How Your Decluttering Challenge Can Completely Backfire

Does the idea of setting yourself a declutter challenge spark joy within you? Whether or not you have KonMari fever, the process of decluttering your home can positively impact your life and can potentially, completely backfire. Because by choosing to declutter, you are intending to create order out of chaos, and when things backfire, chaos wins.

Knowing Your Why

Marie Kondo is EVERYWHERE! And good thing because we have A LOT of stuff in our homes.

It’s estimated that ‘the average American home contains 300,000 items, from sofas to salad forks‘, according to an article in the Boston Globe. Those things may have initially brought you joy, but now overwhelmed by your stuff, you may feel the opposite.

The ease and convenience that online shopping has provided in accumulating stuff has grown exponentially. Being able to ‘buy now’ at ‘cheap prices’ and ‘for a limited time’, coupled with ‘free’ and ‘super-fast’ shipping is essentially making consumers think less about the genuine why you are really buying it. We favor feeding the collective ‘I need this in my life now‘ mantra or dopamine rush rather than pausing that impulse to measure our joy long term.

Next minute …

pizza pool float
declutter challenge backfire

The other day, he almost bought a pizza pool float, until he remembered that he doesn’t have a pool.The Atlantic

Envision Your Decluttered Home

Your decluttering challenge can completely backfire if you don’t clarify your why you are motivated to let your stuff go. Knowing what your why is will help you in making decisions about your possessions during your decluttering challenge and can influence your buying decisions in the future. Decluttering your space is simultaneously creating space in your life in all ways, since you are curating your belongings to reflect what is truly important to you, and those things are loved and feel good to be around.

Engage your imagination to see what your home looks like after you have decluttered to dial into your why.

  • How does walking into your decluttered home feel to you?
  • How does your decluttered home make you feel?
  • What do you see and more importantly what don’t you see?
  • What do you want to be easier?
  • What is easier now that you have decluttered?
  • How does having a decluttered home function differently?
  • What changes in your life will be supported by decluttering?

Taking the time to envision, create and generate positive images and feelings is your big picture why. Its possible that you will experience benefits that are even better than what you are imagining, or that you can think of. Pre-paving your vision of successfully completing your decluttering challenge goes a long way to averting a backfire, so it’s time well spent.

Project Management

In order to avoid your decluttering challenge backfiring, even before you start, you will benefit from assessing the task at hand. Underestimating the quantity and quality of your clutter plus the time you have allocated to do the work, are the key factors in assuring your declutter challenge success.


It’s possible that you have guesstimated what clutter is where in your home, so you have something of an idea of what you will be facing. Taking a trip through your home, seeing and assessing your clutter first hand can help you formulate your plan of action.

You can calculate the quantity of clutter in relation to your home by doing the following:

  1. Make a list of every room and area of your home.
  2. For each room and area, assign a percentage of clutter in the space.

For example: Master Bedroom 30%, Kitchen 25%, Garage 80%, Storage closet 95%, and so on.

In the percentages for each of the rooms or areas, what constitutes the clutter? Using a KonMari method checklist, (like this one from, you would distribute your clutter into one of these categories:

  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Miscellaneous or Komono are: general, kids, office, cleaning, kitchen, decor, garage, bathroom
  5. Sentimental items

Knowing where the bulk of your stuff is will help you assess where the bulk of your time will be spent. Therefore, it is easier to decide what areas to deal with first, prioritize your efforts and maximize your efficiency.


How deeply invested are you in your clutter, emotionally?

Knowing that determines the quality of the clutter and how easy or hard it will be to deal with it.

Your emotional investment tied to the things you have in your home, both positive and negative, play a vital role in whether this process will go smoothly or completely backfire. Since Marie is not standing by your side while you find what sparks joy, you will need a strategy to deal with it. Whether its dealing with the emotional things in portions, or enlisting a friend to support you as you do that or in one fell swoop.

The sentimental photos and mementos being the final step on the Konmari method is strategic because 90% of the decluttering is done by the time you get there. In the process you have strengthened your resilience to clutter and bulked up your decision muscles, yet this can waylay any declutter challenge.

The emotions potentially triggered by all of the photos, mementos, keepsakes, and gifts can make you question all of your decluttering decisions to this point, and turn you towards complete backfire. That is why having someone supporting you and helping you reconnect with your why can get you back on track and help you mitigate these challenges.

Yes, No & Maybe

When setting yourself a declutter challenge, you need to be committed and clear about your rules of engagement. Ending up with a mountain of maybe’s is re-routing you from creating a clutter-free home to a complete backfire. Saying ‘yes or no’ to an item is fairly black and white and when its obvious–well it feels easy peasy.

Your parameters could be as simple as: it has value, it’s functional, operational and you are happy to have it and you love it, and if the opposite is true, then it’s a clear ‘no’.

When you are fresh and enthusiastic, being definitive about ‘yes or no’ designations is simpler. However, as you begin to accumulate a pile of ‘maybes’ or clutter limbo, instead of things being either black or white, you enter into a grey area.

A decluttering challenge can backfire when ‘maybe’ becomes your default decision about your stuff.” –Sherry Trentini

  • Maybe one day I’ll make a quiche.
  • Maybe I might need it in the future.
  • Maybe I’ll keep it to pass along to someone else who might need it in the future.
  • Maybe it was a gift and you’d feel wrong in letting it go.

A Mountain of Maybes

How often do you say ‘maybe’ in your life, when you’d rather say no?

The use of ‘maybe’ in our lives is a way of avoiding choosing either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. The truth is that, if it was a clear “Yes!” you wouldn’t be in this dilemma, it’s having to admit it’s a “No”, that trips us up.

We can perceive ourselves as being kinder and more polite by telling someone ‘maybe’, when we really want to say ‘no’.

Why? Because in the moment, we don’t want to have to justify our decision, and it’s easier to decline in the future, than on the spot. The same thing applies to your stuff. Of course, it’s possible that you might make a quiche or might need that thing in the future, but that’s pretty vague.

Negotiating Against Yourself

The moment you start to negotiate with yourself in ambiguous terms so that you can talk yourself into a ‘yes’ answer, is another way of veering towards a backfire. Keeping those ‘maybes’ only means that you are creating a clutter limbo for yourself in the present, only to have to double back in the future.

Perhaps you know there are things in another area of your home that you will easily be clear and concise about; go sift through that, then come back to the maybe pile with fresh eyes. This way you can capitalize on that momentum and renewed enthusiasm.

To avoid your decluttering challenge completely backfiring, make the process easy on you.

  1. Be honest about your stuff, does it fit your rules of engagement?
  2. Give yourself permission to choose and honor yourself by making a definitive decision. [Like when I let go of my wedding dress]
  3. Don’t look for joy where there isn’t any.
  4. Revisit what your decluttered home vision looks and feels like. [Clear the path to anchor your future vision]

Knowing What To Do With The No’s

As you admire the piles of clothing and household items you have decided no longer suit you or your home, what is your plan?

Before starting your decluttering challenge, knowing what to do with all of your ‘no’s’ beforehand, can help you avoid a backfire.


Your decluttering challenge benefits you and your space and can also be beneficial to your local charity. #winning

Before giving your gently used items to us, ask yourself if you would give it to a relative or a friend. Our shoppers are looking for quality second-hand goods, and disposing of items we can’t sell costs a lot of money. Every dollar we spend disposing of unusable donations is a dollar we cannot spend on our services to the community.Goodwill

Making a donation to a charity makes you feel good, and you can feel even better when you know what their needs are and what items they don’t need. You are keeping your clutter out of the landfill by donating it, (well done), knowing you can also keep your donation/clutter from becoming their trash is even better.

Since over 80% of clothing donations may end up in a landfill, the effort you put in now to learn who can put your stuff to good use rather than garbage notches up the feel good vibe. A quick internet search or phone call can help you allocate what goes where and how best to get the articles to them.

Sometimes learning that the very things you have deemed as ‘still good’, may not be good enough for charity can veer your decluttering challenge toward backfire. Looping back to the ‘grey zone’ and thinking that ‘maybe’ you should just keep the stuff since it can’t be donated, is defeating your why. Take a moment to review and reconnect with your vision to redirect yourself to decluttering challenge success.


Whether an actual garage sale or posting on a online selling platform; you are solely responsible for getting your goods advertised and in front of potential buyers. The up side is that you keep all the money you make, (unless you pay for priority placement), the down side is that you don’t know how long it will take to sell.

This approach is definitely viable as long as you have an expiration date; as in how long will you advertise until you accept no one is giving you $10 for your like-new pasta maker? Keeping your ‘I’m selling this’ pile indefinitely defeats the declutter challenge, because your clutter has not left the building.

You need to determine how important it is to sell the stuff (future) versus getting it out of your home (present day) is part of your process. It is possible to combine those two key conditions by finding the most perfect re-sale, used and consignment store that meets your needs.

Used Retailers

Re-sale, used and consignment shops are becoming more and more popular as a way to recycle and rejuvenate homes and wardrobes. As the person who is providing them with inventory you have to remember that not everything you feel is perfectly sell-able, is.

“Remember: It’s business – not a judgment on you or your style.” Huff Post

Just like any retailer they stock their shelves, racks and showrooms with the items they know will sell; and doing your homework as you did with making donations, can save time and energy.

Backfiring can occur when you overvalue what your stuff is worth and therefore price things out of the market, and may lead you into a clutter holding pattern.  Compare and contrast all selling options available and determine which is the best route for you that supports your decluttering challenge.

To The Curb

We are running out of space for our garbage, and even if we donate things to charity it may end up in the landfills anyway. But the curb doesn’t mean its destined for the dump.

  1. You can post your things for free on selling marketplaces or join Freecycle.
  2. Around the globe it can be normal for people leave stuff on the curb and people street shop.
  3. Many communities host flea markets that you can set up at.
  4. Ask your own social media tribe if someone wants or needs what you have.

For the things that you simply can-not fathom nor do you want someone else using, owning, wearing or otherwise the trash is the only option. When possible finding an alternative to adding to the landfill may not be easy, but its worth it. The benefit goes beyond the earth as it gives you broader context about what happens to the stuff you buy, when you are shopping the next time.

Decluttering is a Learned Skill

Keep in mind that decluttering is a learned skill, and may not be a one and done challenge on your first go.  A decluttering challenge raises our awareness about what we want in our home and affects our decision making when we are being a consumer. You may find yourself decluttering layer by layer, as you hone your skills, until you get to your ideal vision of what a clutter-free lifestyle and home looks and feels like to you.

Need support to get you started or through a decluttering challenge you have already begun? Let’s Chat!


Sherry Trentini

As a Life & Grief Coach, I love helping people let go the hard stuff to make room and create the good stuff. I have a healthy respect for the resistance to letting things go, while knowing the liberation that comes from doing just that. I am all about helping you navigate through and towards your future. Additionally, I'm a gratitude junkie, a decluttering advocate and loves to do burpees as exercise!

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