Why Clutter Happens

Like it or not, clutter happens. If you want to get rid of clutter, it helps to understand how and why clutter happens and, more importantly, why it happens to nice people like you. In the go-to uncluttering guide, Unclutter Your Home (Storey, 1999), author Donna Smallin discusses the phenomenon of clutter, here’s what she writes:

The root of clutter can be traced to a number of sources. One reason we have so much of it is because our lives have become increasingly complex over the past 20 or 30 years. More moms work outside their homes and growing numbers of men and women are working two jobs.

Remember when Sunday used to be a day of rest? You spent the whole day at home with your family or you all hopped into the station wagon and headed off to Grandma and Grandpa.

Now we’re all rushing off in different directions every day of the week. We can’t keep up with each other, let alone the clutter. And when we stop, we’re too darned tired to deal with it. Tomorrow, we say. Or the next day. Or someday, for sure.

Add to the lack of time the fact that we’ve acquired a hefty volume of possessions which has prompted us to move to a larger house. The size of the American home has nearly doubled over the last 50 years and the amount of possessions has increased along with it.

Many of us go shopping with nothing particular in mind. But we always come home with something. The more we earn, the more we spend–and the more we own. We just keep bringing stuff into our already cluttered homes, and creating more stress by digging ourselves deeper in debt.

So now we’ve got all this stuff, and some of it has been with us for so long we’ve become quite attached to it. Oh, once in a while we throw something out or give it away, but mostly we hold on to our stuff because we can’t bear to let it go–even things we may not need or use anymore.

Our emotional attachment to out stuff accounts for a great deal of clutter. How could you possibly part with the dress you were wearing when your husband proposed to you? Or your child’s kindergarten artwork? Or some other belonging that invokes happy memories of years past?

Other times you keep belongings because you think you might need them. While sometimes you hang on to your stuff because of the past and the future. Women, in particular, tend to keep clothing that doesn’t fit anymore (past). If you give it away, it’s like throwing away your hope (future) that someday you’ll fit into it again!

In many cases, clutter develops from an instinct for self-preservation and feeling of insecurity. We surround ourselves with the familiarity of our stuff, blocking ourselves off from the people and possibilities that have the potential to create true happiness and security in our lives.

Another reason clutter collects is indecisiveness or deferred decision making. This is especially true of perfectionists. Think about it: If you’re a perfectionist, you want to do everything just right–or not at all. So if you haven’t got the time to organize your filing cabinet, you put it off and keep putting it off. Judith Kolberg, Director of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, says, “Often, our best intentions are left in stacks.”

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Mary T.
Mary T.2 years ago

not a hoarder but I do keep stuff I shouldn't; at work my desk is so clean that people think I'm a clean freak but at home, this poor computer desk is full of crap that I just can't throw away. every week, I tell myself to go into one room and get rid of stuff but I cant.

Emily F.
Emily F.3 years ago

I can so relate to your article. I tend to be a perfectionist. I find it hard to let go of things. I mean someone gave this item to me. How can I possibly give away something that doesn't serve a purpose any longer. Would their feelings be hurt even if I didn't tell them I gave their gift away. But still, I need to let go. I must let go.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton3 years ago

Good article. Thanks for posting.

Nicole G.
Nicole Gorman4 years ago

Think about how many trees could be saved if we could really and truly reduce the amount of paper clutter in our workplaces through email, PDFs and recycling!

jane richmond
jane richmond4 years ago


Shirley Marsh
Shirley Marsh4 years ago

Nothing like moving around a lot to help unclutter! Now that I'm in a permanent residence, I'm finding it a bit harder. Then my sister decided to come and stay with me for a couple of months from September, and uncluttering went into top gear! My studio, which also serves as a bedroom for the occasional visitor, has to wrap itself around someone and nurture them for two whole months!

I'm glad she gave me plenty of notice, it took me about three months to get started! But I'm looking at my house with new eyes, and loving it all over again. Good luck to all you bower birds.

Thelma Williams
Thelma Williams4 years ago

Thanks Camila, that's a good idea. I am making slow progress, but lost my husband in December and it is not easy. There is so much to do.

Camila K.
Kamila A.4 years ago

Too much and too little both are difficult. Always, the middle way is best. Its truly a state of mind. If you are stuck, just begin anyway, and get rid of 7 things, put 7 things away, give 7 things away----keep moving.

Jane L.
Jane L.4 years ago

I don't think it's perfectionism for me, but I'm mostly all-or-nothing, so I just accumulate things on my desk or clothes on the floor until it's a lot and then clean it up all at once.

Jane L.
Jane L.4 years ago

I don't think it's perfectionism for me, but I'm mostly all-or-nothing, so I just accumulate things on my desk or clothes on the floor until it's a lot and then clean it up all at once.