Avoid Overwhelm of Decluttering and Minimizing

by Nov 9, 20214 comments

You don’t have to face every skeleton in your closet before you can make some room in there.

Carmen Klassen, Love Your Clutter Away

Checking Your Feelings

Keep Calm and Simplify On

After one week of the 30 Days of Minimalism challenge, it is time to reflect and make sure that you’re not feeling overwhelmed.  This can happen easily, especially if some of the ideas or approaches are new to you or if you haven’t done a purge in some time and have a lot of things you want to simplify. Making a big change and shifting mindset can be both exciting and stressful. It’s natural to experience some challenges along the way. It takes time, effort and dedication to form new habits.  Go easy on yourself when it doesn’t happen all at once.  There are a few tips to make the process less daunting.

Start with Something Easy (or Easier)

If you want to get started immediately, don’t start with something that has an emotional attachment. Choose one thing that you can let go of more easily or something, something that you could get out of your house today. Take that action and you will gain some momentum and a sense of accomplishment. The next hurdle won’t seem as daunting if you have a running start.

You can do the same thing any time you are feeling discouraged. Find something that is easy from where you are in your minimizing journey. It might help to make a list of things or approaches that you can take that are non-threatening for you for any time you start to feel stuck or overwhelmed. For instance, maybe you have been wanting to clean out the clothes from your bedroom closet to create a wardrobe more consistent with your current lifestyle. That could be a good place to start. You can begin with clothes that don’t fit you or don’t feel comfortable or just don’t suit you. Donate those items to someone who will use them. And the reward will be twofold: you’ll clear space and make it easier to see what you have AND you’ll have a chance to replace the old items with new wardrobe pieces that you have selected with intention.

Take one Bite at a Time

You might feel that you are ready to go all-in and immerse yourself in a new lifestyle. unfortunately, that strategy tends to backfire, especially if you have not considered a plan or even your goals. Diving in without identifying WHY you want to take this approach and WHAT you want to achieve makes it more likely that you will experience indecision or overwhelm. That is why I recommend that you begin with reflection. And that you take action by tackling one tough decision at a time. If you have been following along with the daily challenges, you’ve already identified some tasks you can incorporate into your new routine. Revisit that list again and decide one tough chore you would love to get finished. That’s it. One thing. And, as we say in Atlantic Canada, “Get ‘er done” (our own version of Nike’s “Just Do It”)! Again, it is a matter of building momentum to carry you forward to the next action. And when you consistently take that one step, it helps you strengthen and reinforce new habits.

Avoid All or Nothing Thinking

Do not fall into a pattern of thinking this is an all or nothing process, which can be tempting when you start something new. This is related to the previous point in a desire to move quickly to your vision of a perfect home. This is a dangerous pattern because all or nothing thinking often leads to the belief that if you make a mistake or a set-back, you have failed. It helps you convince yourself that it it too much work and you can not accomplish it. Instead, adopt a mindset that it is a journey of single steps, that each action is a success, and that missed days or impulse purchases will happen but don’t mean you are a failure or incapable. Start again with a single step. It can help to have a simple affirmation like “It’s a new day, a new chance to start fresh.”

Track Progress  & Record Successes

Another way to face overwhelm is by celebrating your successes.  They don’t have to be huge steps every time. Did you get that first thing out the door?  That is a win and you can build on it.  You went on a retail therapy spree – but did not give up and started back on your minimizing plan?  One for the win column.  

Recognize your successes and milestones by tracking your progress in a way that is meaningful to you.  Consider ideas like these:

  • A checklist of each area you clear
  • A photo collection of before and after pictures
  • Inspirational or aspirational pictures where you will regularly see them
  • An accountability partner with whom to share weekly progress – and encouraging words
  • A daily journal of progress or an evening record of gratitude for what you have accomplished
  • A spreadsheet or summary of everything that you clear from your house or that you have donated

Set achievable but challenging goals and reward yourself when you reach them. 

A record of what you have done will serve as motivation and encouragement when you feel you are not getting anywhere in your efforts. It gets you something that reminds you that you can make a difference.  And even if you have a pile of clutter and feel discouraged by returning to that state, you can look back and see your clean space and remember that even if it didn’t last this time, you know what you can achieve.

Video inspiration of the Minimalist answering a question about ways to avoid overwhelm.  You can watch a shorter version with just that question at The Minimalists on Facebook 

Take Action

Keep these tips in mind whenever you start to feel overwhelmed.  Any new habit or routine is challenging.  Be gentle with yourself and start again, with one small decision and a single next step.

Challenge Questions for Day 9

Check your feelings.  Are you feeling overwhelmed about decluttering your home or simplifying your life?  What is the source of your overwhelm? What one step will you take to make progress with your goals and/or change your mindset?

Declutter Challenge for Day 9

Donate 10 items

(a challenge that works well any time you hit a wall or start to feel overwhelmed)

Walk around the house and collect 10 items that you do not need or want – but that could be of value to someone.  Put them in a box to take a thrift shop, or shelter, or a local food bank – anywhere in your community that could get those things to a new home.

Banner Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Educator, Artist, Storyteller


  1. Francine

    A fantastic way to lay out the steps to such a big project, and provide needed support. I’m a big fan of checklists and trackers myself.

    • Mary Elizabeth

      Thank you. I’m also a proponent of a good checklist or tracker. I’m currently evaluating a couple of new digital apps but still love having checklists in my notebook too.

  2. Larada Horner-Miller

    I love the format of your post and the challenges you suggest. After reading this, I feel like I can do just one thing to unclutter my life!

    • Mary Elizabeth

      I appreciate the feedback on the format – and glad that the tips could prove useful to you. Thanks.

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