The Key to Decluttering Without Burning Yourself Out

published Dec 6, 2017
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Decluttering—especially if you have a lot of stuff to begin with—can be an exhausting task. You can spend hours going through your things and realize you’re not even remotely close to being done with all your sorting. If you always feel totally spent when you’re done with a major decluttering session, the key might be in avoiding those giant, day (or weekend!) long clean-outs in the first place.

At least, that’s what Ann Lightfoot, co-founder of mother-daughter organizing and decluttering business Done & Done Home, suggests. Instead, what you should do is break the task down into smaller intervals.

Take it a Little at a Time

“People do this crazy thing where they go ‘we’re going to organize all weekend.'” Lightfoot said. “You’d be so much better off being like, ‘okay, we’re going to do from 9 am to noon, three Saturdays in a row,'” adding that you can then reward yourself by going out to brunch afterwards, for example.

The key really is to give yourself more time and spread it out over a few days, and this is especially true when you’re going through things that might cause an emotional reaction, whether you’re cleaning out a loved one’s estate, moving, or simply trying to pare down and part with things you have an attachment to. By breaking up such a big task into smaller to-dos, you make things easier on yourself and you save yourself from burning out.

How Long is Too Long?

According to Lightfoot, you should limit your decluttering time to a few hours per day, so as to not totally tire yourself out. You need to give yourself time to recuperate and do other things you enjoy.

“Do what you can do in a day, realize it’s going to be exhausting, and never work more than 6 hours at a time on something like that—it’s too tiring,” Lightfoot said. “What happens is, you’re like ‘we’ll just power through and do 10 hours,’ but then you can’t do anything else for 3 weeks, you don’t want to go back, you’re completely tapped.”

The next time you have to tackle a giant decluttering task, you’re better off scheduling multiple, shorter organizing sessions rather than overexerting yourself at once—you’ll thank yourself when you’re done.