Decluttering Tips for People Who Are Terrible at Decluttering


Hi. My name’s Whitney, and I am probably the least qualified person on the planet to write a post on decluttering.  It’s basically hoarders > old ladies with 82 million knick knacks > people with unfinished basements that serve as never-ending storage space > me.

So I’m not here to show you beautiful pictures of super clean, white, simplistic, stylish spaces with clearly labeled bins (though I do drool over The Home Edit). That is for the people who already have some semblance of structure in their home. I’m here for those of us who feel like we’re drowning in toys and kitchen gadgets and 6,096 school coloring sheets and another 33,398 books. And we are so overwhelmed and freaked out that we have no idea where to start.

I feel you, mamas. Just breathe. Seriously. BREATHE. We can do this, ladies. We can do this spring cleaning business. Decluttering is for us. We will persevere.

Think Small.

When my four-year-old whines the playroom is way too messy and there’s no way he can possibly clean it up all by himself, I find it so obvious to tell him to break it up into smaller parts. Yet, when I look at my own problem areas in our home? I just shut down and look for something easier to do. The garage needs cleaned out? Probably a good time to paint a bathroom. That’s way less intimidating.

It’s far more helpful when I break things up into small, attainable steps — just like I tell my son, ‘First, pick up all of the legos. Then pick up all of the cars.”

I recently made a huge dent in the aforementioned garage clutter-hole by taking it one small step at a time. First, I threw away all of the paint that wasn’t fairly new and handy for touch-ups. All those tiny project sample paints, all the colors I tried but hated, the gallon I tried to color match but it ended up wrong… It all had to go. (And I feel like I also need to add a link here about how to dispose of paint). Then, I put all of the Christmas stuff together on shelves in labeled totes. Then I went through summer items and sporting items. Once I got started, it was easy to move forward a little bit at a time.

Make the time.

Momentum is super important for those of us who are terrible at decluttering. If you think you’re going to declutter a room in 15-minute spurts, just stop kidding yourself. Hand the kids off to a sitter, a spouse, a friend, a church activity. Anywhere safe that will keep them entertained for a couple of hours will do. You’re going to need some dedicated time to this.

Pick a room, any room you want, and do not leave that room until it’s done or your time is up. If you come across an item that belongs in another room, place it next to the door for later. If you’re cleaning out you closet and find an item that belongs in your office, guess what’s going to happen? Twenty minutes later, you’ll either have started “just moving around a couple of things” in the office, leaving you with two partially decluttered, but incomplete rooms, or you will have spent 20 minutes on Instagram liking pictures of Whole 30 recipes you probably won’t ever make.

This is a no phone zone.

Go ahead and banish anything that might distract you. Stopping every 3 minutes to reply to a group text really will kill your momentum. Don’t even think about checking social media accounts. Maybe you have enough self discipline to create an offline Spotify playlist before turning your phone on airplane mode. Maybe you’re better off popping in a CD. Make sure you pick one that will motivate you to work, not to dance around singing “It’s Tricky Tricky Tricky Tricky.”

 Channel your most organized friend.

I have a few friends who are just excellent at keeping things organized. A good friend of mine has absolutely no pack-rat tendencies at all. My husband tried to help her move and ended up bringing home several of the items she was trying to throw away because he couldn’t handle seeing “perfectly good stuff go to waste.” She is my organizational hero. When I feel conflicted about an item, I pause and ask myself, “Would Sarah keep this?” If the answer is no, I get rid of it.

Maybe you have no organized friends. In that case, go watched an episode of FRIENDS and channel your inner Monica. Monica has a ribbon drawer. Monica alphabetizes her CDs. Ask yourself, “Would this drive Monica crazy?”  Let that guide your decisions.

Give things an expiration date.

A few months ago, I decluttered a couple of areas of my home, but I felt like I was just throwing money away by getting rid of the items. It really helped me identify areas where I need to just buy less stuff, but I also got it in my head that I could sell this stuff on local Buy/Sell pages for some extra cash. Some of the items sold very quickly. Others just sat in my closet collecting dust as I reduced the price each week. After about two months, I was ready to give in and donate the items. My husband asked me to give them a little longer. So we set an agreed upon time. If the items hadn’t sold by that date, they had to go. Who has two thumbs and just hauled a whole tote of items to a donation center this week? This girl!

I am also doing this with my children’s toys. I cleaned out their toy bins before the holidays, but they still have way more than they could ever possibly appreciate or need. After Christmas, I decided to give them 4 – 6 weeks to enjoy all of the toys before going through and getting rid of ones they no longer play with. This gives enough time for the “newness” of Christmas toys to wear off so I can determine what really is high priority to them.

Let your kids help.

I really thought there would be meltdowns when I started cleaning out toys. I discussed it with both of my children before I even got started. We were all on the same page when it was time. I gave each of my boys a small square tote that fits on the bookshelf in their rooms, and I told them to go in the playroom and put any small toys they really loved into the basket. Everything else was fair game for me to sell, toss or donate. It is by the absolute grace of God that they didn’t fight over who got what toy in a basket, but they seemed to view it as a fun mission to make those decisions. At the end, both kids put the baskets in their rooms. I got rid of about half of what was left. It was a true win/win.

Be honest with yourself.

This one is tough, but necessary. Will you really wear that dress again? Will you really enjoy that heart-shaped muffin pan more than once a year? Will you really read all of those novels again? Did you honestly just waste money on an item that was clearanced out but you don’t really love? Only you can answer these questions. Don’t hold on to things just because you “might” need them one day. Target isn’t closing tomorrow, okay? If you truly have a NEED for that football-shaped ice mold in two years, you can go find another one.

Simplicity is your friend, mama. Every single time I talk to a fantastically organized person, they tell me the easiest way to organize your stuff is to have a lot less of it. Do this for you sanity. Do this for the time it will save you in the long run. Show your kids what it looks like to let go of things that don’t matter.

You can do this! I am here in the trenches with you. We are figuring it out together, and we will have much tidier, stress-free homes to show for it!


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