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12 Ways to Declutter Without Regret or Fear

12 Ways to Declutter Without Regret or Fear

How many times have you decluttered something but later regret your decision to get rid of it? Maybe the fear of decluttering regret is holding you back from successfully clearing your clutter? Here are some tips to avoid decluttering regret and how to declutter your home without the fear of regret but with more confidence and ease instead.


Regret happens when we make a judgement about our past decision-making. We feel we should or should not have done something and we often feel bad because of our part in that and the end result. We often wish, in hindsight, that we’d made a different decision.

If you’re curious to learn more about regret, you might find this article on regret helpful from the Berkeley Well-Being Institute.


I recently got asked a very good question. Have I ever decluttered something I later regretted getting rid of?

I thought long and hard and up until a year ago, I would have said no. There’s nothing I’ve wished I’d kept, or at least that I couldn’t replace, borrow, rent or make do without.

However, a year or so ago my mum died and, although I was careful to keep what mattered and let go of the rest, I did wish that I’d spent a little more time with the process. It was a tough time and I wanted to keep the good memories and ditch the bad, but perhaps my judgement and haste during grief clouded my thoughts.

So, there was a couple of items, my mum’s favourite book and her favourite scarf, that I’d love to have with me now but I don’t. I don’t lose sleep over my decision to declutter them (my memories of mum go far beyond the book and the scarf), but I wish I’d slowed down and given myself more time to decide.

The topic of decluttering with or without regret is an important one because it’s something that holds many of us back or plays on our mind. The fear of getting rid of something that we can’t replace and the burden of responsibility if we get it wrong.

We may not have that stuff in our life anymore but I’m pretty sure that most of us will chastise ourselves for many years to come if we get rid of the wrong things!

In this article I’m sharing some tips on how to avoid decluttering regret and some ways you can declutter your home without regret.

Decluttering Regret: 12 Ways to Declutter Without Regret or Fear


Here are some tips to help you avoid decluttering regret and get rid of things without worrying that you’ll regret the decision later on.

1. Start with a place that’s easy to declutter

If you’re uncertain or anxious about decluttering and worried that you might make a wrong decision or declutter something you might later regret, then I encourage you to start decluttering somewhere easy and straightforward.

Instead of tackling highly personal or sentimental items like a stuffed toy, begin decluttering in the bathroom or a kitchen drawer.

Practice making decisions on what to keep and what to get rid of with simple items that are easy to know whether you use or need them and can be easily replaced if you have to. This isn’t so you DO replace them (but you know you CAN). It’s an emotional safety net you can use to give you courage to make decisions on getting rid of things.

Decluttering is all about making decisions on what you want to keep and what you don’t and, importantly, having the courage and confidence to stand by those decisions. They get easier with practice too, so that’s why starting somewhere easy will help you hone your decluttering skills so you can work up to dealing with larger and more difficult-to-declutter items and areas.

Further reading: Where to start decluttering? 6 helpful tips to help you get started.

2. Keep a maybe box

As I just mentioned, decluttering is all about having confidence in your decisions and an emotional safety net can help if you’re new to decluttering or finding it very tough.

You might be worried about not being able to replace the item because it’s unique, valuable or special in some way.

One tip to help reduce the fear of getting rid of things is to keep a ‘maybe box’. This is a box that you can put things in when you’re decluttering items that you’re not sure if you want to keep or are ready to let go of, yet.

Maybe you’ll need them, maybe you won’t. So, pop them in the maybe box for now so you don’t have to worry about decluttering them wrongly. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar to revisit this box in a week or month and see if you’re ready to make a decision on the contents.

Over time you might find that you refine your priorities and get better at knowing what to declutter and what to keep.

Further reading: One type of clutter that we’re often unsure whether to keep or get rid of is those ‘just in case’ items. Just in case we need that item one day, just in case we can’t find another, just in case we can’t afford another. Try these tips on how to declutter ‘just in case’ items for some ideas!

3. Practice slow decluttering

I mentioned my own regret in decluttering a couple of my mum’s items after she passed away and how I wish I had taken more time in sifting through her stuff.

I know this is what I should have done because, after all, I write a blog about decluttering! But, grief affects people in different ways so perhaps I wasn’t thinking clearly and taking on board my own advice!

Decluttering slowly is a great way to really consider what you want to keep and what not, and importantly, WHY. What do the items give you, do they drain your time and energy, do they remind you of good things or just hold you back from living in the present?

Slow decluttering means we’re not making knee-jerk reactions, particularly in times of stress, tiredness, frustration and even anger. Decluttering slowly means we have time to consider what we’re doing and why.

Further reading: What is slow decluttering and why it helps to make decluttering easier and more effective.

Decluttering Regret: 12 Ways to Declutter Without Regret or Fear

4. Only declutter items that belong to you

Whether you have a spouse that’s a hoarder, a partner that’s too messy for your organised brain, a parent who needs to move home and downsize but can’t or a teenager whose bedroom is like a pit of filth, you might know that decluttering items that DON’T belong to you can be tricky.

You might enjoy reading this article on how to declutter when your spouse doesn’t want to for some insight into how I tried to declutter even though my husband wasn’t/isn’t on board with the idea!

Moreover, decluttering items that only belong to you means that you only have to make decluttering decisions based on your own needs and wants. You can’t be blamed for getting rid of something that belongs to someone else and you can’t have the burden of responsibility put upon you by anyone else.

5. Don’t get rid of items that are highly personal or can’t be replaced until you’re certain

This is where the maybe box I mentioned earlier comes into play. Some items are valuable, not just in monetary terms, but also in sentimental value, as a memory of past people, places or events or just in their own uniqueness.

Keep these items back until you’ve decluttered other areas and items in your home. Think about them often, at different times of the day and in different moods, so you can get a feel for how important they still are to you.

Don’t make a hasty decision until you’ve really thought it through. You can replace a bottle of your favourite lotion that you accidentally decluttered but not the black and white original photo of your grandma.

6. Don’t declutter important documents

Paper clutter is a big problem for many of us but how many documents are really important? Birth certificates, marriage certificates, wills, passports etc should all be filed away for safe-keeping but there are many documents that can be scanned and stored electronically.

That being said, if you’re worried about decluttering paperwork which you might later need, if in doubt – keep it. It can be time-consuming and costly to get replacements.

Instead of regretting getting rid of important documents, channel that energy into creating a simple, but accessible filing and storage system for your papers. Make it clearly labelled, easy to put papers in and get them out again and set a date with yourself once a month to review the contents and get rid of any papers you don’t need.

Papers take up relatively little space compared to some other items we keep around the home (think of bulky items you might have in your garage or attic!) so it’s ok to hold on to some papers if you’re worried you’ll regret getting rid of them.

7. Start decluttering small, easily replaceable items

If you decluttered that ugly but comfortable armchair sitting in the corner of your living room you might regret it. You might not like the look of it, but it’s cosy and comfortable and a great place to snuggle and read your book. To replace it would cost money to buy it, time to find it and there’s no guarantee it would be as comfy as the one you’ve just gotten rid of.

In contrast, decluttering that second avocado slicer in the kitchen you never use would be much easier to replace if you did later find you needed it.

If you’re worried about decluttering regret and it’s getting in the way of you starting to declutter your home, start decluttering small and easy to replace items. Leave the big, expensive or hard-to-find-again things until you’re more confident in decluttering.

Decluttering Regret: 12 Ways to Declutter Without Regret or Fear

8. Get clear on your decluttering goals and why you want to declutter

For decluttering to be successful, for the long-term, I do think it’s a good idea to be clear on why you want to declutter. There are many benefits to a decluttered home and clutter costs us in so many ways, not just in the physical space it takes up or the money it costs to purchase that clutter.

What is your motivation for decluttering? What do you want to achieve? How do you expect things to be different if you had less clutter in your home and life? What are your goals for decluttering?

Action point: To help you get clear on what decluttering would mean for you, try these decluttering journal prompts to help you get clear on your decluttering goals.

9. Don’t declutter when you’re feeling emotional or tired

I know I don’t make the best decisions when I’m tired or full of emotion. Whether it’s what snack to reach for or whether to have that extra glass of wine, I make decisions based on how I’m feeling at that moment in time.

When I wake up the next morning, I might be less tired and feeling more positive and rested so my choice of snack would be healthier and my choice of drink would be a cup of tea, not wine.

Decluttering when you’re feeling emotional or tired can lead us to make decisions that we might later regret.

Try to declutter when you have energy, time, peace, calm and motivation. You know yourself the best. Maybe decluttering at a particular time of day could work best, or a time of the month, not when you’ve had a long day at work, or your toddler has been a challenge?

I’m more productive and my brain works better in the morning (I’m definitely a morning person) but I have a mid-afternoon slump and by the evening I’m usually wanting to head to bed instead of head to declutter some cupboards.

Important: Getting into the right mindset is key to successful decluttering. Read these ideas on how to be in a decluttering mindset for maximum results!

10. Adopt a decluttering mindset

Speaking of decluttering mindsets, it’s important to start out decluttering with the right intention. You are NOT clearing clutter just for the sake of throwing things out.

You might be clearing clutter to make space, to create more time, to make your home easier to manage, to downsize, to give you a better functioning home environment, to reduce anxiety, to support you in later life or if you have mobility problems.

Decluttering is hard. It’s physically and emotionally tiring so getting into right mindset before you even start is key to more effective and long-lasting decluttering.

If you want things to change, you have to make those changes, stand by them and, of course, you have to start somewhere. Get help from a friend, your partner, tell a loved one what you’re doing so you’re accountable.

11. Don’t declutter because someone else tells you to

If I tell my husband to declutter his desk so he can be more productive and organised and he gets rid of something which he later needs, not only do I never hear the end of it, but he also says he’ll never declutter ever again because he regrets (not just listening to me probably!) but also getting rid of that item.

Decluttering is also not easy because it’s about taking personal responsibility for our actions. It’s about facing our fear of making the wrong decisions, regret being one of them, and for an easy life most of us like to make excuses, lay the blame elsewhere or put things off, instead of facing up to that regret.

If we declutter because someone else tells us to, not only could we regret getting rid of that item but we could also be passing the buck.

12. Peel back clutter like layers of an onion

I like decluttering because every time I declutter I discover something new. Either something I’d forgotten I had or that brings back good memories or that I want to display and see OR because it makes me realise that who I was once is no longer who I am now. My clutter tells the story of my life.

This is important because decluttering without regret is about making peace with the past and your past decisions (for example, over hobbies you tried but gave up, money you spent and maybe wasted) and the stuff in your life that no longer serves you. It’s tough to do this perfectly and in one sweeping stroke.

I don’t want to regret my past but I also don’t want to regret getting rid of it either so I love the analogy of peeling back clutter like peeling back layers of an onion.

One layer at a time reveals another layer of clutter that wasn’t visible before and I can peel that onion (or that clutter) at a pace that feels right to me. With no regrets.


We’ve looked at some ways you can avoid declutter regret, so I thought it would be helpful to give you some quick and easy ideas for things you can declutter without regret if you’re inspired to declutter right now!

When I was brainstorming for this list, I found quite a few articles on the topic but I must admit I struggled in sharing a similar list myself.

Regret is highly personal as it’s based on our emotions and a judgement of our own decision-making. So, what I could get rid of without regret might be a gold nugget to someone else.

Here is a list of of some items I would get rid of without worrying about declutter regret.

  • Socks that don’t have a pair
  • Underwear that doesn’t support me
  • TVs and other devices that don’t work and can’t be repaired
  • Medicines that are out-of-date
  • Empty bottles of bath and beauty products
  • Food that’s stale and gone off
  • Make-up that’s old and unhygienic
  • Chipped and cracked drinking glasses, crockery and plates
  • Paint that’s old and congealed and no longer useable
  • Books I’ve read and don’t want to read again



I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you ever experienced decluttering regret? What did you declutter that you later wished you hadn’t? Do you know why you decluttered that item and why you later changed your mind?

Please leave a comment below as I’d love to hear your experiences and it might help others!

Nancy Carroll

Wednesday 24th of January 2024

Sow declutter is such a good tip!!!!! over 10 years ago me and my spouse were moving across country and i packed literally EVERYTHING we owned. Well day of moving comes and we only had a small trailer so we had to declutter FAST.... the amount of stuff i donated and wish i kept make me soooo sick to my stomach! like porcelain dolls and other personal items and all because we did a FAST declutter..... I remember thinking at the time it was ok to just get rid of the items but now there's regret!

Balance Through Simplicity

Thursday 25th of January 2024

Hi Nancy, thank you for sharing that. Slow decluttering certainly does give us time to think! But, the downside is also that it could mean too much to think and then procrastinate!

Diane Mortimer

Sunday 13th of August 2023

I regret decluttering dress I wore to a Wedding. I thought I had donated jacket I wore with it but Ive found jacket when decluttering my cupboard on Wednesday! Its a size down to what I'm at the moment. I'm going to my nieces Wedding in October, I know I wouldn't have been able to wear it but I really loved the dress and I haven't seen any other dresses I like. Fortunately I have a dress which I have worn to a previous Wedding which I'm going to wear. So pleased I kept this dress!

Balance Through Simplicity

Monday 14th of August 2023

Hi Diane, Thank you for sharing this. I think there is scope for us all to regret a decision but over time we learn to make as wise decisions as we can based on our needs and goals. Decluttering (and simplifying more generally) has given me so much back in different ways that I know to forgive myself if I occasionally get it wrong. Decluttering isn't a perfect or exact science. Thank you for your comment.