Decluttering Roadblocks and How To Smash Through Them

Decluttering isn’t easy. You either struggle to get started or something comes up that brings you to a screeching halt. I call those decluttering roadblocks and I’m sharing my strategies to help you smash right through them.

You’ve tried to declutter. You read all the best-selling books and watched all of the top-rated television shows on decluttering, minimalism, and tidying up looking for some motivation. You even binge-watched hoarders for some shock therapy.

You tune in to Tidying Up each week and watch as Marie teaches homeowners how to let go of the items that don’t spark joy. You stare in awe as she helps people identify and eliminate garbage bag after garbage bag of clutter.

When the episode is over, you look around and sigh at all the clutter that’s been driving you crazy. You need Marie Kondo and you need her now!  You don’t know how you’ll get organized without her.

Any time you think about decluttering, you end up overwhelmed and can’t even start. If you are able to start, you’re so afraid of making a mistake that you end up giving up.

You’re wondering if there’s any hope at all.

I’m here to tell you there absolutely is! You can do this, and there isn’t any of it we can’t figure out and conquer together.

Let’s talk about the 5 most common decluttering roadblocks and how to get past them.

shocked young boy in construction hat standing in front of roadblock

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Why is decluttering so hard?

Decluttering is difficult for a lot of different reasons.

Some people find it hard to let go of things because they make the mistake of attaching a monetary value to every item. Others form sentimental attachments to keepsakes and mementos.

According to the Merrian-Webster dictionary, roadblocks are something that blocks the progress or prevents the accomplishment of an objective.

In other words, roadblocks are the pesky things that keep you from accomplishing the tasks that you set out to do. The squirrels in your life that get you off track.

Decluttering roadblocks are no different. They prevent you from getting started, slow your progress, make you second guess yourself, make you feel overwhelmed and guilty, and possibly even cause you to stop completely.

Instead of letting these decluttering roadblocks derail you, why not show them who’s boss and treat them like the little annoyances they are.

Once you’re able to identify and acknowledge what the roadblocks are, you’ll be able to create a plan to conquer them, so let’s get busy.

# 1. Don’t Know Where To Start

Not knowing where to start is the most paralyzing of the decluttering roadblocks. For some, it’s the biggest, most frustrating, and hardest to get past.

It always starts with good intentions. You have the weekend off so you plan to get the decluttering done Saturday.

You put on your yoga pants and an old t-shirt while trying to decide where to start. As you look around and survey your rooms in an attempt to create a plan of action, all you can see is clutter everywhere.

You can’t believe how much crept in and piled up without you even noticing. The clutter has already filled every corner and covered every surface of your home.

You don’t know which room you should start with or where you can make the most impact. It’s overwhelming and you can feel the anxiety coming on, so you just stand there staring at the mess, paralyzed by the clutter.

You decide that you need some inspiration and motivation so you grab your smartphone and see what Pinterest has to offer. Once your hand starts to fall asleep, you turn on the tv and find the latest episode of hoarders.

Roadblocks that keep you from decluttering

STOP IT! You’ve Got This!

You can do this, and I’m going to help you. What makes me think I can help?  I’ve been there.

I used my office for a dumping ground for over a year. Dumping ground sounds a little harsh, but that’s honestly what it was. If I didn’t know where to put something or it didn’t have its own spot in my home, I put it in the office and closed the door.

Most of it didn’t actually belong in the office, but I didn’t have time to establish a place for it, so that’s where it all went. There was so much stuff crammed in that office that I had to move stacks of stuff to get to the window.

That was an eye-opener for me, and it was also the ‘beginning of the end’ of my clutter.  I took action and now it’s your turn.

Just Start

There’s no perfect place to start, but you just need to take a deep breath and start!!!

Some people prefer to attack a specific room and others prefer to start by focusing on one task and completing it throughout the home.

Room By Room

I personally use a room by room method.

I start with one room and work on that one until I’m done, then I move on to the next room.

Begin by clearing the flat surfaces in the room first.  Especially the countertops and tabletops. Clearing the flat surfaces first helps me quickly see results, plus it gives me a working surface when emptying drawers and cabinets.

If you’re going to declutter room by room, start with the one you use the most or that is causing you the most stress and anxiety. Declutter the flat surfaces, then move on to the drawers, cabinets, cubbies, and closets.

It’s amazing how just clearing a coffee table or a countertop can make a huge difference and give you the motivation to keep going. Imagine how you’ll feel when the entire room is done.

Completing that one room can provide visible motivation to tackle the rest of the house.

If you still can’t figure out where to start, do a drawing. Write all of your rooms down on separate scraps of paper, wad them up and select one.  Now you have a place to start.

Task By Task

If room by room isn’t for you, try decluttering task by task.

That means you’ll do one task throughout your entire home before moving on to the next.

If you choose this method, I would suggest you start by picking up the obviously visible trash first.

Start at one end of your home and walk through all of the rooms with a trash bag. Scan all of the visible surfaces for items that need to be thrown away.

You’re not opening drawers or moving misplaced items at this point, just the trash. Once that’s completed through the entire house, you can move on to removing items that don’t belong.

Again, start at one end of the house and work through each room.

This time grab a storage basket and work through each room by picking up the visible items that don’t belong and placing them in the basket. You can drop them off in the appropriate room when you get there.

When you’re finished with the visible clutter, you’ll move on the cupboards and drawers following the same method.

I use this method for a quick visual declutter (usually when unexpected company is stopping by), but I prefer the room by room for deep decluttering.

You can pick your method and start anywhere. Just get started!  You’ve got this!!!

# 2. There Isn’t Enough Time To Do It All

Perhaps the second most common decluttering roadblock is feeling like you don’t have enough time to get it all done.

There are piles of shoes all around the house, clothes piled up on the couch, and stacks of mail and old magazines covering the counters and tables. Your spare room is packed to the brim and you can’t get your clean clothes into your closet.

You feel like you need to set aside an entire weekend, and even then you’re not sure that would be enough time.

It’s a struggle that a lot of us face. Life’s busy and it just keeps getting busier.

I can’t tell you how many times I stood in the doorway of that office trying to figure out how I was going to find enough time to clean it all out. The last time I was standing there staring at the mess, I realized there would never be enough time to get it all done in one session.

I had to do something regardless of how much time I had, so I grabbed a stack of old magazines and threw it in the recycle bin before I closed the door.

Clearly, there was a lot more to do, but at least I did something.

Use Bits Of Time

Remember that you don’t have to get everything done in one session. You can work in small chunks of time.

Break the room or the tasks into logical chunks that can be done separately. For example, if you’re working on the bathroom but only have 10 minutes a day, declutter one drawer each day.

Even if you only have five seconds, you have enough time to grab a stack of old magazines before closing the door. Speaking of the door, leave it open.

I know it’s a mess, but out of sight is out of mind and we all know how that turns out. So leave the door open and every time you walk by that room, do some sort of decluttering task.

Take It A Step Further

Want to take it a step further, try fitting a decluttering task into the middle of another task. Confused yet, let me explain.

Most people brush their teeth for approximately two minutes. During those two minutes, one hand is just hanging out doing nothing while the other one is doing the work. Put that second hand to work and declutter a part of the medicine cabinet or a drawer in the vanity.

What about the idle time while you’re cooking dinner? If you don’t have to flip the steak for five minutes, use that time to declutter a utensil drawer.

You’ll find bits of time everywhere throughout your day.

Make It A Habit

Start with the quick five-second decluttering tasks. Once that becomes a habit, increase the time to five minutes, and then to ten. Before you know it, decluttering will be part of your daily routines.

Ten minutes of your morning routine to clear off the coffee table, ten minutes of your afternoon routine to fold and put away the laundry, and ten minutes of your evening routine to pick up the pile of shoes.

By the end of the day, you’ve decluttered half of your living room and it was barely a blip in your day.

Shocked little boy wearing a hard hat standing in front of a roadblock and construction cones

# 3. It Won’t Stay That Way

Decluttering roadblock number three is more common than any of us care to admit.

Any time you actually manage to declutter an entire room, it never stays that way. In a week or two, it’s the same cluttered mess and you’re right back to square one.

You’re certain you had it all put away, so why is there clutter everywhere again? You look around in disbelief and realize that it’s stuff that you or your family uses every day and never puts away.

Your crafting supplies are covering the coffee table and your husband’s shoes are piled next to his favorite chair. Your daughter’s makeup is scattered across the bathroom counter and there’s a pile of your son’s sports equipment stacked in front of the garage door.

Even though you picked it all up and put it away last week, nobody is putting any of it away now.

The frustration of this common decluttering roadblock is enough to make even a diehard declutterer lose their motivation.

Keep It That Way

Get the entire family involved in decluttering and creating solutions that help control the clutter buildup.

Task each family member with cleaning up the clutter they’ve created. Then have them decide how they’re going to keep it that way.

Maybe your daughter needs a good makeup caddy that she can stash under the sink once she’s done getting ready. What about an equipment storage locker in the garage next to the door for your son’s sports equipment?

About your crafting supplies, pick that stuff up girl!  This might be a good time to talk to your husband about turning that spare bedroom into a crafting room.

Needs some ideas, check out this epic craft room from Jennifer Maker.

Don’t have a spare room, let him know that a storage armoire would be an amazing birthday gift.

Now for the husband’s shoes, Good Luck Girl, you’re on your own!!! Haha, not really. Brainstorm some solutions and figure out what will work for him. You might not want a shoe rack in the laundry room, but if it means no more shoe stack in the middle of the living room, it might be an acceptable compromise.

There are millions of storage solutions out there. You could even find a nice storage bench/ottoman to do the double duty of shoe storage and extra seating.

Giving your family some ‘skin in the game’ can lead to a much more successfully decluttered home.

distressed woman struggling to declutter a living room littered with clothes, dishes, a pizza box and stuffed animal strewn about

# 4. You Feel Like You’re Throwing Away Money

Decluttering roadblock number four, the money pit.

Every time you try to get rid of something, you start to associate a cost with it. You remember what you paid for it, and that makes it feel like you’re literally throwing away money.

I understand that all too well, but what about the cost of keeping it? Isn’t it more expensive to keep it?

Think of your closet. How many sizes of ‘skinny clothes’ do you still have because you plan to fit in them again one day? Is there enough room in your closet for the clothes you actually wear?

I turned a spare bedroom into a closet, an entire room! I bought a prefabbed closet organizer system and installed it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but do you know what I keep in that closet? All of the clothes I rarely or never wear. When I finally went through that closet, there wasn’t much left, and it certainly would’ve fit in my master closet.

The moral of that story is that there are costs associated with keeping the stuff you aren’t using.

Related Article: How to give your clutter new life

STRUGGLING TO DECLUTTER?

Feel like you’re doing it all wrong? The Decluttering Mistakes guide shows you the mistakes that you’re probably making and how to avoid them. Get your FREE copy today!

Change Your Mindset

Get past this decluttering roadblock and stop thinking about the initial cost of the item. Change your mindset and start thinking about the current value of it.

If you aren’t using it and it’s taking up space, it has no value to you. It could actually be costing you extra money because you’re storing it.

Another way to change your mindset is to think of the good the item can do if you let it go.

That sounds a little corny, but what I mean is that a physical item or product that’s in your way and causing you distress could be exactly what somebody else needs.

A professional outfit donated to Dress For Success could help a displaced woman get a better paying job and provide for her children.

That collection of hotel toiletries donated to Forgotten Soldiers Outreach could fill some much-needed care packages.

Your child’s gently used toys (especially stuffed animals) donated to your local police and fire departments can provide comfort to a child going through a traumatic event.

Changing your decluttering mindset to helping others instead of throwing away money can be incredibly motivating. Need some more ideas, here are some no-cost options for getting rid of clutter.

lady holding her head in a cluttered room

# 5. You Have Sentimental Attachments

Last but not least by any means is decluttering roadblock number five, the sentimental attachments. This can be a tricky one because sentimental clutter includes an emotional attachment.

You develop sentimental attachments to things for many different reasons.

Some things have that attachment because they bring back old memories. They can range from something as simple as an old family photo to your great grandmothers massive salt and pepper shaker collection.

Sentimental clutter can also include gifts that you received from certain people in your life or accolades you received in your past.

It presents one of the most difficult decluttering roadblocks,  but there are several strategies that are helpful in overcoming sentimental attachments.

Roadblocks that keep you from decluttering

Save The Sentiment, Not All Of The Items

Get past the sentimental decluttering roadblock by realizing the memories are in your heart and mind, not in the thing.

One option is to take pictures of sentimental items and keep the pictures in a memory album or scrapbook. That way you retain the memories but can let go of some of the physical items.

You can also take pictures of larger collections. Make sure you get pictures of the entire collection, then keep one or two of the actual items.

Another option is to re-purpose sentimental items.

My great grandmother used to wear very colorful polyester suits. I’m talking about the whole shebang, pants, blouse, and jacket. When she passed, my grandmother made several quilts for family members out of squares from my great grandmothers’ wardrobe.

I still have those quilts and they take up a lot less room than that wardrobe would have. Plus, I still get to cuddle with my great grandmother.

Common Decluttering Roadblocks Averted

Decluttering is a tough process that can become even tougher with all the roadblocks that get in the way. Having a plan or strategy to deal with those roadblocks will help reduce them to slight speed bumps instead.

Not knowing where to start and not having enough time are the two biggest roadblocks for most people. They can be conquered by starting in one room and focusing on small tasks throughout the day.

If you see clutter when you pass by, take a few moments to take care of it immediately. Even if it’s as simple as throwing out a stack of old magazines. Eventually, it will become a habit and you won’t even realize you’re decluttering.

Knowing that the piles will accumulate again can be another roadblock, but you can overcome it by getting the family involved in the decluttering as well as the solutions to prevent the clutter.

Then there’s the money roadblock. When we associate the price we paid with our items, we feel like we are throwing away actual money. Changing your mindset and seeing that the item is still costing you can help you past this roadblock.

Last but not least is the sentimental clutter roadblock. The emotional attachment we have to items for various reasons. Get creative and think of ways to repurpose or preserve those memories without having to keep all of the actual items.

Decluttering Roadblocks Conclusion

Recognizing what the roadblocks are and having a strategy for how to get through them will ensure your decluttering success.

What other decluttering roadblocks do you struggle with?

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the fab tips!
    We have so much decluttering to do to swap an office for my toddlers room before our baby’s arrival and I’ve just not had the energy to start. You’ve helped me accept that it won’t be finished in one sitting and this has given me all the motivation I needed to tackle it today. Literally. Thank you!

    1. Claire, I’m so happy it helped! Getting started is truly the hardest part. Happy decluttering and make sure to take before and after pictures so you can use them for motivation for future projects!

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