Everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering

In this post: If you struggle with clutter in your home, you’re not alone! Learn everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering in this post full of the most common clutter Q&A. 

Does the clutter in your home cause you stress? If it does, you know you’re not alone in that feeling, right?

In fact, according to a popular 2009 UCLA study, women who see their home as cluttered actually have elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Which is, of course, the hormone that makes us fat. 🤦🏼‍♀️ Of course. 

Clutter = Stress

So, what can you do about it?

Declutter that hot mess, of course!

everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering

But what if you don’t know where to begin? Or how to find the time to declutter? Or what to do with sentimental clutter?

Momma, I’ve so got you! 

In this post, I’m going to answer those and other commonly asked decluttering questions so you can get a handle on both your headspace and your clutter, once and for all. And so you can basically learn everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering! 

Everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering

I think that at some point or another, anyone with clutter in their home has asked at least a few of the following questions. And even if you haven’t asked them out loud, I bet you’ve pondered them silently to yourself. 

I’m also betting that if you’re reading this, you’ve struggled with how to tackle your clutter and the feelings of overwhelm and maybe even helplessness that clutter can bring. 

Wanna know a secret though? YOU CAN DO THIS, sweet momma. You really can. (Seriously, if you can grit your teeth to put up with yet another episode of your kid’s favorite tv show, you can totally do this.)

As you read on, imagine us sitting down, each with our favorite cuppa, just chatting like old friends (and if you really need it, I can also give you a loving kick in the pants to git ‘er done). 

Okay, onto the everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering Q&A…

1. Why is decluttering so important?

As I said, living in a cluttered space causes stress on so many levels. To name just a couple, there’s the:

  • simple visual stress when you can see all that clutter, which causes unhappiness with how your home looks and sometimes even feelings of inadequacy about your skills (or perceived lack thereof) as a homemaker.
  • stress when you can’t find things (like your car keys or glasses) because of the clutter and lack of organization in your home, which can make you late, flustered, and frustrated. 

Decluttering is important because helps to ease all kinds of stress, boosts your mood, and helps to improve productivity as well. 

Given all the other stressors in our life these days (pandemic and politics anyone?), it is super important to reduce our stress at home and at work by decluttering. 

2. Why is decluttering so hard? 

Decluttering can often feel hard because most of us feel like we don’t have the time to do it.

Between all the things we actually have to get done as mothers and all the things we feel like we should be doing, time can feel scarce. And when time feels scarce, we often don’t prioritize things like self-care and decluttering – even though a decluttered home will actually free up our time going forward and self-care can give us the energy we need to keep up with life. 

Fear is also another reason that decluttering can feel hard. Fear of starting and not finishing, fear of needing that something later and not having it. A scarcity mindset about what you need and when often gets in the way of a clutter-free home. But in reality, if you haven’t used something in a long time, you likely won’t need it any time soon. And if you do, I’m sure there’s something else that can be used in its place. 

And of course, there’s guilt (either self-imposed or instigated by another party) at the thought of getting rid of something that someone has given you. You can’t imagine how you will explain to someone that something they gave you isn’t useful or doesn’t suit your home. 

But once you become consciously aware of these roadblocks, you can tackle them head-on – and finally clear out the mindsets and the clutter that are holding you back. 

3. Where do I even start decluttering?

I think it matters much less where you start than that you just get started. Seriously. 

I think a LOT of us put off decluttering and blame it on not knowing where to start when really we’re subconsciously avoiding the job or expecting all the things in our entire life to be perfectly aligned before we begin.

Spoiler alert: that’s never going to happen. 

The fact is, decluttering is work and it’s messy. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. But I promise you that a decluttered home will feel and function SO much better and is very much worth the effort! 

farmhouse style entryway with church pew style bench, numbered wire baskets underneath, etc

4. Should I deep clean or declutter first?

It is definitely best to declutter before deep cleaning. If you clear out the clutter first, you will have more room to clean and also fewer items to clean. 

You could also do both at the same time. For example, when I was helping my sister declutter and organize her kitchen last year, we’d empty a shelf in her pantry one at a time and toss what was expired or unneeded, set aside the items that were being kept and wipe down the shelf before returning the items in a more orderly fashion. This helped us tackle a kitchen deep cleaning and decluttering/organizing all at once!

(If you’re not actually going to tackle decluttering though, don’t put off cleaning your house indefinitely using this as an excuse!)

5. What should I get rid of when decluttering?

Well, that depends on what your clutter is made up of. Most of us can start by getting rid of unused, broken, or duplicate things. And a lot of us could clear out paper clutter or old clothes too.

But if you want somewhere easy to start, that will give you that quick win feeling, check out my post titled 50 things you should “throw away” today. It’s filled with easy-to-part-with, no-brainer things to get rid of and is a great place to start your decluttering. 

6. How do I find the time to declutter?

This is literally a matter of priorities.

Have you recently binge-watched anything on Netflix? Or mindlessly scroll through Instagram for hours? While those things are great to take a break from reality for a while, they don’t help your clutter problem at all.

Even the busiest person on the planet can carve out a little time to get their home in better working order and save time later. Which is exactly what decluttering will do. 

  • If you have only a little time each week, try a decluttering plan that allows you to tackle a little at a time.
  • Or if you have one weekend available out of the next ten, plan a major purge session and get that mess cleaned up. 

Honestly, a clutter-free home will be worth the temporary pinch of time it takes to get it there. 

7. How often should I declutter my home?

That all depends on how good your rhythms and routines are after you do a big decluttering purge. 

Here’s what I mean…

If you spend a whole weekend clearing out closets and pantries, and you get your home to a great place, but you don’t start putting things away when you’re done with them or picking up the living room at the end of the day, you will find your home in a state of disaster again before you know it. 

However, if you simplify your routines and anchor your tidying to events in the day – like cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, or fluffing the pillows and putting the remotes away before bed – your clutter-free home will stay clutter-free for much longer! 

At our house, I find I still have to purge and declutter with the change of seasons. My decor tastes change, the kids grow, I gain weight or wear through clothes (Old Navy tights are comfy, but not too long-lasting), and so on. So things need to be tossed or donated periodically. And normally for me, I do that with the change of seasons about four times a year or so.  

8. Can decluttering help with my anxiety?

Oh my gosh, yes!

And also no

A cluttered home is the cause of so much stress and anxiety, so naturally the opposite – a decluttered home – will relieve stress and promote clarity and calm. 

But the actual act of decluttering may in the very short term increase anxiety because it increases mess. It has to get worse before it gets better, as they say. 

If you are in a period of extreme anxiety only you will know if you can tackle decluttering right now. But I encourage you to try, to enlist help if needed, and to take baby steps to clear out the clutter in your home.

Because the long term benefits of a clutter-free home will far outweigh the short term discomfort and mess of decluttering. 

9. Is your house decluttered and perfect all the time?

Bahahahaha. No! 

Like I said, I purge with the seasons. And things do get messy. No one is perfect and there are five of us living here with different schedules and natural bents towards or away from organization. So, yes, our house is tidier than many fairly consistently. But no, it is not perfect all the time. 

10. How do I start when I feel overwhelmed?

I hate to say it but, put on your big girl panties, crank the tunes, and just get started.

Honestly, my friend. The more time you spend over where to begin and thinking about how overwhelmed you are, the more overwhelmed you will feel. Inaction, or waiting on perfection is keeping you stuck! 

Instead of focusing on the overwhelm, focus on the end result – a clean, calm, orderly house that is like a breath of fresh air…after breathing in stuffy, stanky, smoke-filled air for so long. 

If having your whole house decluttered feels too far out or impossible, focus on small wins and ways you can reward yourself for even smaller accomplished goals. Like clearing off the counters, or putting the coats in the closet.

Whatever you need to do to get past the overwhelm, do that. And then do the next thing that needs doing. 

Before you know it, you will be able to look back and see that you’ve actually, finally made progress! 

11. Does decluttering ever end?

Yes and no. The answer really depends on you. Let me explain. 

When your house is in a state of cluttered mess, it will take time and energy to declutter it and clear it out.

Inevitably over time, stuff will come into your house again via gifts, or purchases, and just living life.

But it doesn’t have to become that cluttered mess again. 

So, yes, on the one hand, the house full of clutter can end. But on the other, there is always some on-going effort needed to keep the clutter from taking over again. 

everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering

12. How do I get rid of things that have sentimental value?

This is one of THE most common questions that gets asked about decluttering. 

We all have things that are hard to part with. Hand me downs from our grandmothers, keepsakes from our mothers, gifts from hubby. Good memories are important and if things help us relive those memories, that’s normal. 

But if we are having trouble parting with things we truly don’t have space for, we need to ask if we’re assigning more value to those things than necessary, if there’s another way to hold onto those good feelings and memories apart from the clutter of things.

For example, does holding onto that thing cause you more stress than joy because of the mess it’s adding to your home? Can you take a photo of it, or store a part of it in a memorabilia box? 

Some sentimental items can be kept, of course. But others can definitely be let go of. 

13. How do I get family on board?

This is both an easy answer (because it’s simple) and a hard answer (because it’s hard to swallow) at once. But here goes…

The truth is you don’t get your family on board.

Not in the same way you will be/are committed to a clutter-free house. They will never want it as much as you do. They will never need it for their sanity as much as you will. (A clutter-free house will definitely help them, just not as much as it will help you.)

YOU are the one setting the scene and leading this battle. You are the one who will need to put systems in place and assign homes to all the things. You are the one giving the directions. 

And yes, dear sweet momma, you WILL have to remind the big and little people in your house to pick up after themselves and to return things to where they belong. And you will feel like you’re nagging them (and you may very well be nagging). BUT IT IS IMPORTANT for your sanity to do this. 

You can make the whole process easier on all of you if you label and assign homes to things. If you keep your home simple and uncrowded. If you build in rhythms for tidying up. And if you don’t expect perfection 100% of the time. 

You should expect your family to help keep the house tidy since they live there too. But having them care as much about it as you do, just isn’t going to happen. AND THAT’S OKAY. 

14. How do I deal with paper clutter?

Honestly, paper clutter is still something we’re trying to wrangle here. For us, it’s mostly because none of us like filing. But here’s what we’ve found helpful at our house to keep paper clutter at bay:

  • We’ve slowed the incoming paper by unsubscribing from mailing lists 
  • We’ve put a sticky note in our community mailbox (you can do it too, or put a note on your personal mailbox) that says “no fliers, please.”
  • We get almost all our bills digitally, except the ones that fluctuate greatly or come infrequently. I like paper copies of those.
  • We also assigned two wall file holders for paper – one for long-term filing that needs to go away in the filing cabinet downstairs and one for receipts or papers that only need to be kept for a few weeks. 
  • And we toss any recyclable things into the recycling bin as soon as they enter the house. 

For the bills that come in, I enter the amount into our budget spreadsheet on my phone right away. It only takes a few seconds and then I can put the paper into the folder for filing rather than letting it sit around for days. 

15. What about the stuff I need to keep just in case?

Just in case. By that, I assume you mean just in case you need it someday

Well, my friend, that is prudent and wise of you. Unless you don’t actually have the space to keep all those “just in cases”. 

If you haven’t used something in a year or more, then the chances of you needing it in the future are slim to none. And honestly, if it’s something other than a flashlight for a power outage or bandaids, then throw it out and buy a new one if you ever do needing that thing

Try to remind yourself that you have everything you need for today, right now. If that’s not been the case in the past or you’re holding onto things that won’t serve a real purpose in the case of an emergency, let them go. The stress they are causing you – and likely the memories they’re bringing up of past or perceived lack in the future – are not helping you! Let them go. And take a deep breath. 

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Do you have any more decluttering questions? Anything I haven’t covered here in this “everything you ever wanted to know about decluttering” guide?

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