Decision Fatigue and Decluttering, How All of those Little Choices Make Decluttering Difficult
Updated: May 11
Have you ever started to declutter at home and halfway through, you felt completely overwhelmed and had instant regret?
Turns out there's an interesting reason why this happens to us. These feelings of being tapped out and over the project are the result of decision fatigue.
If you aren't familiar with the term, decision fatigue is when the quality of your decision-making starts to decline after you've made too many decisions in a short time.
Oftentimes, you have multiple factors to consider. Even picking up an item as simple as an ink pen can trigger multiple questions.
"Does this pen work?"
"Do I like to use these types of pens?"
"Where did this pen come from? And how did it end up here?"
"If I decide to keep this pen, where should it live?"
And that's just one ink pen with little sentimental or financial value to you. As you come across things that hold more value to you that were gifted to you or were a bigger financial investment for you, the stress that comes with decision-making only amplifies when you're going through things like close and important papers, you can guarantee that the feelings of exhaustion will arise much quicker.
When I started taking on clients as a professional organizer, I started understanding how real decision fatigue is.
In some of my very first client sessions, I noticed that I would come home absolutely wiped after only four hours. And I could sense that my clients were barely hanging on when I left as well. I would barely make it home and would collapse on the sofa unable to function for the rest of the day.
I couldn't understand how something I love doing so much could suck the life out of me in such a short amount of time until I realized that my entire day was spent deciding decisions side by side with my clients. And the mental load of this was exhausting us both.
So is there anything we can do about decision fatigue when we're decluttering our homes? Absolutely.
Here are my three best tips for battling decision fatigue when decluttering:
Tip number one is to break the project into smaller bites.
You may look at a closet or room and think that doesn't seem like a lot to go through, but you'd be surprised at how complicated that little space can be.
Whatever space you think you're going to do, go ahead and cut that in half.
If you finish the smaller space and still want to keep going and go ahead and tackle the rest. But don't be surprised when eventually and usually unexpectedly, you hit that decision-making wall. Breaking the space up ensures that you don't have a ton of mess to clean up when it happens.
Tip number two is to start with the easy decision to take out the trash.
When you first start tackling a space, it helps to start out simple and build momentum. The only decision you should be making the first time you touch an item is whether it is trash or not. If it is trash, throw it away immediately to get it out of the space. If it isn't, put it in a pile until you've gone through everything.
Don't worry about all the other decisions that you need to make about the items just yet. Those decisions are for later. Eliminating trash first does two things for you.
It makes it easier to see what things need your attention.
It helps exercise those cluttering muscles to get you ready for the tougher decisions to come.
My third and last tip is to not think too far ahead.
A lot of the time, you pick up an item and look too far into its future, and you start making decisions that are not important at that moment. Once you decide to keep an item, don't immediately stress about where it's going to live. Simply put it in an area for all items that are going to stay when you come across items to sell or donate.
When you come across items that you're going to sell, Don't start thinking about where you're going to sell them or for how much you're going to list them. Just put it in a pile for items to sell or donate all those extra decisions about an item's future that you're trying to make.
While cluttering is a decision for your organizing self to figure out, your decluttering self's goal is to sort out all of the items that you don't want to keep. So you're only finding homes for items that you want in your space. Figuring out what to do with unwanted items, as well as items that belong in other rooms of the house, should be left for you to do once you've rested and recharged.
So there you have it. My best advice for battling decision fatigue with decluttering. Hopefully, this has helped you to understand just how mentally exhausting the process of decluttering is so that way you remember the next time you take on a decluttering project, utilizing my three tips discussed in this episode. And also, be sure to give yourself a little grace through the process.