Decluttering burnout is a real thing. It’s a major lifestyle change and that can bring a lot of feelings up in your life. Congratulations on making the decision to declutter and make your personal life one of minimalism and simplicity! It will bring you a sense of freedom and calm, but it is a major life change, not to mention a metric TON of work, so don’t feel bad if you get burned out midway.
Downsizing your cluttered home, reducing your debt, letting go of toxic relationships and overbooked schedules are all part of minimalist living and you’ll reap huge benefits from all of it. Check out my post on breaking up with your toxic friends.
It’s kind of like people who’ve lost huge amounts of weight. You kind of need to fit into a whole new image of yourself and adjust to a completely different lifestyle and sometimes that can be a tricky adjustment.
How to Cope with a Case of Decluttering Burnout
Well, honestly, first you have to get there. The question is, where exactly is “there”?
The truth is, your destination is completely up to you. Minimalism isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Your definition of minimalism probably isn’t the same as it is for someone else. Some people choose the extreme approach, (giving up cars, not having a TV, downsizing to a basic cell phone or not having one at all), while others opt for a more laid back approach. It’s an individual choice how extreme or moderate you go in your minimalist journey.
I’m definitely that second type. During my most recent bout of decluttering, I eliminated about 30% of our STUFF. That was enough to give us some breathing room. Our house feels so much more spacious now, but I never got to the point where I got rid of stuff we actually needed or where we had just ONE of anything. Dawn, The Minimal Mom does that where she has one complete place setting for each family member, so they only have like 5 plates, cups, bowls, etc. That would DRIVE ME CRAZY!
One thing’s for sure though – you have to start somewhere. That begins with purging the possessions and clearing the clutter, and that alone can be overwhelming. In order to keep your sanity and avoid the dreaded decluttering burnout, here are three tips:
Make a Decluttering Plan
You may think you don’t need a plan. After all you know you need to just get rid of things to clear the clutter and free the space around you of junk. That’s true, but if you go into this lacking a plan (or vision), you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed, stressed, not sure where to start, and find yourself burnt out – i.e. decluttering burnout.
Instead, spend some time visualizing what minimalist living means to you. Will you downsize your home? Cut back on your wardrobe? Buy your kids fewer toys and other possessions? Another helpful technique is to look at your home with fresh eyes. Visualize what a tidy home could look like and how you could feel living in that home. Those are all great goals and I’ve got tons of posts to help you – Adrian’s Decluttering Posts.
But it’s important to break down this large goal into smaller daily and weekly tasks to keep making progress along the way. Think of yourself as the Project Manager of your house and put together a master plan and a timeline. Then get some buy-in from the other stakeholders who live in the house (husband, kids, elderly parents, etc). Their cooperation is essential to your success. At a minimum, they have to at least not actively oppose you, which unfortunately happens in families sometimes.
These decisions and others will help you evaluate the things you can and can’t live without. Once you have the vision/plan, you’re ready to take action!
Start Small – Pick One Room
The fastest way to confusion, chaos, and decluttering burnout is trying to do too much at once. You will lose your mind if you try to tackle the whole house at once. Start with one room at a time, but I’ve got two suggestions. You can either start with the room that is bugging you the MOST because it will be a huge relief to get that problem solved. Or start with the smallest room first so you can see progress quickly. Either is a valid choice.
How exactly do you declutter? This goes back to having a vision for what minimalism means to you. But here’s a general tip that is easy to follow regardless of how much you’re keeping or getting rid of:
Set up four boxes
- Trash – this one is quick, easy and can go immediately. Preferably, you will empty it each day.
- Donate – I’m a big fan of getting donate stuff out of the house QUICKLY. Otherwise, two things happen, you either start second guessing yourself and grabbing stuff back, or it becomes part of the landscape and never actually leaves. Good idea to move it to your car on a daily basis and drop off a load whenever you are near a charity location.
- Sell – This one is tricky. Again, it can hang around for months just using up space so I would save this for large ticket items that are really worth the time and effort. Not clothes or books, but video games, older electronics or hobby items might be good for this. Set up an area in the garage, basement, or somewhere out of the way for these items to live to get them out of the line of fire.
- Belongs Elsewhere – Ideally, this one gets emptied every day also. It doesn’t make sense to be dashing around the house putting away onesie-twosie items while you’re trying to declutter – that’s a great way to get distracted. But stick all these items in a box and when the box is full, then take a few minutes to go around the house and put them in their correct places. Note that I didn’t say just DUMP them into other rooms. That just creates a whole new problem to deal with later. .
Don’t Let Emotions Make the Choices
Decluttering can be an emotional minefield, so it helps to have a plan ahead of time as to how you are going to deal with these things. Here are some of the common pitfalls you can look forward to:
- This was a gift or was handed down from a much loved relative. This one is a guilt trip just waiting to happen. If you LOVE it – great, find a place of honor for it. Otherwise, take a picture, treasure the memory, honor the person, but LET IT GO. We’ve lost all four parents, so we had literally hundreds of sentimental items like this. There’s just no room for all of them. And if someone asks about it, just look around vaguely and say “it’s around here somewhere, I’m sure”.
- I want to hand this down to my children. Hmmmm. Have you ASKED them if they have the slightest interest in it? Kids today don’t really value heirlooms very much. They just don’t. See if they actually want it and if your kids are adults consider giving it to them now to get it out of your house. Can’t do much if they are just little kids, but think it through before you hang onto something for decades.
- This is part of my kid’s childhood. This is a slippery slope. You can’t keep every drawing and clay ashtray. Set a goal to keep a small portion of this type of stuff and try to keep it contained to a small area. One family I know laminated their kid’s drawings and made them into placemats. That was a great idea. Or consider converting it into a memory book.
- Photos and cards. This is my weakness. I genuinely love family photos. I have several large, sturdy Rubbermaid tubs where I keep all of these types of items. I am willing to give up other categories of items to allow the space for this, so it’s sort of a tradeoff.
Bonus Tip: Celebrate your wins!
This is one thing that many of us don’t do a good job of. We are GREAT at beating ourselves up, but how often do we CONGRATULATE ourselves, even if we make just a little progress on our decluttering journey. Every box out of the house, every floor or bookshelf that is cleared, or every time you stick to your routines – those are BIG VICTORIES. Give yourself a gold star or anything you need to validate your progress.
Follow these three tips and you’ll find the act of decluttering and moving towards a life of minimalism doesn’t have to result in overwhelm, chaos and decluttering burnout. Instead, these tips can help it be a less traumatic experience.
Here are some other posts you might enjoy:
Six Benefits of Embracing Minimalism in Your Life
Declutter ANYTHING using the Post-It Note Method
Got Clutter? I’ve got the Answers You NEED