declutter · minimalism

how to beat decluttering fatigue

Anyone who’s ever stared down an overstuffed closet or disorganized storage room knows decluttering fatigue is a real thing.

Just like a distance runner is more exhausted at mile twenty-five than he is at mile two, we can only go through so many of our childrens’ broken Barbie dolls or old books before we’re ready to collapse in the middle of the floor and never get up again.

Something incredibly challenging about decluttering is that, for most of us, it happens over an extended period of time. We weed through our closet one evening; we clear out the garage over a long weekend; we go back to the closet later because it’s somehow full again.

Decluttering is a marathon, not a sprint, and the people who can consistently get rid of more than they bring in are going to be the ones who see a lasting positive impact in their homes.

I started my decluttering journey two years ago, and only in the past couple of months have I truly felt like I’ve pared down my belongings to a reasonable level relative to my space. It took me two years to declutter a bedroom’s worth of stuff. When people who have lived in a considerably bigger house for five, ten, twenty years start picking through the mess, it’s easy to see why they get overwhelmed and quit.

There were days, particularly in the beginning, when I looked around my room and was acutely aware I had to get rid of stuff, but couldn’t make a decision to jettison a single item. Instead, I piled my things in a corner and said “tomorrow,” because the thought of sifting through my crap was about as enticing as the thought of staring at the sun until I went blind.

The truth is that your decision-making muscle (located somewhere in your brain, probably) works just like any other muscle in your body—the more you use it, the more tired it becomes, until it reaches fatigue and you have the mental capacity to do nothing except switch on the TV and watch twelve back-to-back episodes of Desperate Housewives.

Decluttering fatigue prevents us from making any real progress when we’re trying to clean up our lives. Below are a couple of tips to help you overcome it—or at the very least, to ride it out until you’re feeling productive again.

1. Remind yourself why you’re decluttering.

Are you downsizing to a smaller home and can’t take everything with you? Are you tired of having to clear off the dining room table every time you eat a meal?

Remembering why you’ve started this cleaning exercise is a great motivator when it’s 1 a.m. and you’re warring with yourself on whether to keep the puke-green sweater Aunt Carol knitted for your seventh birthday.

2. Pick just one thing and make a decision on it.

Standing in the doorway to your messy storage room and telling yourself you’re going to sort through every single item is an exhausting and overwhelming thought. But what if you picked up just one item, decided whether to donate, keep, or trash it, and put it where it needed to go?

A thousand decisions is exhausting; one decision is manageable. And that’s one more decision you don’t have to make another day. If you decided to get rid of one thing every day for a year, you’d be 365 things lighter by this time next year, all while exerting almost zero effort.

Keep going. Future you will thank you.

3. Remember it won’t all happen at once.

There are going to be days where it feels like you haven’t made progress—or worse, that you’re backtracking. I had several of those days myself. Some weeks, it felt like I was taking tons of donations out the door, only to come home and see more clutter lying around my bedroom. The more junk I got rid of, the more I felt like I was suffocating.

I have one thing to say to others who may be struggling with this feeling: If you are getting rid of more than you’re bringing in, then you are making progress. Sometimes it won’t feel like it, until one day you look around and suddenly realize you can see the floor again. Keep bagging up that junk and expelling it from your home.

4. Take a break.

If you’re trying to organize an area and find you’re slowing down, or the decisions are getting more difficult, stop what you’re doing and move on to something else not related to organizing.

Spinning your wheels won’t do anything for you but exhaust you and wear down your decision-making abilities. Come back to the clutter when you’re ready—it’s not like it’s going anywhere.

5. Don’t let the crap back in.

There’s nothing more demoralizing than looking at a space you’ve organized and finding it cluttered again. Once you’re aware of the clutter in your home and you’re actively trying to get rid of it, show your space some respect and don’t let the junk back in.

Got a stack of letters in your mailbox? Sort and act on each piece of mail as soon as you bring it inside, rather than tossing the pile on the counter to deal with later.

Is one of your kids about to have a birthday? Reach out to friends and family and let them know a phone call or thoughtful card is a wonderful substitute for a gift.

About to go on vacation? Avoid cheap souvenirs like key chains, snow globes, and t-shirts that do nothing but collect dust and fall apart. (And don’t buy any for your friends, either—no one actually likes those things.)

Clutter maintenance is an important step in banishing the excess from your life once and for all. Even if you’re taking a break from actively decluttering, maintenance will keep your space from becoming more disorganized. You’ve worked hard to get where you are—it’s important not to undo your past work.

6. Find a network of others who inspire and motivate you.

Decluttering on our own can be an exhausting, slow and largely joyless process. But connecting with others who share your goal to minimize can take a dull and tedious task and turn it into something—DARE I SAY IT??—fun.

You can read blogs (like this one!) or follow minimalists on Instagram. You can start a friendly decluttering competition with a neighbor—I often Skype with a good friend of mine while we go through our closets together.

There are also tons of YouTube channels dedicated to decluttering. My all-time favorite is the Messy Minimalist, aka Rachel, a wife and mother who started chronicling her decluttering journey at the beginning of this year. She is hilarious and honest about her continuous struggle with her clutter in a way I find refreshing and authentic (because you guys know I don’t do fake). I’d recommend her channel to anyone.

If you’ve found your way to this blog, you’ve already taken an awesome first step to finding a network. I love hearing about your victories, fielding your questions and highlighting your progress in my posts.

If you haven’t already, I’d love if you shared your decluttering story in the comment section below, or reached out to me directly via the Contact page. If you’re more of the wallflower type, you can always subscribe to this blog in the sidebar to get email notifications whenever I update.

In Saturday’s post, I’ll be sharing before and after pictures of my bedroom since I started this minimalism journey (although you guys have seen the horror of my bedroom before).

Until then, keep powering through!

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