How to start decluttering after a long break

How to start decluttering after a break OR how to keep your momentum for the long term. If you’ve ever had to take a break from decluttering or working on an organizing project, you may have had trouble finding motivation to get going again.

Maybe you’re frustrated because your progress has slipped in the meantime and your house is messy again.

Keep reading (or scroll down for the video) to see a better way to get back in the groove as you declutter.

start decluttering after break

Sometimes Taking a Break Is Needed

If you’ve been following me for a little while, you may know that I used to run.

One year I did a lot of running and then took a seven or eight-month break. I loved running. It was so much fun.

But I got tendonitis and had to stop altogether. I was still going to the gym, but it wasn’t the same.

At this point, I started thinking about how I really miss running. I thought to myself, “How can I set myself up so that I can do this without injury and pain and, you know, hurting myself?”

Here’s what I learned along with how it can apply to decluttering your home again after taking a break.

Related Read:  When to Declutter: 8 Definitive Signs You Need to Start Today!

Tips for Having a Successful Sart to Decluttering After a Long Break

Step 1: Avoiding overwhelm when you start to declutter again after a break

I decided to take my own advice. I decided to keep it really, really small. (This is a method we teach in Step-by-Step Decluttering.)

I had been running three or four miles the year prior. I thought: I can do one mile.

And if a mile was too long, I might have to even stop after half a mile.

Your takeaway: Start small with manageable tasks. Set the timer for 10 minutes and stop decluttering when you’re done.

Step 2: Have a longer warm-up period.

I planned to walk for 10 minutes and then start running. It was one thing that got both my momentum going and took the pressure of an abrupt start off my body.

Your takeaway: Check in with your decluttering buddies. Let the discussion motivate and warm you up to the decluttering process ahead.

declutter before and after photos
While this might look overwhelming after taking a break, following some simple tips can help set you up for success and complete that decluttering project.

Step 3: Set yourself up for success.

I had music. I had my fun running clothes on. If you need to, go really, really slow!

Your takeaway: Set the scene and get your mind in the decluttering zone. Wear comfy clothes, make a playlist, and have a beverage handy.

Decluttering is like other big projects.

start decluttering tips
Focus on one small project – like clearing off kitchen counters.

Maybe you took a really long break due to COVID or illness, or maybe you just didn’t feel like it. You’ve taken a couple months off. And now you’re ready to start again.

You might feel like you have to do it all.

But if you do that, you’re probably going to crash and burn. So instead take it really small.

You’ll get there, too.

Just in one little thing. Take 10 minutes to do one drawer. Do one shelf. See how it goes.

If you are ready to start decluttering again, what’s your strategy?


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20 thoughts on “How to start decluttering after a long break”

  1. This was very helpful to me. I hired an organizer last summer who was AMAZING. She helped me organize my master bedroom in 3 hours. She helped me by setting out 3 baskets: keep, toss, and donate. She was tough. She had the mantra of “whatever I’m not using right now, I’m hoarding.” I got rid of a bunch of clothes, books, and knick knacks I’d been holding onto for 20 years. I was able to keep childhood mementos.

    I wanted her to help me with my art studio, but she refused. I had several cats and it was hard to keep my carpet clean. She told me that she wouldn’t come back until I cleaned my carpet; however, in order to clean the carpet in my art room, I needed to unpack boxes of art supplies. I felt really, really ashamed and lost my momentum.

    Your advice to start super small, has helped me. I now unpack and put away 5 objects per day in my art studio. I need to get a bit better about deciding what to keep, donate, or toss but it’s getting better every day.

  2. Hello Sarah !
    Thanks for your talk & analogy to running/injury ! It totally makes sense & I will do my best to figure out a VERY simplistic system to Decluttering again. It does feel soooo overwhelming as I left it for years due to personal health issues & depression:(
    Most of the time the big question I have before starting is where do I find the energy to begin ??
    Thanks again for posting that video 🙂

      • Oh No ????‍♀️!! Okay I will get started ???? The big question is how do I find the Moto & where to begin ?? I even got your on line Decluttering e book & well that’s overwhelming as well … thanks ???? any other words of wisdom would be GREATLY appreciated:)

  3. Yes, thanks for the peptalk!! I moved in Jan. into a small apt, and was still downsizing from a home. When covid hit, even through I had more time, I lacked motivation and got stuck! Now, I’m ready to finish the extra stuff in my bedroom, and get to a more peaceful place in my new abode, especially so I can start having company, as things open up!! Thanks, Sarah!

    • Hi Gaynor Oak, I don’t fully understand your comments, but it sounds like you were dealing with some leg and hip injuries.
      As I have had chronic nerve pain in my ankle, from an injury a few years ago, I can kind of relate.
      Having just reviewed the video today about DECLUTTERING AFTER A BREAK, I’ve made a small start in purging some stuff. It feels great to see a difference & I’m gonna do a bit more each day.
      Wishing you well with Decluttering your home & recovery from injuries 🙂

  4. Found OUT today that Citywide Clean Up is Tuesday or Wednesday.. So After work @430 I came home thinking of one thing ( twin mattress too thin to sleep on so I’d leave this by the curb… Your encouragement popped in my head to take 1 box at a time. Our second stall in garage is stacked 5 shelves high. I started at bottom box set trash can just outside on car pad…I fixed a box of unwanted tons of hangers…. And stuff maybe some one else might want. I was on a roll … 3 trash units and 2 boxes of recycled things. Ready DONE AND ON THE CURB. I DID IT. THANK YOU PLEASE.

  5. The hall’s a mess, and I have just finished some decorating, so I’m aiming to clear just the top of the dresser – which is totally cluttered up!

  6. I appreciate Your Encouragement; Because Of Many Backsets; Zlone> Need Alot Of Willpower To Restart; I would Love My Paperwork, Cateriorganized

  7. Sarah,
    Help! I signed up and paid for a course from you. I am old ( 78) and do not know how or where I am to watch this course. Perhaps I missed a lot in your correspondence. Could you help me?

  8. With chronic nerve pain from my ankle injury a few years ago & loss of my Mom ♡RIP – I’ve been on a bit of “a break” & accumulated some clutter in my home.
    Having just reviewed the video today about DECLUTTERING AFTER A BREAK (better late than never:) I’ve made a small start in purging some stuff. It feels great to see a difference & I’m gonna do a bit more each day.
    Wishing everyone well with Decluttering &
    a big “Thank you”, to Sarah Mueller 😊

  9. I work up about 2 AM this morning Toston turned for an hour. I thought while I’m wasting time the drawers of my dresser needs cleaned. So I grabbed everything that was fabric underwear whatever socks and brought them into the living room and sorted through and put some of them for the veterans and I got through everything that was fabric and now I need to go take the junk out of the drawers and start sorting it. That’s gonna be the big chore so I’ll probably put it all in one container and go through it but I thought I used my non-sleep time productively and I got a couple hours nap this afternoon thanks for all your motivation

  10. Wow, that’s so simple, I run too and then get injuries and start back in short bursts. I don’t know why I didn’t think about that in regards to decluttering. I thi k things might be different in my house. I tried to tidy 1 cupboard a week and that was too hard. So this is great.


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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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