Common Decluttering Barriers and Solutions

A crisp and stylish suit for works hangs next to a silky black formal dress.  Ten pairs of high heels which are not appropriate for our snowy climate sit on the top shelf.  Down below is a box of neatly folded maternity clothes and next to that are fun in the sun clothes for when we travel to warmer climates.  We’ve been in our house for a number of years, yet most of these things sit in the same place…untouched.  Our lives have changed, yet I still hang on to these items.  “What if?” What if I travel for work and need to pull out that suit.  You get the picture.  The bottom line.  Decluttering can be hard, for a number of reasons including emotional attachment, the “someday syndrome,”  and the “What’s Next Conundrum”.

woman staring at a closet with text decluttering barriers and solutions to help you get unstuck

The Decluttering Challenge

Many of us can relate to having a room that overwhelms us, a closet we’ve ignored, or categories like books, clothing or sentimental items we’ve held onto for far too long. It seems that a couple of times a year the world collectively has the motivation to declutter, tidy up, and organize. Many people make it a new year’s resolution others get a boost with their spring cleaning efforts, but more common than not, most people lose steam and ultimately find themselves facing barriers to getting their home in order.

Lots of Hype

This year, with Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series on Netflix, decluttering, minimalism, and tidying have become more popular than ever. There were blog posts, memes on Facebook, stunning photos on Instagram, and musical spoofs floating around the Internet. Despite all of the hype and enthusiasm, many people were left with questions about how to overcome real barriers they face that prevent them from beginning or completing their decluttering and organization goals.

Barriers and Solutions

If you struggle with motivation to start or finish your decluttering process, this is the post for you.  The good news is, you’re not alone!  Here are 10 of the most common barriers to decluttering.  Depending on your life circumstances, you’ve probably faced more than one of these.  As you read through, identify the barriers that you relate with.  There are over 24 practical solutions that address one or more of these barriers.  Take a look at these barriers and solutions to increase your motivation to declutter and organize.

Time Challenged

Time is a hot commodity for you and the idea of doing a marathon decluttering / organizing event seems impossible…heck even dedicating more than one hour seems unrealistic.

  1. Determine how much time you can dedicate. Try to get at least an hour. Break up your work into smaller chunks.
  2. Start with your easiest areas first so that you can make decent progress and see quick results. This will motivate you to find more pockets of time.
  3. Incorporate decluttering into your daily activities. As you go around the house if you see something that you no longer need. Pick it up and put it in a designated place for discarding. Little by little you will make an impact on your space.

You know this is a job you need to take on, but you don’t know where to start. You get trapped in overthinking it or feeling like you’ll never be finished.

  1. Take a step back and identify the areas that are most important to you…your top priorities.
  2. Do a current state assessment to help you identify your number 1 and 2 areas for decluttering / organizing.
  3. Break down the tasks in your highest priority rooms or categories into smaller tasks.
  4. Grab my FREE printable below or at the end of the post with Marie Kondo’s order for tidying up
  5. Write down your near term plan. Focus on one room or one category at a time e.g. books.
  6. When you finish a category or a room, celebrate your accomplishment. Take and post pictures, show your family members. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

“Just In Case” Mindset

You don’t know what the future holds, you consider scenarios where you might need a particular item, and you fear if you get rid of something, you may not have enough when you need it.

  1. As you sort through your things, anything that you want to hold onto “just in case” put it aside, in a corner of the room or in a box. Keep your momentum going with sorting through other items, then come back to the things you set aside.
  2. Consider the following factors. When was the last time you used it? How frequently did you use it? What would happen if you didn’t have it? Is there something else you could use in its place or is it easily replaceable? Is it even still in style? Do you like it? Try to push yourself to be realistic about it.
  3. Give yourself a deadline. If your circumstances do not change by X date, then it’s time to discard.
Someday Syndrome

You save things because you have plans for them “someday.” Someday my daughter will want this, someday, I’ll lose the weight, someday we may go to Africa and I might need this. Unlike #3, you actually have plans for these items, you’re just not sure when or if those plans will occur.

See solutions in “Just In Case” Mindset (above).

Emotional Attachment

Anticipating guilt for getting rid of something, having a sense of obligation to keep items, or feeling sentimental about items prevents you from decluttering.

  1. If you are hanging onto your kid’s things consider if you have those same items from your childhood. Are they meaningful to you? Do you actually pull them out and look at them, or, do they just take up space? If you don’t have any of those items from your childhood, do you miss them? Do you feel like your life has less quality because you don’t have access to your childhood memorabilia?
  2. If you want to limit the number of sentimental items you hold onto, consider getting a box for each member of your family. Place the items you deem most special in the box. When it is filled, sort through and reprioritize discarding the items that are not as special. Time helps bring clarity to what you really want to keep.
  3. Share the wealth. Some of the special items you want to hang onto, you could share with other family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles, or nieces.
Money Matters

You don’t want to donate your items, you prefer not to discard them. You hope to one day sell them and make a little money.

  1. Figure out your ROI (return on investment). How much time and money does it take to sort, store, and sell these items? If you’re renting a storage space, it’s costing you too much to hold onto things than you would make selling them. If you make $25 an hour in your “day job” and it takes you 3 hours to prepare and sell your items. Will you at least make $75. If not, then recognize that it’s not worth your investment of time and donate to a worthy cause.
  2. If you hold onto items you intend to sell for too long, will they retain their value? Clothing, kids games, furniture, and accessory all become out of style at some point. Give yourself a deadline for selling these items. If you can’t get to it within that window, then go ahead and donate the items in this category.
Criteria Confusion

You want to reduce your things, but you are unclear on how to make decisions about what to get rid of.

  1. Identify your criteria for discarding things. Here are a few examples:
    • Anything that doesn’t give you joy (like Marie Kondo recommends)
    • Anything you don’t use or haven’t used in a specified period of time e.g. 1 year
    • Items that are out of style or outdated.
    • Items that are broken, worn out, or outgrown.
    • Things you have unnecessary duplicates

You are ready to declutter, discard, and organize, but you want a perfect end result the first time.

  1. Quantify how long you’ve been thinking about starting and how long you’ve delayed. Encourage yourself to just get started.
  2. Do something to get you unstuck. If you need to declutter a bookcase, take all of the books off of the shelf. Maybe you’re not ready to sort through them, but having them out of their ordinary place will help to open your mind.
  3. Acknowledge that progress is better than perfection.
“What’s Next” Conundrum

You are ready to declutter and discard, but you’re stumped with what to do after you choose items to get rid of. Do you donate or throw away?

  1. Once you decide what to discard, you have a few options.
    • Give away to someone you know: items that are in good condition
    • Donate to a non-profit organization: items that are in good condition
    • Sell: items that are in good condition
    • Recycle: items that are broken, old, or who’s purpose is outdated
    • Throw Away: items that can no longer be used and that you are unable to recycle
  2. Create a discarding plan. If you prefer to give things away, make a list of people you know. Maybe you prefer to donate!  If that’st the case identify local drop off centers. If you want to sell, look at online buy/sell groups and services. Recycling is your preference?  No problem!  Consider what you can put out for your regular recycling service or look up locations in your community.
Lack of Motivation

You look around your house and you don’t love the clutter. You think something should be done, but you just can’t muster the energy to do something about it.

  1. Get happy! Research shows that being optimistic actually increases your productivity! I’m not kidding! So, encourage yourself, think about your vision (step 1 in this workbook), how nice it will be when you have discarded and organized your things.
  2. Get inspired! Read some popular decluttering books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

It’s Time!

Personally, I’ve been great about decluttering my kid’s things, sorting through old household items, and clearing out books.  My closet has been the thing to hold me back.  Maybe it’s because there’s a level of emotional attachment, maybe’ there’s a little of the “Just In Case” syndrome.  It’s time.  It’s time for me to set a date for this clutter to come to an end!  What will you do?  Are you tempted to quit before you even begin?  Is there a room or category of things like books that you’ve continually put off?  Have you had difficulty finding the time or ahem motivation to begin? Let’s collectively identify and remove the barriers that are holding us back!  Identify the top solutions from the list above that will help you get past overwhelm. It’s time to get unstuck and motivated to begin or reengaged in your decluttering and organization journey!  Good luck!






  1. Jenn says

    I purchased your helpful guide and I am excited to start! I read Ms. Kondo’s book and did some decluttering and always file my t-shirts like you and she describe. I have problems with time, motivation, and lack of actual storage space in our living situation. Also a bit resentful that I am the only one to do it. But most of the items are mine or something that I have brought in to the house, so I am going to suck it up and just start. Thank you for your encouragement!

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