What is the difference between cleaning, decluttering and organizing?


The first time I went to a blogging conference was also the first time I identified myself as a “slob” to real people in real life. That hurt. But even more difficult was the fact that, initially, these real people ONLY knew this one shameful thing about me.

Strangely, no one was horrified or even rude about it. Most reacted as if they identified with this label I had put on myself through my blog.

I clearly remember a conversation I had one evening. I was asked, “Are you a dirty slob or a cluttered slob? There’s a difference, y’know.”

At that point, I’d been self-analyzing my slob problem for almost a year, tracking and reporting what did and didn’t work to actually improve my home, and I had figured a lot out about myself, my slob tendencies and my lovely, oh-so-logical excuses.

My answer: “Before I started this process, I would have said I was a cluttered slob, because clutter is my biggest problem. And I know how to clean and I like things clean. But I’ve realized I can’t actually clean when there’s clutter everywhere.”

That was my spur of the moment answer, but I’ve thought a lot more about this distinction over the past seven years.

Before I started my deslobification process, I thought decluttering was part of cleaning.

When I got fed up with the mess and decided to “clean” my house, the first step was getting clutter out of the way. But because there was so much clutter, I rarely made it to the deep cleaning I wanted to do.


Once I got going on my deslobification process, focusing on daily stuff (dishes, laundry, etc.) and decluttering huge amounts of stuff I’d never actually needed, a strange thing happened. When I got the urge to clean, all I had to do was . . . clean.

For real, y’all. That’s it.

This was such a surprise to me. I’d always included picking up randomness off the kitchen floor in the time required to “mop.” But when I was sweeping the kitchen daily, the time set aside for mopping only had to include mopping. Shocker, huh?

Realizing mopping only involves mopping means mopping is significantly less overwhelming. And that realization was a big part of the traction, the momentum that happened.


Cleaning is easier (and faster and therefore more likely to actually happen) when clutter doesn’t pile up because I’m doing daily tasks like 5 minute pickups.

Decluttering and cleaning are not the same thing.

But what about organizing?

Organizing and decluttering are not the same thing, either.

Organizing is problem-solving, planning, and system implementation. Decluttering is getting rid of things I don’t need.



Problem solving is stressful, and I analyze and think and plan before I ever take action. I feel the need to consider possible scenarios and predict all the ways my new system could fail.

When I realize decluttering and organizing are two separate, different things, a weight was lifted. I could declutter without any planning. Without any problem-solving. Just purge.

And the beauty of allowing myself to “just declutter” is that a decluttered space feels organized compared to the mess it was before!

I’ve found that the very best time to “organize” is after I’ve lived with a decluttered space for a period of time. We can usually function fine when the space isn’t crowded with things we don’t need, and as we function, I realize what tricks or containers or systems would work best for us. In our home. In our unique lives.

Decluttering, organizing and cleaning are different things, but they work together.

I used to say to myself, “I just need to get organized!” But “getting organized” was this smoky, in-my-head, fuzzy vision of my home being better than it was at that moment.

Strangely, my home felt more organized the minute I started doing my dishes. Daily. Consistently. When I was no longer overwhelmed and completely bewildered by my kitchen, I felt that elusive peace I’d been craving when I voiced my need to get organized.

When I was consistent with ongoing daily tasks and started tackling deep cleaning tasks regularly, decluttering was so, so much easier. I was aware of what we had, what we needed, and what we could live without.

So yes, all these things are totally related. Related, but definitely different. By understanding how they are different, I have improved my home.






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