Here, home organizing experts dispel some of these common myths and explain how to actually maintain a decluttered space for good.
Myth No. 1: You can start anywhere
Truth: OK, so the first step to decluttering is just starting already. And kudos to you for wanting to jump in. But if you jump in without a plan, you're setting yourself up to be overwhelmed—and, ultimately, for failure, explains Colleen Branch, a home organization expert and writer for experthometips.com.
“You need to have a solid plan in place to tackle your home,” she says.
We're not talking about a Google Slides presentation here. But before you start, you should write out a simple checklist of what you hope to accomplish.
“It’s satisfying and also allows you to have an end in sight,” Branch notes.
Your checklist doesn't have to be exhaustive; in fact, it should be fairly brief so that it's manageable. Focus on one room at a time, and create checklists for each. For instance, this is Branch's three-step kitchen decluttering list:
- Clear out utensils
- Check herb/spice rack for out-of-date jars
- Remove mismatched glassware
Totally doable, right?
Myth No 2: You should keep only things that 'spark joy'
Truth: In the era of Marie Kondo minimalism, it's easy to see why we've fallen into this mindset. But Laura Kinsella, owner of Urban OrgaNYze in New York City, recommends we shift our thinking on this point.
"Let's be clear: My diaper pail does not spark joy, but it's an essential item that is used every day in my home," she says.
Declutter with this thought in mind, she says: Is this item beautiful in my home or does it prove to be useful? If the answer is "no," then it's probably time for it to go.
Myth No. 3: Making quick decisions is the best way to declutter
Truth: If you're anything like us, the longer you ruminate on an item, the less likely you are to let it go. For this reason, decluttering experts often suggest that you make a quick decision about an item, toss it in the donation box, and move on.
But while reflex decisions certainly can help with clearing out your space quickly, they can also foster regret. (Take it from someone who mistakenly donated a family heirloom to Goodwill.)
If you're not sure whether you truly want to toss something, Branch recommends this: Put it in a box, tape it shut, and write the date—one year from now—on the outside. If you haven't opened the box in a year, you know it's time to discard the item.
"There's a high chance you won't even remember what was in the box," she says.
Just make sure that everything isn't going in this box of purgatory. If it is, then it's time for some tough love with your decluttering efforts.
Myth No. 4: Before you can declutter, you need organizing supplies
Truth: "Buying cute containers may help motivate us into getting organized, but it won’t create the right system," Fisher cautions.
Containers are great for storing stuff, but the point of decluttering is to have less stuff to store. So start by taking stock of the situation. Then sort and purge. And purge again.
For instance, take everything out of your clothes closet, put similar items together, and then figure out what you have way too many of. If it's shirts, break it down further: Do you have too many T-shirts? Too many black T-shirts? Too many black Nickelback T-shirts? (Uh-oh.) Once you've sorted them into microcategories, review all items and determine what you don’t like, don’t need, or don’t really have room to keep.
Only then should you start to think about how to best store what you're keeping.
Myth No. 5: Decluttering is only for Type A people
Truth: Sorry to break it to you, folks, but anyone can—and should—declutter.
"Whether organizing comes naturally to you or not, no one is exempt from decluttering," Kinsella says. "We all need to continually assess our belongings as we evolve and change over time."
"Decluttering is designed for anyone who wishes to gain more clarity and control over their home and their life," she adds.
And don't we all want that?
Myth No. 6: You can declutter an entire house in a weekend
Truth: Raise your hand if you've ever tried to dedicate a day or weekend to decluttering. (Guilty.)
While it's an admirable goal, it's simply not realistic. Slow and steady wins the race here.
"Unless you're the Energizer bunny, trying to tackle your entire property in one day will result in burnout, frustration, and defeat," Kinsella says.
Instead, set small milestones that you work toward throughout the week or month: Vow to focus only on the junk drawer or only on the front closet, and not to move on until one is cleared. (Some experts even recommend decluttering in 20-minute spurts to prevent burnout; others recommend working from one corner of a room to another to keep focus.)
After enough small victories, you'll see real progress throughout your house.
"Small successes always lead to greater achievements, which will leave you feeling gratified and motivated to continue," Kinsella explains.
Myth No. 7: Decluttering once or twice a year is enough
Truth: When you lose weight, you have to work at keeping the pounds off. The same is true for decluttering: Without regular maintenance, all that junk will just come pouring back into your home.
Maintenance? Gross, we know. But don't get discouraged—it doesn’t have to take up a ton of your time and, dare we say, it'll be easier than going to the gym.
Every week, make a plan to return items to their designated storage place and to dispose of things that aren’t needed.
“Just 10 minutes a week will keep you from having to spend an afternoon when things pile up,” Fisher swears.
Finally, avoid clutter from building up by not bringing it into your home in the first place. Open the mail directly over the recycling bin, Fisher recommends, and think twice before you buy something new.