Fifty Ways To Leave Your Clutter

There are two kinds of people in the world.  Those whose clutter makes them feel secure and gives them comfort.  And those whose clutter gives them anxiety.

I fall into the second category.  I feel overwhelmed by too much.

My mother and my husband fall into the first category.  This is a problem.  Not for them, but for me.  People who enjoy clutter are seldom bothered by those who do not.  At least until their clutter goes missing.

My mother’s house is one (of many) reasons I fled Illinois at the age of 20 and moved to Texas — to find some wide open uncluttered space, albeit in a 350-square foot apartment.  All I owned at the time was a box of coat hangers so clutter was not a problem.  My husband, on the other hand, with that whole until death do us part thing, I can’t really just move to another state.  So I gotta figure something out.

Let it be said first and foremost, that I love my mother with all of my heart.  I love her and I admire her.  I just can’t be in her house for more than a day.  People love to drop by and visit my mother’s house, the door is always open and the coffee pot always on, but growing up in her house was stressful for me.  There was never any place to set anything down, you couldn’t ever find what you needed and if you did happen to find it, you would knock over or spill something in the process of getting to it and then once you had it in your hands, there was no place to set it down.

On the contrary, I could go out to the garage, my father’s domain, and every nut and bolt was stored neatly together by size and clearly labeled. And that made me feel happy and peaceful and as though all was well in the world.  Everything had a place and when not in use, was right there, in its happy little place.  My dad and I were alike and he was very happily married to my mother who is like AD — so I know a mixed marriage can work.  Somehow.  On the other hand my dad was a really easy going guy, a go with the flow sort of guy and I don’t believe anyone has ever described me that way.

Let it also be said that I love my husband, but for the past 15 years I have slowly given up on trying to keep order and have succumbed to drowning in his clutter.  But recently it has become apparent to me that the disorder and clutter that I had come to accept was causing chaos in our lives and that chaos created a lingering gray cloud of unhappiness and strife.  We were always cross with one another.   We were living in a constant state of emergency, constantly running late, never able to find anything because 90% of our space was being occupied by stuff that we don’t use, won’t use, can’t use and don’t love.  And I felt some resentment about that and that resentment further contributed to the collective unhappy.  Resentment never adds to happy, does it?

And more than anything in this whole world, I want a peaceful house and a happy family – so some changes are in order.

You might think that one day I snapped and said, no more, but that’s not really what  happened, although that’s usually how things go with me.  What happened was that one day I decided to work on me, to do what I could with de-cluttering and bringing order to my own small realm, bit by bit, day by day.

My guiding philosophy to de-cluttering and bringing order is this:  Do I use it? Do I love it?  If the answer is no to both of these questions, then it has to go.  Clutterers will say, no I don’t love it, and I can’t use it, but it’s good, somebody might need this, someday I might need this.  I say, if it is good and useful, give it to someone who will use it right now, not some day.  Hanging on to stuff until it is no longer usable by anyone is one of the defining characteristics of hoarding.

I started by de-cluttering my on-line life.  (My friend Karla writes about that here.)  I had numerous email accounts.  I closed most of them.  I closed on-line accounts and unsubscribed to email lists and blog feeds.  I had a number of web sites; I pared them down to three.  I got a password manager so all my passwords would be in one place.  And that’s the key to bringing order to life:  cut out the unnecessary and unused and put all similar items together in one place.

One day I woke up and the silk plants were on my nerves.  They were dusty, and truth be told, I never liked fake greenery.  So I got a garbage bag and went around the house and gathered them up and ruthlessly tossed them in, I maybe even tossed them in with a little therapeutic force. Such a small thing, but it felt amazing to have them gone.

One day I woke up and all the magazines and books were on my nerves.  So I culled out the books I love and use and the rest I boxed up and sold to Half Price Books or sent to charity.  Text books from college did not need to occupy space in my life, nor did magazines or newspapers.  Listen up people, if you haven’t read an article within one month of the publication date, it’s probably out of date.  And even if it isn’t, you can find it on the information highway.

One day I woke up and sifted through my closet.  I pulled out 50% of my clothes and shoes and purses and sent them to charity. I had stuff in my closet that I had not worn in three years, or even10 years, and in some cases probably 30 years — and I wasn’t going to ever wear that stuff ever again.  Several months later I weeded out again.  I could still get rid of another 50% of my clothes and have more clothes than a girl needs.  I keep a box in my closet and when I try something on and it doesn’t work, into the box it goes.  When the box gets full, I take a second glance just to make sure and then I send it off.  Now I have a little space between my clothes as they hang peacefully in the closet and I can see exactly what I have.  I no longer go out and buy another white shirt because I know what I have.

One day I woke up and Sean’s toys were on my nerves. So I sorted through them and chunked all the fast food toys and broken toys.  I stored all the toys in the attic that he had outgrown but that we still have a sentimental attachment.  Maybe in another year, we won’t feel sentimental towards those things and we’ll pass them along.  It’s always good to re-visit and re-evaluate the things you have stashed away.

One day I woke up and my medicine cabinet was on my nerves. I tossed out all the expired prescriptions.  I put all the band-aids together in one space, all the tummy medicine in one space, all the other like medicines together.  I must have had six boxes of Benedryl.  Because our allergies are that bad? No, because I could never find the Benedryl so I would go out and buy more.

The next day I purged my make-up drawer and the drawer I keep brushes and combs in.  I threw out bottles of lotion that had gone bad and probably weren’t good to begin with.

I threw out all the hotel soaps and shampoos we had hoarded over the years.  And we have travelled a lot so we had a very large supply. But let’s face it.  If you don’t use them at the hotel, why would you use them at home?  You won’t. Don’t bring them home.

I plan to go through my paper photos and pull out the good ones and throw out the rest. There is no reason to keep a blurry photo of the ceiling.  I will organize my pared down collection of good photos in an orderly way so that I can actually enjoy them instead of looking at a massive box of photos and feel so overwhelmed that I just shove it back on the shelf.

The process of de-cluttering the whole house overwhelmed me for so long that I just couldn’t get started, it was easier to let it go another day, and then all those days turned into years.  I think what happened for me naturally, just focusing on paring down one item at a time, starting with something like dusty fake greenery that didn’t require an emotional decision, helped make it doable and helped to get me started.  And it felt so good that it wasn’t hard to keep going and I realized I didn’t have to do it all at once.

I’m just getting started.  I have got a long way to go, but I am on a mission to bring order to my house and peace and happy to my family and I’m going to do it, one box at a time.

* * *

Instead of 50 ways to leave your clutter, how about 101?  If you are interested in simplifying and minimizing your life, Becoming Minimalist is a great place to start. 


17 thoughts on “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Clutter

  1. Don’t know how I missed this post. I am in the same boat. My AD is the same – he nearly has a panic attack if I suggest throwing away any of the (old, unnecessary) cell phone chargers that we’ve been saving long after the phones have been replaced. We have cable wires…..if anyone should need them. Our entire attic is filled, and he doesn’t honor any of it by “placing it carefully.” No, it’s all thrown on top of each other. How do such opposites attract? I bet I go to Goodwill (to give) 5x a month. But our biggest problem is paper. My husband has his own business, and feels that he must keep every piece of paper that ever passes his way. And when we go anywhere, if there is a “free” piece of paper he can’t stop himself from picking it up (brochures, etc.) Unless I see him and give him the stink eye. I no longer take a church bulletin, because even if I grabbed one, he has to grab one, too. And every other piece of paper in the church foyer-even if he took the same thing last week. He’s lucky he’s so lovable!


  2. I’m just reading your blog after a long time of not reading blogs. I went through a very similar experience this year. I have been decluttering like a mad woman. I think I’ve thrown away half of our possessions. I have labeled and organized what is left. It’s a great feeling, and I am much more at peace now with my life. Thanks for sharing!


  3. I had a year of “every closet, every drawer, every cabinet” would be looked at, sorted, and dealt with. It went great. I got rid of tons. The problem was that my husband, thrilled with all the new available space, did his level best to fill said space. I am about at my wit’s end and not sure what to do next. I really just want to throw it all out. But I can’t throw out a gum wrapper without him getting his panties in a wad because he can’t find it and I must be “throwing things out again!” Help.


  4. And as you stated this affects our children. Yesterday, my daughter decided to go through her closet, and got rid of a bunch of games, puzzles, old toys. I was so proud of her.


  5. Sounds like you and flylady Marla have met. Good friends I would imagine. Love you both for the wonderful blessings you bring to my world. Thanks.


  6. Ahhhhh, wonderful post! I am a chucker/donater. I went through our attic when my husband re-roofed our house (the dumpster was begging to be filled with old roofing material AND all of stuff that cluttered our attic). It makes me feel peaceful to live in an uncluttered home.

    * * *
    Heidi, I’m kind of coveting your dumpster….


  7. I can so relate. On many counts. Except for the books. No, I can’t pare down my books. I did it once. Out of our 3,000 or so I found about five that I could bear to part with. It was hard, but I did it. I gave them to a second-hand bookshop. I still miss them. I looked for one of them a few years ago and felt a deep pang at having let it go. But all the rest – oh yes. Definitely.


  8. Well, thanks for that blog. I am the procrastinator of decluttering. I have good intentions to always do this during the summers when I’m free. but always find more important things to do. Maybe I can do a little each weekend and it won’t have to take up my summer:)


  9. Sounds like you’ve met the Flylady ( While I don’t follow all her tips, I now use a timer and declutter things 15 minutes at a time. It makes big jobs much more manageable. She also encourages the “love it, use it, or need it otherwise let it go” philosophy.


  10. I’m like you – clutter causes me much anxiety and stress – and I’m married to a hoarder. Once our children grew up and moved out, the “stash” began to grow. I too succumbed to it and now I’m feeling totally overwhelmed. Thank you for posting this! Maybe I can find my one area to start on.


  11. You’re doing what I’ve planned on for months. I did that with my spice cabinet not 3-wks. ago. I did the pantry in the same week. The closet 6-mts ago and like you it could take another stripping down. Lets don’t start on the shoes.
    I have a sewing room and a book room. They are about to be swapped out. I’ve culled the books and as we speak I have around 175-books to be taken in for credit. Sometimes I can’t breathe in the mist of all this stuff.
    Hubby is like AD. He keeps everything. Just happens to put it all in one space. The living room and within reaching distance. *sigh* The top of his side table is a plethora of STUFF. I hate dusting that table!

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to tell him what all that junk does to me. He will remove enough of it to think it helps. Then a couple days later he has just replaced what he moved with something else.

    Your mom sounds like mine was. Every surface covered with what my sister called “do-dads”. I hated those things. Dad was always adding a cabinets/shelves for more of her stuff. How many sets of kissing birds does one person need.

    Here’s to unloading the not needed and the unwanted.

    Jake’s a Girl


  12. There are some really good minimalist blogs out there. I find that following them is a good inspiration. Just one new idea can get you going, whereas – as you say – you can feel you’ve got to tackle the whole project or not start.

    We’ve moved house quite a lot. That helps the de-cluttering. It’s amazing how very, very rarely you miss something you’ve let go. There are just a few things that I occasionally wish I’d kept, but set against the benefit of thinning out all those other things, it’s a small price to pay.

    A thought I find helpful is the value of space. So rather than thinking “I have all this stuff. Where shall I put it?”, start from the other side. Think “I’ve got all this lovely space. What shall I put in it?” Of course at our stage in life, we don’t have all that lovely space, because we’ve filled it with stuff, but you get the idea. If you think of space as a commodity, objects have to earn their right to take it up – like they’ve had to earn their right to take up your money when you decided to buy them. I found that a very useful thought.

    I think hoarding is something that we in Britain suffer less from, because housing is so darn expensive. We all live in small houses!


  13. You sound like you have been de-cluttering much like I have! My hubby drives me crazy with those little hotel baths soaps. I have heard that you can donate them to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, etc. I’m finding that getting rid of things a little at a time is a lot less overwhelming that trying to do it all at once. And I am more likely to get it accomplished this way!

    So glad you posted again!


  14. Thank you so, so much for this post! I’m trying to do the same thing in my house, but really needed this boost to keep going. I’m with you that clutter causes me anxiety and keeps me from functioning well, and I think it does the same thing for most people including kids. There’s a really good book called “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. The subtitle is “Using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids”. I think that says it all!


  15. DH and I are both hoarders, raised by parents who grew up during the Depression, taught from birth to never waste anything or throw away anything that had potential use. Our house is cluttered. Our storage shed is cluttered. His shop is cluttered. sometimes I feel as if I am drowning.


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