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Why is Decluttering So Hard? 11 of the biggest challenges of decluttering

Why is Decluttering So Hard? 11 of the biggest challenges of decluttering

Today’s post is going to dig into some of the reasons why decluttering is so hard. Identifying the most common challenges you might encounter as you’re decluttering. As well as sharing what you can do to overcome them and continue working towards your decluttering goals.

If you’re just getting started decluttering, or if you’ve been at it for a while, you probably already know that decluttering isn’t always easy. It takes a lot of time, effort and work (physical, mental and emotional work) to clear the clutter.

The benefits and rewards of clearing the clutter are definitely worth it. But it’s easy to get stuck along the way when you’re in the messy middle of decluttering!

Use the tips in today’s post to first recognize that you’re not alone if you’re facing some challenges and struggles as you’re decluttering. It always helps to know you’re not the only one facing these challenges or wondering why decluttering is so hard!

And second, use the tips to help you overcome the challenges making decluttering feel hard. So you can start decluttering more efficiently, with more confidence and with more ease!

Why is decluttering so hard?

No matter where you are on your decluttering journey, clearing the clutter will likely feel hard at one time or another. Or even most of the time!

The best way to overcome some of these decluttering challenges is by addressing them head-on. Identifying what the struggle is and what’s at the root of the struggle.

Once you have clearly identified the challenge you’re facing, it becomes a lot easier to work through it and continue making progress in decluttering your home.

If you find yourself wondering why decluttering is so hard, here are 11 common challenges you might face as you declutter.

Why is Decluttering So Hard? 11 of the biggest challenges of decluttering
Photo by Spacejoy on Unsplash

1. Shuffling stuff instead of decluttering

A big obstacle when you’re decluttering is getting stuck shuffling stuff instead of decluttering.

It’s so easy to do! Rather than getting rid of stuff, you find yourself moving items from one space to a different space. Or even trying to organize the space better so you keep more stuff!

But the truth is you can’t organize clutter. If your home feels messy, overwhelming or like too much work to manage, no amount of organization will fix it. You don’t have an organization problem. You have a too much stuff problem!

With too much stuff to comfortably manage, organizing won’t be a long-term solution. Simply because you have exceeded your clutter threshold!

Instead, get rid of the clutter. Keep less stuff in your home that you need to manage, take care of and keep track of and fix the problem of too much stuff for good!

Shuffling clutter from one spot to another might feel like you’re working hard and fixing the problem. But in reality, you’re just shifting the problem from one spot to another. You’ll still have to deal with and manage all that stuff.

Focus on decluttering and getting rid of what you don’t use, need or like first. Rather than shuffling it from one spot to the next. Or adding more organizational systems to trick you into believing you can manage all that stuff.

Getting rid of the clutter first is the best way to make your home easier to manage. And when you’re not organizing and shuffling clutter, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, stress and even money when you’re not buying bins and baskets you don’t actually need!

Read more: Simplify your life by decluttering, not organizing

2. Giving in to “just in case” fears

Fear is one of the biggest things that keep you hanging on to clutter. Especially “just in case” fears.

If you try hard enough, you can probably think of a reason to keep almost anything “just in case”. Having all the extra stuff in your home might even make you feel safe and secure. Like you’re prepared for any possible future scenario.

But remember, your goal is to declutter, not be prepared for any possible future scenario, no matter how unlikely it may be.

The best way to work through “just in case” fears is to address them head-on.

Let yourself go down the “just in case” rabbit hole. Think about what the worst thing that could happen would be if you got rid of an item.

Often, once you let yourself go to the worst-case scenario, you’re able to see that either it wouldn’t be as bad as you first thought. Or you would be able to figure out an alternative like using something else, borrowing the item from a friend, buying it inexpensively second-hand, etc.

You can also challenge “just in case” fears by giving yourself a deadline. Say you’ll keep the item for 3 months (and set a reminder in your calendar). If you haven’t used or needed the item by then, let it go knowing you already time tested it for yourself!

Read more: What to do about “just in case” clutter

3. Feeling overwhelmed or not knowing where to start

Decluttering can be a lot of work. And it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of you. Or feel so overwhelmed you feel paralyzed and don’t know where or how to begin.

If this is why decluttering is feeling so hard for you, first, take a breath.

The best way to overcome feeling overwhelmed about decluttering is to stop looking at the amount of work ahead of you as a whole. And instead, break it down into small, bite-sized projects you can tackle one at a time to get the work done.

For example, make a list of small tasks you can tackle to declutter a room. Break the work down into one drawer, one shelf, one cupboard, one basket, one pile, one section, etc. Then tackle these small projects one at a time. Only focus on the current task, rather than everything you’ll need to tackle.

Let me do the work for you

To make it even easier to break the work down into small, manageable tasks, check out my decluttering guide, Your Clutter-Free Home.

Inside Your Clutter-Free Home, you’ll get detailed decluttering checklists for every room in your home. Helping you break the decluttering work down into small tasks you can tackle one at a time, without feeling overwhelmed!

Your Clutter-Free Home: decluttering guide & checklists

Other tricks when you’re feeling overwhelmed

Another great way to start decluttering when you’re feeling overwhelmed is by starting at the door and working clockwise around the room. You can do as much or as little as feels comfortable at a time. Just focus on working your way around the room slowly but steadily.

Another great tip is setting a timer for 10 minutes and telling yourself you only have to declutter for those 10 minutes. If you get on a roll and want to keep going when the timer rings, great. But if not, you can stop there and know you made 10 minutes of progress. Then do the same the next day.

Instead of a timer, you can challenge yourself to find 10 things to get rid of in a space every day or three times a week. Slow and steady progress is still making progress to clear the clutter!

Read more: How to declutter when you’re overwhelmed with too much stuff!

4. You don’t have time to declutter

When your life is already busy and full, it can be hard to find time to declutter.

Of course, the more you declutter, the easier your home will be to maintain and manage, and the more time you’ll free up. But in order to get to that point, you need to clear the clutter first.

The best way to declutter when you have limited time available is to add decluttering into the other tasks you’re already doing.

  • As you get ready in the morning, quickly sift through your makeup and get rid of anything old or you don’t use or like.
  • When you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, open a drawer or cupboard and find as many things as you can to get rid of.
  • When you’re putting laundry away, pull out anything you know you don’t wear, like or is worn out.
  • As you’re picking up around the house, get rid of anything you don’t use, need or like instead of putting it away.

Also, just like we talked about above, aim to spend 10 minutes every day decluttering. Or find 10 things to get rid of every day. These little acts of decluttering, repeated consistently, definitely add up to make a big difference over time!

Don’t forget to schedule these short decluttering sessions too. If you don’t have a plan to make them happen, it’s easy to forget or skip them. Write them down, put a reminder in your phone, leave a sticky note somewhere you’ll see often, etc. Remind yourself to take these small, consistent steps to declutter.

Read more: How to declutter when you’re short on time

5. Burning yourself out before you’re done decluttering

Because decluttering can be a lot of work, burnout can easily happen.

Maybe you feel excited to declutter, empty an entire closet, then get tired or run out of time and are left with a bigger mess than you started with!

If you’re feeling burnt out by decluttering, first take a break.

The blessing/curse of clutter is it will still be there waiting for you. But if you can take a break and come back rested, refreshed and reenergized to declutter, you’ll probably make faster and easier progress than if you forced yourself to keep going even though you feel burnt out.

Avoid burning yourself out again by working on smaller decluttering tasks.

Instead of emptying an entire closet, just tackle one shelf or section at a time. Not only will you not be left with a huge mess if you get tired or interrupted. But you also won’t end up taking on more than you can chew and burning yourself out in the process.

It’s common for a space to get worse before it gets better while you’re decluttering. Sorting through a space can often make a bit of a mess while you’re in the midst of it. This is another reason why tackling smaller decluttering tasks can be helpful. You’ll create a smaller mess while decluttering that won’t leave you worse off than you started if you run out of time or energy before you’re done!

6. Letting perfectionism take over

Perfectionism can hold you back in so many ways, including when you’re decluttering.

Sometimes when you’re working to declutter one small step at a time, it feels like you’re barely making progress. So why bother?

Or maybe if your home doesn’t look like a magazine after one afternoon of decluttering, you feel like what you’re doing isn’t working.

But just remember, small steps are still moving you forward. Every time you remove some clutter from a space, even just one or two items, you’re making it a little bit better than it was before.

If you continue to slowly remove clutter every day, focusing on making the space a little better each time, imagine where you’ll be a year from now.

Slow progress is still progress!

Your home doesn’t have to look like a magazine to serve you well. The key is creating a home that looks, feels and functions in a way you love, no matter how it looks to anyone else!

Read more: Embracing progress, not perfection when decluttering

7. Holding on to old patterns, behaviours or limiting beliefs

Another reason why decluttering is so hard has nothing to do with the clutter in your home and everything to do with your own mindset.

A big part of decluttering and embracing a clutter-free home is shifting your own habits, behaviours, patterns and beliefs.

For example, you might hold a limiting belief that tells you you’re a messy and disorganized person. It’s just the way you are. Until you let go of that limiting belief, you might have a really hard time taking ownership of your home and the way you maintain it.

If your habit or pattern of behaviour is to shop when you feel sad, mad, lonely, etc. you’ll likely end up with too much stuff coming into your home causing clutter.

If you haven’t built the habits of maintaining and tidying up your home regularly, it’ll be hard to keep your home tidy until you figure out a rhythm or routine that will work for you.

Or maybe you have a tendency to hold onto a lot of stuff “just in case”. Or maybe you’re still learning the skill of identifying clutter or noticing clutter you’ve gone clutter blind to.

It takes time, patience, practice, paying attention, forming new habits, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes to make these shifts.

The key is to first notice what patterns, habits, behaviours and limiting beliefs are impacting you and your relationship with the stuff you own. Once you’ve identified them, then you can start to change them to better support you and the lifestyle you want to live.

8. Emotional attachment to the stuff you own

One of the biggest reasons why decluttering can feel so hard is because of the emotional attachments you might have to the stuff you own.


It’s easy for the stuff you own to become part of your identity or a way of showing the world who you are. It’s also easy to use “stuff” to give you feelings of worth or success.

But just remember that you are not what you own. Who you are is so much more than just the stuff in your house.

Sentimental attachment

Sentimental attachment to the things you own can also make decluttering feel really hard.

But it’s important to remember that your memories aren’t in the stuff you own. Your memories are in your heart and mind, and will always be there. Regardless of if you keep an item that holds sentimental value or memories or let it go.


Another big emotion that can come into play while you’re decluttering is guilt.

It can be guilt over money spent on something you didn’t use, need or love. But rather than beating yourself up over guilt about wasting money, use it as a lesson to help you make more intentional purchases moving forward.

It can be guilt over a gift you received but didn’t use, need or like. Or keeping things you feel obligated or expected to keep. Especially if you struggle with people-pleasing and don’t want to upset or offend anyone.

Keep reminding yourself that this is your home and you get to decide what stays in it. And what you will allow to take up your time and space. If something isn’t adding value to your life, get rid of it and trust that you are doing the best thing for you.

9. Overvaluing the things you own

When you’re decluttering, a really interesting thing can happen called the Endowment Effect. The Endowment Effect is the tendency for people to overvalue the things they own, making it difficult to let go of them.

Keep reminding yourself that items should earn a place in your home because you use, need or love them. If you’re not using, needing or loving something, it’s not adding value to your life.

Don’t talk yourself into overvaluing something just because you already own it. Try to stay objective and avoid convincing yourself things are more valuable than they really are!

10. Not having clear goals or desired outcomes

When you dive in and start decluttering, but don’t have clear goals or a desired outcome you want to achieve, it makes decluttering more challenging than it needs to be.

If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve by decluttering, how will you know when you’re done?

Just like having a plan to follow can help you get started and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Having specific goals you want to achieve can keep you focused on creating the home you envision.

Set your big, overall decluttering goals first. Give yourself something specific to work towards. And help focus your efforts, keeping you motivated and on track. Then break that big goal down into small action steps you can take to make it happen.

Read more: Your Clutter-Free Home: Decluttering Checklists & Guide

11. No plan to maintain your decluttered spaces

Clearing the clutter from your home is great. It makes life at home so much easier and less stressful. But it’s not the end of the road.

Once you’ve cleared the clutter, you also need a plan to maintain your home and keep it simplified and functioning well.

Plan to do regular maintenance decluttering sessions to clear out any clutter that’s found its way into your home. As well as get rid of anything you no longer use, need or love.

In addition, start building everyday habits, routines and rhythms to keep your home tidy and functioning well.

While clutter can significantly contribute to mess in your home, mess also happens because you live in your home and use the things you own!

Less stuff in your home means less contributing to any messes and less to clean up to get your home tidy again. But every home, no matter how minimal, still needs to be maintained.

Establishing some routines and rhythms to keep your home clutter-free and tidy will help your home continue looking, feeling and functioning how you want. Both in the long term and on an everyday basis!

Now you know why decluttering is so hard & what to do about it!

I hope today’s post has helped you understand some of the reasons why decluttering can be so hard. The best way to overcome these decluttering challenges is by knowing about them and being prepared for them. So when they come up as you’re decluttering, you’re not caught off guard and know how to handle them!

What do you find makes decluttering feel hard for you? Leave a comment and let me know!

Why is Decluttering So Hard? 11 of the biggest challenges of decluttering
Photo by Spacejoy on Unsplash

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Thursday 14th of July 2022

I love this post. You read my mind! I am a homeschooling mom of two boys (one with some extra needs). I don't have time, i shuffle stuff and I get totally overwhelmed. Thank you for writing this!

Simple Lionheart Life

Friday 22nd of July 2022

You're very welcome! I'm so glad to hear it was helpful for you! Thanks for reading :)


Sunday 22nd of May 2022

My problem is getting the stuff out. I do not drive and have called an organization to pick stuff up. Because I live in an apartment building they would not.

Simple Lionheart Life

Wednesday 1st of June 2022

Oh dear, that does make it challenging. I wonder if you could do a bit of research and find a local organization or volunteer who would be willing to help?

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