3 words that can sabotage decluttering

Have you ever been in the midst of decluttering your home and caught yourself saying, “I really should …” As in “I should (read that book / play that game / use those art supplies).”

If you’re like me, you’re probably not being completely honest with yourself. In fact, this sort of commentary will sabotage your decluttering efforts every time.

words that sabotage decluttering

I’m going to share 3 “dangerous” words that sabotage decluttering efforts

Watch out for them! Using them is a decluttering mistake that just about everyone makes. Here they are.

1. “Should” is secret code for guilt.

Guilt, as in: I bought (that shirt / that book / that gadget) and I would feel really guilty if my purchase was a waste of money so I’m going to pretend that it wasn’t and let it sit in my closet for the next 5 years.

It takes up precious storage space while also keeping me from reaching decluttering success.

Or my aunt gave me this sweater and I should use it someday. She’ll be hurt if she found out I gave it away.

Maybe you “should” [fill in the blank].

  • But how long has it been since you did?
  • Do you have more things than you can reasonably store?
  • Is your clutter causing you unnecessary guilt over things you don’t like or don’t want to use?
  • Are you overwhelmed by a garage full of stuff you “should” be using?

The truth about “should.”

Should demands obligation. But who is doing the demanding? Who says you can’t decide you bought a picture you hate and get rid of it? The money is already spent.

Why add guilt to that burden? Who says your aunt’s feelings dictate what stays in your closet? She might not even notice if you get rid of the sweater and if she does ask, you can always say it wasn’t a good fit for you.

You don’t have to continue to carry the burden of guilt that unwanted stuff puts on you. Throw off the guilt and get rid of it!

2. The next dangerous word is “might”.

As in “I might (need that fancy dress /to need that fifth serving bowl/use that empty photo album).”

how to declutter your home

Might is secret code for indecisiveness.

I can’t bring myself to get rid of (that book, that dress, those craft supplies) so I’m going to pretend I have future use in mind.

I might need that thing and so I’m going to put off what I know to be the truth and allow this thing to clutter up my house and bring me more guilt (see above).

A strategy for the “mights.”

Might is a bit trickier to tell if you’re being honest with yourself. One way to handle a “might” is to ask what happens if you do dispose of the item and then find that you do want it later?

For instance, I was hanging on to an empty photo album I bought 3 years ago (can you believe it?). It’s was a beautiful oversized album. I intended to fill it with family pictures. But here’s the thing – I can count on one hand the times I’ve had pictures printed. I much prefer to create photo books now.

I “might” still have pictures printed, but if I ever get around to that, I could always go out and find another $20 photo album.

Once I’m honest with myself, I admit I have no intention of using that photo album.

That task hasn’t even been on my to-do list for many, many months. So with a sigh of regret for a wasted $20, I took it to the thrift store today. Someone else will surely be happy to get a great bargain on a nice photo album and I have a little more room in a cupboard.

Plus, I’ll be more careful with my purchases in the future so I hopefully can avoid buying something I never use.

Related: Use the 20/20 Rule to Make Decluttering Decisions

3. The last dangerous word is “handy”.

“Handy” as in “those (extra cookie sheets / extra chairs / old towels) might come in handy someday”. “Come in handy” = denial

What we’re often saying when we say we’re keeping something “in case it comes in handy” is that we don’t really have a use in mind, but the money’s already spent and therefore, we’re going to keep said thing “just in case.”

When I catch myself using this excuse, I ask myself honestly what are the chances I’ll use the thing in question. If I really do have a need for this particular item, I’ll keep it.

However, if I’m just avoiding a hard decision to get rid of something, I’ll bite the bullet and get rid of it.

Related: For people who’ve got a lot of “I can use that” clutter

How to combat something coming in “handy”:

Tell yourself:

Someone else needs this more than I do. Lose the guilt and choose to bless someone else with your unneeded item. Whether you sell it and make a little cash or give it away, you’ll be glad for the extra space in your home.

If I need (clutter-causing item) in the future, I can always get another one.

Won’t this space look great with all the extra space after we get rid of this?

It will be so easy to keep the house clean when I get rid of the extra stuff! (This is so true!)

handy useful clutter

Is your garage, basement, or spare room full of things that could be handy or useful? Time to have a closer look while decluttering!

I almost never declutter for other people without their permission.

These words aren’t intended to be used against other people. This is one of my decluttering rules.

These rules are meant for you on how to declutter your home, and let others decide for themselves if they want to declutter.

Is it always wrong to keep something “just in case”?

I’m not saying using any of these 3 phrases is ALWAYS a bad idea; rather when you’re working on an ambitious decluttering project, be aware if they start to slip into your vocabulary.

You just might find the decluttering process easier once you recognize these words for the “danger” they pose.

How do you stay on top of decluttering your home?


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27 thoughts on “3 words that can sabotage decluttering”

  1. I always have the “shoulds” and the “mights”. Those words are strong in my vocabulary, ha! I *might* use that, *should* use that, *might* find a way to use that.
    But if an idea for something doesn’t come right off, then more than likely, any ideas that come from it will probably be forced. *Should* just get rid of it, ha! 🙂

    • Yes – great observation. This is mostly an internal battle, at least for me, and it’s sooo easy to talk myself into something if I’m not careful.

  2. Excellent post and how very true. I’m going to print a copy and hang it in my storage room for future decluttering reference.

  3. One of my goals this year is to have families from school over for dinner on the regular. Besides getting over my need to have our place “perfect,” I struggle with holding on to serving ware because “I might” need it for entertaining (which I haven’t done much of the past few years). I hope to entertain, but haven’t. I hope to have people over for dinner, but what if I don’t?

    Any suggestions?

    • 2 things – I would say, pick a date and invite someone over. Even if it’s 3 weeks out, just get it on your calendar. I, too, struggle to entertain as much as I would like. If that is something you want to do and enjoy, you may have to push yourself to get it done (it’s so much easier to put it off and attend to more pressing things (homework, dishes…)

      Also, if you have a lot of serving pieces, maybe there are some that should stay and some you don’t need. Think about what you like to serve at gatherings and keep those things. Or if you’re tight on space, see if you can let go of the biggest pieces and keep the ones that are easier to store.

      Good luck!

      • You are so right. I’m throwing a birthday party for my (nearly!) 5 yr old next weekend. I’ll be able to see then how much of which serving platters we actually use. Truthfully, there are some that I do not like, but feel like I have to keep “just in case”! Those will be the 1st to go!

        And, I may take your advice and just invite a family over. Thanks for great tips!

        Good luck to everyone!

    • I’m bad about keeping entertaining dishes too. But I always ask myself it that can serve more than one thing. For instance, I decided I shouldn’t keep the gravy boat because I can use a pretty bowl instead. And that bowl can serve many different things. Same goes for holiday items…I’m trying to stick with neutral serving pieces that can be used year round, so I’m not storing a giant turkey platter that gets used only at Thanksgiving. Instead, I’ll keep two much smaller white platters that can be used for just about anything. I also try to think through an average meal…how many dishes would you honestly serve at once? Keep (maybe) 1 or 2 more than that for a larger party and only keep your favorites.

  4. Sarah, these are precisely the thoughts that can go through my head as I declutter. Thank you so much for your encouragement in how to deal honestly with these three clutter-busting pitfalls. I am going to pin this post and read it once a month before I go and declutter any particular room. Thank you for writing such a great post! May God bless you.

  5. Sarah! You could not have written this at a more opportune time – at least for me. We’re in the process of culling the tons of stuff from the storage room in our basement. We’re having new flooring put in so EVERYHTING had to come out. I’ve already made one trip to the Salvation Army with a full car. There are many more to come I hope. We try to spend at least an hour every weekend working on this project. I find that more that that makes me rethink my decisions and that’s not a good thing. I have to be ruthless with these decisions. I cannot believe all of the stuff that was in that room. It’s almost embarrassing. Anyway……as you mentioned……someone else might find these things actually useful.
    One more thing – as your aunt, I am giving you permission – no, I am actually encouraging you to get rid of the sweater, the books or anything else I’ve given you over the years and you no longer need. Don’t feel guilty, feel free !!!!! Love, Aunt Candy

    • Now, you, Candy, are one person I didn’t think had ANY clutter. I’m glad to learn you are in fact human 🙂 And the aunt mentioned in the post was completely fictitious so no worries there. Happy decluttering! Your basement will look amazing when it’s done! Thanks 🙂 xoxo Sarah

  6. You are so right about those words, but the ones that really trip me up are ” JUST FOR NOW” as in, I will put it right here, just for now. And weeks later, the JUST FOR NOW item or two has become a tall stack, a shifting pile ( as in spilling onto floor) and a To Do List a mile long.

  7. got any good tips for mementos or keepsakes ? as in grandma sent me things from her child hood and craft things she has made over the years,,, or the over flowing pile of artwork and projects from the kids?

    • I read something one time that said if you’re keeping an item for sentimental reasons, which I do a lot myself, to take a picture of it. That way you keep the memory but can give it away to free up the space. This helped me give away my 10 speed bike from childhood which I can no longer ride but someone else can. HTH

    • Things from grandma – see if anyone else in the family would like them. Take pictures, pick out your favorites and enjoy those. If you’re inspired, you could make something special out of what she sent. Not every single thing needs to be maintained, especially if you don’t have the space or you don’t love those things.

      As for kids’ artwork, have them keep their favorites, use the rest as wrapping paper, send to the grandparents (who will probably recycle them eventually), or shrink them on a copier and use as artwork. For kids art, it’s mostly about the process, not the end product so you can feel better about not keeping every piece.

      It does get easier, at least it does for me, once you start to stretch those decluttering “muscles.”

    • From Regina Leeds, The thing that got me to give away 90% of my grandmother’s stuff, and only keep the things that fit. (This assumes that your grandmother has died) is thinking are they going to come and demand their things back? fI not release it! To family, to friends, help a charity, sell it on ebay. Gift other people with it.

  8. I always feel that everything has to be perfect from top to bottom, and this makes for organizing nearly impossible for me. Clothes are a real hard one for me I get things from my daughter and daughter in law and find it hard to get rid of anything.

  9. I have been looking into how to declutter. The penny just dropped. Thank you for not being generic. It is refreshing to see a site that is not just copied and past ideas. Thank you.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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