8 Reasons Why Your Last Attempt at Getting Rid of Clutter Failed

Inside: If you’ve tried and failed at getting rid of clutter, this post is for you. Here are 8 reasons your last attempt to declutter your home failed. 

It’s January, the month most dedicated to major commitments and dramatic 180’s. People everywhere are planning, goal setting and dreaming of what will come in this next year. Raise your hand if decluttering your home has been on your to-do list more than once. You’ve attempted it time and time again, but for a number of varying reasons, you never seem to finish the job.

Having a better understanding of what’s holding us back is the first, most important step in ensuring we don’t make the same mistakes twice.

getting rid of clutter

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” -Winston Churchill

Here are 8 reasons you may have failed at getting rid of clutter in the past and how to avoid getting stuck there this time.

1. You Confused Decluttering and Organizing

If the first step you took to organize your life was to head to Crate and Barrel or Home Goods for more storage bins, then let me save you some dough this time. It won’t work. It may work for a little bit, long enough to take a couple of Instagram posts and feel as though you accomplished something, but it won’t work come March. (In my experience, it never even lasted it that long).

Simply organizing your home doesn’t work. At least not without first letting go…of a lot. Once you realize your excess stuff and your overbooked schedule is the real problem here, everything will change.

getting rid of clutter

“If organizing your stuff worked, you’d be organized by now.” -Courtney Carver

2. You Didn’t Start with Your Why

I know, you’ve probably heard this a million times. But replacing the concept of organization with the art of letting go starts with finding your big, huge WHY! What are you after? What do you want most out of the short amount of time we have on this planet? Who were you created to be? What pulls at your heart? Firmly knowing what it is that matters most to you is your light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the prize.

Think of it like you’re training for a marathon. Wait! Scratch that. Comparisons like that never motivate me because I hate to run. Like hate, hate.

It’s more like fresh homemade cinnamon rolls in the morning. They sound fabulous. I really want to make them. But in order to actually get to the eating homemade cinnamon rolls part, I first need to find a recipe, make sure I have the ingredients, make the dough, wait for the dough to rise, do all the other steps involved and eventually clean up after my mess. Then, I still have to wait some more.

You get the gist. They take work and time. I always focus on the pain of scraping dough off my counters, washing all the pans, and give up long before I get to the eating gooey cinnamon rolls part.

The same goes for letting go and owning less.  Focusing on our WHY is how we get going and stay strong when we face the hard stuff.

3. You Insisted on Doing it Perfectly, All in One Swoop

I see this all the time. If you’re a perfectionist, (you know who you are) initiating the big declutter can be particularly hard. You want it done perfectly and you want it done now.

Messy Minimalism

You start by first over researching the best way to get started. Your research leads you to see many before and after photos from others who are much farther ahead on their journey than you. You then grow discouraged and feel overwhelmed because you assume you should be able to get there on day one.

“Perfectionism trots out a laundry list of reasons you shouldn’t begin. If you ignore this initial barrage and start something, perfectionism changes its tune completely. Now it says that you have to do it perfectly. It’s the only possibility that is acceptable.” – Jon Acuff

Dear perfectionists, decluttering your home once and for all takes time, and it’s typically done in phases. Every single one of the practicing minimalists I know tackled this in phases. Do yourself a favor and let go of the expectation that you’ll accomplish it all at once? Let the before and after photos you see online inspire you, not discourage you. Don’t waste time comparing your cluttered home to others. Instead, get moving creating a a clutter-free home that fits.

4. You Started with the Hardest Stuff First

When I speak to groups about minimalism I always get a question like this…

“So what do you do with family photos?” or “What about papers and documents?”

I mean, I get it. I’m kind of a “worst case scenario” kind of person too. While finding answers to those questions are important, letting your mind go to the hardest part first is a minimalism death trap.

Let me ask you this? If you never, ever declutter your paper situation, a single family photo or that doll collection your grandmother gave you, but you went all in on every not so sentimental area, would you be better off? Would your home be a more peaceful environment? Would you be able to get dressed, tidy up and find your favorite things more easily? The answer is yes.

I’m not saying to never tackle those hard areas. But I am saying if you never do, its ok.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Stop asking the hard questions first, go to your linen closet and get rid of half of your towels. Boom! Day one, done.

Let this life of less transform your day-to-day and decide later how far you want to take it.

5. You Didn’t Change the Way You Made Purchases

It’s basic I’s and O’s.

In case you didn’t know, I’m a registered nurse. I practiced as a Labor and Delivery nurse for 11 years before swapping my scrubs for leggings and opting to stay home full time with my kids for now. (Man, I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to comfortable work attire).

Calculating intake and output is a critical part of the medical process. I’ll spare you the details and explanation of basic bodily function, but basically what it comes down to is making sure your body is getting the right amount of fluids. For example, you don’t want to pump a patient full of fluid without paying close attention to how much is coming out. It causes serious problems.

The same goes for your home.

getting rid of clutter

“It doesn’t matter how much you get rid of if you don’t stop the flow of material items into your home. It’s as simple as that.” -Rachelle Crawford

You must change the way you purchase and bring items into your home by becoming a conscious consumer.

Keep these principles in mind as you decide what and when to bring new items into their homes.

  • Evaluate what you own to make sure you don’t have an item that can accomplish the same task or purpose.
  • It’s ok to say NO to free stuff.
  • Don’t make purchases based on what’s trending.
  • It’s ok to ignore sales.
  • Never purchase impulsively.
  • If you make a purchasing mistake (it’s ok, we all do at some point), be quick and willing to return the item or let it go in some other capacity.

6. You Focused More on the Sacrifice than the Benefits

The benefits of minimalism far outweigh the sacrifice of letting go. However, if you don’t keep your eye on the prize (that gooey cinnamon roll we talked about earlier…sorry, I’m really hungry while writing this) you’ll just stay focused on the sacrifice you feel you’re making.

getting rid of clutter


“I’m not sure why some people consider minimalism to be a sacrifice. The only thing you’re giving up is stuff you don’t need.” -Joshua Becker

When doing any hard thing, it’s important not to focus on what you’re risking or potentially losing, but on what you’re gaining instead.

Working to become a morning person? Focus on your new quiet time alone, the extra cup of coffee you’ll get before everyone wakes up or how productive you’ll be before the sun rises. Getting all mopey about that lost hour of sleep or Netflix time won’t do you any good.

7. You Did Not Have Simplicity Community

Going at this alone is not impossible, but it does make it more difficult. Not everyone in my local life sees my life of less as a desirable life. Most of them see it as a sacrifice, some of them see it as flat out ridiculous. It can be rather discouraging and more difficult to stay steadfast without without a voice of encouragement along the way.

I’d encourage you to find an online minimalist community. If social media isn’t helpful for you, seek out a friend willing to join you on this journey. Or do both.

When I brainstorm with my good friend Becky or chat it up on Instagram DM with you dear friends about the perks as well as our struggles, it helps me keep my eye on the prize. It also challenges me to go further, holds me accountable and gives me permission to let go. Sometimes permission is really all we need.

If you’re slow to find a community, just keep going. I’ve found the simple life to be contagious. The community may just find you.

8. You Didn’t Have a Plan

I’ve always been kind of a squirrel when it comes to decluttering my home and organizing my life. It’s easy for me to start with my purse, move into the closet and then find myself painting a picture frame in the garage.

Owning less is the key to an organized and tidy life. However, in order to get to that place we need to reign in our squirrel like behavior with a focused, decisive, and intentional plan.

It’s best to have a plan in place from day one. Decide ahead of time where you intend to begin. Now, if you’re reading this while deep into the decluttering process, fear not. You can still make an action plan.

Decluttering Resources

There are many different decluttering methods. Whichever one you decide on, make sure they lead you toward owning less. If their secret sauce involves starting off at Crate and Barrel, go back up and reread point number 1 of this article.

Here are a few different decluttering methods. They vary in technique a bit. Some are more rigid and others a bit more relaxed. Choose what suits your fancy.

Messy Minimalism by Rachelle Crawford

The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margaretta Magnusson

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, by Marie Kondo

Project 333 by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less

Getting Rid of Clutter For Good

This is your year friend. I can feel it.

It’s not an easy process, but from over here, on the other side of clutter the view is quite peaceful. I promise you it’s worth it. Don’t give up. You’re worth the effort.

I’ll leave you with the single quote that sealed the deal for me. The one line that gave me the hope to go head first and never look back.

getting rid of clutter

“Maybe the life you’ve always wanted is buried under everything you own,” -Joshua Becker

Sick of the clutter, but not quite sure “minimalism” as you know it is for you? You’re probably right. Minimalism as you know it, probably isn’t for you. It wasn’t for me either.

messy minimaism

Because of that, Messy Minimalism was born. Messy Minimalism is a doable, grace-based approach to living a clutter free life. It frees you up to embrace the mess, live with less and create an imperfectly perfect home for you.
Messy Minimalism is available NOW from your favorite book retailer or library. 😉

For more information on Messy Minimalism head to MessyMinimalism.com

Need Some Serious Decluttering Motivation?

Sign-up for the, FREE 3 Day Email Series, Unstuck.

Here we will tackle 3 common decluttering obstacles so you can let go and get uncluttered for good. If you’ve ever gotten started and then gotten stuck, this FREE resource is for you!

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For more inspiration follow Abundant Life With Less on Instagram and Facebook.

2 thoughts on “8 Reasons Why Your Last Attempt at Getting Rid of Clutter Failed

  1. I’m not sure if this comment fits here, but your thoughts on sorting new gifts and donating old hits home. I am struggling with how to handle gifts that don’t fit within our boundaries. After kindly asking for simple gifts, I chose to donate some toys from my sister weren’t consistent with what we want in our home. Although I thanked her for the gifts on the spot, she was irate to find out that we did not choose to keep them and accuses me of controlling and censoring our kids. How do you handle receiving gifts from those who don’t respect your boundaries? Maybe I could have let the kids have them for a period of time and later donate them, but my husband is opposed to taking things away if the kids don’t agree to giving them up.

  2. Our 2 bedrooms are chuck full of belongings. My husband insists on buying “another” set of shelves to remove more stuff off of the floor. It does not help, the empty spot on the floor gets filled up again! We have different ideas about getting rid of stuff. Our daughters don’t want to sort through all our stuff when we are “gone”.

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