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Decluttering Paralysis: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Decluttering Paralysis: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Have you ever stared at a messy, cluttered room, overwhelmed by the chaos, and felt completely unable to start tidying up and clearing it? If so, you’re not alone as this is a very common problem. So common, in fact, that it’s been given a name. It’s called decluttering paralysis.

It’s the feeling of being so overwhelmed by the thought of decluttering (let alone cleaning and organising) that you can’t take the first step. In today’s article I’ll explain what decluttering paralysis is, why it happens, and offer some practical tips to help you overcome it.


Decluttering paralysis is a mental block that stops you from starting to declutter your space but it’s not just about being lazy or unmotivated. It’s a genuine feeling of being stuck, often accompanied by anxiety and stress.

This paralysis can happen for various reasons, including our emotional attachment to items, the fear of making wrong decisions, and simply being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff. Do any of these sound familiar to you?!


There are several reasons why decluttering paralysis can kick in. Here are some of the most common:

1. Emotional Attachment: Many of us attach memories and emotions to our belongings. This makes it hard to let go of things, even if they’re not useful anymore. For example, you might keep a worn-out sweater because it reminds you of a loved one or a special time in your life.

2. Fear of Making Wrong Decisions: You might worry about getting rid of something and later regretting it. This fear can make you second-guess every decision and question your motives, leading to paralysis.

3. Overwhelm: When you have too much stuff, too little time, or just don’t have the physical energy, it can feel impossible to know where to start. The thought of going through everything can be so daunting that you avoid it altogether.

4. Perfectionism: Wanting to do things perfectly can also stop you from starting. You might think that if you can’t do it right, it’s better not to do it at all. When possible, it’s always best to strive for progress not perfection in decluttering.

Decluttering paralysis


If you feel you’ve been struck by decluttering paralysis and you’re stuck not knowing where or how to start, I get it. Here are some tips on how to deal with decluttering paralysis so you can keep things moving and deal with your clutter.

1. Start Small: Firstly, one of the best ways to overcome paralysis is to start with small, manageable tasks. Instead of trying to tackle an entire room, start with a single drawer or a small section of a shelf. This can make the task feel less overwhelming and give you a sense of pride and accomplishment. Nothing like a small win to make a bigger task feel more possible!

2. Set a Timer: Give yourself a set amount of time to declutter each day. Even 10-15 minutes can make a big difference. Knowing that you only have to work for a short period can make it easier to start. It feels less of a big task and more realistic, especially if you only have small windows of time to work with.

3. Create a Plan: Having a plan can help you stay focused and organised. Make a list of the areas you want to declutter and prioritise them. Break each area into smaller tasks. For example, if you want to declutter your bedroom, your list might include: clean out the nightstand/bedside table, organise your wardrobe, and sort through under-the-bed storage.

4. Use the Five-Box Method: This method involves sorting items into four categories: keep, donate, trash/rubbish, recycle and relocate. As you go through your stuff, put each item into one of these boxes. This helps you make decisions quickly, instead of over-thinking and keeps you organised.

5. Ask for Help: Sometimes, having someone to help can make the process easier and more enjoyable. Ask a friend or family member to help you declutter. They can provide support and help you stay motivated. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved!

6. Focus on the Benefits: Remind yourself why you’re decluttering. A clean, organised space can reduce stress, increase productivity, and improve your overall well-being. Keeping these benefits in mind can help you stay motivated and help you simplify your space and stop being stressed out by your clutter.

7. Let Go of Perfection: Remember that it’s okay if your space isn’t perfect. The goal is to make it more functional and enjoyable for you. Don’t get caught up in making everything look like a picture from a magazine. It’s far more important that you enjoy your home and living in it, rather than what it looks like.

8. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Decluttering can be emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s okay to take breaks and go at your own pace. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small. Most importantly, remember that everyone’s decluttering journey looks different and what clutters your home and life might be different to what clutters mine.

Decluttering paralysis


Here are some practical tips to help you overcome decluttering paralysis.

1. Use the KonMari Method: Created by Marie Kondo, this method involves keeping only items that “spark joy.” Whilst I don’t advocate or promote this method often, I think it merits a place here when it comes to breaking that decluttering paralysis. Sometimes we need a quick gut decision to jolt us into action. Hold each item and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it doesn’t, thank it for its service and let it go.

2. Digitise When Possible: For items like photos and documents, consider scanning and storing them digitally. This can help you reduce physical clutter while keeping important memories and information.

3. Set Up a Decluttering Routine: Make decluttering a regular part of your routine. For example, spend a few minutes each day tidying up or set aside time each week for more significant decluttering tasks. A little bit of decluttering a day keeps the clutter away!

4. Use Storage Solutions: Invest in storage solutions like bins, baskets, and shelves to help you stay organised. Labelling these containers can also make it easier to find things and keep your space tidy. Don’t forget to declutter first then organise otherwise you’ll just be organising your clutter.

5. One In, One Out Rule: To prevent future clutter, adopt the “one in, one out” rule. For every new item you bring into your home, get rid of one item. This helps you maintain a balance and prevents clutter from accumulating. Use this rule with caution though, as I’ve found it can also lull you into a false sense of security to keep on shopping because you know you’re going to get rid of something as a result. Maybe it’s better to stop the clutter in its tracks and stop unnecessary shopping in the first place?

Decluttering paralysis


Decluttering paralysis is a common issue that many people face. It can feel overwhelming and stressful, but with the right strategies, you can overcome it. Start small, set a timer, create a plan, and use methods like the five-box method or the KonMari Method to take control of your clutter (instead of your clutter controlling you).

Moreover, don’t be afraid to ask for help and remember to focus on the benefits of a clutter-free space. Let go of perfection and be kind to yourself throughout the process. By taking these steps, you can overcome decluttering paralysis and create a more clutter-free, organised and peaceful home.

Sounds good to me, but what about you? Have you ever experienced decluttering paralysis and how did you overcome it? Is it better just to dive in and get started, or did you find coming up with an action plan more helpful?

I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!


Sunday 23rd of June 2024

Great article Antonia! Thank you

Balance Through Simplicity

Monday 24th of June 2024

Hi Nancy, I'm glad you liked it! Thank you so much for reading and commenting.