter

Decluttering and organizing are not the same things! Just remember that organized clutter is still clutter, and will continue adding stress to your life.

Instead, focus on decluttering first. Then, only after you have thoroughly decluttered, find ways to organize what you’re keeping.

Beware of bins & baskets

And definitely don’t buy any organizational systems, bins, baskets, etc. until after you’ve decluttered. Not only are bins and baskets a great way to hide clutter and encourage you to keep more than you need. But often these organizational tools end up adding more “stuff” and clutter to your home!

Decluttering Rule #9: Don’t get sidetracked cleaning & putting stuff away

One of the quickest ways to derail a decluttering session is getting sidetracked cleaning or putting stuff away.

As you’re decluttering, remind yourself what you want to be doing. Your goal is to clear the clutter, not clean or tidy. Set aside a different time to clean the space you’re decluttering and focus on clearing the clutter instead.

A great way to avoid using your decluttering time to put stuff away is having a box or basket beside you to fill with things that belong somewhere else in your house. As you come across things that belong somewhere else, put them in the basket and put them away once you’re done decluttering.

Decluttering Rule #10: Don’t take a trip down memory lane

Just like it’s easy to get sidetracked cleaning or putting stuff away when you’re decluttering, it’s also easy to get lost down memory lane.

As you’re decluttering it’s easy to start looking through things, instead of decluttering. Keep reminding yourself that your goal and purpose for this time is to declutter.

Set aside things you want to take some time to look through later. But don’t use up all of your decluttering time looking through things and reminiscing. Keep your goal of clearing the clutter in mind to help you stay focused and on task.

Decluttering Rule #11: Not being ruthless enough

If you want to declutter quickly and efficiently, keep pushing yourself to be as ruthless as possible. The more you get rid of during each decluttering session, the fewer times you’ll have to go back through the same stuff looking for more to declutter.

Of course, most of us go through several rounds of decluttering before we feel satisfied with the amount of stuff in our homes. But try to be as ruthless as possible to make the most of your decluttering time now.

Decluttering Rule #12: Don’t keep stuff out of guilt

Guilt is a powerful emotion and comes into play a lot during decluttering. It’s important to find ways to work through the guilt so you can focus on only keeping the things that add value to your life.

For example, you might feel guilty about getting rid of something you spent a lot of money on. But just remind yourself that the money is already spent. Keeping the item won’t recoup your money. Instead, you’ll just continue feeling guilty every time you see the item and know you’re not using it.

Let go of the item and the guilt. Then try to use it as a lesson to make better purchases moving forward.

Another time guilt often comes into play is with gifts. But keep reminding yourself that the purpose of a gift is for someone to show you they love you. Once the gift has been given it’s served its purpose. Not it’s up to you to decide if you want to keep it or not.

Decluttering Rule #13: Don’t slow down your progress trying to sell every little thing

Another way to significantly slow down your decluttering progress is by trying to sell everything you’re getting rid of. Selling items takes a lot of time and effort.

If you’re selling online, you have to take photos, list items for sale, negotiate with buyers, set up times to meet, account for no-shows, etc. And yard sales take a lot of time to prep and run as well.

Sometimes it’s just not worth the time or effort to sell things. Not to mention, selling items keeps clutter hanging around your home, prolonging the time before you can start experiencing the benefits of your decluttering efforts.

Be selective about what you try selling

If you need to sell as much as you can for financial reasons, that’s one thing. But if you don’t really need the money, consider donating most of what you’re getting rid of to make the decluttering process quicker and easier.

Maybe give yourself a dollar value limit and don’t sell anything worth less than your limit. And if you do try selling things, give yourself a deadline to get it listed for sale. And decide how long you’ll wait before donating unsold items.

Often, it can be more beneficial to clear the clutter from your home rather than trying to sell it all.

Decluttering Rule #14: Don’t think decluttering is a one-time event

Most people need to do multiple rounds of decluttering before they reach a place where they feel like they have the right amount of stuff in their homes.

For one thing, you get better at decluttering the more you do it. And for another, you are usually willing and able to let go of more and more stuff the more you declutter. Especially as you start living with the benefits of a clutter-free home and realize you don’t miss the stuff you got rid of!

Not only that but your home isn’t a museum. You live there, use your stuff, make messes, bring new stuff home, no longer need or use some stuff, etc. Having a clutter-free home requires ongoing maintenance to keep it that way.

The good news is, the less stuff you have in your home, the easier your home is to maintain and keep tidy, organized and clutter-free!

Decluttering Rule #15: Don’t aim for perfection

When you’re decluttering it’s important to have realistic expectations for yourself and your home. It’s easy to look on Pinterest or Instagram and see pictures of beautifully organized spaces with matching containers and color coordinated everything. If that’s how your home looks, good for you!

But sometimes it’s important to remind yourself that good enough is good enough.

Aim to have a home that’s functional for you and easy to maintain. How it looks is less important than how it functions. Do what works for you and keep your expectations realistic. Decluttering isn’t about achieving a magazine-worthy home, it’s about simplifying your life!

Decluttering rules to simplify your life

I hope these decluttering rules help make decluttering easier for you. As I said at the beginning, there is no one “right” way to declutter. But often learning from someone else’s mistakes of what not to do can help you avoid hitting the same stumbling blocks.

Use the decluttering rules that make sense for you, ignore the ones that don’t and clear the clutter so you can have more time, space, energy and freedom to enjoy the things that matter most to you!

Do you have any decluttering rules you’ve found helpful as you declutter? Share them in the comments below!

Decluttering Rules: 15 things NOT to do when decluttering
Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

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Saturday 15th of October 2022

This was one of the most ENCOURAGING articles that I have read. Your words were not pushy or demanding but helpful and practical. Decluttering can feel like you are NEVER going to get your life back, so I loved your words.


Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 27th of October 2022

This makes me so happy to hear! I always want to be encouraging, not pushy in any way. I'm so glad this post was encouraging for you. Thank you for reading and for your kind words!


Wednesday 6th of October 2021

This is the best list for decluttering that I have come across. It takes you through all steps and explains how and why you are decluttering.

Thank you so much 😊

Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 7th of October 2021

You're very welcome, Gerogette! I'm so happy to hear you found it helpful! Thanks for reading :)

Jessalynn Jones

Saturday 22nd of May 2021

Great article Melissa! I really liked all the points but I found the one about focusing on decluttering not cleaning or tidying very important. I’m a cleaning lady and one gif the reasons I can clean well and quickly is because I don’t organize when I’m cleaning. I don’t know where people want their stuff. And when you are decluttering, if you focus on decluttering it will be done. I also appreciate your balanced view of selling stuff. I’ve done pretty well with Facebook marketplace plus it has to be done quickly. One thing I have found helpful in decluttering is taking things in stages so when you first start just get rid of junk that’s broken stained whatever, then move on to real Decluttering, last sentimental stuff and tedious stuff. That helps you avoid overwhelm and build your decluttering muscles.

Simple Lionheart Life

Monday 24th of May 2021

Yes!! I think focusing on decluttering rather than cleaning is so important! It can be really difficult to try doing both at once.

I love your suggestion about decluttering in stages too. That's so important. Starting with the easier stuff and working up to the more challenging items when your decluttering "muscles" are stronger is a great way to approach it.

Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

Susan Stoppard

Monday 10th of August 2020

I keep everything i am donating in the trunk of my car for a few weeks. Like today of the 5 garbage bags of stuff to go I have realized I put out something i need. 4 large plastic cups that are used for everything from iced coffee to refilling the ice machine. The rest can go! Sometimes you do need a buffer make so its too hard to haul it all back in the house so yes I shouldn't have sent those out cups out but rest has not been missed.

Simple Lionheart Life

Monday 10th of August 2020

Yes, sometimes giving yourself a little buffer between decluttering and donating can pay off. Especially if you do it like you did and keep the stuff out of your home while you're waiting so it doesn't accidentally make it's way back in! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience :)

Jenny Chism

Sunday 1st of March 2020

I've started gifting "valuable" things to my children and grandchildren, keeping in mind what they might like to have. Works most of the time...

Simple Lionheart Life

Monday 2nd of March 2020

That's a great idea, especially if they are able to use and appreciate things you no longer use or need. Thanks for sharing!

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