PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION IN DECLUTTERING: WHY DECLUTTERING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
In this article I’m exploring ways in which perfectionism can be an obstacle to decluttering. Let’s embrace progress not perfection in decluttering and look at why decluttering doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective.
DECLUTTERING PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION
I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about decluttering. I share tools, strategies and resources to help you declutter in the most effective way possible.
I give you checklists, projects and articles designed to make decluttering easier, faster and more sustainable over the long-term.
I also help you find ways to declutter when you don’t have time, feel overwhelmed or lacking in motivation or even tips to try if your spouse doesn’t want to declutter alongside you.
However, one message that I’m keen to share today is that your decluttering doesn’t have to be perfect.
You don’t have to declutter in any particular way, or achieve a certain result or make your home look or feel perfectly clutter-free.
Decluttering is actually about progress not perfection. Decluttering doesn’t have to be perfect to help simplify your home or life and lift the weight of clutter from your counter-tops, To Do list or your mind.
You don’t need to be decluttering all the time or let it rule your thoughts. Imperfect decluttering counts too.
WHY DECLUTTERING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
A while back I wrote an article about perfectionism. I’m a perfectionist and I still struggle with this tricky personality trait. In different ways, it holds me back, gets in the way of making decisions or just giving things a go. Unless I’m 100% certain, know the outcome, and near definite that I’m making the right choice, then I find it difficult to get started.
I get demoralised when things go wrong, struggle with an all-or-nothing attitude and hate letting things go unless they’re totally right. From choosing my children’s names, to publishing a blog post, perfectionism trips me up regularly!
However, what I’ve learnt from trial and error is that many things in life don’t have to be perfect for us to receive some benefit from them.
Decluttering is one such example.
The benefits of decluttering can be felt even with a little less stuff. There’s a freedom from peeling back the layers of clutter, just like we peel back the layers of an onion. It doesn’t matter if we clear all our clutter in one go, or do it bit-by-bit, becoming clutter-free is a long-term process rather than a short-term gain.
Read more about how to declutter your home and life.
HOW TO EMBRACE DECLUTTERING PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION
Here are some ways to embrace imperfect decluttering and practice progress not perfection when decluttering your home. If you struggle with perfectionism, I hope these tips help!
1. Decluttering is for long-term gain
I talked about this earlier, but decluttering isn’t a project you can tick off once and you’re done. Yes, you can declutter a room or a drawer this way, but to consistently stay clutter-free, you have to look at it as long-term gain.
What you don’t get rid of today, you can get rid of tomorrow. There’s no hard and fast deadlines, your life won’t instantly feel easier and less heavy overnight but gradually and slowly, as you shift the clutter from your home, your mind will also feel easier and less heavy.
2. Decluttering isn’t all or nothing
Again, as we mentioned above, you can clear clutter a little bit at a time. Remove the obvious clutter first and then go round in successive sweeps to remove a little more clutter each time. What you miss on the first round, you’ll probably pick up on the second time around. You don’t have to get all the clutter on the first go.
3. Counting numbers
It’s lovely to say you’ve decluttered 50 items from your home today, but actually even one less item is one less piece of clutter to move, tidy and clean. One less item every day for a year is 365 items – big or small.
Forget the numbers, don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve a set target, just do a little bit often, whenever you feel like it. The clutter will soon go and you’re more than likely to feel motivated to do a little bit more once you start to see progress (not perfection!).
4. Following the rules
There are many decluttering rules you can read about. Start somewhere easy, ask yourself decluttering questions about what to keep and what to get rid of, get rid of duplicates, don’t keep items out of guilt, don’t keep things you wouldn’t buy now.
Forget the rules, if you find a strategy that works for you, use that. Even if it’s just your own rule to put one thing in the donation box every day for a week, or to stop clothes shopping for the next 3 months. Forget the rules that make you feel demoralised, frustrated or like you’re doing it wrong. This is your stuff, your home so you make up your own rules!
One of the decluttering fears many of us have is about getting rid of something that we might later need. If I’m being honest, this has happened to me a couple of times, but generally, the benefit I get from having less clutter totally outweighs the inconvenience of having to buy or borrow something I gave away.
If I’m decluttering, I want to get it right. I don’t want to be faced with the prospect of having gotten rid of something that I later needed. That would be a waste of money, effort and time. So, my perfectionist self would be paralysed into inaction because of the consequences of making the wrong decision.
But, I encourage you to face that fear, declutter slowly but steadily. Make clear, well thought-out decisions about what you want to keep and what you’re ready to get rid of, and if you make a mistake, own it. You made the best decision you could at the time, with the intention of creating a better life and home for yourself and your family. One little mistake won’t be the end of the world.
Wanting to declutter perfectly can lead to great frustration. We wonder why we can’t make decisions, find it difficult to let go of items, worry about getting rid of the wrong things. When we get frustrated, we lose motivation, get stuck in a decluttering rut and give up. Keep calm, start fresh tomorrow, explore exactly what you’re frustrated about and why it’s making you feel bad.
7. Focusing on the outcome
Perfectionists often think about the outcome or result of something. When it comes to decluttering, perfectionists will focus on whether they’re going to hit their target – a clutter-free room or 100 items ticked off a list. What would it matter if your whole room wasn’t totally clutter-free but it had 60% less clutter? What about 87 things ticked off that list, rather than 100? Aren’t these two scenarios still testament to how hard you’ve worked in decluttering rather than that you’ve failed to reach your (perfectionist) outcome?
8. Overcoming decluttering paralysis
Perfectionism can lead to paralysis. We don’t take action because we’re not sure that the action we take will be the right action. Re-train your brain to take imperfect action, and in this case, imperfect decluttering action. Don’t overthink things, just start.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION IN DECLUTTERING
Here are some helpful tips for practicing progress not perfection in decluttering your home:
1. Keep in mind your reasons for decluttering
Get clear on your why and your eye on the bigger picture. What do you hope to change or improve by decluttering your home?
2. Just start
Don’t get stuck on weighing up the pros and cons of the different ways to declutter. Just pick a place to start decluttering and dig in.
3. Be realistic
Don’t expect to become clutter-free overnight or for your life to magically become easier the moment you part with a few items. Likewise, don’t expect to declutter your entire home in one day. Clutter takes time to build up so it will take time to part with it.
4. Enjoy the journey
Decluttering is a cathartic experience. It is liberating and empowering as you decide what to keep in your life and what to keep out. Find the freedom in having less stuff and less to manage, one item at a time. A clutter-free home may be the end goal, but the journey to that point can be just as exciting!
5. Mistakes are opportunities for learning
If you get rid of something you later regret, learn from it. Why did you make the decision to declutter that item? How would you make that decision again in the future? Mistakes are not signs of failure, they’re just an inevitable by-product of learning and trying something new.
6. Ask for help
If you have other people in your household enlist their help and support. Decluttering the home will benefit all of you so becoming clutter-free can be a joint effort. It’s not a sign of failure to ask for help.
7. Perfect doesn’t exist
Perfection is impossible. One person’s view of what’s perfect is different to someone else’s. Don’t waste your time trying to achieve the impossible. Spend your time trying to declutter, item by item.
8. Be flexible with how you measure the outcome
What outcome did you want to achieve vs what outcome have you achieved? Move the goal posts if you find yourself measuring the outcome but not hitting the mark. One shelf instead of the whole bookshelf. A decluttered kitchen counter but not the whole kitchen.
DECLUTTERING PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION
Perfectionism in decluttering isn’t helpful. Shift your mindset away from getting it 100% right and focus instead on the benefits of a clutter-free home.
Find a way to declutter your home that works for you, your family and your lifestyle. Imperfect decluttering is still decluttering. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve followed the conventional rules, gone slow or fast, kept something you later recognise you didn’t need, or got rid of something you later found you did need.
Decluttering is life-changing if you commit to the process, enjoy the journey and keep your end goal in mind.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
One last point to mention is a gentle reminder to be kind to yourself. You presumably want to declutter your home to give yourself more time, space and freedom for other things in life than being tied to managing your home and the stuff in it.
Wanting to make these changes and being brave enough to start putting them into action is something to be proud of yourself for! It’s not easy.
And, it’s even less easy when you’re coming up against thought patterns and mindset blocks that hinder your progress.
Be kind to yourself, appreciate every win, even the small wins. A bit less clutter is a bit less stuff weighing you down. Give yourself time to practice decluttering, and time to be comfortable with the feelings of overwhelm, fear, indecision and uncertainty – all problems that perfectionists struggle with.
Enjoy the process and relish the outcome, whatever and whenever that may be. Long-term, sustainable and realistic decluttering is all about progress not perfection.
RESOURCES TO HELP YOU DECLUTTER SUCCESSFULLY
Here are some resources to help you declutter and embrace progress over perfection in different ways!
- Decluttering questions – questions to help you declutter more successfully
- Quick decluttering projects for your home – easy projects for some quick wins
- Decluttering tips for hoarders
- How to make decluttering fun
- How to find the motivation to declutter
- 11 simple things to do before you start decluttering
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
Do you struggle with perfectionism? Has it caused you problems when you’re trying to declutter your home? Do you get caught up in worrying if you’re decluttering right or what the end result will be? Have you found ways to enjoy the process and progress of decluttering instead of decluttering perfectly?
I’d love to know your thoughts so please do leave a comment below!
GET YOUR FREE DECLUTTER LIST
When we find decluttering difficult, for whatever reason, it’s often helpful to have a list to follow. Lists provide structure, stop us wondering what to do next and we can tick things off which helps build our confidence and motivation levels.
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Sunday 21st of May 2023
This is definitely something I've been guilty of! For instance, this week I began swapping out my summer and winter wardrobe, and I thought I'd get rid of my unloved summer and winter clothes in one fell swoop. And I did get some items in bags to donate, but eventually my "just in case" voice began squabbling with my "get rid of the clutter" voice, and I got overwhelmed and just shoved the remaining winter clothes into the storage bins. I even "recluttered" a few pieces!
I think for me, this is the biggest issue with perfectionism. To express it more clearly, I'm having a struggle between keeping things perfectly and letting them go perfectly...which sounds ridiculous when I put it like that. LOL
As always, thanks for the great advice, Antonia!
Balance Through Simplicity
Monday 22nd of May 2023
Hi Laura, I think your comment will make sense to many people so definitely not ridiculous! Sometimes perfection masks other mindsets, sometimes it is just that we want things to be right and in our control. I guess the trick is getting to the root of why we feel like that! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Thursday 18th of January 2018
Love this! Something I needed to read today