Is your home filled with “useful” junk?

I’ve written often about the overwhelming despair that can take over when we’re living in homes filled with clutter. It’s crazy stressful when you’re chronically late because you can’t find things,  you miss paying bills because they get forgotten at the bottom of the pile, or you plain old can’t relax on your couch because that’s where the kid’s clothes live.

Some kinds of clutter can be controlled (or prevented) pretty easily, for example – by putting away the clothes on the couch or paying bills as soon as they arrive.

But there is one kind of clutter – “useful” junk clutter – that can be especially hard to deal with… because it often comes with an extra emotional punch – guilt. 

It’s easy (natural?) to feel guilty or wasteful for not being able to use perfectly useful things. Guilt is a gut reaction that you maybe don’t even notice when it comes to your clutter. (Do you automatically save take out containers because you “should”?)

To address the “useful” junk clutter we need to accept some hard things. We now live in a world that is overflowing with junk… and unless we are going to go completely off-grid – with no more grocery stores or convenience items – we need to find a way to deal with this junk that is not going to allow it to consume our homes. 


Related: How to Conquer Clutter When it’s Emotionally Difficult
Related: Where to START When You Are Drowning in Clutter

Pasta sauce jars, K-cups & take-out containers = JUNK


  • broken appliances you don’t have time to / don’t know how to fix
  • stained and torn clothes you don’t wear
  • phone chargers that work great (but you don’t even own a phone that goes with it)
  • and – possibly – anything you haven’t touched or looked at in years

If you are naturally inclined to fill your cabinets with junk, then we need to talk. (And if your cabinets are already packed and you are just filling boxes by your bed now – you really need to listen.)

Related: A Simple Solution to Clutter & Disorganization

Why do you have this stuff? Is it – likely – GUILT?

Guilt  over being wasteful, over-consuming resources, over not taking action to save money, is one that really haunts me. I grew up in a frugal, environmentally conscious family. (A huge blessing, I’m not complaining about that.)

My great grandmother saved every glass jar she ever got her hands on, but she used them. (Also, she didn’t get one every week.) With the way I shop for food – buying pre-made pasta sauce instead of buying tomatoes and making pasta sauce, for example, I don’t NEED to save every jar that comes into my home because I can’t possibly USE every jar that comes into my home.

But my gut reaction is to wash the jar and save it.

Recognizing that things have changed a little bit in the last 50 years helps me to adjust my views on keeping stuff accordingly.

There are awesome recycling programs (and thrift shops) so the stuff that I get rid of isn’t necessarily wasted.  It’s maybe more wasteful to hoard a bunch of jars than it would be to allow them to be recycled.

I keep a box of about 8 jars with lids (mostly tiny ones, because that’s what I use) in the top of my pantry and other jars are not allowed. They must leave. I have decided that my home will not be filled with guilt-induced clutter. 

Keeping things that I will (likely) never use – out of guilt – does not make me less wasteful.

It makes me frustrated with the clutter, sad about the state of my home, unable to properly put useful things in their places. It makes me a hoarder.

This train of thought needs to apply to all the things that could come into your house and be “possibly useful”: sturdy plastic takeout containers, shoe boxes, clothes that people offer you (that you won’t wear), toys that your kids don’t need, used wrapping paper, the pretty little jars candles come in.

Ever seen those “things to do with used k-cups articles?”

Are you reading them because you are SUPER crafty and just can’t wait to do something with those little cups? Or because you feel incredibly guilty about the plastic-y waste?

DO NOT keep a box of cleaned k-cups – out of guilt –  because you might use them one day. Nope.

If there’s something you really want to make with them, then plan the project, save THAT number and the day you finish saving, do the thing you’ve got planned. If you’re only saving your k-cups and planning these “projects” out of guilt over all the wasted plastic, then you need to make a choice. Either no more k-cups come into your home, or you give yourself permission to throw them out. A or B. No weird box of unused k- cups you can’t bear to send to the landfill.

Related: How to Clean When You Feel Paralyzed by THE MESS
Related: 7 Tangible & Life-Changing Benefits of Decluttering

It might be useful. But it will definitely be clutter.

It is OK for you to say no to clutter, and goodbye to guilt. 

I’ll say (adamantly) that there are things that I DO NOT KEEP, even though Pinterest (and sometimes other people / my guilty brain) tells me

A) I should re-use these things to make awesome stuff
B) I could sell these things for money on e-bay (toilet paper rolls anyone?)
C) I’m a horrible person because I’m so wasteful

But I get rid of the “useful” junk anyway.

Because am I really better off if I assuage my guilt but drown myself – and my home – in crap?

No. Worse perhaps, since I can teach myself new and healthier thought patterns (you can too) – but I can’t actually teach myself to live comfortably when my home is being taken over by the clutter. Not to be hugely negative, but sometimes in this world, things look lose/lose.

I don’t think this has to be one of those times 🙂 This is win/lose. Teach yourself to be OK with letting “useful” stuff go, and you win. Keep piling it into your house and you lose.

Related: Bathroom Cupboard Organization: Facing the Truth Under the Bathroom Sink
Related: Tackling Clothing Clutter: Confessions of a Clothes Hoarder

guilt from decluttering

declutter and organize without guilt