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.
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 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.
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.
- What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Clutter
- 7 Reasons Why You Struggle to Declutter Clothes + What to Do About It (this article is about clothes, but a lot of the advice is relevant to other items!)
- 4 Thoughtful Questions to Ask When Decluttering
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