Declutter Fearlessly

When someone lives with large amounts of clutter it is often the result of fear.  

My mother's clutter was organized.  It was neatly packed away in storage containers, all clearly labeled and precisely arranged in every drawer, cupboard, closet, garage rafter area, and shed.  She could always find what she was looking for, even if piles and bins had to be shifted in order to get to it.

Organized hoarding

Mama would never have called herself a hoarder.  Her house was extremely clean and didn't look cluttered.  There were dozens of magazines in the family room, but they were in a magazine rack.  The books were on shelves.  The games were stowed in cupboards.

Three sets of "everyday" dishes were stacked on clever racks in the kitchen cupboards, and the "good" china had its own cabinet, with bowls, platters, and pitchers carefully displayed.  Yet we had dinner guests only a few times a year.

The linen closet held perfect piles of sheets and color-coordinated towels, enough for a dozen people.  Yet we almost never had overnight guests.

We had several desks.  The tops were dusted and cleared of all but a lamp and maybe one photo, plant, or figurine, but the drawers were packed tight with neatly labeled file folders, boxes of greeting cards, packages of binder paper, pens, staples, paper clips....

My mother often complained that we needed more storage space.  Those cases of tuna and Kleenex, extra sleeping bags, and six-packs of typewriter ribbon took room.  She also often complained about credit card bills, and how hard it was to keep anything in a savings account.  She shopped a lot.

Mama was born during the Great Depression. 

She also experienced World War II rationing, blackout regulations, and the deportation (and eventual return) of her Japanese-American classmates.

It's likely that early scarcity fueled her desire to always have more than enough.  It's possible she had an unrecognized phobia, and that those carefully hoarded and organized piles were a form of self-protection.

We can all understand. 

We all have possessions that strike an emotional chord, either in a positive or a negative way.

I have three scrapbook photo albums that are precious to me.  I began creating them as I raised and home schooled our two daughters.

Then one day our younger daughter told us that she had known from the age of 4 or 5 that she was male.  Her body was female, but she felt in her mind and soul that she was male.  She had decided to reveal her secret struggle, and planned to transition in order to live a full, true life.

That brave but shocking and heart-breaking revelation led our family on a journey we never expected.  My husband and I couldn't understand what our child was going through, and we had to educate ourselves and manage our own intensely emotional transition.

All these years later, I think of myself as the mother of a daughter and a son.  We've supported our child's transition, but this experience has tested our faith and our marriage, and has permanently changed relationships with some relatives and friends.  To say it has not been easy doesn't begin to describe it.

My son made his legal transition a few years ago.  His male identity is recognized by the government in the form of a new birth certificate, Social Security card, and driver's license.  In a legal sense, his birth name has been erased.  

But I have a copy of the original birth certificate, which recorded one of my most significant life events.  I have twenty-two years' worth of pictures.

I do not mourn for my child, because I'm very blessed to have my son!  But I can't forget the daughter I raised, and sometimes I miss her.  Sometimes I feel like I failed her, since I didn't recognize her pain and despair.  

The scrapbooks commemorate the life we lived.  That's why I keep them.  They feel essential to me.

Less isn't nothing.

Minimalism is not about owning nothing.  It's not about living a nomadic life with one change of clothes and a bowl, unless that's what gives your life meaning.

It's probably a good idea to keep an extra blanket, an extra package of toilet paper, or extra batteries for the flashlight.  And just as there's nothing wrong with eating your favorite comfort food, there's nothing wrong with keeping your parents' wedding photo, or your child's favorite stuffed animal that went everywhere, or the first valentine your husband ever gave you.

But what if one serving of "comfort food" becomes 5, or 10, or 50? 


At some point, comfort becomes sabotage.

My mother's hoarding was a mechanism to help her deal with her childhood fear that in the future she wouldn't have enough of what she needed.  Does your clutter represent fear?

If you're keeping stuff you never use because you "might need it someday" (or worse, you think your kids might need or want it someday), then you might be trying to build security against your fear of the future.  If you're storing all of your children's toys, or all of your parents' furniture, or all of your high school trophies, then maybe you're afraid to let go of the past.  You're afraid those memories will disappear if you don't have tangible reminders.

I totally get that.  We all experience uneasiness about an unknown future.  We all have emotions that make us cling to the past.  Let's just admit it, and turn our focus to all that we have and feel and experience today.

Sure, keep an extra box of cereal, a few canned foods, and some frozen chicken breasts.  Keep a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap for when you run out.  Display some family photos, use Grandma's favorite quilt, or play your dad's guitar.  But don't be a hostage to fear.  Declutter, and find lightness and hope today.

Updated January 2023


  1. Great post! Very thought provoking.

  2. I’m really loving your inspiration!

    1. Hi Lorraine, I'm really glad you're finding inspiration here. Please subscribe if you haven't already!

      Best wishes,


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