022 The Dark Side of Decluttering: Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue woman is overwhelmed

Today, we’re diving into the world of decision fatigue, and how it can seriously mess with your decluttering efforts. I’ll chat about what it is, why it happens, and most importantly, how to beat it and keep your decluttering on track! So, grab a cup of coffee, tea, or whatever helps you focus, and let’s get started!

We’ve all been there. You stare at a overflowing area, overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions you need to make. “Keep or toss?” “Does this make me happy?” “Do I actually use this?” These seemingly simple questions can quickly drain your mental resources, leaving you paralyzed and hindering your decluttering efforts.

But fear not! Understanding decision fatigue and its impact on decluttering is the first step to conquering it. So, let’s dive in!

What is decision fatigue?

Imagine your willpower and ability to make good choices as a limited fuel tank. Every decision you make, big or small, uses up some of that fuel. Decision fatigue is like hitting that empty light after a long drive – you’re running on fumes, and your decision-making becomes sluggish and unreliable.

This depletion is caused by a few factors. First, the act of decision-making itself requires mental effort. Our brains use glucose, a type of sugar, for energy. The more decisions you make, the more glucose you burn, leading to mental fatigue.

Second, decision fatigue is also linked to a concept called “ego depletion.” Every decision we make taps into our willpower reserve. As that reserve diminishes, we’re more likely to fall back on automatic behaviors or make impulsive choices.

Symptoms of decision fatigue

Ever feel like you’re drowning in a sea of decisions? This isn’t just an overwhelming feeling – it might be a sign of decision fatigue. Here are some tell-tale signs to watch out for:

Feeling overwhelmed and indecisive

Have you ever stared at a menu for ages, unable to choose a dish? Or stood frozen in your closet, paralyzed by the sheer number of clothes? Decision fatigue can make even simple choices feel impossibly difficult. The constant mental strain of evaluating options leads to a feeling of overload, making it hard to make any decision at all.

Procrastination

Is putting things off your go-to strategy? This might not be laziness, but a symptom of decision fatigue. The thought of making another decision can be so draining that you find yourself putting things off indefinitely. This can apply to anything from choosing what to wear to tackling that overflowing inbox.

Poor decision-making

Do you find yourself making choices you later regret? Decision fatigue can cloud your judgment and lead to impulsive decisions. You might settle for something less than ideal because you’re simply too tired to make a well-considered choice.

Irritability and Frustration: Feeling constantly on edge and easily annoyed? Decision fatigue can take a toll on your emotional well-being. The mental strain of making decisions can leave you feeling drained and irritable. Every little choice feels like a burden, leading to short tempers and frustration.

Decision fatigue and decluttering

Now, let’s connect the dots and see how decision fatigue specifically impacts decluttering. Decluttering, by its very nature, is a decision-heavy process. You have to evaluate every single item and choose its fate: keep, toss, donate, sell. Each decision, no matter how small, chips away at your mental resources.

This is why you might find yourself starting strong, sorting through clothes with ease, only to hit a wall halfway through. Suddenly, every item seems equally worthy (or unworthy) of keeping, and you can’t make another decision for the life of you.

This isn’t a personal failing! It’s simply your brain running low on fuel.

Strategies for a smooth decluttering journey

While decision fatigue can leave you feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed during your decluttering efforts, fear not! We can combat this mental roadblock with a few key strategies. First things first: before you even dive into the clutter, establish clear goals and define your criteria for keeping or discarding items. This pre-planning significantly reduces the number of on-the-spot decisions you need to make, saving you valuable mental energy.

Next, simplify the decluttering process itself. 

Utilize the powerful “one-touch” rule: the moment you pick up an item, decide its fate (keep, donate, sell, toss). This eliminates the back-and-forth deliberation that can drain your mental resources. Timers can also be your friend! Set a limit on how long you spend deciding on each item, say 30 seconds. This creates a sense of urgency and prevents overthinking. Batching similar items together is another effective tactic. Group clothes by type (shirts, pants, etc.) or paperwork by category (bills, receipts, documents). This way, you can make bulk decisions for similar items at once, further reducing the number of individual choices.

Don’t forget to prioritize self-care throughout your decluttering journey.

Schedule decluttering sessions when you’re feeling well-rested and energized. I have said this over and over again to clients, do not declutter after a bad day. Do not declutter if you’re exhausted and cranky. The only things that will come out of decluttering when you’re feeling this way, is future regrets from getting rid of things because you’re upset. As I said in episode 011 “The endless journey: Why decluttering is a lifelong commitment”, decluttering is a lifetime journey so if you’re trying to declutter when you’re tired or upset, you’re setting yourself up to hate the process each and every time. For life.

Taking frequent breaks throughout the process allows your mind to recharge and prevents burnout. Most importantly, reward yourself for completing decluttering tasks, no matter how big or small. This positive reinforcement keeps you motivated and celebrates your progress, making the journey towards a clutter-free space more enjoyable and sustainable.

By following these tips, you can conserve your mental fuel and make smarter decluttering decisions.

Your guide to supporting someone with decision fatigue

Now, let’s talk about if you’re the friend or family member helping.

Ever seen a friend stare blankly at their overflowing closet, paralyzed by what to wear? Or maybe a family member stuck in a “what’s for dinner?” rut? Yeah, that’s decision fatigue at play! It’s that feeling of being totally overloaded with choices, and it can really mess with our ability to get anything done.

But here’s the good news: you can be a total rockstar and help someone struggling with decision overload! First, acknowledge their struggle. Let them know you get it, like “Oh boy, that closet looks intense!” or “Ugh, dinner decisions are the worst.” Just by showing you understand, you’re making them feel better.

Next, try to simplify things. 

Brainstorm ideas together, maybe set some smaller goals, or even just tackle a tiny bit of the problem with them. Stuck in a cluttered room? Help them sort stuff into piles (clothes, books, etc.) to make decisions easier. Overwhelmed by outfit choices? Suggest building a “go-to” wardrobe with versatile pieces.

Remember, sometimes just being a sounding board is the best help. Let them talk through their options, but don’t bombard them with your own ideas. Instead, ask questions that help them figure out what they want: “What kind of vibe are you going for in this space?” or “What do you wear most days?” These can nudge them toward making their own decisions with confidence.

Celebrate their wins! 

Even small steps, like clearing a single drawer, are victories! Acknowledge their effort and cheer them on. The more you celebrate, the more motivated they’ll be to keep decluttering.

By being a supportive friend or family member, you can help someone beat decision fatigue and conquer their clutter! It’s all about being there, listening, and lending a helping hand (or ear!) when needed.

Conquering specific challenges

Decluttering different types of items can present unique challenges. Here are some strategies to combat decision fatigue and navigate these hurdles effectively.

Sentimental items

Highly sentimental items evoke strong emotional memories. Acknowledge these attachments, but remember it’s okay to let go. Consider taking photos or creating memory boxes for cherished items you decide to discard. Focus on keeping just a few representative pieces that spark the strongest memories, rather than holding onto everything. This allows you to preserve the sentiment without being overwhelmed by clutter. I go deeper into this topic in episode 015 “Why we hold on: The psychology of attachment to stuff and people.” I’d go listen to that episode if you haven’t already to get a better understanding.

Paperwork

Paperwork can quickly pile up, leading to decision fatigue overload. Take control of the influx! Unsubscribe from unnecessary physical mail and opt for digital statements and bills whenever possible. Designate specific times for paperwork management to avoid getting bogged down in constant decisions. During these dedicated sessions, sort through documents, shred what needs shredding, and file or digitize the rest. I have a very in-depth Paper Clutter Guide and Checklist you can get.

Clothing

Is your wardrobe overflowing with clothes you never wear? Consider implementing a capsule wardrobe with versatile pieces that can be easily mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. Identify garments that you love and flatter your current style. Discard items that no longer fit, are damaged, or haven’t been worn in a long time. Conduct a wardrobe audit to identify unworn clothes. Some people like the idea of turning your hangers around backwards, after you wear that item you hang it back up properly. After 6 months to a year whatever items aren’t facing forward you clearly don’t wear and they can be removed. Donate these items or sell them to make space for pieces you truly love and wear, creating a more functional and joyful wardrobe.

By tailoring your approach to the specific type of clutter you’re tackling, you can effectively combat decision fatigue and make the decluttering process smoother and more successful.

Conclusion

Remember, the key takeaway is that decision fatigue is a real phenomenon, and it’s okay to acknowledge its impact on your decluttering journey. By understanding its effects and implementing the strategies we discussed, you can effectively combat decision fatigue and reclaim control of your space.

Focus on progress, not perfection. Celebrate your wins, no matter how small. Taking a step-by-step approach with self-compassion paves the way for a clutter-free and rejuvenated you!

Episode Timestamps

[1:20] What is decision fatigue?

[2:21] Decision fatigue can make every simple choice feel impossibly difficult.

[6:08] Conserve your mental fuel and make smarter decluttering decisions.

[8:43] Designate specific times for paperwork management.

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Heather Clark declutter expert

Heather Clark, Declutter Expert

Helping you navigate the change by decluttering your MIND | BODY | SOUL | HOME.

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