Where to Start to FREE Yourself From CLUTTER


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.

36 thoughts on “Where to Start to FREE Yourself From CLUTTER”

  1. I used to be the queen of clutter, but the advantage of living small is that you just HAVE TO get rid of stuff.
    I had reached a point where there’s no room for new stuff and the only option was organizing.
    Great tips! Thanks for sharing them.

    • Thanks for reading Debbie! We live in a small place and that’s defenitly part of the reason I am so diligent about keeping clutter out. I am a firm believer that “No junk is better than organized junk”, but I do still like organizing LOL.

  2. When I was a kid we moved every 2-3 years (military brat), and it made it very easy for me to dump all the things that weren’t important. When you have to pack and unpack everything so often, it really makes you think about how useful stuff is (or sentimental). Now as an adult staying in one place, I have started collecting more and more things…I guess it is just time for me to start moving again!

    • Hi Dara! It’s so easy to collect stuff!! At least you learned early that the sentimental reasons are not necessarily good reasons to keep a bunch of stuff. Maybe that’s the #1 benefit of moving around lots 🙂

    • I’m understanding more and more about my cluttering self! Thank you for all the comments & great info. I have the Kindle and do read the books.

    • I was the same growing up….end of the school year we moved!
      When my ex and I split I left with 20 totes…a sofa, a chair and 2 old trunks.
      Married again and now am trying to instill in my wife to purge all the unnecessary
      items from her/our life and she would see how much happier she would be.
      And by the way? Those 20 original totes I had when we got married were reduced to 10…

  3. Great post Carly. I think I’ve got my ‘clutter’, or ‘stuff as I like to call it, under control but this is a great post for anyone wanting to make a fresh start. Thank you so much for linking up to Thriving on Thursdays a fortnight ago. (I didn’t have an internet connection last week so couldn’t host.) I’m featuring your post at tomorrow’s party. Thank you again for coming along.

    Anne @ Domesblissity

    • Hi Anne! Thank you SO MUCH for the feature! I appreciate it LOTS 🙂 And congrats on having your clutter under control… that’s an awesome place to be in life. I feel like I’m finally getting there too, as long as I remain diligent (lol). Thanks for hosting and I’ll be back to link up on Thursday! (Sorry your internet was down… the most painful thing when you just want to blog!)

  4. I’m just in the middle of moving, so great opportunity to declutter every room. A lot of it I’ve given to charity, some I left outside and people just took them! It’s more difficult when th clutter isn’t yours, family do not like to let go of stuff they haven’t used for years and I don’t understand that. We had stuff in the loft from our previous move which had been looked st for 3 years so obviously didn’t need it, so I got rich of most of it! Yes it’s very time consuming, but we don’t have to pack it and unpack it and store it at our new home, to never use it. It’s a really good idea to declutter as you go along as you say and just don’t buy stuff you don’t need, yes it’s easier said than done sometimes. You still have memories so do you really need an old perfume bottle covered in fluff that no longer smells of anything, just because it was the last gift you received from a loved one that is no longer here!

    • Hey Julie! Sometimes I think that the #1 benefit of a move would be a chance to really evaluate what you need to keep and then let a bunch of it go. It’s so exciting that you get to do that! Your new place will feel so much happier without extra stuff kicking around. I hope you can take this opportunity to encourage your family to see it the way you do, sorry you might be stuck with some of their stuff :/

    • Julie, thank you for your suggestions. I cannot seem to part with my parents beloved items. Beyond that my clutter is very overwhelming! I do not shop for new clutter. Only essentials.

  5. We are in the process of moving and despite moving to a larger house, we’re getting rid of a lot of our extra junk. Craigslist has been my friend the last few weeks. We have 3 storage units that are full of stuff – most of it we haven’t seen in 3 years and probably don’t need. I’m trying to live more minimally and I too have found Joshua Becker to be a source of inspiration. My sister actually saw him give a talk on de-cluttering last year.

    • HI Jen 🙂 YAY for Craig’s list and turning all that junk into cash! 3 storage units is probably a bit much, lol we stored a bunch of stuff at my parents in their basement and same thing – YEARS went by before we looked at it again. Totally didn’t need it. I would LOVE to go see Joshua Becker talk… I doubt he’ll come too near where we are, we’re pretty rural. I’m jealous!

  6. De-cluttering is something I am trying to work on now. I definately have a hard time saying no to free…or ridiculously low priced clearance stuff 🙂 Few things I actually need, a few things go on ebay, and the rest I either keep “for later” to either make something with ir sell at yard sale or something bc theres not enough value to spend time putting it on ebay.And althiugh it always feels good (nah, great!) when i purge a trash bag or box of stuff i feel also feel guilty, like I didnt try hard enough to make money from it to help pay the bills. You definately make some great points/analogies in your article..will be saving to read again for inspiration

    • Hi Tiffany – Thanks so much for reading 🙂 Away with the guilt! Let that stuff go, and then determine to use the money that you woulda spent to buy the “next” stuff on bills instead. Best of both worlds that way.

  7. I’m actually writing my book about clutter right now. I’m so glad I read your post today. I’ve been debating about making my book into paperback format this time around. Books can certainly be considered clutter. Yet, two books that changed my life were in paperback and hardcover formats: “Minimalism” and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. One I checked out from the library. The other I ordered but borrowed it to my son. This is so debatable. Does everyone believe books are clutter?

    • Hi Wendy!! I think some books are great – and I have a few that I will NEVER part with. I live in a very small house, and there is just no room for many books… even though I love them. I think an organized bookshelf is NOT clutter if you have room for it and use it. I would make the your book paperback AND digital so that people have an option!

    • Tangible books can be so much more helpful than electronic ones-in fact, our brains don’t process info as well from electronic sources as from actual books.
      But you can flip back to that one spot, mark things your own way, and keep just those few helpful books. And, just as a fun point of trivia, reading actual paper books increases empathy.
      I say go for it!

      • That is very cool – I wonder why?! (The empathy thing I mean!)

  8. Oh yes, I need to work on this. I think it will lower my stress level. Hopefully, February will be my month…a little each day.

    Oh and I enjoyed your ebook. I will have to send you a separate note on this and what I’m applying (and soon results).

    • Hi Debbie! Good luck with the clutter in February! I look forward to hearing from you as to what your results are with the ebook 🙂

  9. I’m dealing with a lot of clutter. Have been sick with depression for some 20 odd years and the clutter just piled up. Have been trying to Declutter I have actually purged 86 boxes so far. Took me a while to see that I have a spending problem. But now that I have figured it out ,I still catch myself doing it. Any ideas that might help would be great!

    • HI Wendy! I’m so sorry to hear about the depression – I know what that’s like, and it’s really tough! But WOW 86 boxes! Girl I am celebrating with you! Getting our spending under control is hard work and it just takes real diligence… I’ll have to think about this and try to write something that might be helpful 🙂

    • I just got rid of around 80 tops and sweaters I haven’t worn in years. It felt GREAT to get that out of my closet and I try to focus on how good I feel after I’ve gotten rid of stuff. It keeps me going. And baby steps. One small area at a time. Focus on how good it feels to be rid of stuff you don’t need or use.

  10. You missed a reason for accumulating clutter. As an artist/crafter who uses recycled materials whenever possible, I need to have materials available when the muse strikes. or it passes while I look for stuff. The only solution for that is careful creation and organization.

    • Great point! We do need to be diligent to organize when we have hobbies that cause us to collect 🙂

  11. I could have checked “YES” to every one of the reasons why people collect clutter. [except for being grateful which I totally am] I shop when I’m sad, upset, need to feel better, when I see something on sale, when I feel like stocking up on my ‘gift closet’ just in case I need something.

    Its a real addiction that needs a real solution.

    I did well for awhile when I unsubscribed to ALL emails from stores. It prevented me from even SEEING ads for the latest sales.

    As well, I have tons of kids toys from family that refuse to stop the gift train from entering my house and making its final stop. Now what do I do with them??!!!

    Now I am left with piles of things that are multiplying in my basement like wild bunnies. What do I do with everything? Getting rid of them is just so sad.

    I’ve read books, articles and nothing is giving me the full motivation I need to clear these things out. Its now overwhelming.

    • Hey Natalie – you are sooooooo not alone girl. I do think unsubscribing from emails (promotional) is soooooo smart! That’s such a healthy first step!

  12. Thanks for sharing! It is best to get to the root of clutter so it can be dealt with better going forward!


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