Why Unused Items Aren't Harmless, Plus 7 Easy Ways to Clear the Clutter

Many of us live in homes that hold far too much.

We find it hard to declutter unless something forces us to do so.  As long as we have the room to stockpile all of our extraneous belongings, we will.  Our drawers, counters, closets, basements, garages, spare rooms, and rented storage spaces become full.

vintage cameras

And then there are collections.

We buy one item we like, and then another (because we're convinced that a single item looks too bare and lonely), and then someone gives us another.  Now we're officially a collector, whether of world globes, graniteware coffee pots, Marvel action figures, vintage cameras, old wooden cutting boards, or something else (I used to collect patchwork quilts).  It becomes a hobby, and we spend tons of time and money hunting for the perfect item to add to what we already have.

It reminds me of a squirrel putting away nuts for the winter, though at least the squirrel will eventually eat the nuts.  Collectors just add to their stash, and try to figure out ways to store and display what they own.  Some people invest even more money in large lighted display cases and curio cabinets, lovingly arrange the items in their collection, and then never really look at them again.  The collection is a conversation piece for visitors, I suppose, but as an enhancement to daily life I don't think it qualifies.

And how many collectibles have been touted as valuable "investments," only to go out of fashion or become commonplace after a decade or two?  Hummel figurines, anyone?  Norman Rockwell plates?  Limited edition Barbies?  Thomas Kinkade paintings?  Like Grandma's silver tea service, these items now sell for very little, if you can sell them at all, even though the original investment might have been hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

So what's the harm?

It's only money, right?  It's not that big a deal.

But possessions that stay in one place for a long time are lifeless.

Unneeded items, those in storage and those that are part of a collection, are inert.  Think about it.  Items that are used move from one place to another.  Dishes or cookware are used, become dirty, get washed, and are returned to the cupboard.  Clothing and linens are used, dirtied, laundered, folded or hung, and returned to the closet.  These items flow through our homes; they possess energy which enables us to do the things we need for every day life.

Does your home contain shelves, drawers, closets, maybe even entire rooms where nothing comes or goes?  This is the meaning of clutter – something that simply takes up space and lies dormant.  When clutter fills your home, you have no room to spare for new plans and ideas, new experiences or pastimes that might contribute to your best life.  All that staleness and stagnation needs to be cleared away.

A healthy life isn't stagnant.

Experts in feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy, say that clutter brings confusion and drains your energy, whether or not it's in plain view.  You don't have to believe in feng shui to agree that crowded items leave no room for growth.  It's a bit like a beautiful house plant that becomes sickly and stunted because it's root bound.  In this case, if the roots are not untangled, or even cut, and the plant isn't given room to grow, it will eventually choke itself to death.

We are meant to think, explore, learn, and become the mature, wise, valuable people we were created to be.  We're not meant to confine ourselves to the pursuit of useless stuff.

Worse than the crowded, inefficient, depressing ugliness of clutter is the way it robs us and our homes of vital, creative, happy energy.

If you're buried in clutter, don't despair.  You really can dig yourself out from under.

7 tried-and-true decluttering methods 

1.  The One-a-Day

Remove one unneeded or unloved item every day.

2.  The Ten Minute Tidy-Up

With three bags (trash, donate, put away/make a home), tackle one area for ten minutes.  Do it again tomorrow and the next day.

3.  The All Clear

Completely clear the top of one counter, table, or dresser.  Trash, donate, put away, or make a home as appropriate.  Now practice keeping that area clear.  Each time you use it, clean up and put things away.

4.  The Combination

Make decluttering part of your daily routine by combining it with a regular task.  For example, as you put away freshly laundered towels, remove frayed and stained towels.  As your child puts toys away or gets ready for bed, remove outgrown, damaged, and rarely-used toys and clothing.  As you put away the groceries, toss outdated items and the seven jelly jars with only one teaspoon of jam in them.  Wipe the shelves before you restock.

5.  The Worst First

Instead of dealing with just one small area, tackle the room that feels the worst.  Get the tough stuff out of the way and you'll feel invigorated!  Ask a friend for help and declutter fearlessly.  Who knows?  You may feel so energized you won't want to stop.

6.  The Paper Chase

Pick a convenient time each day, say as soon as you walk in the door from work.  Deal with mail (recycle, shred, file, or pay as needed), organize school papers, update the family calendar and discard notices.  If you don't let it become a gigantic pile, the daily task only takes a couple of minutes!

7.  The Before and After

Use your camera to build decluttering inspiration.  Take pictures, and watch the chaos become order.  If you ever feel discouraged, revisit the photos and remember how far you've come.

Updated April 2023


  1. I have loved reading your blog ever since I found it (through a link at Becoming Minimalist). So much good information! My husband and I, empty nesters, are building a new house and moving from our home of 25 years. You can bet that less than half of the stuff we own will come with us. I have already done at least two purges in the last 5 years, but there is still more I can let go of, and I'm looking foward to it! I will keep in mind the idea that useful items move.
    And, add Longaberger baskets to that list of collectables. ��

    1. Ah yes, Longaberger baskets. I used to know a couple of collectors. ;)

      Thank you for your kind comment, and I hope you'll keep reading. How exciting to purge and move somewhere new with only what you love and use! Best wishes to you and your husband.

  2. Nice ideas to try, I'm currently with a mix of "one a day", "10 minute tidy up" and as I'm doing another task :)

    1. Good idea to use two or more methods at a time -- whatever works! Good luck, Sara.


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