The Messy Middle || Decluttering Motivation When You Just Want to Give Up

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While decluttering, there often comes a time when everything is just…a mess. It looks worse than it did when you started and you feel like you want to just throw it all away in frustration. You’re not alone! Here’s some motivation to keep pushing through!

Picture this: you’ve decided to declutter your room, so naturally, you open every drawer, closet, and compartment and dump everything on the floor. With vigor, you start picking things up and toss stuff this way and that… keep, donate, trash…

But about 15 minutes into the project, decision fatigue creeps in. This is exhausting! You sit down on a pile of stuff and sigh. What is all this stuff and where did it all come from??

decluttering and sorting clothes piles

I can confidently say… #beenthere #donethat

Decluttering and organizing can have combustible energy. The idea of a clean and organized space is incredibly exciting!

But most of the time we don’t think about how to take care of our hearts during the process and we end up burnt out and ready to give up.

the messy middle

There aren’t many decluttering projects where I would professionally suggest a client empties all their possessions on the floor at once (one exception would be clothing–I agree with Marie Kondo on that point).

Typically, working with one small space at a time gets the most consistent results. But sometimes, we have to get messy. Sometimes all the boxes surround us and we feel paralyzed. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong–on the contrary, it means you’re heading in the right direction!

Just keep pushing through the messy middle with these tips!

1. Give Yourself Grace & Breathe

Okay, I know this isn’t what you really feel like doing when you’re sitting on a pile of random stuff, but just give it a try! Close your eyes. Inhale until your lungs are full. Exhale completely, letting your entire body relax.

Now, give yourself some grace-filled affirmations.

Holding onto the past is holding me back from the present (and future).

The mistakes I made in the past have served a purpose
& will help me make better decisions now.

I forgive myself for spending money on things I didn’t need.
I recognize that the money is gone, it’s done, and now I’ll move on!

If you’re struggling to let go of things because you (or someone else) spent good money on them, here are a few pro tips for easing the pain of letting go. 

decluttering the kids toys bins

2. Allow Yourself to Make Slow Decisions

Depending on what area of your home you’re working on, you might need to do it quickly (like clearing off your bed so you can sleep), or you might have an open time frame (like the attic or basement).

If you’re feeling stuck and overwhelmed, the best way to listen to your heart and keep yourself from making rash and regrettable decisions is to just let it sit.

Often this looks like boxing your stuff up and walking away for a few hours, days, and maybe even weeks. The longer you can happily live without needing the stuff that’s packed away, often the easier it is to realize that you don’t actually need to keep the stuff.

Of course, sentimental items and keepsakes may never find a use, so leave those until the end and don’t let that stop your momentum! Face your most-used spaces first–bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room–the areas where you know what you use and what you don’t.

Clearing out those spaces will naturally build your confidence when you head to tough storage spaces.

We often get stuck in places like hobbies, crafts, and the stuff we are saving for “someday”. If you can make quick decisions here, great! But for many of us, it takes some intentional evaluation to really understand why we are so attached to an item.

Maybe it reminds us of our past, or represents something we hoped would be in our future. But in reality, it’s not often of true value in our present. Here’s a complete look at evaluating those “someday” items. 

Give yourself a set amount of time to take a “break” from the messy middle, but make sure you commit to coming back!

Completely stuck in making decisions? Here’s how to tackle the tough things (like books, sentimental items, etc.) and let go for good

living well planner

3. Create A Plan

In the messy middle, sit in your space and ask yourself some incredibly important questions:

  • What do I like about this space?
  • What was working in this space?
  • What do I NOT like about this space?
  • What was NOT working in this space?

Getting crystal clear about what needs to be changed, improved and overhauled gives you a specific goal, instead of just “declutter stuff”. If you don’t have a specific purpose, decluttering can feel vague and meaningless.

Your spaces should be useful to you. Your home should be lived in–not just a storage unit. Once an area because useless due to clutter, it loses value and becomes a burden. Your home should be a blessing, not a burden. 

Day by day, remember that every decision to let go of something is leading you to a more uncluttered life!

I love the Project Planning pages in the Living Well Planner for plotting this out!

4. Understand Your Why

Looking at piles of stuff will automatically stress you out. If you haven’t already narrowed down why you’re decluttering this space, do it now.

In her book The Year of Less, author Cait Flanders found her why by realizing that enough was enough. She writes, “And one day in July 2014, I was also done–done with searching through all the things I didn’t need to find the one thing I actually did.”

I’ve had similar moments of recognition. When enough was just enough. I was done with the piles. Done with the mess. Done with the overflowing closets and drawers. Done with the toys scattered on the floor. Just. So. Done.

But if you don’t know why you’re done, if you don’t know what your heart is desperately whispering to your mind, you’ll never see your decluttering goals through to completion.

Something important has to drive you forward.

Maybe it’s more time with your family. Less time taking care of your stuff. More free time to pursue hobbies. A simpler rhythm to life. Less clutter. More abundant financial resources. Less debt.

Whatever your reason–find it. Clarify it. Think about it. Journal about it. Hold onto it for dear life. This is important. And what’s valued will be followed through.

5. Recognize the Value of the Journey

Don’t miss this important key.

While the decluttered space is the prize we are working towards, it is super crucial that we also understand how valuable the messy middle process is.

Instead of dreading the decluttering process, embrace it.

The messy middle can feel frustrating, but the truth is, we can learn a lot from it.

  • How does the clutter make you feel?
  • Where did these items come from?
  • What has contributed to the piles of stuff (gifts, impulse shopping, hobbies, etc.)?
  • Do these items add value to your life or simply create a burden?
  • What habits do I need to change to prevent the clutter from coming back?

In the hardest moments of the messy middle, take your sights off the big picture mess, and think about the meaning. What changes can you make to adjust your spending, collecting and storing habits in the future?

How will you keep this space clear? What’s the most important vision and value for this space?

The process is not easy and it may not be quick, but appreciating the tough moments, the hard decisions and the life-changing realizations are what makes decluttered spaces stick.

Final Thoughts on The Messy Middle

Staying motivated when you’re sitting in a pile of stuff can seem impossible, but by giving yourself grace and taking your time, you can get through it! Keep your focus on working intentionally through the clutter and create a plan for making your space useful to you.

Don’t discount the process, and keep working, one decision at a time. Not only will you value your clear space, but also the important lessons you learn along the way!

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8 Comments

  1. This is so spot on! The mess when I am cleaning things out is no joke! It can definitely become overwhelming especially when it doesn’t look like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. These are great tips to help with the overwhelm. We worked on our garage over the weekend. It’s so satisfying when it is all done. So worth the mess!

  2. I totally saw myself while reading this haha. I feel like quitting quite a lot when I start a decluttering project. It’s really annoying but in a way, it’s good because I know I am in it at least. So like you said, from that point on the only thing that matters is finding your real motivation and pushing through it. I have a feeling that your house is heaven because your posts are very useful. I still have a bunch of places in my home that need a serious decluttering!

    1. Oh girl. haha! I feel you. The most helpful thing I’ve done in our home is to take one space at a time and create specific “havens” and really, I started minimizing at the front door. Our downstairs is pretty in order if we maintain the toys and daily clutter. Our upstairs (my office and storage closet), is still very much a work in progress. =D But that’s okay because I’m working through it bit by bit.

  3. This is the worst part of decluttering! Going through everything is hard. These tips are so nice, especially giving yourself grave and taking a deep breath

  4. I loved this post! This is so me – I often get so overwhelmed with clutter and have seen myself taking regrettable decisions in the past. There are some great tips to regain confidence, momentum and motivation

    Also, I love that you mention one thing in this post – the longer you keep the stuff packed, the easier it is to realise you do not need to keep the stuff anymore.

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