The Importance of Setting Realistic Decluttering Goals

Inside: Here you’ll learn the difference between decluttering, tidying, organizing and minimalism, and the importance of setting realistic decluttering goals that fit your real life. 

The other day, as I stepped over a mound of kids’ shoes, book bags and jackets in the hallway on my way to the laundry room, my heart started to race a bit. I felt overwhelmed by the stuff cluttering up my walk. After over four years of living with less, I’ve learned that this feeling of overwhelm is usually a red flag warning me that something needs to go.

Whether it’s too many activities draining my capacity or too much stuff that has somehow found its way into my home, it’s time to let go of something.

As I paused to evaluate what needed to hit the road I realized however, that this “clutter” wasn’t actually clutter at all. It was simply the messiness of everyday family life. I didn’t need to eliminate a thing; I needed my kids to come back to the door and put their crap away.

A Little Clarity Goes a Long Way

In the minimalist space, we spend a lot of time defining clutter. After all, it’s hard to eliminate what you can’t identify. Learning to spot clutter, before it even makes its way into your home is key to helping you maintain a clutter free space.

However, it’s just as important, if not more so, to also understand what clutter isn’t. While, yes, there are the obvious essentials like your toothbrush, furnace or silverware, there are a number of items in my home I find all too easy to label clutter when they aren’t.

“Clutter” isn’t the markers on the floor or the board game piece that got kicked beneath the couch. It isn’t the syrup your daughter didn’t put away after breakfast or the hairbrush left out on the counter. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m totally sitting at my kitchen table, looking around my home for examples.)

Messy Minimalism
Messy Minimalism, available where books are sold.

For the sake of clarity and knowing what it is we are after here, let’s go ahead and define all the things. There is a difference between living as a minimalist and organizing our space. There’s a difference between clutter and the messiness of real life.

Defining the Clutter Free Life

Clutter: The items in your home that you (or the others in your home) no longer need or perhaps never needed in the first place.

Decluttering: Clearing from your home the stuff you no longer need or use.

Tidying: The act of putting the things you own where the belong.

Organizing: Rearranging the stuff you own to make it more accessible and your day run more efficiently.

Minimalism: The purposeful practice of paring back both our material possessions and commitments in order to create a greater capacity to invest our time and energy in the things that matter most.


Understanding the differences between these terms will keep us from decluttering when we should be tidying or organizing when we should be decluttering. But most importantly, it allows us to stop rearranging, dusting or purging stuff when what we really need is minimalism.

You see, organizing, tidying, and decluttering, are all verbs. There is a time and place for each of them. Minimalism, however, is a lifestyle. It’s a mindset. A way of looking at the world that allows you to live less hung up on keeping up, and more focused on how you live your one short life.

Setting Realistic Decluttering Goals

A tidy and organized space is a beautiful thing. It’s calming, freeing and alluring. The trouble however is that it’s often temporary. It doesn’t take much for a home to become messy and disorganized. Especially if you’ve got children who share your space.

Often times the reason we get confused about which term to prioritize in the moment is because we are shooting for a goal that doesn’t really align with our real life. Decluttering with a five-year-old or tidying up as your nine-year-old crafts is similar to simultaneously brushing your teeth while chewing an Oreo. Impossible.

In my four years of experience as a minimalist mom parenting three children, each of whom would not likely refer to themselves as “minimalists,” adjusting my expectations has been imperative. Note that I said, “adjusting my expectations,” not lowering them. “Lowering expectations” implies that our previous expectations are still better than our reality.

This isn’t about settling for shy of perfect. It’s about creating a home that is perfect for you. We aren’t giving up and reluctantly throwing in the towel on creating an Insta-worthy home. No. We are confidently aligning both our expectations and our real lives.

Setting realistic decluttering goals is about creating habits and a home that will accommodate our messy moments along with our tidy ones. 

Letting Mess and Less Coexist

You see, in my home Rice Krispies get spilled, regularly. A well-organized space lasts about four seconds, shoes rarely get put away immediately, and craft supplies and balled up socks are practically home decor. Yet, I’m a minimalist.

If you haven’t set realistic expectations that align with your real life and what it is you’re truly after, it won’t take long before minimalism starts to feel more like a chore than freedom. Minimalism will never result in an always tidy, organized living space. It can’t. Not when you actually live there.

If you find yourself stepping over a few displaced items on the way to the laundry room wondering why your minimalism isn’t working, don’t just panic and impulsively head for a trash bag. It may just simply be time to tidy.

Need a Little Help Getting Decluttered?

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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Messy Minimalism, Available Where Books Are Sold

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.

For more information on Messy Minimalism head to


One thought on “The Importance of Setting Realistic Decluttering Goals

  1. This post was so, so helpful to me! Thanks a ton, Rachelle, for clarifying what is clutter vs the stuff that just shows a family lives here. I’m looking forward to your book!

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