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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Decluttering

If I could go back fifteen years and have a conversation with my younger self, there’s so much I would say.

I’d probably start with a big hug, telling her she’s beautiful (along with a gentle nudge to stop dyeing her greys!), before reassuring her that, yes, everything does get better. 

After that, I’d tell “young Jen” a few things about decluttering, which might sound funny, but if you’ve heard the story about how minimalism changed my life, you’ll know it’s a conversation worth having.   

Here are five things I wish I had known before I started decluttering, and since I can’t go back in time, I’m sharing them with you.

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Decluttering on a black overlay on top of an image of a white nightstand with a stack of pastel books, a pair of reading glasses, and a vase of white peonies in the background.

1. There’s nothing wrong if decluttering takes longer than you’re expecting

When I first started decluttering, I was heavily influenced by articles I read online. They were inspiring, promising life with less stuff and less stress, and best of all: it seemed so easy.

All I had to do was get rid of my clutter, and I expected it to take a few weekends at most. That’s what the articles promised, and besides, how hard could it be? 

I just had to invest a few hours of my life, along with a little elbow grease, and then I’d go on my merry way, enjoying the numerous benefits of my clutter-free home

But I bet you can guess what happened… 

It was not easy, and it didn’t NOT take a few weekends. Instead, it took me years to make any significant progress.

If you can relate, here’s what I know after working with hundreds of women worldwide: this is absolutely normal. 

Also, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time. In fact, there are many benefits to slow decluttering. So keep going and trust the process; this is one case where slow and steady really does win the race.

2. Decluttering is incredibly emotional work—and that’s a good thing

I always knew decluttering would be a lot of work, but I expected a “roll up your sleeves and put your back into it” experience. A bit like scrubbing hard water stains out of the shower, if you know what I mean!

And while that’s true, to some extent, I found the emotional work related to decluttering much more challenging.

It required a lot of vulnerability, a good dose of humble pie, and, most importantly, self-compassion. There was so much inner work to be done — I had to understand where my clutter came from in order to let go — and this was much more challenging than any of the physical work. 

From dealing with sentimental items, deciding what to do with things I wanted “just in case”, to processing the regret I felt about wasting money, it was an emotional roller coaster I was not expecting. 

But yet again, I now know it’s completely normal. 

While I don’t discredit the physical work of decluttering, it’s the overwhelming emotions that keep most people stuck. Don’t fight it or take it as a sign that something’s wrong with you (as I did far too often). 

Instead, embrace it. 

Make time to feel and process all your feelings as part of your decluttering, and it becomes an opportunity for healing and self-discovery.

Just build in plenty of time for self-care so you don’t get burnt out. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

3. There are no “right” answers when it comes to decluttering

When decluttering, I spent a lot of time debating over what to keep and what to get rid of, and it was often agonising. 

I just wanted certainty—some magical “ah-ha” moment where I’d know what to do—because I feared making the wrong decision.

  • Will I regret getting rid of this sweater?
  • Should I sell or donate these jeans?
  • Will my family hate me for decluttering grandma’s china set?

It makes sense if you think about it. 

Most of us grew up believing there’s a right and a wrong answer to every problem. It’s what we’re taught in school; “good” students study hard and make the right choice, and “poor” students make mistakes, leaving everyone disappointed. 

But if I could go back in time, here’s what I’d tell myself. 

Life isn’t like school, and the correct answers aren’t floating around somewhere, waiting for you to discover them.

It can be scary to admit, but it’s also freeing because it doesn’t matter how much you stress or overthink. Odds are, you’ll make some decisions that you regret and some that you don’t.

You can let the unknown paralyse you, and your life will stay busy and cluttered. Or you can develop self-trust and have faith that you’ll be able to deal with it no matter what happens.

The Simply + Fiercely Show With Jennifer Burger

The Simply + Fiercely Show is a podcast for women who want to clear their clutter and create space for freedom and joy. If your life keeps getting bigger—but not better—then it’s time to declutter from the inside out. LISTEN NOW

4. Stop making the same decisions over and over

One of the challenges of decluttering is the vast quantity of decisions that need to be made. 

From “Should I keep this?” to “Should I sell this?” it’s exhausting. Decision fatigue is a real thing — and when you factor in the mental load of everyday life, it’s easy to give up before you even begin. 

I should know because I often did.

But looking back, I can see how I made one mistake, over and over again, that made everything about decluttering harder than necessary …

I forced myself to make the same decisions repeatedly by refusing to learn from experience. 

That jacket I was “sure” would sell on eBay for $50 (and eventually sold for $0.99), and the sweater I never wore because the wool was too itchy? These were clues—lessons I could use to inform my future decisions—but instead, I kept starting from scratch. 

Looking back, I now know why. 

As I said, the emotional side of decluttering is strong and often overrides my logical mind. But at the same time, I never heard anyone offer this simple advice. 

Learn from your clutter. Create guidelines for yourself (about what to keep, what to sell, what to let go). Make decisions in bulk, even if they seem minor or insignificant because the cumulative weight is holding you back.

And if you want to learn more about how this works in real life, check out my ultimate closet decluttering guide for practical examples.

5. Your life won’t magically improve after decluttering

I’m clearly a massive advocate of decluttering and can say with 100% confidence that it changed my life for the better. 

But it’s not a magic pill. 

Of course, less stuff means less to clean and less to worry about, and everyone can enjoy the immediate, tangible benefits of decluttering (like one less pile of toys to put away). 

But the more profound, life-changing benefits that I talk about all the time—those benefits are not instantaneous. 

Because it’s not your decluttered home that solves your problems…

Instead, it’s what you do with your newfound space: the time you spend repairing relationships, figuring out your values and priorities, experimenting, trying new things, and so much more. 

Everything you’ve been putting off, probably without realising, comes to the surface, and it can be uncomfortable. But eventually, you’ll see how decluttering was a catalyst for so much change, from your love life to your career path*. 

*speaking from experience! 

So keep going because all the sayings (as cliche as they might be) are true. To paraphrase Joshua Becker, sometimes the life you want most truly is hiding underneath everything you own.

Related Post: From Shopaholic to Minimalist: My Story of Living with Less

Decluttering Tips + Resources

Here’s one more thing I’d tell my younger self about decluttering: it’s a skill that takes practice. 

I know, it’s strange, it feels like something that should be easy to do. But if that hasn’t been your experience so far, here are some tips and resources to help you along your decluttering journey.

And don’t forget to download a free copy of my Mindful Decluttering guide using the form below.

Do you have any decluttering advice you wish you could share with your younger self? Let us know in the comments! X

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16 thoughts on “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Decluttering”

  1. I have kept a bin with my notes from nursing school, many note books with care plans and essays etc. What about letters which were written many years ago by loving grandparents? Unfortunately, not many articles on decluttering address such items. It’s more about clothing and household articles. How helpful it would be to make suggestions about such ” clutter.” Maybe frame such letters and give them to our own grandkids.

  2. Declutter ? After 10, 25, 40, 50 Years ? Try AFTER 63 years of a marriage. I am trying, but it is not easy. But is satisfaction after you part with a lot of ‘STUFF’ you have been wanting to get rid of !

  3. Love this article and all of the comments from people around the world. I am in a place where it’s time to sell my house. In order to do so, I have a lot of decluttering and purging of “Stuff” I have collected over the last 25+ years. I have made what I think is good progress, but I have a way to go. I didn’t realize how much my emotions would be stirred up and how much it would stifle me at times. I am the type of person who wants to get it done quickly and see immediate results. As I have gotten older, I’ve learned that I do not have that kind of physical and mental energy anymore. 🎉Ah Ha Moment, that was hard to accept and really brought up a lot of emotions in me. I keep pushing through it, but it is not easy. I have never prayed and talked to myself so much in my life. Sometimes I think I wear God out🤪I will keep moving forward with the energy I have until I get on the other side of it. And, guess what? Once I’m on that other side, there will be another “Other Side” to conquer, but I believe that the new other side will be less painful and more enjoyable❤️🥰❤️

  4. I have read so many articles and books about decluttering but this one was the best. I love your first point. I started decluttering in 2017 and thought it would take a few months, 5 years later I am still at it. I still have a couple of rooms to do and a few areas around the house that I missed. Funny enough, it took so long that some things I did several years ago need to be re-visited. I also thought there must be some magical questions that if I answered I would know what to keep and what to get rid of. I haven’t found them yet! Yes, it is a very emotional process. I am always surprised how the pull to keep things “just in case” for no logical reason is so strong.

  5. I sold my house. I didn’t go to the basement but once every six months. I had store some many things for the future. The future didn’t need all this “stuff.” I found a sweet guy that would take anything I didn’t want. I got rid of it, the sweet guy is happy, and I do not miss any of the stuff. Actually, I probably feel relief. Love my new place that isn’t stuffed. Try it, it is really easy to do once you get started.

    But the way, the sweet man that took all the items will be finding new homes for the stuff.

    • It really is a relief to let go sometimes! And yes — it’s amazing how many future circumstances where we might need our things never actually occur! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Rita.

  6. Maybe this is covered in #2, but I’d say to spend some actual time interrogating whether the life you’ve been telling yourself that you want is actually what you want, or if you’re just… deathly afraid of going against the grain.

    I wasn’t able to declutter until I got honest with myself that conforming to my generation’s standards of how to “woman” correctly was making me deeply unhappy and that I really actually want to be a homemaker. Once I decided to stop living a lie, at least when I’m home by myself, the clutter donated itself over several weekends and I miraculously stopped wanting to shop. The standard decluttering questions never worked for me because EVERYTHING is “useful” when your crap is a fortress protecting you from the realization that what you truly want out of life is the one thing you’ve been told is not acceptable.

    (I’m a 90s millennial in the USA. How to “woman” correctly: have a demanding career, reject traditional femininity, embrace queerness, use a cat or dog as your primary relationship and treat men like pets–then loudly lament that “men are trash” because, surprise, they won’t treat you like royalty when you rank them beneath an animal that eats its own poo.)

    • Oh yes, I 100% agree re: the pressure to be a certain type of woman! Often the things we hold on to reflect who we think we *should* be and it’s hard to physically declutter until you let go of that pressure first. The thoughts and beliefs are different for everyone, but I think the pressure to conform is universal.

  7. I love to declutter and get rid of things. When I’m having a bad day, I can cheer myself up by cleaning out a closet! I love this advice you shared! Another suggestion I have is to declutter continually. We used to have a garage sale every year as a fundraiser for a children’s hospital, and I’d keep a box in the garage and whenever I found something I didn’t feel the need to keep, I’d go put it in the box for the sale. We haven’t done the sale in a few years now, but I kept that mindset of regularly pulling out things that I don’t need. Sometimes I’m not sure about the item, so I keep it. But next time around I realize I still haven’t used it, so out it goes! I take my unwanted items to our local thrift store. Win/Win!!!

    • I find it very therapeutic now, too! (Although I admit it wasn’t always that way.) Your tip about constantly decluttering is a great one because we’re constantly evolving — what we need now might not reflect what we needed a year ago — and it’s OK to update your stuff accordingly.

  8. I finally had the courage to read one of your emails. It touched me in so many ways. I think I can begin the process. Several things stuck out for me; specifically, to embrace the process and to embrace who I have been and who I have become. I’ve had the courage to change my life when I stopped drinking 25 years ago. And I had the courage to go to college for the first time at 45 years old. I’ve had the courage to begin my own Clinical Therapy practice 4 years ago. Why wouldn’t I have the courage to decluter my home?!? I’m afraid to begin, however, I know that fear is just a feeling and I can use it as a motivator. Thank you Jen

    • Hi Lori, this message brought tears to my eyes! The fear is so, so normal but I believe in you. Please know you’re not alone, and I wish all the best with your decluttering. Take care 🙂 Jen

  9. I love this article so much Jen! Thank you for sharing. How did you deal with societal issues around stopping dyeing your hair? I’m very curious and hoping to take the plunge myself. 😅

    • Hi Aparna! So lovely to hear from you 🙂 And it’s so funny that you ask about my hair because I was in the shops last week and had someone ask the exact same thing. To be completely honest, it was one of those situations where the pain of continuing as I was (constantly going to the salon, wasting time and money, stressing out if my roots were showing) was enough to inspire change. I was just so tired of dealing with it.

      But funny enough, now that I’ve been through the process (the earlier stage is the hardest), I genuinely LOVE my decision. I’m happier with my hair than I’ve ever been.

      So I think it’s a chicken egg situation. I’m not sure I ever felt ready or 100% confident taking the plunge, but doing it helped me create the confidence I needed.

      Hope this helps! And please know you are so, so beautiful either way. Much love, my friend! X


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