Falling Off The Decluttering Wagon (And What to do About it)

buriedclutterHave you ever tried to declutter, go on a diet, or save money – found you were doing really well – and then fell off the wagon? If there’s anyone who hasn’t experienced ‘falling off the wagon’ in one way or another, I have yet to meet that person. We’ve all experienced it in at least one area of our lives. If it’s happened to you, don’t worry, it’s not fatal and it doesn’t make you a bad person!


Stop beating yourself up.

I was coaching a client the other day and after weeks of progress, life got in the way and she got discouraged. It’s interesting how we minimize our two steps forward after we’ve taken two steps back. She was beating herself up, asking ‘Why can’t I be more organized?’ I had to remind her of the 15 bags of clothes she collected from her closet and took to a women’s charity. And the furniture she donated to a friend who was moving into her city. And the bins of old shampoos, make-up and toiletries she got rid of. All this was accomplished in just the last few weeks.


Notice small successes.

It takes time to change life-long habits. Sometimes we can lose sight of our small successes along the way. But the minute we start berating ourselves for slipping, we can drop into a self-pity spiral, feeling defeated and powerless. It’s very difficult to move forward when you’re consumed with guilt and feel like a failure.
This is why it’s so important to share our accomplishments with those that will support us. Write them down and you’ll have tangible evidence that yes, you did it before – and you can do it again. And always reward yourself for your efforts – every baby step along the way.


Notice your triggers.

My client and I looked at what triggered her momentary lapse and discovered she was emotional due to a tragic event that occurred to a close friend, and short on time because she stepped in to help. She had a choice, and in that moment she decided to help a friend rather than put the time towards decluttering her home. I asked her if she would have done anything differently if she could do it again, and her answer was ‘no’. But after realizing she had a choice, she no longer felt powerless. And she stopped blaming herself. She released her guilt and this freed up her energy; now revitalized, she was able to get back to decluttering with a change in spirit.

If you find yourself hitting a snare, whether it’s while getting fit, getting organized or something else, be mindful of what triggered the set-back. Was there an event that led to the situation? What emotions were you feeling? Were you around certain people when it happened? What would you do differently next time? Rather than just quit, make it a learning experience and find your balance again.

And if you find a momentary slip becoming a full-scale derailment, consider hiring a professional to provide some helpful strategies – a personal trainer, a professional organizer, a money manager, etc. Although it’s never too late, the longer you wait, the more you’ll suffer, and the longer it will take to get back on track.

Now I’d like to hear from you…
Have you ever experienced this?
What triggered you?
How did you handle it?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.

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This post has 4 comments

  • Trish says:

    We all lose focus and the will to persevere once in a while — it is part of being human! As part of the decluttering decision-making process, I have decided the things I let go are less important than things I keep, so I tend to forget about them and move on. For that reason, I keep a running tally of the number of things I’ve downsized. It is for my use only — I refer back to it when I’m wondering how much progress I’ve made over time. I find it inspiring, and it gives me an objective way of “just noticing” what I’ve accomplished (not judging myself for it). I use a 4″ by 6″ lined note, divided into 12 rows (January thru December 2015), and 2 columns(Junk/Recycle & Donate/Give Away). When I’ve had a great month where many items have been moved along, I feel inspired to have an even better month. And when I’ve barely moved any items, I look back on recent experiences and always find a good reason why decluttering has stalled. If I find a category of items that are difficult to declutter, I ask a good friend to discuss why they don’t feel the need to keep these items. The discussion helps give me perspective, and makes it easier to limit or eliminate that category of clutter. I hope these ideas help others make space for new experiences and adventures in their lives!

  • Joyce Ford says:

    Hi, Hellen.
    I was trying to get fit. I began a program of weight training, and put my road bike on a trainer in the living room. I was improving my diet choices, and I had lost a few pounds when I was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram. It was caught early, I had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. I had to stop lifting weights to avoid abrading my skin during radiation. I continued the stationary bike training–it was actually recommended to battle the tiredness that occurs during treatment.
    Now that the treatment is over, I feel much more motivated to pick up where I left off. I am regaining my energy and my skin has recovered, so lifting weights can be added into my routine. I am seriously addressing the dietary part of the equation…even more so, now that I am aware that obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer.
    So, while I experienced a set-back momentarily, I believe that the set-back actually contributed to my present increased motivation. Thanks for the encouragement, and best wishes to you!

  • Nora says:

    Yes, I’ve taken step back. Most of the time it’s due to my kids’ health in crisis. It’s all about prioritize for me. My kids come first. After they are healthy again, I continue my organizing journey.

  • Vicky says:

    Hi Helen: Found you on “Neat” and have been inspired to take an organizing class on line and attend a seminar at the library offered by a local organizing specialist. I have learned that organizing is an ongoing process. Baby steps really do work and feeling good about what I have accomplished instead of looking at what needs to be done is inspiring! Thank you Helen for all you do to help us.