Clutter: What it is and how to stop things from accumulating

What is clutter and how did it end up in your house?  There are many ways that clutter enters and then accumulates in our homes.  Often at first, it’s not seen as clutter.  The opposite is true.  It’s seen as something valued by at least one member of your family, but things changes.  Interests change, appeal changes, kids grow up, and you enter a different stage.  Clutter is anything that you don’t want or need that is unnecessarily taking up space in your house.  Often times, clutter is found in a place it doesn’t belong creating stress on you and your family.  Let’s look at how we acquire clutter and how we can stop clutter from accumulating.

Clutter from household wares on a table with text clutter defined and how to stop things from accumulating

Why do I have so much clutter?

There are many ways clutter enters our lives.  Let’s look at five of the most common ways they arrive in our homes.

Gifts Gone Bad

Think about Christmas one year ago.  Were there things you gave your kids that they used for a week and now never touch?  The Barbie doll house, the train set, some soap making kit, or the shoes they had to have!  If they haven’t touched those things in six months or even 90 days they are likely acting as clutter in your house.

By the way, kids aren’t the only ones guilty of this, it applies to adults too.  We receive gifts for our birthdays or holidays, and because we don’t want to offend the giver, we hang onto it, but we don’t love or use it!

Sentimental Loot

Maybe your parents just downsized and now you have your Great Aunt Suzie’s china, your Grandma Jean’s wicker chair, and all of the stuffies from your childhood.  You don’t want to get rid of them, but you don’t want to use them either.

Hobbies of Old

A third way that clutter enters our house is from hobbies we once did, but now never do.  You have the old work out equipment in the basement.  There is that quilt you were going to make…when you had time.  A tennis racquet is in the garage collecting dust.  The kids have soccer shoes, ballet shoes, and art supplies they never touch.  If the things in your house don’t serve a purpose and don’t bring you or a family member joy, they are most likely clutter.

Bargain Buys

Another way clutter comes in is when we buy something because it’s on sale, but never use it.  You couldn’t believe that a black leather brief bag was half price, so you had to buy it!  That beautiful dress that was a little too small, but on major sale, you knew you’d fit into it someday.  Maybe the grocery store had a sale on toothpaste so you bought as much as you could carry and now has accumulated in some dark corner in your home.

Seasons Change

The last way that clutter enters our home is through the course of everyday life.  Sure you needed that highchair for a while.  The crib was a must!  After a few years, those things no longer serve a purpose.

At one point you needed 10 suits for work, but now you work from home, or take care of your family and never wear the work clothes.

Life changes…as it should.  We have to make it a priority to change with it.  If you’re tired of the clutter, you need to be committed to letting go and not holding onto all of the stuff.

How do you stop things from accumulating?

So now that we know the source of clutter, let’s talk about how it accumulates in our home.  Although I write a lot about decluttering, I most definitely do not have a perfect home.  Clutter easily accumulates EVERY SINGLE DAY! Can you relate?

Here are five solutions for how to stop things from accumulating.  When I defined clutter earlier, I said, “Clutter is anything that you don’t want or need that is unnecessarily taking up space in your house.  Often times, clutter is found in a place it doesn’t belong.”  There are two parts to this equation.

1) You have to decide if the item you consider clutter is something you want or need.

2) You have to make sure it has dedicated and easily accessible home.

Solution #1 Declutter

If you feel you have too much stuff, too much clutter, then solutions 2-5 will not help you.  Your first step is to declutter. Check out How To Keep Clutter Away & Easy Decluttering Tips for practical ideas.

Once you have only the things you want or need, then you need to make sure they are in the right place.  Solutions 2-5 will provide tips to stop clutter from accumulating in undesireable locations.

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Solution #2 Solve Your Storage Issues

There are three types of storage issues.  1) Having too little space and no room to store things 2) not having good storage techniques, 3) the storage location is not convenient.

If you have too little space, you may be tempted to keep things out, but before you know it, they become a cluttered mess.  If you don’t have good storage methods, you may have a space to store things, but you can’t find anything in that space. These two storage challenges are closely related. By improving your storage methods, you can solve #1 and don’t have to keep things out.

Implement storage techniques that allow you to find things

File things vertically – clothes, papers, bottles, etc.  Instead of creating piles where you can only see what’s on top, create files where you can see everything from front to back.  This also creates a ton more space with your clothes.

Create zones – I often use acrylic or plastic containers from small to large to create specific zones inside of drawers, refrigerators, pantry, etc.

Last but not least, to address the third storage challenge, make sure the storage location is convenient.  It’s ideal to store things close to where you use them.  You would never store your pots and pans in the linen closet because it makes them more difficult to access and ultimately less likely to return home.  So, if your kids play downstairs, make sure there is storage for their toys downstairs.  If all of the beds are upstairs, make sure there’s a place for all of the linens upstairs.  You get the picture.  Store things close to where they are used and they are more likely to return to their proper homes.

Solution #3 Assign Everything A Home

This is one of the foundational rules of home organization.  Make sure that everything you own is assigned a home.  If it isn’t assigned a home, then it will end up as clutter!  If you have a lot of miscellaneous things, then create places for miscellaneous items.  We have a “junk drawer” that catches a lot of small things that don’t have an assigned home.  It seems the kids are always bringing small trinkets home so we have a bowl to place those.  If everything has a place then it’s easier to put everything in its place.  And bonus, you can train other family members to do it instead of you!!!

Solution #4 Implement Strong Routines

The third challenge that leads to clutter build up is a lack of routines.  If you make a commitment to clean the counter every night before you go to bed and every morning before you leave for the day, then it will help keep it clutter free.  If you train your kids to put up toys after they play with them, then it will help keep the play space clutter free.  Think about what routines you need to start in order to keep away the clutter.

Solution #5 Just Start

Let’s get real here.  You might be saying, “Melissa, I know all of this.  I know I need to have zones, assign everything a home, and routines are great, but if I’m honest, I’m just not motivated!” 

I get it! Motivation is a real struggle especially if you’re overwhelmed and busy already.  Here’s my encouragement to you, just get started.  Commit to keeping one space organized.  For me, it’s my kitchen counter that brings the most joy when it’s clean of clutter.  Find the place for you and take it on, then watch how you gain momentum by conquering that one thing!!!

Now that you know how clutter enters and accumulates in your home, it’s time to do something about it.  What stood out to you about how it accumulates?  Are you still hanging onto those work suits, the kids baby stuff, or your Great Aunt Suzie’s China?  Maybe it’s time to commit to getting rid of it!

Did you identify with any of the four reasons clutter accumulates?  What will you change this week to lessen the clutter in your home? Will you address your storage issues, assign things to a home, or implement a new routine?  Maybe for you, it’s to just get started.

By knowing the types of clutter and why they accumulate, you can begin decluttering and have a clutter-free home once again!





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