10 decluttering mistakes to avoid, according to a professional organizer

(Don't put) everything you own in a box to the left

Three images of clean rooms
(Image credit: Future)

Confession time: I am an aspiring clean girl, but always feel like I have too many belongings for my small apartment to get the look IRL. I don't know about you but I'm always wondering when I see a home giving off the vibes of my dream aesthetic: don't they have any stuff?? 

Everyone talks about spring cleaning and resetting your space, and one of the best ways to start fresh is by decluttering your home to clear your mind. That's way easier said than done though, and tbh, cleaning out old stuff can be one of the most long and difficult tasks.

Don't sweat it though, we're here to help. To find out ten of the most common decluttering mistakes (and how to avoid them!) we spoke to Christina Giaquinto, professional organizer and brand ambassador of Modular Closets.

1. You don't have to throw everything away

Let's start off simple: the easiest mistake to make while decluttering is putting too much pressure on yourself to get rid of everything. 

OFC, you're decluttering for a reason and def have some (or a lot of) belongings you don't need anymore, but getting rid of essentials, your fave pair of heels, or the little luxuries you swear by on a night out will just result in stocking back up and dropping some serious coin later.

2. Don't be afraid to be honest with yourself 

If you're anything like me, chances are you have some less-than-cute birthday gifts from relatives that you politely thanked them for, then stored at the top of your closet to never touch again. You might feel a pang of guilt even thinking about getting rid of these items, but it's okay to be honest and say goodbye to things you realistically never use and never will.

Trust me, I'm one of the most sappy and sentimental people in the world, and will literally sit on my floor and cry reading old yearbook messages and passed notes from high school. But when it came time to move and I had to fit all my belongings in just a couple of suitcases, I had to be real and say that I didn't need every old birthday card or note from back then, and some of the nostalgic items I was saving and never looking at wouldn't be missed.

3. Don't let objects take over your emotions

On a similar note, it's also key to remind yourself that it's okay to let go of things, even if they represent memories .

It's similar to the principles of Swedish Death Cleaning: a memory might come back to you when you look at your item, but it's not not tied to it, and it's just as valuable without a tangible representation like a prom dress or cheesy novelty keychain from your semester abroad. Keep what is super-meaningful to you, but don't be afraid to check in with yourself or family members to see if that sentimental item is actually as valuable as you assumed it would be.

4. Decluttering without emptying the space fully

Okay, let's put the tissue boxes down, take a breather from the emotional side of decluttering, and get into the logistic mistakes to avoid making while doing a clear-out. 

One of the certified worst things you can do is to try and declutter a space without fully emptying it first. Especially if you're working with a cramped closet, room, or dresser, it's way too easy to lose track of what you've already gone through and overwhelm yourself with the mess you're looking at. Stop this mistake before it starts by completely emptying the area you're working with and piling everything on the floor.

"By first emptying out the space before sorting the items, you will be much more cognizant of the items you decide to place back in the space," Giaquinto advises.   "Also, you won’t overlook items that may be hidden under others."

5. Don't start getting rid of anything until you categorize

One of the best ways to streamline the decluttering process is to set spaces for the different items and actions you plan to take with them in advance. Instead of jumping in right away, it's best to go in with a plan, and the types of piles and categories you'll be needing depending on what room you're working on.

"Designate a pile of items you want to keep, a pile to donate, a pile to sell, and a pile to throw away," Giaquinto suggests as one of her top tips. "Then, you can sort all of the items as you go — then you can easily box up the donation pile for your favorite charity, place items in the throw away pile into the trash or recycling, and so on."

For example, if you're going through your supply of beauty products, have a pile for empties to recycle, a pile for expired products to throw away, a spot for your favorites that you're planning to keep, and a box for unopened products that could be donated.

6. Throwing things away without seeing if you can donate locally

Gorgeous gorgeous girls think about the environment, and unnecessarily throwing things away and letting your clutter contribute to landfill is not the move. Before you even think about driving to the dumpster, jump on your phone and search for local spots to donate anything still in a good, usable condition.

Thrift stores often accept donations at the door, or have donation centers that would be super grateful for your old homewares, clothes, or accessories. If you're looking for a little extra money for the treat yourself fund, consignment stores like Plato's Closet  will take your old clothes AND pay you cash on the spot for items in great condition. 

7. Don't keep your clutter to have a garage sale UNLESS you have it booked in the calendar

One of the most annoying, counterproductive things ever is realizing half of your clutter is stuff you already put aside months ago to get rid of and just haven't yet. A garage sale is a great way to make some extra money and give your old items a new home, but make sure you actually have one planned before you end up with a pile of clutter, just in bags.

"If you want to hold a garage sale to sell your old items, it is absolutely key to schedule the day and time you plan to hold it," Giaquinto says. "Otherwise, you may end up having to keep pushing the garage sale out as other obligations come up, all the while still holding onto a bunch of items cluttering up your space."

8. Decluttering without a goal and intention for your space

"Set your goal and declutter accordingly," Giaquinto says. "Having a clear goal you want to achieve for your space will further optimize the decluttering process."

Whether it's working on your kitchen's junk drawer, your closet, or your overflowing supply of makeup and skincare products, knowing exactly what you want to accomplish through your decluttering process is ideal and will keep you on track as you start to go through your belongings.

"This will prevent you from being distracted by any clutter in other spaces — as you achieve one goal, you can then set another goal for another space," she adds.

9. Starting the process without the right headspace

Decluttering can be beyond draining, both physically and mentally, so set yourself up for success by creating a relaxing and inspiring environment for yourself. We're talking the full works when it comes to self-care: light your favorite scented candle, throw on a cleaning playlist, take frequent breaks, and stock up on your fave treats and beverages.

"Trust me, decluttering and organizing any space can be tiring," Giaquinto says. "This is especially true if you are moving heavy boxes and equipment around. So keep your energy and momentum up by having a tasty snack nearby at all times!"

10. Don't be hard on yourself

One of the most important things to do while decluttering is to be kind to yourself. It's okay if you work in one drawer at a time, or don't finish the project in one weekend. Getting started is something to be proud of, and breaking the process into smaller, manageable tasks that you can check off one by one is a great way to remind yourself how much you've accomplished so far.

"This process is a lot," Giaquinto says. "The fact that you are working on your space to make it better is truly such an accomplishment."

Nishaa Sharma
Freelance social media editor

Hi! I’m the former social editor at Real Homes and a freelance social media expert bringing you the latest and greatest in home trends, interiors aesthetics, and celebrity finds. When I’m not scrolling or filming the best home decor for your small space, you can find me exploring the cutest villages and brunch spots, or snuggled up on the sofa with a new recipe, my husband, and our puppy, Ebble.