selective focus photography of stoplight at stop

Getting unstuck

Twenty minutes decluttering a day is the slow and steady way to lasting change but sometimes it feels like you’re spinning your wheels. When you start to wonder if it’s worth it, check in with yourself and see if you’re making things harder than they need to be.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

Are you all over the map?

If you look at each item, decide where it goes and then trot off to put it away before returning to look at the next item, you’re not going to feel like you’re making much headway. You’ll get a lot of steps in but you won’t get much clutter taken care of.

Solution: Have a box labeled “goes elsewhere” by your side. If you’re sorting out the kitchen for twenty minutes and you come across three bath towels, a puzzle and a stapler, set them all in the “goes elsewhere box” and then deal with them when the timer goes off.

Are you churning?

If you find yourself moving something from one pile to another, never making any decision other than “I’ll deal with that later”, it’s time to pause and pick one item to assess.

Solution: Give that one item your full attention. Do you love, want or need it? Where would you want to find this? If deciding about that one item takes you the whole twenty minutes, so be it. It’s clutter because it’s a decision waiting to be made, so go ahead and make that decision.

If the timer goes off and you’re still unsure, put it where you think it best belongs. Remember nothing’s perfect and that includes making decisions about stuff. Your gut knows whether you’re holding onto it just because you’re accustomed to having it in your space.

Are you working for longer than twenty minutes at a time?

Not stopping when the timer rings is a sure fire way to get a lot done initially and very little done long term. Two hours on a Saturday is the same as twenty minutes a day with a day off.  But two hours is exhausting, whereas twenty minutes is doable.

Solution: It’s easier to keep up a small habit, so when you hear the timer ring, stop, congratulate yourself and look forward to tomorrow’s session.

Have you forgotten why you’re decluttering?

If you’re still feeling stuck, even though you’re staying in one place, avoiding churning and stopping when the timer goes off, step back and remind yourself why you’re doing this. If you aren’t committed to a simple reason, it’s hard to show up every day for your twenty minutes. Your mind will find all sorts of reasons why twenty minutes a day is never going to make a difference.

But something was motivating you when you started. Whether you’re bound and determined to clear space in the guest room so the grandkids can stay over or you’re looking ahead to make sure your kids don’t have to deal with all your stuff, something pushed you to want to do things differently.

Solution: Some people find it helps to write out their goal at the beginning of each day.

“I’m decluttering so I can use the spare room for my grandkids to come stay.”

“I’m decluttering so I can age in place.”

“I’m decluttering so I can get that workbench set up in the basement and work from home.”

READ MORE >>> Decluttering motivation

Are you tracking your progress?

It’s easy to think skipping a day’s decluttering is no big deal. Three weeks later, you’re frustrated because everything is still cluttered. Twenty minutes a day just doesn’t work, you sigh. But if you only declutter once every few weeks, you’re not going to see that slow and steady progress we’re after.

Solution: Use the Seinfeld method. Hang up a wall calendar. Every day you declutter for twenty minutes, you get to put a big X in the day’s square. Once you have a few Xs in a row, you’ll find you don’t want to break your streak. It’s a great visual reminder of what you’re doing and how much effort you’re putting in.

Have you stopped rewarding yourself?

If you’re not rewarding yourself at the end of each session, decluttering will soon feel like drudgery.

Solution: Take a few minutes to write down at least five things you can do to quickly reward yourself. Stick the list somewhere you can see it while you declutter and pick a different reward each time you finish a twenty minute session.

  • call a friend,
  • watch a favorite TV show,
  • spend time with a pet,
  • read a chapter of a book you enjoy,
  • take a walk outside to a favorite beautiful spot,
  • make a cup of special tea or coffee,
  • check in with Facebook (use your timer!),
  • work on a project for half an hour,
  • play some music you enjoy or better yet use an instrument to make some music.

The possibilities for rewards are limited only by your imagination. Make sure the reward doesn’t take you down a rabbit hole on the computer or your phone, and makes use of something you already own.

Are you too tired right now?

Self-care first. If you were up all night with a sick kitty or just couldn’t sleep, give yourself a pass and don’t even try to declutter today.

Solution: Come back to it tomorrow when you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Is decluttering making you anxious?

Decluttering may not be the most exciting activity in the world but it shouldn’t make you feel anxious or upset. Working with a professional organizer in conjunction with a therapist is a powerful way to get your mind on board with what your heart wants done.

Solution: Checkout this article on a new kind of therapy that’s aimed at quickly ridding the mind of obstacles that interfere with decluttering and getting organized.

READ MORE >>> Therapy can be the missing piece

READ MORE >>> How to stop organizing overwhelm

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I love how you developed this theme with such clarity, emphasizing the obstacles and the basic, immediate solutions. It’s really refreshing.

  2. Hi Lucy!
    Clutter impacts so many people, this topic is always so timely. I really like that you present the issue the problem and the solution. Way to go!
    Your step-by-step approach will make it easy for people to declutter without feeling too overwhelmed!!

  3. These are all great tips. I follow a couple of decluttering groups on facebook and read about people’s struggles to get their homes in order. They make a lot of the mistakes you mentioned, but they also get a lot of support from the other members.

  4. I love the way you put this post together. Simple to see the various roadblocks we encounter, and what we can do in the moment. I especially love your point about keeping your goal visible. It is easy to get caught up in the objects, forgetting the big picture. The goal can sometimes also help us make decisions.