10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Decluttering

Not my kid, but close enough.

“You threw away my favorite, moldy rubber duck?” (Not my kid, but close enough.)

I felt a bit frazzled during a recent purge. It was all worth it when my mother-in-law, a total neat freak, noticed that “you’ve been cleaning up lately” after seeing my basement. “All the rooms are so clean!” Music to my ears.

There are approximately one million articles about the benefits of decluttering , and I contributed one  or two to that mess. I genuinely enjoy clearing our home of excess and find it makes life easier in the long run. However, there are some drawbacks I’ve experienced throughout the process.

I imagine these are the very reasons people stop short with this task, or don’t get around to it in the first place, so let’s just all acknowledge that decluttering and minimizing is hard! And that’s why we need one million articles reminding us why it’s good.

So don’t to be surprised when it’s hard. This is all a normal part of the process. Here’s what I experienced:

  1. You will neglect other chores. Dishes, laundry, yard work, vacuuming…something’s gotta give if you’re going to go through all your things and then sell or donate some of the excess.
  2. You will feel more stressed initially. The joys of owning less are more of a long-term promise. In the short-term, you will actually feel more stressed out or overwhelmed as you make time ot go through your stuff, and have to make decisions about what to pitch. After you’re done, you’ll have a backlog of laundry and other chores to catch up on.
  3. You will think about stuff too much temporarily. Minimalism promises less focus on material possessions, but the actual process of minimizing requires thinking about stuff more. I found myself absentmindedly thinking about whether I needed to keep a particular item when I should’ve been focused on other things.
  4. Your kids will not cooperate. They’ll make crazy messes while you try to reduce the mess potential of your home. Especially with the stuff you are trying to go through, which will make it tempting to keep that stuff because they’re playing with it! They also might request stuff back after it’s entered the donation truck! You know, stuff that they told you they hated and never use. This was a little embarrassing but the attendant was very kind about it.
  1. You may have to go over an area more than once. I’ve gone through my closet and kitchen twice this year, and I always find more I can part with. Something I may have been on the fence about 6 months ago can probably go if I haven’t needed it in that time. I’d love to minimalize once and for all, but realistically, it’s more of an ongoing process that gets quicker and easier each time.
  2. Your house may not look that different. If you have children or a messy partner, they will continue leaving stuff around the house. Even if there is a lot less stuff in your home.
  3. You may not be able to find stuff. The second half of decluttering is supposed to be organizing. But sometimes when you do a lot at once, it’s hard to find it next time you need it! It took me 10 minutes to find Neosporin after moving our medicine cabinet. I’ve also found myself looking for clothes I got rid of.
  4. Your kids will cry months later, too. You know the toys they never touched, so you gave them away? When my kids spot those in old pictures, they suddenly spout tears and profess their eternal love for that item. Although the storm passes, it’s not my favorite part of decluttering.
  5. Your spouse may not like it. Just because you’re on a mission to clear your space doesn’t mean the rest of your family will automatically be on board. And there may be some areas that are simply off limits. It doesn’t matter that I don’t think my husband (a cube-dweller) doesn’t need 5 pairs of old, dirty pants for working on cars. He thinks he does, and it’s not worth marital strife to fight over “minimalism.”
  6. You may regret some purging. Out of sight, out of mind? You won’t even miss the clutter? Sometimes I wonder if I got too over-zealous with a few items, especially when I find myself looking for them. In the long run, it’s insignificant and I could replace the item if I really wanted to. I’m sure I hang out to more that I don’t need, than vice versa.

Lest my warnings de-motivate you, let me remind you of just a few of the many benefits:

  1. Someone else can use it. Whether I decide to sell, donate, or just give it to a friend, I love knowing someone can put my excess to to good use.
  2. Find what you need easier (in the long run). I’m not just talking about finding rarely needed items in a basement box. I’ve decluttered my kitchen and now it’s so much easier to find the items I need every day.
  3. Less to clean. I still have plenty of messes to tackle but clearing out the extra toys, clothes, and household items means there is less for my children to make a mess with!
  4. Use what you already have. I was longing for a new summer dress when I found one I’d forgotten about in storage. And I’m a lot more likely to actually wear it now that I’ve donated the stuff I never wear.
  5. Freedom from the burden of maintaining and storing stuff. Less stuff (to a point) means more flexibility.
  6. Your mother-in-law might be impressed, or even think you’re a cleaner person than you actually are!

How you experienced any difficulty with decluttering? What is your favorite benefit?

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33 Responses to “10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Decluttering”

  1. The Green Swan says :

    De-cluttering definitely is a chore! My wife and I need to do a bit of Spring cleaning (I know we missed Spring already!) because there is plenty we can part with. We don’t have a ton of storage room to begin with, but our spare closets are busting at the seams. However, our little one is only two, so we don’t have any kid stuff that we can get rid of yet.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s nice to have more storage space, for sure! Our closets and cupboards are less crowded for sure. We are still hanging onto a lot of kid stuff because we’re not 100% sure we’re done. Our younger one is also two and we are still using strollers, booster seats, and other baby items that take up space.

  2. Emily says :

    Great job getting some decluttering in! It can be hard with small kids, that’s for sure! I haven’t done any purging in a while. We do a pretty good job of not bringing new clutter into our home, so that helps enormously. Some tasks never end though, like kids clothes, since they just keep on growing! You’ve inspired me to tackle some things!!

    • Kalie says :

      Your clothing ban update inspired me to go through my wardrobe again and purge. Decluttering has made me way more conscious about accepting hand-me-downs and freebies (we were already pretty good about shopping minimally) into our home, so I’m hoping that’ll help in the long run.

  3. Tonya says :

    ha ha I like the part how you kind of have to neglect other things to get the de-cluttering done. So true. There is only so much time but once I start de-cluttering I can’t stop! Best not to make any other plans. But I love the result.

    • Kalie says :

      It is hard to stop once you’re on a roll. And it makes sense to make the most of those streaks! I just have to accept them some things will go uncleaned while I’m cleaning up.

  4. Amanda says :

    We started de-cluttering about 8 years ago and, you are right, it is definitely an ongoing process. Moving helps, but it’s amazing how fast “stuff” accumulates. We recently helped the kids go through their closets – Wow! I took two garbage sacks full of stuff they were ready to part with (maybe I’ve converted them to minimalists!?)

    • Kalie says :

      That’s wonderful your children were willing to part with so much. My kids are more into it if it can go to a younger friend they know.

  5. Ditching The Grind says :

    So true. We’ve been going through all of this lately. The kids are visiting grandparents dieing the final push before our move. I wonder when they’ll notice some of the things we’ve gotten rid of.

    • Kalie says :

      That will be interesting to see. Some things I don’t think my kids would ever remember if they didn’t spot them in old photos. That’s a great idea to have them away for a couple of days with grandparents while you finalize things.

  6. Prudence Debtfree says :

    What a great idea to outline the less-than-pleasant aspects of de-cluttering! I’m far more likely to take on a project if I feel haven’t been sold a false promise. Your promise is an honest one: “it will hurt before it feels better!” Sort of like re-breaking a poorly set bone so that it can set properly. (Well, maybe not that bad.)
    One thing we did with our children’s toys and stuffed animals was to rotate them. Garbage bags full of excess toys would re-appear every six months or so, and it would be like Christmas all over again. They rarely noticed the ones that disappeared from this rotating process : )

    • Kalie says :

      You’ve expressed exactly my goal with this post. I hope it helps! The toy rotation idea is great. I just need to find a spot where my kids will not find it in between.

  7. Josh says :

    I let my wife do the de-cluttering as I’m the one who clutters. Most stuff I let her get rid of, except my old clothes. I tell her will never have to buy housework clothes again if she lets me keep them. Do I need them? No, but we can’t get rid of everything.

    • Kalie says :

      I know I hang onto other things that are unnecessary. And sometimes it’s hard to choose how much or what to keep. So I get it!

  8. Our Next Life says :

    All so true! I try to declutter little by little, which I know is totally against the KonMari rules, but I find that if I try to do it all at once, then everything else in the house falls into chaos, and that just stresses me out more! Instead I just constantly scan for things we don’t need anymore, and definitely do one-in-one-out if we buy a new pair of shoes or some clothing item, rare as that is!

    • Kalie says :

      I mostly do little by little as well, for the same reasons. I did find in a slightly more extended, focused effort a lot of things I missed from my usual scanning, but I think if it’s always on your radar that helps a lot. One-in-one-out is a great rule that I’m sure I need to implement more consistently.

  9. Catherine Alford says :

    We hardly ever miss the things we’ve gotten rid of, but it does happen from time to time. Still, I think the benefits out-weight the negatives.

    • Kalie says :

      The benefits absolutely outweigh the drawbacks, and even if I do miss something momentarily later, it’s better to err on the side of not accumulating too much.

  10. rosie says :

    This is a wonderfully thoughtful post. Decluttering can be tough but it’s worth it in the end.


  11. Millennial Moola says :

    I love having fewer items that you have to care for and think about. I hate excess stuff in life it just slows down what you want to accomplish. Plus I’ve seen my dad who’s a class 5 hoarder and how dangerous it is to place a false value on material items

    • Kalie says :

      Great points about the benefits–it really does slow one down to have too much stuff to look after. I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s struggle there; I’m sure that is motivating for you, though. You’re right that underlying the behavior is placing too high a value on possessions. That’s so helpful to recognize.

  12. Claudia says :

    You are so right about having to declutter multiple times! We got rid of stuff before we moved, immediately after we moved, and then two times since. It’s truly a process.

    • Kalie says :

      Glad to hear you experienced the same process. I imagine with your big life change it would take some time to sift through it all!

  13. ZJ Thorne says :

    I have definitely wanted something I got rid of a few months after the fact, but most of the stuff I’ve never missed. I’m lucky that I don’t have children to disappoint and nag me with their entirely new feelings on a subject.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that the vast majority is never missed, and clearing all that makes it all worth it. Kids definitely complicate it all; I try to walk the line between being sensitive to their attachments, and not letting them be overwhelmed by too many toys.

  14. NZ Muse says :

    I have terrible paper clutter that’s been plaguing me. Documents, plus also old things I’ve written – stories, songs, diaries. I finally purged a ton of these – I wasn’t ready to let go until now, like 10 years later!

    • Kalie says :

      We’ve had a few paper purges of bills and statements, but the old stories and diaries remain. Not sure I’ll be able to pitch those any time soon, but at least they are compactly stored away. Kudos to you for your purge!

  15. Xyz says :

    My girlfriend has a paper problem! I got here a nice bookshelf with organizer and forced here to put here stuff away 🙂 The worst is that she keeps every single receipt for no reason… It’s not like you will return to the groceries store for a refund!

  16. Tondra says :

    I have started my minimalist journey.. coming from a very extreme couponer… Consumerism at its finest! At first I tried to tackle it all one Saturday morning, by 12 o’clock I was burned out and stressed that I would never be able to get my 3 bedrooms/closets in order. i think the timeframe had of trying to complete it all in a day was a bit overwhelming. I have now decided that I will hopefully rid of all his access before the start of 2017 (hopefully with no christmas shopping overload) This was a great post with awesome tips! – Thanks for sharing your insight!

    • Kalie says :

      Best wishes for your journey! I can’t imagine decluttering my whole house in one day. Glad you’re giving yourself more time now.

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