Intentional Living

Want to clear clutter? Avoid these top mistakes

Parents with children sorting through clothes with boxes labelled "donation" in the background

Are you ready to clear clutter from your home?

Perhaps you’re at the very beginning of your journey. Or maybe you’ve already started but with more work to do.

Either way, there’s a lot we can learn during our decluttering journey.

While clearing clutter takes effort and dedication, it’s possible to make the process easier by avoiding some common pitfalls.

Knowledge is power when it comes to decluttering—especially if we want to save ourselves a lot of needless frustration and wasted energy along the way.

This post provides 7 must-know decluttering mistakes, inspired by my own imperfect journey towards a life of owning less.

Shall we dive in?

Green chair with a box and neatly piled textiles against a white wall with a plant beside it and the text overall: "Want to clear clutter? Avoid these top mistakes"

Lesson 1: Start with small projects

I’m the kind of person who gets really fired up about a new project only to see my enthusiasm fizzle with time.

This is especially true for big undertakings—and I’m going to be completely honest here.

Decluttering offers amazing benefits, but it’s not the kind of task you complete in a single go. Even if it’s a herculean effort.

Take it from someone who has failed to heed this useful advice.

Rather than starting small, I took on way too much. My initial plan was to clear clutter from a surface or two and preferably easy ones like my bedroom dresser.

However, I got carried away and began purging the full contents of drawers and cabinets.

Before I knew it, my floor had disappeared under a pile of vagabond objects and my toddler woke up prematurely from his afternoon nap.


It took me weeks before I mustered the resolve to return to the momentous mountain of mess.

Person buried under pile of clothes as an example of an attempt to clear clutter gone wrong
Photo by @Hanni

Clear clutter action steps

Start small.

It likely took you years—if not decades—to accumulate your belongings. This isn’t a situation that can be fixed in a day or two.

Rather, gradual and consistent efforts to clear clutter—at a pace reasonable for your life—will see you through to the decluttering finish line.

Where to start?

That’s completely up to you.

But I suggest finding an easy yet high-yield task to begin with. For example, choose an activity that’ll take 10-15 minutes tops to complete. And as a bonus, select a small project that’ll give you an immediate sense of relief and accomplishment.

For example, if living room clutter is making you feel edgy rather than relaxed, start by clearing off surfaces like the coffee table. And don’t forget to pause afterwards to appreciate your efforts.

There’s nothing quite like the calm and spaciousness of a decluttered room.

Or perhaps there’s a drawer that’s chock-a-block with stuff making you cringe every time you open it—hoping, by some miracle, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Regardless of where you start, know that clearing clutter takes time.

And we’re more likely to see this process through—and reap the amazing benefits of a decluttered home—if we begin small and build on the little victories.

Woman putting clothes away neatly into a drawer
Photo by @Anikona_

Lesson 2. Schedule decluttering as a must do event

After my first botched attempt to clear clutter, I vowed to deal with the gigantic mess … eventually.

But somehow I managed to come up with all kinds of excuses. Just about every other task seemed more appealing than dealing with the spoiled fruit of my initial decluttering venture.

I don’t think my floors and windows have ever looked so clean.

Eventually, the abandoned piles proved too irksome to ignore. It was time to finally reclaim my floors from the giant heap of in limbo items.  

Pulling out my calendar, I marked in a decluttering night and made it non-negotiable. No backing out this time! Unlimited fizzy drinks and binge Netflix viewing were thrown in as incentives—but only when actively purging those piles.

Once I got past my initial decluttering impasse, I regained momentum.

Another essential step?

Committing time every week to keep my decluttering efforts going.

Clear clutter action steps

Don’t leave decluttering up to chance!

Save yourself frustration from the get-go and schedule decluttering sessions as non-negotiable events.

No excuses allowed!

Well, unless there are true emergencies like stomach flus, tumbles off bikes that require trips to the emergency room … you fellow mamas know what I’m talking about.

Also, try pairing your decluttering efforts with something enjoyable such as fun music, a Podcast, or a special treat.

Post-task rewards are another great incentive so long as the reward doesn’t include accumulating more stuff.

And consider that you’re in this decluttering undertaking for the long haul.

There’s no perfect way or pace to clear clutter.

But even after reaching your initial goal—regular decluttering sessions will be needed to keep clutter from weaselling its way back into your home.

Opened agenda with a coffee mug on top of it containing coffee
Photo by Estée Janssens

Lesson 3. Give decluttering your undivided attention

My children were present during my first efforts to clear clutter.

This was a big mistake for a number of reasons. Firstly, my attention was divided, so I easily lost track of what I was actually sorting.

Secondly, my kids took great pleasure in pilfering through the piles and pulling out items of interest. 

By the end of my decluttering session, I’m pretty sure there were more reclaimed items and confused piles than progress.

Clear clutter action steps

Schedule your efforts when you can give decluttering your undivided attention. I know this isn’t easy, especially if you’re a full-time caregiver.

But it makes a world of difference, trust me.

If you only have small pockets of time, start with little doable projects. Once you see progress, move on to the harder stuff. But still consider breaking these epic tasks into more manageable ones.

All those 10-to-15-minute blocks add up over time. They really do.

And secure childcare if you can, and any other support that will help you clear clutter.

As I learned the hard way, naps don’t always go as planned—as is true for so many other aspects of life with kids.

Three young kids playing in a bunch of clutter as an example of how it's hard to clear clutter with young people around
Photo by @natasha_lebedinskaya

Lesson 4. When it comes to clear clutter—skip the “maybe” pile

It turns out—how you sort through clutter matters.

My initial decluttering game plan was to make a definitive—in the moment—decision about each item: either keep it or get rid of it. No “going to think about it some more” pile allowed.

However, as someone who tends to be a bit indecisive, my original strict plan proved really tough.

I mean, maybe I’d eventually use the pasta maker—the one I’d stored in my basement for 5 years.

Or what about that necklace gifted to me by a mother-in-law? I bet she’d love to see me wear it—someday.

Oh, and that cute sweater all the kids wore. I could weave it into a quilt when my eldest heads off to university.

Before I knew it, my collection of “maybe” items had grown exponentially—dwarfing my “keep” and “toss” piles.

So much for completing my decluttering task in one sitting!

Clear clutter action steps

Avoid creating a “maybe” pile unless you want to draw this process out indefinitely and get very frustrated in the process. 

Rather, stick to a set number of piles such as: keep, give away, recycle, sell, and trash.

You may find it helpful to come with a set of questions to help guide the process, such as:

  • Do I love this?
  • Have I used it recently? 
  • Do I really need this? 
  • Can I use something else to perform the same task?

If your answers to these questions are all “noes” then I suggest letting the item go.

But what if you’re really stumped?

Then package up the undecided items in a box. Label the box with a “best before date” and a destination (e.g., favourite local charity).

If you haven’t looked for the boxed-up items in 6-12 months, then send the box on it’s way. Oh, and I strongly suggest not opening the box before gifting or donating it!

Also, if you create a sell pile, set a non-negotiable “sell by” date.” If you can’t find a buyer for these items within the allotted time give them away.

Woman butting shirts into a box with "Donation" written on the side as an example of how to clear clutter
Photo by Anikona

Lesson 5. Face the yucky feelings as you clear clutter and move on

Decluttering can stir up a whole host of emotions. While joy and relief are definitely among them, many people also experience frustration, anger, sadness, and remorse.

Sorting through stuff I’d hardly used and—in some cases would never use—felt like I’d wasted a ton of money. The negative environmental impact of so much stuff also felt pretty gross.

When we encounter waste, we have a couple of options.

We can hold onto our purchases out of guilt—and continue to suffer from clutter overwhelm. Or we can make peace with our past spending and rehome the items, hopefully into the hands of someone who will make good use of them. 

Clear clutter action steps

When you face waste and excess, be kind to yourself. 

Self-compassion has a role in all aspects of motherhood, including decluttering. Taking our past missteps in stride gives us permission to grow and make better choices in the future.

As the well-known quote goes:

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou

Many shelters, second-hand stores, and charities appreciate donations of gently used items.

So, check out what’s available in your local area and give your no longer needed belongings the hope of a new appreciated life.

Woman on floor to clear clutter for charity
Photo by halfpoint

Lesson 6: Don’t tackle sentimental items first

I’m not someone who gets overly attached to stuff. But there are certain items that tug on my heart strings—especially those that involve my kids. 

A couple of weeks into my decluttering efforts, I found myself surveying the results of my initial botched decluttering efforts—the overzealous surface cleaning that resulted in a gigantic mess fiasco.

Unwilling to face the unpleasant task at hand, I opted for something more “fun.”

I had been meaning to go through my kids’ baby clothes for some time. We weren’t planning on having more children and some of the outfits had been lingering in the basement for almost half a decade.

But letting the infant attire go felt like saying goodbye to a whole stage of my life. I just wasn’t ready.

By the end of the baby clothes sorting session, only a couple of items had made it into the “out” pile.

Stuffing the baby clothes back into their original containers and re-shelving it, I once again admitted decluttering defeat.

Woman sorting through baby clothes
Photo by Rawpixel

Clear clutter action steps

Leave items of sentimental value to the end—rather than the beginning—of your decluttering efforts.

Rather start with low emotion projects such as surfaces, bathrooms, and linen closets.

Once you get the hang of decluttering—and have some success under your belt—you’ll be in a better position to start making the harder decisions.

Experience and momentum go a long way when it comes to decluttering success.

Lesson 7. Start with your own stuff until your family is on board

I’s really tempting to declutter family members’ belongings.

Both my husband and my children have a penchant for holding onto things—stuff like kitchen items and toys that spill over into our everyday living spaces.

And these items were quick to fall on my decluttering radar.

Let me give you an example.

Fairly early in my decluttering efforts, I decided the kitchen needed work. The counter clutter was getting to me. So was buying yet another wooden spoon but then realizing we had five of them— stashed at the bottom of overstuffed drawers.

Once my eyes were on the prize, I didn’t waste any time. I proceeded to dump the contents of every single kitchen drawer and cupboard onto available surfaces. It was only after expelling these contents that I consulted by kitchen-paraphernalia-loving husband. 

At this point, it’s worth noting that S. was aware of my desire to clear clutter—although he hadn’t yet been consulted in the process.

Seeing all his beloved kitchen items spread out, ready to be culled, S. panicked. And then I did as well at the thought he’d keep everything. 

Let’s say, this step in my decluttering journey didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. 

After a couple of days of cooling off, we were able to start working towards a clutter compromise. But this early misstep almost derailed the entire decluttering process.

Clear clutter action steps

Start by decluttering your own belongings. When family members see the benefits—for your home and your wellbeing—they’ll be more likely to get on board.

But recognize this process can take time. And that pushing the matter isn’t likely to speed things up.

When we’re super excited to embrace a life of less, it’s hard not to go all in.

But it’s worth remembering why we’ve started this journey in the first place.

For many—if not most of us,—decluttering is a path to a more relaxed and harmonious home—a life where we can focus more on relationships and less on the physical stuff.

So, don’t let decluttering get in the way of what matters most!

But do talk to family members about why decluttering is important to you. And take the time to explore their thoughts and feelings about clearing clutter, too.

Like many other aspects of family life, we’re aiming for progress not perfection.

A bunch of wooden spoons on beige background
Photo by @cagoldlife

Clear clutter, simplify your life

Decluttering is a journey.

There will be missteps along the way. But these difficult moments are opportunities to learn and grow.

To recap, here are are the top tips from my own decluttering journey:

  1. Start small
  2. Don’t leave clearing clutter up to chance – schedule it in!
  3. Give decluttering your full attention
  4. Skip the “maybe” pile
  5. Face the yucky feelings and move on
  6. Don’t tackle sentimental items first
  7. Start with your own belongings

Again, there’s no one way to clear clutter. And ultimately you’ve got to find what works for you and your household.

But having a plan in place—one informed by tried and true strategies—will help make the decluttering process so much easier.

I’d love to hear from you!

Where are you in your journey to clear clutter?

Please share some of the decluttering challenges and successes you’ve experienced in the comments below.

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