The 3 biggest decluttering mistakes I see

The 3 biggest decluttering mistakes I see

Decluttering is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most satisfying home improvement projects you can do. You can do it alone and you can spend as much or as little time as you have and still get dramatic results.

The biggest time stealers when decluttering are getting hung up on decision making and getting distracted.

When I work with clients, what I find myself doing most often isn’t putting things in pretty bins, creating new filing systems, or collecting items for donation – it’s keeping people focused and moving forward during the decluttering process.

Here are the three biggest mistakes I see and how you can avoid them.

1. Not sorting items

Every single professional organizer will tell you that the first step in decluttering and organizing is sorting.

Sorting is where you gather items and sort them into groups, putting like with like.

Imagine you live in a large house that you loooove to decorate for Christmas. You might have Christmas decorations in the basement, the attic, the garage, and tucked away in closets.

Now imagine you’re getting ready to move to a much smaller home. You know you’re not going to have room to display and store all of your decorations. So how do you decide which to take with you and which to let go?

How most people do it

You go into the basement and start looking through your decorations. You find a wreath, you look it over and say, “I like this. I think I’ll keep it.”

An hour later you go into the attic and you find another wreath, and you think, “This is a good wreath! I think I’ll keep it.”

An hour later you go into the garage and find another wreath, and you think, “Ooooh this is nice! I think I’ll keep it.”

If you’re moving into a smaller house, a condo, or a senior living apartment, you probably don’t need three Christmas wreaths. But here you are with the same number of wreaths as when you started, which = too many.

How a professional organizer does it

If I were helping you pare down your Christmas decorations, we would go into the basement, attic, garage, and closets and gather the decorations, bringing them to an area of the house where we have room to spread out.

Then we’d sort them into groups by type or category. All of the ornaments together, all of the candles together, all of the wreaths together, and so on.

We’d lay all those wreaths out, and we’d talk about how many wreaths you actually have space for. Let’s say you’re going to have one front door and one door to the side porch. We’d agree that two wreaths is appropriate. I’d ask you to pick your two favorites. Then we’d put the other one in the donation pile and I’d take it away with me when I leave.

When you sort your items, it lets you see your entire collection of items and rank them. Then you can pick the ones you love, need, and use most and feel good about letting the others go.

2. Tackling “to dos” as you go

When sorting things into categories you inevitably find items that don’t belong there and reminders of tasks you need to take care of. This is especially common in drop zones like the kitchen, the office, the table in the front hall, and the mudroom.

Recently I worked with a client to organize her desk area, and here are some of the things we came across:

  • Recipes
  • Bills
  • Gifts bought for other people
  • Change
  • Empty prescription bottles
  • Photos
  • Art show flyers

Some of these items needed to be filed away, some moved to other rooms, others simply “done” (like calling a friend about the art show, then going online and buying tickets).

How most people do it

When my clients come across an item that belongs somewhere else, nine times out of ten they jump up and say, “I’m going to take this to the upstairs bathroom right now so I don’t forget.” Or when they come across an empty prescription that needs a refill, they hop online to place the order. They think they’re being efficient because they’re getting it done.

But every time they get up and go somewhere else, they waste precious time running there and back, and they risk getting distracted by something else along the way.

How a professional organizer does it

When I’m sorting items, in addition to creating categories for things that do belong there (pens, notepads, checkbooks, etc.), I create categories called “Rehome” and “Action items.”

“Rehome” is where we put everything that belongs somewhere else: the photos that need to be put in the memento box, the recipe that needs to be filed or put in the kitchen for making this weekend.

In the last 15-20 minutes of our session, or the “tidy up” phase, we pick up that pile and run around the house and put everything where it belongs.

“Action items” is where we put things that need to be taken care of, like unpaid bills, notes about phone calls that need to be made, prescriptions that need to be refilled, gifts that need to be wrapped and mailed, etc.

At the end of our session, we prioritize those items and we put them somewhere that will prompt my client to deal with them. (Whether this happens or not, I cannot guarantee! But at least they are top of mind for her.)

Staying in one place and focusing on the task at hand is the only way to get the decluttering project done and cross it off your list.

3. Trying to figure out where to donate or sell things in the moment

My clients often stall because as they evaluate their belongings they start thinking about not just whether to let go of things but how and where to get rid of them.

How most people do it

When I’m working with clients, they will get through a few easy items, then they’ll come across an item that they think has a lot of value. Maybe they paid a lot of money for it or it’s something unique that they think someone else would love.

When that happens, they start asking questions like, “Should I sell this? Should I consign it? Would I get more if I posted it on ebay or Facebook? How much should I ask for it?” Sometimes they pick up their phones and start researching on ebay or posting it to Facebook Marketplace right then.

We all know what happens the moment we pick up our phones, don’t we?

How a professional organizer does it

When evaluating your belongings, the only decision you should be making is: KEEP IT or LET IT GO

There are plenty of questions to ask yourself when trying to make the “keep it or let it go” decision:

  • Is it broken, damaged, mildewed? (If so, trash it!)
  • Do I like it?
  • Do I need it?
  • Do I have room for it?
  • When’s the last time I used it?
  • What makes Current Me think Future Me is going to use it?

And so on, and so on.

When I work with clients, I ask them these questions to help them think more critically and less emotionally about their belongings.

Once we decide to let something go, we put it in a “letting go” pile. Later we can go through that pile and do whatever research we need to do to find new homes for those items. If my client decides they want to try to sell an item themselves, I connect them with resources for selling it so they can do it later.

If my client is happy to donate items, I load them in my car and then I take the time to figure out the best place to donate them and how to get them there.

Stick to the process

When your motivation is high and you’re feeling super productive, it’s hard not to jump on every task as it comes up. But effective decluttering happens in phases: 1) Gathering and sorting items, 2) Evaluating them and making decisions, and 3) Finding new homes for them — in that order.

Stay focused and your decluttering project will be done in no time. And if you need someone to keep you on task and find new homes for your items, your friendly professional organizer is here to help!

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