The Truth About Clutter

Clutter is something we laugh about, like our coffee or sugar addictions, our over-use of social media, or our binge-watching habits.  But none of those are actually funny, and for many of us clutter is much more serious than a couple of piles on the kitchen counter.

Clutter lies to you.  Clutter tells you "It's not that big a deal" and "You'll get to it later."  But the piles grow.  And so many people just accept defeat in their homes and in how they live and enjoy life.

Clutter isn't cute.

We make excuses like "I'm just so busy" or "I'm just not organized."  But excuses aren't solutions.  Trying to make it cute, saying "I'm such a clutterbug," just lets you live with defeat.

As a kid, I got used to having a lot of clutter neatly packed away in beautiful storage containers, nicely labeled, so it was clear which bin held which objects.  I would regularly go through my closets and drawers, sorting, deciding, tossing, and organizing my clutter.  And then I'd begin collecting all over again.

In my 20s and 30s, I'd have a big yard sale a few times a year.  I'd sell my unwanted stuff for pennies on the dollar and then go out and buy more.  Usually at least some of what I was selling I was still paying for via credit card debt, but I still kept buying stuff.

It was a harmful pattern that I needed to overcome.

While most of us don't live like we belong on an episode of Hoarders, we still have too much stuff crammed into our homes.  We may complain we lack space or storage, but there are other effects of clutter.

10 harmful effects of clutter

1.  Clutter is sticky.  

A little bit of clutter, left untended, will attract more.  If you drop the mail and your purse on the kitchen table, before long the kids' backpacks and snack detritus will join them, along with your husband's keys and a couple of cat toys.  On a larger scale, this is how garages and basements become stacked-to-the-ceiling fire traps.  

When you clear the clutter, and create a habit of putting things away properly, these hot spots will gradually die out.

2.  Clutter makes you feel exhausted.  

A cluttered home drains your energy.  The chaos of a cluttered environment is stressful and fatiguing, which makes it even harder to change.  

But when you clear the clutter you'll gain a sense of peace and calm.

3.  Clutter makes you feel hopeless.  

A cluttered home drains you emotionally.  Too much stuff is overwhelming, which makes you feel hopeless.  You resign yourself to the clutter because you don't know where to start to clean it up.  You feel stuck and out of control.  

When you clear the clutter, order appears.  You can find things, and that feeling of being overwhelmed is gone. 

4.  Clutter can make you sick in body and mind.  

Some people suffer from allergies and asthma when they live in a cluttered home.  Once the clutter is removed, and the house cleaned, their symptoms may disappear.  Additionally, clutter creates a significant mental load, and has been linked to depression.  Researchers at UCLA found that women who live in cluttered homes have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

5.  Clutter makes you poor.  

A cluttered home demonstrates a spending problem.  This is true even if the items come from thrift stores and yard sales.  

Once the clutter is gone, and you're not spending money on things you don't need, your bank account may grow.

6.  Clutter creates huge amounts of waste, even if it's donated.  

If the above isn't reason enough to limit your consumption, how about this:  "By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States' number one export by volume...."  Or this:  "African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those [used] American items...."

7.  Clutter is often the result of fear.  

For some people, clutter is a form of protection.  They either hoard items because of fears for the future, or they hang onto stuff because they're afraid of losing the past.  Either way, clutter is causing stress, exhaustion, hopelessness, and perhaps financial and health problems, which steal vitality from their lives today.

8.  Clutter hijacks time and energy.  

Time is precious because it's finite.  Would you rather spend all day cleaning and organizing, or cycling mountains of laundry through the washer and dryer, or making another trip to the store to re-buy something you know you have hidden away somewhere – or would you rather have a life? 

9.  Clutter will eventually have to be dealt with.  

Whether it's you or one of your loved ones, every non-consumable item you own will eventually be handled, sorted, and kept, sold, donated, or trashed.  Everything you buy increases this burden, and if you don't deal with it, you will pass it on to someone else.

10.  Clutter gets in the way of the best stuff.  

These truths are pretty scary.  So here's a little hope.  Imagine what it would feel like to walk into your home and see belongings you use and love, and nothing more.  Imagine what you could do with your life if you spent less of it managing your stuff.  Wouldn't that be great? 

You can start today.

If you want to live a fulfilling life with space, contentment, peace, and beauty, you can.  If you spend a little time thinking about what you truly want, you can make it happen, regardless of how you've done things in the past.

I'm not saying change is easy.  Change is hard and it takes commitment.  But you can start small.  There's more than one way to declutter, and you can do it in baby steps if you need to.

Start by reducing what you bring in.  Give yourself a head start toward a freer lifestyle.  As you declutter, buy less.

Updated January 2023


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