“You Have to Get Rid of Everything,” and 9 More Decluttering Myths to Ignore

published Jan 8, 2024
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There are lots of good reasons to declutter your home, from creating a more serene living space to ensuring you can actually find your stuff when you need it. Like any other chore, though, decluttering can be time-consuming. Avoiding some common mistakes can help you stay efficient (and, hopefully, keep your home organized for the long haul). 

Wondering how your routines measure up? Check out our list of the most common decluttering myths, according to professional organizers

1. You need to declutter your entire space at once. 

As with cleaning, it’s just not realistic to try to declutter your entire home in one go. You’ll likely give up and never want to revisit it if you bite off more than you can chew. Professional organizer Amanda Wiss views decluttering as a mindfulness practice. 

“Struggling to get a necklace untangled from four or five others that I never wear may lead me to take five minutes to do an audit of my jewelry box,” she says. “Whenever I run into a pain point, be it my clothes, the Tupperware drawer, or the entryway drop zone, I ask myself if I could do something about it right then and there.”

2. It’s wasteful to get rid of things you don’t use. 

Another myth Wiss hears a lot is that it’s wasteful to get rid of perfectly good (or brand-new, with the tags on) stuff. While it’s true those things may be harder to let go of, keeping things for the sake of justifying the purchase isn’t always the best practice if your goal is to keep your space organized. To assuage those negative feelings, Wiss recommends donating items to hospitals, shelters, or other charity organizations

3. More containers will solve the problem. 

Baskets and bins can certainly help corral loose items, resulting in a tidier, more organized space. But too many of those products might just contribute to the cluttered vibe, says professional organizer Brenda Scott. To ensure you don’t end up with extra bins you won’t use, declutter your space before you attempt to organize items. 

4. There’s one tried-and-true approach to organizing. 

Everybody’s different, and that means everybody organizes differently, too. So while that viral color-coding or decanting TikTok technique might work for one person, it might not be the best bet for you and your space or routines. “Some systems make sense for some, while others find the same ones confusing,” says Scott. To be sustainable, an organizing practice should be easy to keep up with daily. 

5. Done once is done forever.

Decluttering can feel amazingly freeing — especially if you’ve recently been digging through drawers. After you soak in those good feelings, remind yourself decluttering is a mindset rather than a one-off job. Chances are, your junk drawer and closet will become home to items you don’t need or use. Scott sees decluttering as a process that needs to be done routinely and continually adjusted to find what works best. 

6. You need fancy or matching bins to tackle clutter. 

Back to the bins topic. Once you conduct an initial declutter, containers can help keep your space organized and efficient. But you definitely don’t need to spend a bunch of money on storage containers just because they look pretty, says professional organizer Mary Jo Contello — especially if you’re someone who prioritizes function over aesthetics. “I have helped clients use bins they already own and even recycled small boxes to create a very organized space,” she says.

7. You have to ruthlessly get rid of everything. 

The goal of decluttering is to get rid of things you don’t need or love — not to get rid of everything just to create a clean-looking space. “You don’t necessarily have to get rid of that old college T-shirt if you love it and it makes you happy or that other article of clothing you know will come back into style,” says professional organizer Millie Naor. Instead, focus on letting things go that have no use and that you don’t need. The idea is to create more space for the things you do want!

8. Being neat is the same as being organized. 

One of the biggest myths about organization has to do with its definition, says professional organizer Ben Soreff. First and foremost, being neat or tidy doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of clutter. “I have been in homes that look like a design showcase and are spotless, but every closet, drawer, and attic is packed,” he says. On the other hand, visible items on your counter or a maximalist design style doesn’t necessarily mean you’re disorganized. Being organized at home simply means you have a system for your things that helps you live more efficiently and productively, regardless of how your countertops look. 

9. Throwing things out is decluttering. 

While purging may be a natural part of the organizing process, Soreff says it’s not the end goal. Instead of focusing on what you’re getting rid of and how, home in on what you want to keep and why (and where it should live in your space). “Sometimes it’s less important to get rid of something and more important to have a plan for it,” Soreff says. 

10. You can’t declutter if you’re sentimental. 

If you’re having a tough time letting go of certain items you know you should say goodbye to, Wiss recommends adopting a gentle approach she calls time-stamping. Ask yourself if you’d miss that item in a year if it wasn’t there, and then work your way down to whether you’d miss that same item in a month or week. “When it comes to brand marketing and customer buying, it takes about eight interactions to convert someone to becoming a customer,” says Wiss. “I look at decluttering the same way. I might not be ready to let go of this flannel yet, but maybe the next time I’m ready to declutter this space, I will be.”