Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Erica Layne of The Life On Purpose Movement.
A few years ago, my mother-in-law gave us two giant boxes of photo albums from my husband’s childhood. We lived in a small place and I was admittedly less than eager to find somewhere to store two decades of school portraits, scouting badges, journals, and sports participation certificates. (Yep, she saved it all!)
But we found a place for the boxes, not just in the apartment we lived in then but the townhouse that came after that. Life felt too full at the time for us to devote the mental and emotional bandwidth to sorting through so much memorabilia.
When we moved again, though, I vowed as I lifted those boxes that it was time.
A couple of months ago, I sat on the carpet of my bedroom, the contents of those boxes fanned out around me. My husband and I spent hours squinting at pictures, deciding what to save and what to throw out—finally narrowing the collection down to a modest stack of photos and documents.
I had just hauled a huge bag out to the recycling bin when I came back inside and realized there was a third box. A smaller one, but still, a third box.
When You’re Just Plain Done
At the moment, my husband and I were out of reserves. We couldn’t make one more decision that night without tipping over the edge and into Crazyland.
So we put a pin in it.
For… at least a month.
That third box—pushed up against the wall of our bedroom—stared me down every time I woke up and every time I went to sleep. I just didn’t have it in me yet to crack it open.
I knew I needed to shake out my shoulders and take a rest before I tackled it again, and I was okay with that. But I remember a time earlier in my minimalism journey when I thought I wasn’t allowed to have slumps like this one—or when my decluttering slumps really set me back.
A reader named Amanda recently said this about her decluttering slumps:
“I have so much clutter that it gives me anxiety to start. Then when I do get started, I suddenly hit a brick wall, get anxiety AGAIN, and stop. Then I get discouraged and wait FOREVER to even try again. Can anyone else relate to this cycle?? You make good progress and then all your work goes down the drain and you’re back to square one. 😩”
Amanda is definitely not alone in this. We all run out of steam sometime. But the difference between someone whose home never really changes and someone whose home does is that the second person takes the following steps, in one form or another:
5 Concrete Steps to Take When You Hit a Slump on Your Decluttering Journey
1. Believe that losing motivation doesn’t have to mean giving up.
Running out of steam doesn’t have to mean more than, well, you ran out of steam! But too often we fall into the trap of believing that it’s over, subscribing all too easily to thoughts like these:
- What was I thinking? I’ll never clear all of this clutter.
- Who do I think I am? I’ve always lived with clutter and always will.
- I knew I couldn’t do this—I never finish projects I start.
Think of it this way: Would you have this same reaction if you felt discouraged about your job for a week or two? Or if you felt some tension in one of your closest relationships or hit a tough season in parenting? Would you up and quit? Throw in the towel?
It’s okay to run out of energy sometimes; we all do. Accept it when it comes, and decide now to REST instead of quit.
2. Actively watch what you bring into your home.
While you rest, be sure to actively watch your consumption so that old habits don’t land you back at square one. Being vigilant about what comes into your home is how you make real strides, because in the end, it’s as much about what comes in as what goes out.
3. Celebrate all of your progress so far.
When I’d been married for about eight years—at about the time when an anniversary starts to feel like just another anniversary—a wise friend gave me the advice to celebrate every year. “You work hard for every year of your relationship. That hard work deserves to be celebrated.”
I think the same applies to our decluttering efforts. Don’t gloss over your small successes. Instead, mark them—celebrate them. Focus on how good it feels to live with less stuff, whether it’s as small as a pared-down spice cabinet or as big as an entire garage. Sink into that feeling of lightness and when you’re ready, use it propel you forward.
4. Come back to your why.
Why are you decluttering? Dig for your deepest answers—the answers that go beyond “Because my spouse wants me to” or “Because I think I should.”
Maybe it’s because you’re tired of spending so much precious time taking care of the things you own. Cleaning them, repairing them, moving them from room to room. Or maybe you’ve been feeling weighed down for several years now and you desperately want the feeling of emotional lightness that comes with clearing out the extras.
Whatever your why is, return to it. Journal about it, share it with a friend or family member, post about it on Instagram if that’s where you document your life. Bring it back to the front of your mind.
5. When you resume, be content with baby steps.
Almost daily I hear from people who express something very similar to what Amanda said above. It’s the anxiety that gets us.
If you pick your head up and look at how much stuff is around you, it’s so easy for that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness to creep in.
So friend, keep your head down. Believe that baby steps are enough. In fact, it’s baby steps—one after another—that will eventually get you where you want to be. But for now, declutter one corner at a time, celebrating every small win along the way.
When You’re Ready Again
A few days ago, I made eye contact (so to speak ;)) with that box in my room, and I knew I was ready to tackle it.
I opened it, pulled out a photo album, and started flipping through. To my surprise, I found that the album was only partially filled. I pulled out another album—and found the same thing.
Altogether, the six nearly-empty albums took me about 20 minutes to go through.
I was glad, as I carried the box downstairs, that I hadn’t wasted months or even years feeling overwhelmed by this particular box, which, as it turns out, took me so little time to sort through.
Sometimes a break (and under-active imagination) is exactly what we need.
For more inspiration, check out Erica’s new book, The Minimalist Way: Minimalism Strategies to Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy. Available now. The book will help you discover the peace and joy of living with less.