Are you drowning in clutter?

The de-cluttering, purging, generally living with-less-movement that has taken the world by storm is a great thing. I love it. And I read every article I can find that inspires me to keep moving closer to my ultimate goal of living with just what I need. I feel though, like a big piece of the puzzle is being left out when we start talking about how to declutter. 

Throw things in boxes, we say. Take them to the thrift store! Have clean counter tops! Winning!


Just gathering a box of stuff to donate isn’t going to solve the problem, and it’s not where we should be starting.

Once upon a time, I was drowning in clutter.

I’d often (really – I do mean often) gather a box of stuff that I had decided I could part with and take it down to the thrift store, and I’d feel so much lighter and happier when it was out of the house.

But the next week there was more stuff to gather. It was like the stuff sneaked back in. And it brought new junk with it!

Despite my best boxing-it-up efforts, clutter was everywhere. It was overflowing from the cabinets and cluttering the counter tops and it overwhelmed me to my core. The effort of trying to clean out a drawer or closet and get the things out of the house was monumental!

And I did try – but I was fighting the battle from the wrong end… So I was losing.  Week after week, the problem got bigger.

You think those people on the TV show “Hoarders” (drowning in all their stuff) collected all those things overnight?

It’s a problem that starts small, like a tiny crack in the hull of a ship where just a few drops of water are starting to seep in. Eventually, it’ll sink the boat.

You can send a box of stuff to the thrift store each week, but that won’t actually ever free you from the clutter. 

You need to start at the root of the problem if you wanna get out from under your stuff – plug the crack, stop the water, before it drags you down. There isn’t any point in bailing yourself out one bucket (or box of crap) at time if the water is gonna keep pouring in.

You have to stop allowing new clutter into your home and you have to address the reasons why you are drowning in clutter.

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

What’s causing you to collect clutter – figure out your “why”

We all have different demons that force clutter into our lives, and you’ll need to identify them before you can squash them. Common reasons that we have clutter problems include:

  • Guilt about being wasteful / ungrateful
  • The belief that more is better
  • Depression or anxiety (or any other mental struggle)
  • Seeking distraction from boredom / sadness
  • Ingratitude for what we already have
  • busy-ness / schedule overwhelm (Yes, sometimes clutter piles up because I am TOO BUSY) 
  • Lazy-ness
  • The love of shopping

What ever your reason for collecting clutter, you need to identify the reason (or reasons) and find a way to address it. I really struggle with guilt over being wasteful / seeming ungrateful and the belief that more is better. I’m also naturally lazy.

From now on, ask yourself this question before you allow THINGS into your home

When faced with one of those tricky situations (where clutter can enter my life because of my “why”) I’ve had to remember to ask myself this question (and this applies regardless of what your “why” is):

Will this thing actually cause me more grief in clutter and overwhelm than it will provide joy/use?

Do I need it?

Do I need another pair of shoes? Do the kids need more toys?

Am I acquiring this thing to distract myself from a feeling?

Do I already have something like this I don’t use?

Is more actually better?

If I’m honest with myself, the answer is almost always NO – this thing won’t, in the long run, bring more joy than grief. If I reflect then, on why I want to bring it into my home, I can usually find my “why” in there. (I’m feeling guilty over not putting the thing to use, I’m distracting myself from my feelings, I’m plain old ungrateful for the abundance I already have.)

I’m just gathering another THING because I can and I do.

(I’m aware that sometimes you need things and will put them to great use.  My aunt had an extra colander she was getting rid of the other day, and I genuinely needed a colander. But MOSTLY, I do not NEED anything else… what I need is to remind myself that more things = more stress.)

Question yourself at every turn, whenever your hand touches a new thing. Question yourself before you have the OPPORTUNITY to touch a new thing. I love garage sales and thrift stores, but I rarely allow myself to go into either anymore. Inevitably, when I do, I come out with things I don’t need. Things that will cause me more grief in clutter than they will ever provide in joy or use.

Related: A Simple Solution to Clutter & Disorganization

Focus on stopping the influx of clutter

As you become better at pausing and questioning yourself when you collect things, clutter will stop entering your home.

Once you have stopped the incoming of more stuff, THEN you can address the stuff that’s already come in. Once you have stopped the incoming of stuff your battle will change drastically – it will become one that you can actually win.